Professor William Jacobson, (a law professor at Cornell University, an avowed conservative, Zionist and staunch defender of Israel, whom I had the pleasure to meet a couple of years ago) who runs the law-blog Legal Insurrection kindly invited me to write a guest post on how Israelis viewed the election results – as opposed to all the foreign opinion-makers. Below are some excerpts from my post. You can read the whole post at LI and if you have a registered account there you can leave comments. Otherwise I welcome your comments here!
As an avowed rightist I was both delighted and highly relieved at the result, though as a Naftali Bennett and Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) voter, I admit to some disappointment that the party lost several seats, going down from 12 to 8.
It has been suggested that many Bayit Yehudi voters “sacrificed” their party to save the Likud on the basis that if Likud loses, Bayit Yehudi will be out for sure, whereas if the Likud manages to hold on to power, Bayit Yehudi will be taken into the coalition.
And indeed, despite its less than brilliant showing, and the sometimes bitter personal relationship between Netanyahu and Bennett, the gamble paid off as Bayit Yehudi was amongst the first parties approached by Netanyahu to enter the coalition (as opposed to the 2013 elections when Bayit Yehudi was left out in the cold until the very last minute).
Returning to the election campaign for a moment, it is widely agreed that it was a dirty, vicious campaign with ad hominem attacks, particularly from the Left, and not much debate on the very real issues themselves: security, Iran, the Palestinians, the economy, the high cost of living, gaps between rich and poor and between the big cities and the “periphery”, i.e. the border towns and development towns.
The impression I have received, from my own discussions with my family and friends and from a variety of media articles, is that the negative campaigning rebounded on the Left.
Being anti-something is never enough. One must give some idea of what your solutions are to these apparent problems. In addition, the intensely anti-Bibi campaign terrified the Right and mobilised them en masse to go out and vote. In fact it’s possible that the Left’s campaign did more to bring in Right-wing votes than all the right-wing volunteer workers combined.
… Ynet, that bastion of Israeli left-winginess, accused Netanyahu of lying and fear-mongering to garner his win.
Ynet has nothing on Haaretz however, who are so extreme left that they almost turn themselves inside-out in their zeal to demonize anything that smacks of Israeli or Jewish nationalism. They reported on Bibi’s election win as nothing short of a disaster for Israel, and also accused him of race-baiting in his drive to the winning post.
What the left fail to understand is that Netanyahu was not saying that Arabs should not vote, or that their vote should not be counted.
On the contrary. He was worried that their massive voter turnout would tip the scales in favour of the left, and so he called on his supporters not to be complacent, but to come out and vote before it’s too late. I’m sure Haaretz would not take kindly to being called race-baiters for objecting to massive ultra-Orthodox voting, for example. It’s a two-way street, something they find hard to accept.
Of course the right-wing, and the center too, were overjoyed and hugely relieved at Likud’s victory. The sighs of relief were almost palpable. I’m an optimist at heart, but on Tuesday I was filled with a sense of foreboding, and tried to distract myself with Passover cleaning (in my defense, I was desperate!) and playing with my grandchildren so as not to focus on the ominous forecasts. In the end this dejection made the final victory that much more delicious.
I started to feel a glimmer of hope shortly before the polls closed, when early exit polls showed a dead heat between the two main parties, something which was widely accepted by all opinion-makers as an advantage to Bibi, since he had the greater chance of creating a coalition under those circumstances. And then the polls closed and the numbers started to be announced…
Arlene Kushner, an American Israeli journalist, describes these emotions perfectly in her article “With Gratitude and Gladness:
The Israeli election campaign just ended has been one hell of a dismal and ominous ride. I knew that well enough, but it was only when near-final results were released, and I began to cry, that I realized how very frightened I had been. For this nation that I love, and for the free world.
And so I am grateful. First to the Almighty. And then to the people of Israel, who saw their way past the nonsense, and saved the day.
Kushner addresses the viciousness of the election campaign and the barely legal interference of foreign elements (including possibly the State Department) on behalf of the Zionist Union party. And then the essence of the whole post:
What is most important is that the world see that a right-leaning nationalist government is where the Israeli electorate stands. This does not make us radicals, even though a left-leaning media will paint us so. A democratic election was held and the people have spoken. We will, we must, move on from here.
Interestingly, an article by Uri Heitner on the very right-wing, Netanyahu-supporting Israel Hayom, calls for some introspection on the right, despite their victory, saying that we need to heal the rifts in Israeli society:
The socio-economic record of the outgoing government — very troubling poverty rates, a high cost of living and staggering housing prices — should have paved the way for an upset. But the Zionist Union failed to articulate an appealing foreign policy. Its conduct was deplorable.
First, it chose to stay on the sidelines while Netanyahu actively took on the emerging deal with Iran — a deal that could cement Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state and grant it full legitimacy. Second, it torpedoed the Jewish state bill, casting it as racist and nationalist rather than as the expression of core Zionist principles championed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion; it turned its back on its own values. If Labor wants to regain power it must first return to its former old self; it must embrace its values and vision.
Netanyahu should also do some soul-searching. He may be tempted to rest on his laurels for having defied the polls and successfully swinging the pendulum in his direction. But he must not bask in the glory of his electoral success, despite his magician-like performance. When the state comptroller issued a damning housing report several weeks ago, he appeared out of touch, taking to social media to warn Israelis that the threat posed by Iran on “life itself” should concern them more than the cost of living. Netanyahu may not champion social justice, solidarity and egalitarianism but he cannot shed his responsibility for the welfare of Israel’s citizens, their ability to make ends meet, provide for their families and secure their future. Netanyahu needs to understand that alongside the security threats facing Israel, the daily lives of the Israeli citizens are in fact “life itself.”
Israelis on the whole need to do some soul-searching. This was the ugliest, most contrarian and radical election campaign Israel has seen in decades. Both sides are equally at fault. Now we just have to lick our wounds and wait to heal.
Heitner thinks that a unity government would be the best solution. I strongly disagree. Unity governments have only worked during wartime and even then barely. They tend to paralyze any decision-making of the government, and collapse ignominiously shortly afterwards.
But Heitner’s call for introspection is well-placed indeed. The temperature of Israel’s political emotions needs to be brought down to below boiling point. We have serious issues to face, both domestically and internationally, not to mention the Iranian sword hanging over our heads. We cannot achieve success in any of these fields with a society that is split and riven by hate.
But let’s not get too carried away with self-flagellation. Israel has so much to be proud of.
I’m proud to be Israeli, proud of her achievements, proud of her ability to hold free and fair elections under the constant threat of war. I’m proud that an Arab Supreme Court Judge was the Chairman of the Elections Commission and that a record number of women have been elected.
I’m also proud that Israel allows the Pirates Party (no joke!) to stand for election, as well as the Breslav Hassidim “Na-Nach” Party, not to mention the Green Leaf party, campaigning for the legalising of marijuana.
Come to think of it, just imagine how mellow the Middle East would be if they came into power.
Let the haters hate. Am Yisrael Chai!