Understanding the Israeli Party System With 4 Simple Questions

So, what are the political divisions, identities or in jargon of psephologists, the “socio-economic cleavages” that Israeli voters align themselves around.

Well forget the traditional but increasingly meaningless definitions of “Left” versus “Right”, “Liberal” versus “Conservative” or God forbid, muddy and opaque terms like “Populist” or pejoratives like “Neo-Liberal” or “Radical Left”. Even the old security based “Hawk” versus “Dove” differentiation doesn’t mean much anymore in Israel. Today, every party is a various shade of “Hawk”, they just differ in their optimism.

It is also important to note that all political parties in Israel tend to favour a vibrant free market economy – for Israel, that is – and a heavily socialised or subsidised economy for their key constituent voters.  They do so without any sense of irony or embarrassment.

There is a misconception abroad, in particular in America, that the “Start-Up Nation” is a beacon of free market, deregulated, capitalism. It isn’t. Import duties to protect local oligopolies ensure that everything from clothes, cars, fruit and electronics are more expensive than the supposed heavily statist European Union. From pineapple growers to religious run Yeshiva’s – the generous hand of the state is evident.

Various subsidies and distortions of the market are multiple as they are diverse. From left to right, whether its welfare transfers for Shas, Yeshiva subsidies for United Torah Judaism, housing grants for settlers of Habait Hayudi, oligopoly protection for Likud business elites and farmers or enshrining and sustaining land and inheritance privileges for Meretz and Labor votes in the Kubuttzim, ‘sectoral socialism’ is the prevailing norm. For the unlucky voter who doesn’t fall into one or more of these subsidized or entitled groups life can be well – pretty tough.

With just four simple questions we believe we can explain, if not all the complexity of party identification, certainly give an insight as to votes for whom and why.

And, yes, of course it’s a gross simplification.

“First question, are you, or do you essentially identify as Ashkenazi?

Israel always was and remains a deeply ‘tribal’ nation – ‘tribal’ being the polite term. Whatever about elites, the tribal label, Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) and Mizrahi (Jews of North African or Middle Eastern descent), despite groaning denial, still remains a huge predictor of who votes for whom.

Second, do you believe in God?

There is perhaps no similar sized small nation with such a greater diversity of opinion on this single subject. 80% of Americans tend to answer a simple “Yes”, 80% of Europeans tend to answer “What exactly to you meany by God?”

Third, have you ever been to Judea and Samaria? (West Bank to the rest of us)

An obvious proxy for the “Palestinian Question” – a subject largely invisible in this election campaign.

…and finally have you ever been to a ‘Gay Friendly’ bar?”

Not to be confused with what the answer to Queston 2 may tell us. There are many deeply homophobic atheists in Israel, and quite a few gay friendly Shabbath observers. It’s, well, complex here.

Our questions are for Jewish voters only – the largely Palestinian “Joint List” receives up to 90% of the Palestinian vote and around just 1% of Jewish voters vote for the “Joint List”.

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First Question, are you, or do you essentially identify as Ashkenazi?  

‘Yes’: Labor, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Habait Hayudi, Yesh Atid, Meretz, HaYamin HeHadash or New Right, Likud (Leaders)

‘No’: Shas, Gesher, Kulanu, Likud (Voters)

‘I’m not sure’: Israeli Beitanu (actually neither are the rest of us)


Seminarians Jerusalem 1.jpg

Second Question, do you believe in God?

‘Yes’: Shas, Habait Hayudi, HaYamin HeHadash, Kulanu

‘No’Meretz, Israeli Beitanu

‘Define God?’: Yesh Atid,

‘I don’t understand your question’: United Torah Judaism

‘I’m not sure’: Labor


hebron - jerusalem tram 177

Third Question, have you ever been to Judea and Samaria?

‘Yes’: Likud, UTJ, Shas, Israeli Beitanu,  

‘No’: (Blank)

‘Judea and Samaria? I prefer to call it the “Occupied Territories”’: Meretz 

‘Hmmm….well If you exclude the Kibuttzim in the Jordan Valley, the Old City of Jerusalem, the drive to Yam Ha Malek (The Dead Sea), Alfe Menashe, and route 443, then probably, No’. Labor,

‘I hardly ever leave: Habait Hayudi, HaYamin HeHadash

‘I’m not sure’: Yesh Atid


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And finally, have you ever been to a ‘Gay Friendly’ bar? 

 ‘Yes’: Meretz, 

‘No’: UTJ, Israeli Beitanu, Shas, Habait Hayudi, HaYamin HeHadash

‘What do you mean exactly by Gay Friendly?’: Yesh Atid, Kulanu 

‘Yes, but nobody knows’: Likud

‘I’m not sure:’ Labor


Try it on your friends and colleagues.


Note on ‘Socialism’ and ‘Pineapples’: Israeli farmers grow pineapples. Pineapples sell for around 8e in Israeli supermarkets. In Ireland – they don’t grow pineapples (they of course import them from sunnier climates far away) – pineapples sell for around 1.50e in the local supermarkets in Ireland.

And the winners and losers in this pineapple story are….?

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