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The Centrist Revolt of 2019 - present refers to an ongoing political and electoral phenomenon in Yisrael that has upended the Third Party System and is widely believed to have marked the beginning of the current Fourth Party System in Yisraeli politics. The political events are fracturing the once-powerful Left Bloc, which has trended more and more leftward in policy and skirting the edge of constitutionally permissible expression regarding secular thought. The United Center Bloc, comprised of the nascent Alternative for Yisrael and their allies the center-right Action Yisrael, displaced the leading party of the left, the Constitutional Liberals, as the second major political faction in Yisrael in opposition to the ruling Conservative-led Right Bloc. Political thinkers are divided if this is a long-term development or if the political left will bounce back in the next election cycle.
The centrist revolt has been argued by King David University political science professor Yonosan Goldwaithe to have emerged in the early-to-mid 2000s, when the Internet and new digital economy was forming. The presidency of Constitutional Liberal President Eitan Herzog saw the implementation of a number of new toll roads, gas tax increases, and new congestion pricing that hurt middle-income suburban consumers the most. At the same time, there were a new generation of late adolescent political liberals who pushed the boundaries on acceptable ideological, sexual, and social conduct, looking more towards the mores of global left-leaning countries such as North Ottonia, Tsurushima, and Arthurista rather than Yisraeli society and Judaism.
These twin trends - higher expenses and government charges on car owners and commuters led by a Con-Lib government, as well as an increasing socially-liberal younger generation that was pushing the center of gravity in the Constitutional Liberal Party and the politico-cultural left broadly towards greater secular and radical ideas and criticism - sparked a yearslong shift in moderate, suburban, centrist-to-center-left voters that began to disconnect with the Con-Libs and the Left Bloc political class (while they were swing voters, they more often then not favored the Left over the Right Bloc by the new millennium). As the Con-Libs and their left-wing allies pushed for more radical political and cultural changes by the 2010s, this bloc of suburban centrists "revolted" and fractured the left, becoming the new ideological bloc opposite the political right.
The "early signs" of this centrist middle-income discontent were manifested in renewed political activism both in and outside of the Constitutional Liberals.
Outside of the major parties, an early attempt at galvanizing centrist voters was attempted with the March for Yisrael in 2003, but it was plagued by leadership in-fighting, weak candidates, and a lack of big donors. It became moribund by 2008.
Many centrist, suburban, middle-income Yisraelis identified as Masortim and were already dissatisfied with either the Con-Libs, who were viewed as too pro-tax, and the Conservatives, who were too reluctant to increase social and transportation budgets. These political activists wanted a platform where they could advocate for more expanded welfare and transportation budgets, including the reduction of gas and congestion taxes as well as lower tolls. On social welfare, these strictly middle-income families wanted more family and education tax reductions and public subsidies.
In early 2009, a number of activists, backed by several politically independent super-donors, founded the center-to-center-right Action Yisrael. Running a slate of candidates starting in 2010, it steadily grew into a powerful third-party presence and swing bloc in the Knesset.
However, a number of centrists felt that the AY was too conservative leaning, and worked to keep the Con Libs towards the center.
Constitutional Liberal Party factionalism
The Con-Libs in the mid-2000s and early 2010s were held under the sway of the "Herzogist faction," relatively moderate liberals in the mold of Eitan Herzog (2004-2012). Herzogism as a political philosophy saw a domestic agenda of emphasizing the growth and success of Yisrael's metropolitan areas, including new infrastructure, roads, and housing. To encourage this, they advocated and implemented economic incentives to have less cars on the road and push more commuters towards shared-transport means such as buses, trains, light rail, and carpooling. While there was an anti-tax suburban faction of the party, the leading wing hailed from the urban centers themselves.
A number of suburban moderates, such as Reuven Goldschmidt, attempted to push the Con-Libs away from this tax-and-spend agenda, as well as push back on the rising social-liberal currents of the youngest activists, which often stepped over the legal line into illegal political, social, and ideological advocacy.
However, while the Herzogists needed candidates and voters like Goldschmidt they were usually unwilling to shift public policy in any meaningful way. After the Con-Libs' defeats in 2012 and 2016 to the growing neoconservatism under Noah Feldman's Conservative presidency, the social-liberal and traditional left-wing forces grew emboldened in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections.
