A bitter defeat for divided right

Israel elections: Deep gulf between religious and secular revealed as fractious campaign comes to fevered end

"WE HAVE been up since seven this morning bringing old people to vote in the election," says Esri Erlanger, an ultra-orthodox student in the Mea She'arim district of Jerusalem. "Don't believe the polls. It will be a close election. Unfortunately, unlike the last election, the left is united and the right divided."

In the north Jerusalem suburb of Neve Ya'akov, inhabited mainly by Russian and Moroccan Jews, there are signs of this. Valentina, from Minsk in Belarus, says she has voted for an extreme right-wing Russian party and Ehud Barak, the Labour leader, because the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is too close to the ultra-orthodox.

Israeli elections are so hard fought and vitriolic because they do more than change one party or one government for another. They are part of an ongoing cultural war between different communities, and that was never more the case than in this election. The bitterest words of the campaign were exchanged, not over who becomes prime minister, but who holds the Interior Ministry with its control over who can be an Israeli citizen.

A sign of the divisions is the number of parties that were yesterday claiming to unite the nation. Mr Erlanger says: "I fear a national split because Barak will open shops on Shabbat [sabbath] and send religious students into the army."

Meanwhile Tommy Lapid, the leader of a newly formed hard-line secular party, Shinui, which is attracting significant support, has his own plans for uniting Israel. He says: "Cowardice and hesitancy have allowed the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) to interfere with our education, our leisure and shopping, our marriages and even our burials."

By yesterday morning every crossroads around Jerusalem looked like a medieval pageant with railings, lampposts and bridges draped with flags and banners calling for support for the different parties. Traffic slowed to a crawl as drivers paused to accept leaflets pressed on them by party workers.

A sign of the acrimony is the row that has broken out over the death of Rahamim Hevroni, a one-legged activist for Likud, Mr Netanyahu's party. Likud said he had died after a fight while Mr Barak's party says he fell over. Mr Hevroni's family is denouncing "the Likud's attempt to adopt Rahamim's death as if we were talking about a political assassination. That is a vicious lie and we are going to sue the Likud after the Shiva [seven days' traditional mourning]."

The secular parties are also worried that the the ultra- orthodox are using the ID cards of the dead, the sick and the absent to increase their vote. Observers were out in force in the polling booths yesterday, but admitted there was not much they could do to stop it.

Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu, who is 8 to 10 percentage points behind in the polls, can seldom resist the opportunity to deliver a low blow. At his last press conference in the campaign he accused Mr Barak of being an agent of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. He said the Labour leader was planning to establish an enemy state "on the outskirts of Tel Aviv".

Even if Mr Netanyahu does lose, however, he will leave a legacy of new Israeli settlements on the West Bank that will be difficult to remove. Even as voting was going on yesterday two mechanical diggers were building a new industrial zone near Ofra, a settlement of 400 Jewish families outside Ramallah.

Mr Arafat will hope to be one of the main beneficiaries of a Barak victory. He has never got much from Mr Netanyahu. But the roads and settlements that now twist and turn around Palestinian towns and villages on the West Bank make it very difficult to realise a Palestinian state that is anything more than a collection of cantons.

In many ways the campaign of 1999 is a reverse of the election of three years ago when Mr Netanyahu came to power. Then, the right was united, now it is disunited. Most of the Likud leadership who stood with him in 1996 have changed sides and will be in Mr Barak's government. In both cases the ruling party was over-confident and found the ground crumbling under its feet.

One thing will not change after the election. Because Israeli political parties often represent ethnic and religious communities as well as political views, they always live to fight another day. The secular reaction to the religious parties' actions in power over the past three years will be followed by a religious counter-reaction. The next election will also be about uniting Israel.

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices