| Israel Election Special |

When Almost Doesn’t Count

Eight reflections in the aftermath of the third elections



 1. Political Corona


n Tuesday evening at eight o’clock the door to the prime minister’s limo opened and his personal bodyguards leaped into the Jerusalem chill. Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife walked towards the lobby of a hotel in the city, where they planned to dine at a restaurant on the top floor, which is under chareidi ownership. The reason: a celebratory dinner to mark their anniversary, and the fantastic gains that the Likud made in the election.

Already upon emerging from the car, the transformation of Netanyahu was evident. Less than twenty four hours after his triumphant victory speech in Tel Aviv, a speech that perhaps reflected the most dramatic moment in his political life – the cheerful expression had been replaced with a rather dejected look. The joy was replaced with some bitterness. It looked like the worry was starting to eat away at him.

It was hard to believe that it was just a day after the heady victory of the right wing camp. The hordes of supporters, the friends from abroad and the energetic campaigns, have now moved aside. Binyamin Netanyahu will have to deal with the result that more or less means that the mess will continue, as he finds himself in almost the same place as he was on the eve of the third elections. The numbers that flowed in from the Central Elections Committee immediately made it clear to Netanyahu what this lack of a majority means.

It came drip by drip: first, with the exit polls, there was talk of 60 mandates for the right, with a good chance of 61. Then it dipped to 59. Then, when he was already seated in the restaurant, and raised a glass to drink l’chaim, someone reported to him that the needle was moving towards the 58. However you cut the cake – the right does not have 60 mandates.

The significance of this for Netanyahu is dramatic. Less than a year ago he lost his government because he was one mandate short. He fully understands that a shortfall of two or three mandates means losing power, dividing power with a foreign entity, or going to another election. With 61 there is a government. With 60 there is a bloc to ward off opposition. When the number is 59, that’s already danger zone. The secret dialog that began on Election Night with Orli Levy’s people has been frozen. It’s not relevant that anymore.

This time, Netanyahu doesn’t need defectors, he needs a mini political explosion, such as the defection of an entire faction from a larger party. One example: Amir Peretz and his friends from the Labor Party. In politics you can’t rule anything out, but the way things look, this does not seem realistic at this time. Peretz is digging in – and more than that, his fellow party members harbor a deep hatred for Netanyahu.

The bitter feeling becomes even worse in light of the Likud’s remarkable gains. Who would have believed that the tremendous victory that Netanyahu brought in the form of 37 mandates for the Likud (note: that number can change when the final numbers are publicized) – would be erased by the meteoric rise of the United Arab List, which now has a 15-mandate bloc for the Left camp. This bloc is funded entirely by foreign countries and foundations run by Israel’s enemies, and it has itself a very clear goal: to thwart Trump’s deal of the century in every way possible. This goal, as it looks now, seems to have been attained: there will never be a hostile, foreign representation in the Israeli Knesset, with so much power that can it can be the deciding factor about which government will be established – and by extension, which diplomatic plan will or will not be advanced.

For Netanyahu, this is a huge frustration; although he was able  to fire up the public and bring another 100,000 votes for the Likud, the turnout among the “Anyone but Bibi” bloc who want to topple him from power was just as determined as his big bloc of supporters.

And so, we remain with a country that is stuck, lost, with no clear outcome. The corona disaster is knocking at the door. The situation is getting worse – to the point that it might become a national emergency. There are countless cancelled flights, the blow to the tourism industry, and a huge challenge for the Israeli economy. The coming five weeks are critical for Israel’s economy. The Israeli Health Ministry is about to declare the United States a corona stricken country and anyone who returns form there will need to be in isolation; American citizens will not be able to enter Israel. It’s easy to imagine what this far reaching step might mean. The world is in an unprecedented situation.

And yet, the country is divided and held hostage by endless hatred; parts of the country are even willing to hook up with the worse of our enemies and their representatives, just in order to strike at one of its own.

