Who Did the Jewish Settlers Vote For?

Benjamin Netanyahu Failed With His Most Pandered-To Crowd

God On Their Side: A settler in Ofra casts his vote in the January 22 parliamentary elections.
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God On Their Side: A settler in Ofra casts his vote in the January 22 parliamentary elections.

By Ori Nir

Published February 07, 2013.
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How did Benjamin Netanyahu do in West Bank settlements?

Considering his party’s pro-settlement policies and the staunch pro-settlement positions of its leading Knesset members, you’d expect Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu list to perform better among West Bank settlers than it did in Israel proper. It didn’t.

Surprising as it may be, overall, only 19 percent of the settlers’ vote went to Likud-Beiteinu, compared to 23 percent of the overall Israeli national vote, according to official Israeli data.

The settlers’ rejection of Netanyahu’s party is even more striking if you consider the voting patterns in national-religious “ideological” settlements, those whose residents were the chief pandering target of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his senior fellow travelers in the years and months that preceded the elections. Likud’s performance in such settlements was astonishingly poor: 8 percent in Beit El, 13 percent in Elon Moreh and Eli, 11 percent in Ofrah and Kedumim and as low as 5 percent in other, smaller ideological settlements.

The leaders of Israel’s largest party are now undoubtedly examining the voting trends among settlers, as they try to understand how Likud and Israel Beiteinu lost almost a quarter of their combined strength, deflating from 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset to 31 seats in the incoming Knesset. They are surely considering the price they paid for trying to appeal to the ideological settlers, a population that is perhaps 5 percent of the Israeli public, and an even smaller sliver of the Israeli electorate.

Why a small sliver? Because according to the settlers’ own data, only about 45 percent of Israelis living in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) identify with the ideological national-religious hard core of the settlement movement. And because only 51 percent of the settlers are eligible to vote (a full half of this population is under 18), compared with an Israeli national eligibility rate of 72 percent. True, the turnout rate among the settlers is higher than the national average (around 80 percent compared to 67 percent nationally), but since the actual number of voters residing in the West Bank is so small, compared to the overall national number, that high turnout rate among settlers makes but a marginal difference.

So who did the settlers vote for? Well, the settler population is not monolithic. A distinction is usually made between the “ideological” settlers, those who chose to live across the Green Line to fulfill a biblically prescribed mission, and the “quality of life” settlers, who move to the West Bank in pursuit of cheaper housing. Most of the “ideological” settlers live in remote settlements, farther from the Green Line, while the others typically live closer to Israel, in so-called “settlement blocs,” which may be annexed to Israel in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. The second category includes settlements that are largely secular and settlements that are largely or even exclusively ultra-Orthodox.


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