January 25, 2013 | Quote

U.S. Media’s Israeli Elections Fail, Cont.

Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large for The American Interest and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued last night that the U.S. media — from the New York Times and Reuters to NBC and the New Yorker — whiffed big-time in setting the stage for yesterday's elections in Israel.

“If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right,” he wrote. “That didn’t happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. … How did the MSM get this so wrong? (More on that here.)

Today, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Mead overstates the case:

Mead hints, and Ari Shavit, in a very interesting column, openly argues, that the results of the Israeli election suggest that the right is at least an ephemerally waning phenomenon. I wouldn't go that far, as I'll explain in a second, but first, in (partial) defense of the MSM, what Mead isn't considering is that the rise of Naftali Bennett's far-right Jewish Home Party provoked a counter-reaction among frightened Israeli centrists just before the election, which could account for the fact that most everyone, including most Israeli commentators, thought Bennett would end up with 15 or 16 seats. As it is, his party wound up with 12, which ain't chopped liver.

UPDATE (11:08 a.m.): Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Palestine Center, also believes Mead missed the mark:

This election outcome does mean that Israel has shifted right. Some breathed a sigh of relief when Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party only garnered 11-12 seats instead of the expected 14-15, and believed this meant that the notion that Israel was shifting right was unfounded. Well, there are two significant problems with this. First, the Jewish Home party significantly exceeded the number of seats—seven—that its components (remnants of the National Union and Jewish Home of 2009) received in 2009. The number of seats they received this time would have been higher if not for an increased turnout in the Tel Aviv bubble, where voters are largely oblivious to the occupation but wary of anything religious.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the number of seats Bennett’s party receives is not the only metric of rightward shifts in Israel. Take for example the fact that during the primaries for the Likud—which led the self-proclaimed most pro-settlement government in Israeli history—that party elected even more pro-settler elements into its leadership. The Likud, which then merged with Avigdor Lieberman, the man who was routinely referred to as “far-right” and “ultra-nationalist” only one election ago, is the largest party in the Israeli political system and now has others to its right. Last, keep in mind that while the members of the governing coalition and some of their natural allies were openly and staunchly pro-colonization and even annexation, no party in the Zionist opposition vociferously challenged the Israeli settlement enterprise—with the possible exception of Meretz, which took in a grand total of 7 seats. Those 7 seats, by the way, were considered a remarkable and unexpected triumph.

UPDATE (11:54 a.m.): Foreign Policy's Jonathan Schanzer leans towards Mead:

To be fair, Israeli elections are hard to predict. The Times of Israel's Raphael Ahren noted that polls are deeply flawed in Israel, and dark-horse candidates often surge unexpectedly. But this election's wrong-headed guidance, mostly forwarded by analysts in the United States, went beyond the numbers — it was wrapped up in their narrative of where Israel was heading.

Pundits declared that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing for a war against Iran while building more settlements, and the Israeli people roundly backed him. As David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker, “the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right” — a process that would buttress Bibi's policies and, in the process, isolate Israel from the United States.

This, to put it mildly, did not happen. … Netanyahu's coalition party won an estimated 31 seats — a far cry from the 48 seats he initially expected after merging parties with right-wing politician Avigdor Liberman. And after all the hoopla, Bennett's party, Jewish Home, only managed to earn 11 seats.

Read the full article here.