Sad. Very sad.

2. A Divine Phenomenon


espite the complicated numbers for the right, and while the biggest threat right now is the unification of the Left-Liberman-Arab bloc, with 62 mandates which might drag the country to another election – there is something that we cannot make light of: Netanyahu’s efforts in this election, the amazing work he did, and his unmatched ability that was proven by the sheer number of people he brought out to the polls. He went from city to city, knocking on doors, visiting malls, standing in town squares, and acting like a storm wind in an effort to bring Likud voters out. The result, in this sense, proved itself with an almost historic number of mandates for the Likud.

These elections also marked a record peak of the relationship between Netanyahu and the people of this country. We saw Likudniks going from the hospital to the polls. A kallah went to vote on the way to her wedding. People aged 100 and over who had immigrated from Morocco were photographed going to the polls with the bit of energy they have to vote for the most beloved leader the right wing has had since Menachem Begin. Even rabbanim and large swathes of the Torah observant community are already treating Netanyahu as a phenomenon that indicates that something Divine is going on here. No one can take all this away from him.

But numbers are numbers. They don’t lie. There is no doubt that if Netanyahu would have gotten up and said, “I realize there is a political morass here and the source is my presence, and the inability of the Left to tolerate me, so I will move aside and am going to crown another candidate from the national camp” – we would have a unity government in 48 hours. The problem is that this is not a decision can make himself; he needs to get the agreement of half the nation, the two million voters who like him and follow him. And this half smothers him to death with love. They are not ready for him to go anywhere.

So where are we headed to from here? Will someone in the Blue and White cockpit agree to go with a unity government, on the model of rotation that Rivlin suggested after the last election? Perhaps someone in the Labor party will break and change their mind? As of now, these ideas are fine for a scoop or a media spoof. There is no reason why what didn't happen after the first elections (when one defector was missing) and what didn’t happen after the second election will happen after the third. So we’re back in the long, dark tunnel. No one can know what will happen in the political arena in the next five months.

People ask this writer: “Will there be fourth elections?” I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I can only remind everyone that no one fathomed third elections either. Or second ones. No one wanted them: the repeated elections are not something that anyone planned; they are the result of paralysis. The same is true now: No one wants fourth elections. But the hatred that has taken hold all over, the low talk everywhere, and the abysmal war between parts of society – are dragging us all towards fourth elections.

The only question mark hovering over the apparent trajectory to fourth elections is: what will Lieberman do. Will this man, who has already surprised everyone and done what no one dreamed he would do – link up with the left and the Arab parties to establish a short lived government for one purpose – to eject Netanyahu from Balfour Street, and then bring about another reelection when Netanyahu is not prime minister? There’s no way to know. The decision is on the head of one person: Lieberman himself.

Amidst his rabid hatred for Netanyahu, will Lieberman agree to forge the insane alliance with the hostile Arab power in the Knesset to carry out his plans of ousting Netanyahu from the political system – or will the fear of being signed on such a deal paralyze him and he’ll drag us into yet another election?

Only a psychologist on all things Ivet can predict the answer to this question. And even that is not certain.

3. Levy Would Be Welcomed with Honor

Orli Levy-Abekasis would seem to be a very loyal partner for Netanyahu. She has all the right specs: She comes from a right wing background, and is a right winger herself. Due to dismal political circumstances and conditions that were imposed on her – she found herself on the same list as people furthest from her worldview: Meretz.

With the left plotting one of the ugliest schemes in political history, orchestrated by her arch-nemesis, the chairman of her former political party Avigdor Liberman, now she can fulfill the passuk in Megillas Esther: “And who knows if it was not for this that you got to royalty” – and save the entire State of Israel from its enemies.

