Ballot Shock and Awe
by Ruthie Blum
Nearly a week after election day in Israel, the country is still reeling from the results. In a rare case of uniformity, the political echelon, the pundits and the public are sharing the same sense of shock.
Surveys conducted over the past three months, since the government was disbanded and new elections were called, indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party was in deep trouble. Though he himself received relatively high marks as a statesman when compared with rivals, respondents to polls simultaneously expressed dissatisfaction with their lot, both economically and in terms of Israel’s standing internationally.
At 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, when the voting was concluded and the exit poll was released, the Left was devastated. Five minutes earlier, the assumption had been that the Zionist Union (the joint list formed by the merger of the Labor party, led by Isaac Herzog, and the Hatnuah party, headed by Tzipi Livni) was going to come out ahead; and the only question remaining had been by how much.
The Likud and its supporters had been hoping against hope for a tie or a single-seat loss — a situation that still would have enabled the Right to form the next government, even if the Zionist Union was given the first shot at doing so.
The worry all around was that the two major parties would be forced into forging a national unity government.
So when the exit poll showed a one-seat lead for Likud, all eyes opened wide in disbelief. Tears of joy, alongside those of bitter disappointment, began to flow at party headquarters everywhere.
Analysts immediately started calculating potential coalitions, debating and discussing the turn of events until the point at which TV studios took a three-hour break in the middle of the night to prepare for the following day’s marathon of recap.
It was during this short “blackout” that most of the ballots, with the exception of those of soldiers, prison inmates and hospital patients, were actually counted.
It was then that print journalists took over, reporting on the outcome over the Internet, while the country slept. Even Herzog had gone to bed by this time.
Those of us who remained awake could not fathom what was unfolding.
“Something crazy is going on with the latest numbers,” wrote my colleague at Voice of Israel, political correspondent Raoul Wootliff, on our office WhatsApp feed.
Not only had the Likud gained another two seats, but the Zionist Union had plummeted by three.
It took another day or so for all the votes to be counted. But the final tally gave a six-seat Likud lead over the Zionist Union, making Netanyahu’s re-election as prime minister nothing less than a landslide. For someone whose political demise had been prayed for by the “anyone but Netanyahu” campaign, it was more than a sweet victory.
We on the right side of the spectrum (no pun intended) have many people and phenomena to thank for this slam dunk of monumental proportions.
We have U.S. President Barack Obama to thank for his ever-increasing enmity towards the state of Israel, disguised as a personal dislike of Netanyahu. Had Herzog won the election, he would have been treated no differently. As has been the case with Netanyahu, no concessions made to the American administration would have shielded him from Obama’s animosity, due to the inevitable inability to bring about Palestinian statehood.
This brings us to another entity responsible for Netanyahu’s big win: the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government. Its aim to eliminate the Jewish state, rather than build its own, is so obvious that the idea of a “peace process” has become laughable. It is for this reason that Netanyahu, who alienated his base by supporting a “two-state solution” in the first place, recently said that it is not a viable option in the near future. And the public knows this to be true.
We also have the Israeli media to thank for its relentless persecution of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Report after report on monkey business at the Prime Minister’s Residence ended up backfiring. Harping on petty-cash issues — such as the money pocketed from the return of plastic bottles; the purchase of eye drops for the prime minister by a member of his staff; and the cost to the taxpayer of the family’s pistachio ice cream consumption — caused much of the public to conclude that if this was all the witch-hunters could come up with, Netanyahu must be pretty clean.
The pollsters, too, deserve thanks. Because it appeared that the Likud was doing so badly, many voters farther to the right, fearing that the likes of Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett would not get a cabinet seat in the event of a left-wing victory, cast a strategic ballot for Netanyahu.
The snobbery of the Left toward the poor is also responsible. The latter perceive the “sushi-eaters” in Tel Aviv to be so removed from their plight that they do not identify with their cost-of-living complaining. They might be unhappy with Netanyahu’s handling of the economy, but they certainly do not see the “fair-skinned Ashkenazi socialists” — whom they blame for their original predicament — as their saviors. This partly explains the success of the new Kulanu party, formed by Moshe Kahlon, a Sephardi and former Likud minister, whose opening up of the cellphone market to competition caused prices instantly, and drastically, to drop.
Last, but by no means least, we have to thank Iran.
Though the Zionist Union, like the Likud, says that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Islamic republic must be prevented, a party known for its addiction to negotiations with Islamists is not exactly trustworthy on that score, particularly when Herzog and Livni kept announcing that they would “repair relations” with the White House.
Israelis have learned to take Islamists at their word. We understand that the mullahs in Tehran are serious about their aims for regional and global hegemony, and perfectly capable of carrying out their genocidal aims. The choice between Herzog and Netanyahu at the helm at this juncture was a no-brainer.
Ruthie Blum is the editor of Voice of Israel radio (voiceofisrael.com). This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.