Israel’s March elections are fast approaching–and still too close to call. Even for devoted Israel watchers, though, it can be difficult to follow the fluctuations of a political scene that features over half-a-dozen parties jockeying for parliamentary position. And that’s before one bumps up against the Hebrew language barrier. Fortunately, Tablet is here to help.
How can one keep track of the many polls released each week–and how reliable are they? Which analysts are writing in English and offering detailed blow-by-blow accounts of the race’s developments? And who makes the best political parody videos lampooning the contest’s participants? Our primer has the answers.
In the era of Nate Silver, nothing carries more currency with political junkies than the latest polls. Israel’s, however, have proven notoriously unreliable. Pollsters have consistently overestimated the support for large parties and underrated smaller ones, often by dramatic margins. These errors are compounded by the fact that over a third of Israeli voters tend to be undecided before they get to the ballot box. With such a large late-breaking swing vote, and a parliament whose seats are determined by vote percentage, it can seem near impossible to predict Israel’s elections with any certainty.
Enter Project 61. Run by analyst Nehemia Gershuni, and drawing its name from the 61 seats required to form a majority coalition in the Knesset, Project 61 aims to be the FiveThirtyEight of Israel’s elections. Drawing on Nate Silver’s own methodology, the project aggregates Israel’s many polls, then weights the average based on the historical reliability of each pollster. Those with a better track record for accuracy count for more, and vice versa. The result, displayed in easily understood infographics, is likely the best look at the political state-of-play possible before election day. For example, here is Project 61’s latest breakdown:
Reporting and Analysis
From top political reporters like Channel 2’s Amit Segal to Channel 10’s Nadav Perry, there is no shortage of quality election coverage in Hebrew. But what about in English? Thanks to the proliferation of online English media from Israel, some native and some translated, there’s plenty to choose from among outlets like the Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and many others.
But beyond the usual publications, there are also particular writers well worth following for up-to-the-minute coverage. Lahav Harkov, ace Knesset reporter at the Jerusalem Post, tweets breaking news, polls, photos and analysis from countless rallies and other electoral events.
Yehuda Haglili, head of “We Are All Friends Na Nach led by Rabbi Nachman King of Israel.” Yes, that’s the party name. pic.twitter.com/MU6BBjH2q2
— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) January 28, 2015
At the Times of Israel, Haviv Rettig Gur offers invaluable longform analysis of the latest electoral developments and party politics, often several steps ahead of the international media.
Writing from a left-wing vantage point, Tal Schneider (and her English-language partner Noga Tarnopolsky) shares commentary and scoops from inside the Israeli left camp. There is no precise equivalent in English on the Israeli right, but the conservative publication Mida offers both original punditry and translations of outside work along those lines.
Finally, as a bonus: while most Israeli politicians tweet exclusively in Hebrew, if you want to get a taste of the campaign trail, you can follow former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, who rejoined Twitter for his election campaign with the Kulanu party, and writes in both English and Hebrew.
With so much at stake in such a fraught region, Israel’s elections can get a bit heavy. Thankfully, the country has no shortage of satirists to lighten the mood. While comedy shows like Eretz Nehederet (Israel’s equivalent of Saturday Night Live) and Matzav ha-Umah can be hard for English speakers to penetrate, one Israeli parodist has tapped into a universal language: music. Noy Alooshe first attained internet stardom with his musical remix of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, titled “Zenga Zenga,” which has garnered over 5 million views on YouTube to date. He has since turned his sights to the Israeli elections. The plan? Auto-tune the Jews.
Some of Alooshe’s videos require Hebrew facility, but the gist is usually apparent to any viewer. Take for example his most recent creation, a clip lampooning Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi (Jewish Home) party. In a recent speech to party members, Bennett took on one of Israel’s top columnists who had accused ha-Bayit ha-Yehudi of being “the most cuckoo party in the Knesset.” Bennett rattled off the names of his party’s candidates and their credentials, asking if anyone in his sympathetic audience really thought they were crazy–or if perhaps it was just the columnist himself who was “cuckoo.” Alooshe, no fan of Bennett’s, skillfully edited Bennett’s words to say the exact opposite–and put them to music. The result should make even Bennett partisans crack a smile:
You can subscribe to Alooshe on YouTube.