The election of Rabbi Meir Kahane was undoubtedly the most traumatic outcome of the elections to the eleventh Knesset. His party, Kach, obtained 25,907 votes, or 1.2 percent of all valid votes, five times as many as in the previous elections. To understand this, we have examined the economic, social and political factors operating within the sectors which provided Kahane with his greatest electoral support. Kach got much of its support from the settlements, where it obtained 6 percent of votes, from the army, where it obtained 3 percent, and from a third sector characterized by clear economic, social and ethnic features: It obtained 3.3 percent of votes in the development townships; 3.2 percent in the religious moshav cooperatives, 2.7 percent in the slums of Jerusalem; 2.6 percent in the immigrant moshav settlements and 1.9 percent in the development towns. We know that these sectors have suffered particularly badly from Israel’s economic decline and the rise in unemployment that followed the abandonment of the “correct economy” in 1983. Is this why Kahane’s message that one must expel the Arabs, who are allegedly responsible for Israel’s economic problems, fell on fertile ground there? And what was the ideological impact of seven years of Likud rule on people’s willingness to vote Kach? We have come up with the following findings:

  • There is a close link between the level of economic and social development in a locality, as defined by its place in the “dependency and poverty” list drawn up by the Ministry of Employment and Incomes, and the degree of support for Kach. For instance, out of the four localities in which Kach obtained a proportion of votes adequate to put it into the Knesset already in the 1981 elections — Or Akiva (2 percent), Beit Shemesh (1.4 percent), Hatzor (1.4 percent) and Safed (1 percent) — the first three actually top the list of locations graded according to their “dependency and poverty.”
  • The lower the average level of education in the locality, the greater were Kahane’s chances to obtain electoral support.
  • If one cancels out the influence of the two previous factors, economic development and level of education, one finds no connection whatsoever between the ethnic composition of a population group and the degree of support for Kach. There is thus no basis to the frequent claim that Kach draws on an “ethnic” vote.
  • There is a positive connection between a vote for Kach and for Likud, but a negative one between a vote for these parties and a vote for the Tehiya Party. In other words, the Tehiya Party’s success rate will decline the greater the support in a certain locality for Likud and Kach. This implies that the Likud constitutes a kind of pathway for Meir Kahane, while simultaneously calling into question the assumption that mere hawkishness in the Israeli-Arab conflict is a crucial factor among Kach voters.
  • There is some loose connection between the level of unemployment in a locality and the level of support for Kach, although the presence of Arab workers from either the occupied territories or Israel among the work force of the Kach voting localities does not affect the level of unemployment.

Kahane’s racist ideology clearly stands the best chance where the level of economic development and of education is lowest, and the level of unemployment is highest. It is important to realize that the small development townships, in which Kach obtained its largest proportion of votes within the boundaries of the state of Israel, are generally suffering from harsh economic conditions and levels of unemployment far above the national average. One can therefore assume that the view according to which “cheap” Arab labor causes unemployment among Jewish workers has already struck roots where unemployment constitutes a particularly severe threat. Although so far no direct connection has been found between the employment of Arab workers and the dismissal of Jews, some of the electorate does blame the Arabs for having been laid off or threatened with dismissal. This belief is, of course, reinforced by Kahane’s demagogy. In fact, there is no direct link between the employment of Arabs and the dismissal of Jews, because Jews and Arabs nowdays work in quite different sectors. The effect of this state of affairs on levels of pay and employment is a complex and much disputed matter.

One of the conditions for the transformation of such thoughts into Kach votes is, however, an atmosphere of Likud support in the locality. In Likud strongholds, Rabbi Kahane and his Kach party are much more likely to be perceived as legitimate than in Labor ones. The seven years of Likud rule have made an ideological as well as an economic contribution to the rise of Kahane.

Kahane’s election to the Knesset stimulated a wave of educational and information activity aimed at promoting loyalty to democracy and a condemnation of racism. On the basis of the above findings, we must express doubts about the effectiveness of such activity in a period of growing unemployment, worsening economic conditions and sharp cuts in the education budget. The opinion polls published since the last elections indeed indicate a steady rise in support for Kach, now estimated as equivalent to four or five Knesset seats (out of 120).

Source: Yoav Peleg and Gershon Shapir in Davar, June 21, 1985. Translated in Israeli Mirror.

How to cite this article:

"Who Votes for Kahane?," Middle East Report 136/137 (October-December 1985).

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