Given the insight into the results of the elections, and the disappointment we had to overcome, we may now draw quite a few lessons from it.
First of all, and in spite of our hope to see the pre-election polls contradicted, the victory of the right block (Likud, extreme right and orthodox parties) was expected. That block has even weakened since the 2015 elections, getting 65 deputees instead of 67. If you add the 256000 votes lost to extreme right lists (Bennett and Shaked’s “New Right” and Feiglin’s “Identity”), which were unable to cross the minimum threshold of 3,25% of expressed votes, the electoral body remains relatively stable.
But we cannot deny that Netanyahu’s gamble paid off, since the Likud topped the poll in the elections. He took the risk of siphonning the votes of parties to his right, by leading a “Gewalt (1)” campaign during the last days in order to convince the electors of the right to turn to a tactical vote. It explains the loss of votes registered by Kulanu (center-right) losing 6 deputees out of 10, or the disappearance of the new party created by Bennett and Shaked, born of a split of Bait Hayehudi (the Jewish Home). Netanyahu even convinced the remaining members of that party to join Ozma Yehudit (Jewish Power), a kahanist (2) party, in order to form the Union of the right parties which obtains 5 deputees including, for the first time since their exclusion from the Knesset in 1988, Kahanist deputees. As for the progress of the two Orthodox parties (Shas and Unified Judaism of Torah), getting 16 deputees instead of 13, it reflects their demographic growth in the country.
However, in spite of Trump’s and Putin’s support to Netanyahu, and a very agressive campaign against his main opponent, the ex-chief of staff Benny Gantz, based on fake news and personal attacks, and on his lack of political experience, the Likud beats the Blue-White list led by Gantz by less than 15 000 votes out of the 4 309 270 votes expressed.
Of course, the left and center electors also turned to the tactical vote: many Labor ans Meretz voters transferred their votes to the Blue-White list, hoping to beat Netanyahu; the Labor party obtained the worst score of its history with only 6 deputees, and the Meretz succeeded in crossing the minimum threshold with 4 deputees thanks to the vote of Arab electors who brought 40 000 votes out of the 156 362 it has obtained. Let’s point out that among the 5 eligible candidates of the Meretz, were one Arab and one Druze. Arabs, who generally vote less than Jews, sat out the elections more than usual. The united Arab list, which had succeeded in 2015 to bring 13 deputees into the Knesset, separated into two lists which get only 10 seats all together. Their electors sat out even more this year in order to punish “their deputees”, according to certain observers, for not defending them enough in the Knesset and mostly, in order to show their mistrust towards a State that does not grant them the same rights as Jewish citizens, following the vote of the Nation-State Law.
But except for these results, we must not forget that these elections were a referendum for or against Bibi. The entry into politics of well-known figures like Benny Gantz or Gabi Ashkenazi, another ex-chief of staff, their rallying with Mosh Boggie Yaalon, another ex-chief of staff and ex-Minister of Defense of Netanyahu, and Yair Lapid, in order to form a list Blue-White, was only intended to set up a centrist alternative credible in matters of security and ethics, in order to attract right voters who might be reluctant to vote for Netanyahu because of the corruption cases he is involved in. That gamble failed.
That failure says a lot about the state of the Israeli democracy and it is very worrisome. Without mentioning 1976, when Yitzhak Rabin had resigned as a Prime Minister because his wife had forgotten to close a bank account in dollars she held in the United States—which was forbidden at that time by the Israeli monetary rules—another Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had decided himself to resign in September 2008 because he was implicated in various corruption cases. The opposition leader, who happened to be Benyamin Netanyahu, had more than once addressed him from the Knesset podium, requiring his resignation. While today the same Netanyahu, who is required to be indicted for extremely serious charges by the Attorney General, on the police recommendation after investigation, is about to exceed Ben Gourion’s longevity as head of the government, with the support of the majority of the population. While negotiations intended to form the future coalition have just started, Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Union of the parties of the right, candidate for the position of Minister of Justice, has already announced that he would ask for the vote of a law guaranteeing the retroactive parliamentary immunity for the Prime Minister and all the other deputies who might be indicted in corruption cases. What will Netanyahu promise his future allies in exchange ? An annexation—part of his friend Trump’s “deal of the century”—of the area of the West Bank where the settlements are, which means all or part of the C zone, that is to say 60% of the West Bank ? If such is the case, it would be the end of the two-State solution.
Sign of the times: this week of Passover, when on the Seder’s eve we read the Haggadah, recalling the founding events of the Jewish people, the exodus from Egypt and the reception of the Law without which one people cannot be free, we see how close Israel has come to turn its back on the foundations of the democracy imagined by its founding fathers, if an indicted Prime Minister were to be exempted of any legal consequence.
If it were to happen, we will rally around to support the numerous Israelis who will be sure to oppose that drift. With many other Jewish organizations in the world, we will also rise up in opposition if the next government were to commit itself in a unilateral annexation of part of the West Bank because by so doing it would lead sooner or later to the end of the zionist project of a Jewish and democratic State.
Passover is the feast of freedom. As long as occupation continues, Israel won’t be free.
We wish you and your close ones a happy Passover. Hag Sameah !
(1) Gewalt is a Yiddish and German word meaning violence, which we find in the Yiddish expression “Oï Gewalt”, announcing a serious danger.
(2) Named after Rabbi Meit Kahana, annexionist and racist Rabbi elected in 1984; his party had been excluded in 1988, following the vote of a law bearing his name.