1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Israel: Far right could prove key in election

Tania Krämer Israel
October 31, 2022

The election on November 1 could oust centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid and see the return of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu — with the help of the far right.

A group of people at an election rally holding posters and flags
Will Benjamin Netanyahu make a comeback? His supporters seem to think soImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

On most evenings, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns in the so-called Bibi-Bus, a truck with a bulletproof windshield from which he can safely address the crowds. On a Monday morning, in a bookstore at a mall in the coastal town of Netanya, "Bibi," as Netanyahu is often referred to by his supporters, signs his newly released book: "Bibi: My Story." 

At 73, Israel's arguably most polarizing politician is vying for another term as prime minister. Similar to previous occasions, this election appears to be a referendum on whether Israel's longest-serving prime minister and head of the conservative Likud party will be able to return to power. 

Netanyahu is currently standing trial in three corruption cases. He faces the prime minister of the current caretaker government, Yair Lapid, founder of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

"This election is about Israel's political instability. It is the same problem that we are having for a couple of years now," says Tal Schneider, political correspondent at the Times of Israel newspaper.

Election polls have also seen the rise of the far right in polls, which Netanyahu would have to rely on to form a coalition government.

"These elections are about liberalism versus nationalism. The big ideas are personified in two people, liberalism in Lapid and his camp, and nationalism in Netanyahu and his camp," says Maoz Rosenthal, senior lecturer at the Lauder school for Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).  

Government collapse after one year

A motorbike alongside a bridge railing with a banner of a politician
Yair Lapid's tenure as prime minister could be over after this electionImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

The election, the fifth in under four years, was called for in June, after Israel's coalition government, composed of eight ideologically diverse parties, from the right, center and left, and an Arab party, collapsed after losing its razor-thin majority after the first year. Drawn together primarily by the desire to oust Netanyahu, they had little in common politically.

Lapid was one of the main architects of the recently dissolved coalition. At a campaign event in Kibbutz Afek, in northern Israel, Lapid, people from neighboring towns and cities came to pose their questions on the high cost of living, matters of religion and state, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the climate. 

His supporters hope that he will make it again as prime minister. "We want quiet, and this party [Yesh Atid], this past government gave us quiet, we had quiet, we had calmness," says 78-year-old Dalia Grau after the event.

Despite constant polling, the race is extremely hard to predict.

Final surveys before the election suggest that the deadlock could persist. 

On Friday, Israel's three main TV channels published the final polls before the Election Day, on November 1. All predicted that Likud leader Benjamin Netanjahu and his bloc of religious and right-wing parties could reach 60 seats — just one seat short of a razor-thin majority of 61 of the 120 Knesset seats. 

Though Likud remains strongest party, with a projected 30-31 seats, it appears to have lost some votes to the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist alliance. 

Lapid's Yesh Atid would see 24 to 27 seats. The current center-right-to-left coalition would reach 56 seats, with the unaligned Hadash-Ta'al list reaching additional 4 seats.

Some smaller parties are dangerously close to not passing the electoral threshold of 3.25%, which some pollsters say could be to his disadvantage.

Focus has also been placed on voter turnout, in particular of Israeli Arabs or Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up around 20% of the population. A higher turnout could benefit Lapid's bloc; a lower turnout could boost Netanyahu's chances. 

The rise of the far right

Two men holding up a banner of Itamar Ben Gvir
Far-right candidate Itamar Ben Gvir has a track record of extreme views and racist incitementImage: Tania Kraemer/DW

The rise of the far right could prove pivotal in this election as Netanyahu needs the support of the Religious Zionist alliance. The No. 2 on the list, Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party (Jewish Power) was once considered a fringe far-right figure. These days, the 46-year-old lawyer's popularity has grown and he has become the poster boy of a future conservative-ultranationalist coalition. 

Current polls indicate that Religious Zionism could win as many as 14 seats in the Knesset, thus becoming the third largest party.

"The far right could be for the first time in real influential positions," says the IDC's Rosenthal, adding that Israel has continuously shifted to right in recent years. "So, what is new about this party? We are talking about nationalists, anti-liberals, people who have sworn to decrease the power of the courts and who are completely committed to Jewish religious values." 

At a Tel Aviv campaign event for Ben-Gvir, the narrow street was lined with both his supporters and opponents. Police officers separated the two groups as they shouted at each other through megaphones.

Twenty-two-year old Eli Yaish says he fully supports the extremist leader. "Before I went to the army I was on the other side of the street. In my opinion, Ben-Gvir is a person who is real, unlike many other people in the Knesset and I see in him as someone who gives his whole self for this country, unlike other fake people."

Ben-Gvir, who has been a member of Knesset since 2021, has a long track record of extreme views and racist incitement, for which he has been indicted and twice convicted in the past.

Though he has somewhat toned down his rhetoric during the campaign, Ben-Gvir used to advocate for the expulsion of "Arab terrorists," their families and "disloyal" citizens. He has refrained from the homophobic statements he made in the past. Recently, however, in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the site of clashes between Palestinians and settlers, he brandished a gun and criticized the police for not shooting Palestinian protesters if they threw stones. His party has called for the annexation of the entire occupied West Bank. 

With the race so close, the early exit polls released at 10 p.m. local time Tuesday might give a first indication of where Israel is heading.

Edited by: Cristina Burack; Rob Mudge