While the Herzogist clique allowed some latitude for moderate candidates to successfully compete in the 2018 midterms (somewhat successfully), the lack of any hard-winning victories emboldened the left-wing, who denounced the Herzogist Con-Lib leadership of being "too timid" and "too conservative."
Con-Lib split-off: the Alternative for Yisrael
The liberal left under Yosef Kaduri besieged the Herzogist mainstream in the Con-Lib party during Knesset primaries throughout 2019, with several high-profile victories for left-wing challengers over establishment-oriented moderates in the spring and summer of 2019. Kaduri himself, a paragon of the Yisraeli left, ran hard too the left in the party's presidential primary, emerging the winner by the start of the fall.
Reuven Goldschmidt, a Con-Lib Member of Knesset from Modiin, watched this intraparty fight with trepidation, as he recounted to the Royal Yerushalayim Dispatch. For Goldschmidt and other middle-income suburban moderates, the social liberalism and anti-commuter positions of the new Con-Lib leadership was unbearable, and no longer tolerable as it had been under the Herzogists. Between September (the start of the general election campaign season) and November 2019, Goldschmidt quietly inquired with a number of like-minded allies if they would support an alternative to the Con-Libs. After securing enough support, he left the Con-Libs and formed his own center/center-left party, the Alternative for Yisrael. Nine other Con-Lib MKs from moderate suburban districts joined him.
The AY had been a sometime partner and participant with the Conservative-led Right Bloc, but under Feldman and the new Conservative leader, Foreign Minister Yitzchok Katz, a years-long fusion of the political and religious right along with nationalist forces, made continuing to align with the emerging Neoconservatives increasingly uncomfortable for the suburban moderates who made up the Action Yisrael.
When Goldschmidt announced the AfY's creation and his own centrist presidential bid, the AY executive leadership met and decided to form a new political bloc with him over the right-wing, severing their ties to the Right Bloc. In late November 2019, the AY joined the AfY to form the United Center Bloc.
After Goldschmidt entered the presidential race and his bloc entered the Knesset elections in early November 2019, the centrist candidate lagged behind the Conservatives' Yitzchok Katz and Con-Libs' Yosef Kaduri, with Kaduri losing significant support to Goldschmidt and Katz still clinging to a moderate lead over both.
In early December 2019, Kaduri made several controversial gaffes that won headlight media scrutiny, and Katz's campaigned launched a media blitz of TV and radio advertisements against the Con-Lib nominee. By Chanukah Break and through the first week of January 2020, Kaduri had fallen far behind, and Goldschmidt's centrists were pulling even with Katz and the right.
In mid-January, as Goldschmidt was starting to pull slightly ahead of Katz, King Yaakov II passed away and campaigning was suspended for the seven days of shiva, blunting his momentum. When campaigning resumed five days before the election, Katz pulled into a strong lead with the new monarch's surprising on-air implicit endorsement of the Conservatives. The event, in polling at least, backfired; the last days of the election saw Kaduri and Goldschmidt gain undecided voters pivot towards them, helping both with a last-minute jolt of electoral energy.
On Election Day, Katz won the presidency with a strong Electoral College victory, and notably, Goldschmidt came in second, beating the traditional major-party Constitutional Liberals, who fell deep into third-party status.
However, the major metropolitan political maps were radically redrawn, with the United Center Bloc's two parties sweeping a number of formerly Con-Lib Knesset seats in the inner suburbs and even longtime urban areas and the Conservatives maintaining their hold on the outer-suburbs and exurbs, with Right Bloc partner Torah Achdus snatching an urban seat from the Con-Libs in Yerushalayim. Everywhere, the Con-Libs and their left-wing allies the Alliance of Greens, Seculars, and Workers were in retreat except for core constituencies.
Exit polls pegged the suburbs split between Goldschmidt (45%) and Katz (41%), with Kaduri capturing a stunningly low 14%. This was a reversal of pre-November 2019 polls when the race was between Katz and Kaduri only, with Katz earning 52% of the suburban vote to Kaduri's 44%. In December 2019 and early January 2020, Goldschmidt was ahead by 44%, to Katz's 35% and Kaduri's 21%.