The deal that she was offered was simple and brilliant: The health ministry for herself, candidacy for president for her father, and the adoption of her social agenda in full. In a certain sense, if Netanyahu is convicted one day – it will be President David Levy who will be able to pay a debt of gratitude and pardon him, thus halting the legal devil’s dance that the Salah A Din gang is pushing the entire country towards. There were those who began to put the process in motion, but then the updated figures streamed in from the Central Election Committee and the effectiveness of the offer faded as the right moved further away from 59.

If ultimately a miracle will happen and the bloc will return to 59 mandates – which looks right now to be virtually impossible – Levy can be the one to stop any option that the Left is planning with the Arabs. Together with her, the right can reach sixty mandates that will put the brakes on the Palestinian vision. On Wednesday afternoon, efforts were made to literally bring the skies down to snag Levy to the right wing bloc.

By the way – do not believe the denials of any potential defector, be it Levy or MK Omer Yankelevitz. Potential defectors do not tend to confirm that negotiations are being held with them. The dialog with Levy-Abekasis began right after the elections and there was no negative response. There are three people who are in the secret of Orli Levy’s deliberations: her husband, Erez Abekasis, her brother – Beit Shean Mayor Jacky Levy, and of course, her famous father. In a traditional family like the Levy’s – the father’s opinion carries a lot of weight.

As noted, the option of Orli Levy is not enough as long as the right does not revert to 59 mandates. The other option is canvassing Orli Levy from there and Omer Yankelevitz from the other party to thwart the danger to the nation that has sprouted from the rabid political hatred that has teamed up with the highly motivated terror supporters in the Israeli Knesset. If they muster up the courage, these two responsible women can be remembered for generations to come as the ones who saved the country.

And if not, revach vehatzalah ya’amod laYehudim mimakom acher.

4. The Jews and the Israelis


hese elections told a surprising story.

Seventy two years after the traditional wrestling match between the left and the right began, the time has come to get used to new swathes of Israeli society. Beginning in Winter 5780, we see something new: the two major sectors in Israel’s population feel an urge to go to elections over and over again, as long as they don’t recognize one another — an urge motivated by one factor: the collision between Israelism and Judaism.

The left wing has many members who have right wing views. The right wing has those who do not object to conceding territory. But it's not about territory, or about a free economy versus the socialist approach. It’s one thing: most of the Jewish nation in Israel wants Israel to be a Jewish state, with all the accompanying symbols and signs. They like tradition, want Toras Yisrael, and aspire for the country to be connected to its roots and to convey to the coming generations a proud and glorious Jewish heritage. Judaism with values.

On the other side are thirty percent of the Jewish nation in Israel who feel intimidated by tradition. To them, tradition is dreadful and weighty, and must be combatted at all costs, publicly. This thirty percent are jointing the twenty percent of Arabs in the Knesset – and together the anti-tradition and anti-Jewish power becomes half of Israel’s political power base, which is doing everything possible to sever Israel from tradition.
When Aryeh Deri is able to bring a fantastic nine mandates, at the same time as Netanyahu, who is fighting for similar population bases in the traditional, Sephardic communities, brings 37(!) mandates and draws votes from across the right wing spectrum – the reason is simple: They comprise more than forty mandates of non-chareidi Jews who fear the danger that Israel will become a Hebrew speaking Sweden.

Unfortunately, on the other side, the motivation to secularize Israel is at a peak energy level. We saw the left wing voters streaming ardently to the polls. Many of them, by the way, voted for the United Arab List. We mocked them, thinking they would not bother to go vote, preferring to drink espresso in northern Tel Aviv or travel the world (perhaps Corona precluded that). But apparently the stronger the awakening of the power of holiness – the stronger the opposing forces. Zeh l’umas zeh asah Elokim.

It's sad to see the hostility to tradition, but it is heartwarming to see that seventy percent of the Jewish people in this country are fighting for its Jewish image with holy and boundless determination.

Let us pray for “venahafoch hu.”

