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Understanding Israel’s ‘Deal System’

While the Israeli media wrongly claimed that the Likud had made an extreme shift to the right in recent primaries, some commentators were correcting in observing the existence of a deal-system. (Part IV in a series about the Likud primaries).

The Likud's top 35 candidates approach the stage as the results of the Likud primaries are announced (Nov. 26, 2012).

The Likud's top 35 candidates approach the stage as the results of the Likud primaries are announced (Nov. 26, 2012).
Photo Credit: Flash90

This is part IV in a series about the Likud’s Knesset list and its primaries, which were held November 25-26th. The previous articles (here, here, and here) dealt with the claims by the media that the Likud had, as a result of the recent primaries shifted to the extreme right. I explained how these claims were out of touch with reality: The Likud list remained very similar to that of 2008. Ideologically right-leaning candidates did very well, but so did non-ideological or media-acceptable candidates.

All in all, only five sitting Members of Knesset did not achieve “secure” spots on the list. The common denominator between all three was not a lack of extremism or Leftist policy (only two were supporters of Palestinian statehood), but a general lack of campaigning and public activism.

One claim made by some commentators, however,  had some validity. It was that there was a “deal system” in place.

This is not unique to the Likud. It pervades the entire Israeli political system. Consider, for example, the fact that the government in Israel is formed through negotiations and haggling over ministries, budgets and policies. Contrast that with the U.S. system in which after the president is elected, he chooses his cabinet with the consent of the Senate and then presents a budget to congress for approval. There is much less haggling that goes on because the President has already one the election and his appointments can’t jeopardize that. Of course, negotiation, compromise and deals are inseparable from the political process, but in a party-list system, deal-making is the primary feature. (Note: a “party-list” system should not be confused with a parliamentary system, which can be a district/constituency system, a party-list system or a combination of the two).

The deal-making that some pundits referred to was the fact that certain candidates and power-factions in the Likud made cross-endorsement deals to ensure mutual success. Thus, for example, Moshe Feiglin and two high ranking, but non-ideological Likud members, Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz were reported to have made such an agreement. Gilad Erdan and Gideon Sa’ar were said to be working together. Other nationalist candidates like Yariv Levin and Kety Shitreet were also said to receive support from Feiglin.

Technically, candidates in a party primary are competitors, each one striving for more votes than the others in order to get a higher ranking on the party’s list of candidates for the parliament. Throughout most of their term, Members of Knesset in the same party are in fact locked in this sort of popularity contest. But come the primaries themselves, in practice, the candidates don’t remain in complete competition. At that point, candidates join together, either completely or to a limited degree, often in odd ways to ensure mutual success.

Because voters can choose a number of candidates – in the Likud primaries, voters could choose 12 national candidates and one district candidate – candidates can make cross-endorsement deals which will ensure those who are part of the deal receive a great deal more votes then they could have if they ran on their own.

Three voting lists distributed during the Likud primaries in Jerusalem. Close inspection reveals that the list of recommended candidates is different on each, meaning that the particular vote-contractor who distributed these gave large numbers of votes to more than 12 candidates, making him popular among a great many of the Likud’s list. These were just three I picked up off the floor at the end of the voting. Who knows how many different lists were distributed and what deals were made with whom for each set of votes given to each candidate.  

Let’s say, for instance, that Candidate A has 2000 supporters within the party, while Candidate B also has 2000, and Candidate C has 3000. Candidates A and B can join forces, asking their supporters to vote for both of them, providing each of them with 4000 votes, beating out Candidate C even though he is more popular than each of them separately. With a total of 12+1 votes, the possibilities for deals between the candidates abound. Add to the mix interest groups who control large swaths of votes, who can not only support certain candidates but can trade support with other interest groups or candidates in exchange for votes for their favored candidate, the system becomes vastly more complicated.

About the Author: Daniel Tauber is a frequent contributor to various prominent publications, including the Jewish Press, Arutz Sheva, Americanthinker.com, the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. Daniel is also an attorney admitted to practice law in Israel and New York and received his J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. You can follow him on facebook and twitter.


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5 Responses to “Understanding Israel’s ‘Deal System’”

  1. Brent Dov Benson says:

    Here have your editor check out my poem as pro Israel as it comes and hopefully you will print it for the Jewish people to read . than you http://WWW.stljewishlight.com/dov

  2. Elisha Mendelson says:

    this article is really good!

  3. Daniel Tauber continuing his excellent analysis of the Likud primaries. (Note: this was part 4.)
    I agree completely on the ridiculousness of the party membership fees. There should indeed be a central registration center (knowing Israel, that would probably be the Post Office,) at which someone easily, quickly, and painlessly registers for a party. Joining one party should automatically withdraw him/her from another party. And registration should be free. Israel should be ENCOURAGING public participation – not charging money to people who want to effect change democratically.

    As for the election, it would be nice to see the district voting, though there's merit to the party list. To that end, half the Knesset seats should be voted via district vote and half by party list.

  4. Funny to hear Tauber condemn this system. He himself was part of deals with vote contractors.

  5. the solution is to encourage more Likud voters to register and vote in the primary.

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