As Mitchell Barak sees it, last week’s national election in Israel left the country in a deep political quagmire.
“No one really won, and the situation is as confusing as it was before. The Israeli public is still left without real leadership,” he said. “This exercise was intended to put Israel on the right path and so forth, and it’s just not happening. The Israeli public is the real loser here, and there’s no real winner.”
That’s what Barak, an American-born Israeli political pollster, told a Pittsburgh audience Wednesday when he addressed students and faculty at the Hillel Jewish University Center in Oakland. The Jewish National Fund, Agency for Jewish Learning, Hillel and the ZOA were sponsors.
Barak, who also met with student leaders and professors in smaller sessions during the day, pegged Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu as more likely to form Israel’s next government than Kadima Party leader Tzipy Livni, but it would likely be a narrow right-of-center government that in all probability will be too weak to get much done, let alone survive.
The centrist Kadima finished first in last week’s election, winning 28 seats in the Knesset — one more than the right-wing Likud. But conservative parties won the overall majority of seats, making it unlikely Livni can cobble together a coalition.
“She just doesn’t have the numbers,” Barak said. “Even if she gets Lieberman, she’s still short.”
He was referring to Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which won 15 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu gave Kadima a list of five demands to join its government, which Kadima apparently accepted. But it still won’t be enough, Barak said.
That’s because the left-of-center Labor Party, which won 13 seats, won’t join a government this time, party leaders have said. The left-wing Meretz Party, which won three seats, won’t sit in a government with Yisrael Beiteinu, and neither will the religious parties, which object to some of Lieberman’s demands, like civil marriage.
Confused? You’re not alone. Even Barak described Israeli political negotiations as “a full-scale poker game” — something the average American simply does not understand.
A New York native and graduate of George Washington University, Barak, 42, is the founder and CEO of KEEVOON Research Strategy & Communications, a leading research and political communications firm in Israel. He also is the lead political commentator on the English version Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), Israel’s state broadcasting network. He served in the IDF Spokesman Unit and lives with his wife and their four children in Jerusalem.
Barak recently gained notoriety when he came with the first exit poll of the 2008 U.S. presidential election five days before Election Day here, polling more than 800 American voters in Israel who cast absentee ballots. Result: The poll showed John McCain winning 70 percent to 30 percent.
“It was highly criticized because the Orthodox were over sampled,” Barak said. “If you look at the American Jews who are coming to Israel they are by and large Orthodox.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)