While Netanyahu has focused on what he portrays as his ability to defend Israel militarily and diplomatically, his centrist opponents are trying to steer the campaign to other issues, targeting potential voters with ideas such as social and economic change and diplomatic initiatives toward the Palestinians.
Yet public opinion polls indicate that the parties appealing to center-left voters — who make up 38 percent of the Jewish Israeli electorate, according to a recent survey — have not succeeded in altering the balance of political power.
“One of the mysteries of Israeli politics is a very robust center that doesn’t manage to get together,” said Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University. “They have different agendas.”
The result, polls suggest, is that the next parliament will look much like the outgoing one, with right-wing parties and their ultra-Orthodox allies enjoying a solid majority and a collection of center-left factions not having enough seats to form a governing coalition. That is likely to produce another hawkish Israeli government wary of concessions to the Palestinians and focused on what it sees as broader regional threats, such as the Iranian nuclear program.
Turnout a ‘major factor’
Polls show a stable trend in which the right-religious bloc, headed by Netanyahu’s ticket, will control more than half the seats in the 120-member parliament. About 20 percent of voters say they are still undecided, but pollsters say they are mostly debating choices within the right or the center-left and not choosing between them.
“Turnout is going to be a major factor,” said Camille Fuchs, a statistics expert at Tel Aviv University who has been conducting surveys ahead of the Tuesday vote.
A high turnout is expected to help the center-left parties. Surveys have shown that right-wing Israelis, particularly Jewish settlers, vote in greater percentages than center-left supporters, who show less fervent commitment to making their voices heard. The momentum of a wave of social justice protests in 2011 — when that indifference seemed to have shattered — has largely petered out.
But though turnout could affect seat distribution inside each bloc, it is not expected to tip the scales in the overall count in the legislature.
Shelly Yachimovich, the leader of the Labor Party, which polls suggest would emerge as the second-largest faction with 16 to 18 seats, has made socioeconomic issues the centerpiece of her campaign. She has avoided foreign-policy questions such as the stalled peace efforts with the Palestinians or with Iran.
Trying to attract voters who are more preoccupied with financial security, education and health care, Yachimovich has attacked Netanyahu for free-market economic policies that she says have increased the burden on the Israeli middle class. Her party ticket includes young former leaders of the social justice movement, which protested the high cost of living.