From the High Holyday liturgy: “who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low.”
Round number one in the battle of the BB’s (Benny v Bibi) has ended.
The people have decided and now we wait for the politicians to haggle and extort and thus frustrate the wishes of the voters. Meanwhile, accusations, excuses, recriminations and backtracking on a grand scale are the order of the day.
There were several big losers on the day.
First and foremost are the myriad numbers of pollsters each of whom predicted different results and almost without exception anticipated Netanyahu’s downfall. Closely following the pollsters are all the left-wing media commentators and pundits who were salivating on camera before and soon after voting closed as the exit polls seemed to show Likud gaining less mandates than Blue & White. Breathless and with hardly suppressed glee at the prospect of a political “revolution” the let down as reality dawned was cruel and brutal.
As far as the political parties are concerned the biggest losers this time around were the Labor Party and far left Meretz both of which had fantasized that the “enlightened” voters would restore them to a pre-eminent position again in the Israeli political establishment. For the Labor Party, the current reality must be particularly humiliating seeing its once powerful governing elitist position destroyed and its representation in the Knesset decimated to the ranks of a fringe following. Whether there is still a place for socialist monopoly economics and massive state intervention in our lives is debatable. The refusal to recognize that citizens want more freedom of choice and competition in all aspects of their lives dooms the Labor Party in the eyes of the younger generation in particular.
Another factor which has doomed both Labor and Meretz is their obsessive and blind faith in the sincerity of our “peace partners.” In this respect, the vast majority of Jewish Israeli citizens have long since abandoned these fantasies. As daily outbursts of Arab hate, incitement and the sponsorship of terror are manifested it is obvious except to the delusional minority that genuine peace and tolerance will have to wait until there is a fundamental change in Arab and Islamic behaviour. It is the dogged refusal to realize that appeasement, gestures, surrender of vital and historical territory plus the creation of a dangerous terror state in our midst are all lethal threats to our existence, which dooms Labour and Meretz to declining relevance. The knives are now being sharpened for further leadership blood-letting and the internal upheavals in these parties will be painful and prolonged.
The biggest loser on the right is the breakaway party created by Bennett and Shaked who had hoped to attract vast numbers of secular voters and modern religious public fed up with the narrow sectarian policies of what was once upon a time the moderate Mizrahi and National Religious Party. Despite charismatic and undoubted well-qualified co-leaders, they teetered on the losing edge of the 3.25% threshold.
Unwilling to learn from past boycotts the turn out in the Israeli Arab population was well short of 50% and as a result their representation in the Knesset fell.
So who are the winners?
The raising of the threshold to a modest 3.25% was designed to encourage less small fringe parties and promote the stability of larger ones on both sides of the political spectrum. Basically, this has been achieved in that both Likud and the Blue & Whites are easily the two largest. This has caused a decimation of other left-wing parties but at the same time still ensured that a multiplicity of right-wing parties crossed the finishing line albeit in some cases with reduced mandates. The bottom line is that the continued shift to the conservative right, religious and secular alike, results in Likud having more compatible partners to form a coalition.
A negative aspect is that many of the same old faces are back in the Knesset. There are quite a few MK’s who would not have been missed if they had failed to be re-elected.
The haggling process is already underway. Unrealistic demands by those who just managed to scrape into the Knesset are normal and if the past is any guide the formation of a viable coalition will go down to the wire. Compromises are necessary which means egotistical personalities will somehow have to be deflated, not an easy undertaking.
How has the international community reacted?
You can hear the grinding of teeth emanating from the EU and the UN who had pinned their hopes on Israelis electing a more compliant partner for concessions. The PLO, Hamas, Iran and other “champions” of democracy have issued the usual banal statements. The international media is in a frenzy and busy interviewing every discontented anti-Netanyahu Israeli or American Democrat Party supporting Jewish spokesperson it can find.
We are in for more political dramas in the weeks and months ahead. Meanwhile, vigorous debates continue, post mortems are initiated and life continues for most of us.
Discussing politics in public areas is one of the unique features of life here. In most countries, one does not ask strangers who they voted for and then engage in energized debate as the merits of their choice. It is definitely forbidden elsewhere to make eye contact with fellow public transport passengers and talk politics. Those rules do not apply here. This morning on my commute to Jerusalem a loud conversation broke out as various bus passengers exchanged animated opinions on the results of the elections. By the time I alighted at least half the commuters were waving their arms and shouting loudly. Funnily enough this also included the bus driver who thankfully managed to steer the bus safely while gesticulating and adding his two shekels worth.
This is truly an “only in Israel” experience and proves that we are all one large rambunctious family.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region