Israel Braces for a Culture Clash

  • Share
  • Read Later
Israel will spend the next five months fighting about peace, but the fault lines in the Jewish state's election are more about ethnic loyalty than policy. Despite a flurry of "centrist" bids, the May 17 election announced late Monday remains a contest between the traditional foes, Likud and Labor. "People choose between those parties on the basis of cultural affiliation rather than peace plans," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "If they're prosperous middle class Ashkenazis (Jews of European origin) they tend to vote Labor; and if they're from the ranks of the aggrieved, disadvantaged Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries, they vote Likud." The balance between those communities underpins the deadlock of Israeli politics, and none of the new centrist parties looks likely to bridge that divide.

Labor's Ehud Barak is currently ten points ahead of Bibi Netanyahu in the polls, and will try to keep his lead by talking tough on peace. But Palestinian violence could turn things around. "Terror attacks work in Bibi's favor," says Beyer. "If the Palestinians want him out, they'll have to do their utmost to prevent new violence." But with the peace process on ice for the next five months, that may be a tall order.