War and violence always have a direct effect on elections. Wars account for dramatic shifts in voter preferences, and radical leaders and parties often poll much higher after a round of sharp violence than in normal times. Minority ethnic groups are therefore often able to sway the balance of power between major competing forces.
This appears to have been precisely what has happened in Israel’s recent election. Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and the even harder right Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) party achieved a dominant result that saw Labor, the dominant party throughout Israel’s history, consigned to a lowly fourth place.
Throughout the campaign, Israeli leaders competed over who would deal more firmly (read: violently) with the Palestinians. In the aftermath of Israel’s assault on Gaza, Palestinians hoped that Israel would choose a leader who would focus on the need to end the suffering, lift the siege, and begin rebuilding. It appears that just the opposite has happened.
The last time that Israeli elections were so obviously affected by violence was in 1996, when polling results shifted wildly in the run-up to the vote, finally allowing Netanyahu a razor-thin win over acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Competing against an older Peres (who had taken over after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin) Netanyahu dyed his hair white to appear more mature, and then took advantage of a badly handled mini-war and the anger of Israel’s Arab voters.