11. Left and Right in Israel: Like Other Nations?

The main axis in the politics of most nations is socio-economic. The less-privileged want more government intervention, while the more-privileged want less. Is this also true in Israel?

No. At least not in a clear-cut way. There certainly is a less-privileged population in Israel; one-fifth of the nation lives below the official poverty line. Most in this category are Ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews, about 12 percent of the total population, or Arabs, 21 percent. Half of each group are officially poor.

But haredim vote almost exclusively for their own religious parties, which line up on the Israeli right. Most Arabs vote for Arab parties, which are classified as left-wing but focus mostly on issues of concern to their community.

What makes things even murkier is that many lower-income voters, especially those of Middle Eastern or Soviet background, overwhelmingly favor hawkish parties on the right. "Left" and "right" have little economic meaning; the words are used but refer mostly to "dovish" versus "hawkish." The major issue is the future of the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

The second major axis of Israeli politics is religion. This often correlates with hawkishness, since there are relatively few religious doves. There are secular parties on the right, but religious and right-wing parties have recently worked together, and together they are projected to win about two-thirds of the seats in the upcoming election on March 23.

But it's not so simple. The dovish-hawkish and religious dimensions are being over-shadowed by a third axis that upsets the system capriciously.

So how is this election different from all other elections? The new third axis is, simply put, pro-Bibi or anti-Bibi. Will Bibi Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister, remain in office or not -- while on trial for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust? Facing this awesome issue, territorial and religious issues take a back seat. It's all about Bibi, not just his legal travails but also his handling of the Covid crisis.

Two of the five right-wing parties have pledged not to join a Bibi-led coalition. This makes the arithmetic very marginal for Bibi. On the other hand, it is also marginal for a right-center coalition without Bibi's Likud, still the largest party. And if neither side can form a government? Another election, the fifth in two and a half years?

Left and right? We need a new vocabulary for Israeli politics.