5. Gantz's Dilemma


ore than Netanyahu, Benny Gantz is perhaps the most tragic figure in these elections. He started out as the big promise. A tall military Chief of Staff, with a reputation for integrity and compassion. True, he is not charismatic like Netanyahu; he’s not a star and hardly captivating. And true, he is a bit confused. But he’s not the story. The story is about those who crowned him their leader. That is the Ashkenazi-Liberal-Secular left wing camp – which in certain ways is also anti-Jewish. Despite the fact that Gantz himself is traditional, those who follow him and insist on using him to topple Netanyahu, do not mean Netanyahu. They mean one thing: sever the roots of this nation and create a new reality that is disconnected from Judaism.

After all the embarrassing reports about him, Gantz is the first one who should want to jump onto Netanyahu’s bandwagon and form a government with him. Gantz has a lot to lose: in the event of a fourth election, chances are that his camp will not put him at the top of the list again. He won’t be given a fourth chance. The architects of Blue and White will try to have a new start. For this reason, if Gantz can now earn half a term as prime minister – he should grab the opportunity. He has only one problem: he has to bring his friends on board with him – those same people who cleared the stage for him so that he should bring them to the government.

And Gantz humiliated them. He didn’t provide the goods. He didn’t formulate a message. He didn’t connect to anyone. He has no opinion on any subject. He has turned out to be like an insignificant campaign banner. Gantz understands his friends’ frustration today, and their concealed anger at him. He knows that the path to fourth elections – even if a miracle happens and he will be the head of the list – won’t be a party. Those in the cockpit will harass him and drive him crazy. If it was up to him alone, he would close a deal with the prime minister. But with Lapid on one side, and Bugi Yaalon on the other – two politicians who, beyond their personal hatred of Netanyahu, want to replace Gantz at some point and become prime minister – he is stuck. He has no wiggle room.

And maybe, just maybe, common sense will win out.

6. Three Scenarios


s of this writing it looks like we’re heading for a fourth round. But it is also necessary to listen to the nation. The strength of a good politician is his ability to go out to the street and sniff out public sentiment. In the current reality, with the corona panic endangering us economically more than the actual health risk – fourth elections might turn out to be a catastrophe. When the country should be trying to handle a looming collapse of many sectors in the economy- from the airline industry, to food supply chains and tourism – the nation will not forgive politicians who lead it to a fourth round of elections in a row.

And that is Netanyahu’s greatest hope. True, on paper we are on the way to another round. But even the Blue and White politicians realize that when the economy is at risk,  borders are closing, tens of thousands are in quarantine, more than 17 cases of corona have been diagnosed in Israel, and the tourism industry is on the verge of collapse – no one will forgive them if they insist on dragging down the country because of their personal vendetta with Netanyahu and the big X they will have placed on the person who 2 million people voted for to be prime minister.

This assumption gives a certain chance that we will ultimately return to some model of compromise. It’s worth following how things evolve in the coming days. But it’s important to remember: this might be salvation for Netanyahu, but not necessarily for the chareidi public. In the event of a unity government – Netanyahu will not get the go ahead to establish a government with the chareidi parties. The price of unity with Blue and White will be a detachment from the chareidim and Yemina, with everything that that means.

On the assumption that Gantz will somehow persuade his friends not to repeat the mistake of the eve of the third elections – there are now three options on the table. The first: a Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, based on the president’s framework, more or less. The Likud will prefer the more, Blue and White the less. The Likud will say ‘We grew in the last elections, our position is better and we are the biggest party.’ Blue and White will say, ‘The president’s plan – as is.’ In the end, they’ll meet somewhere in the middle.

What are the chances of achieving such a government, with optimal conditions for Blue and White? The path includes a scare campaign that Blue and White will launch, saying, ‘We are passing a law that will prevent Netanyahu from running.’ The more Netanyahu will be frightened, the quicker he will capitulate. Blue and White has every reason to agree, if only for the fact that fourth election will not improve their standing. On the contrary. Blue and White was established to dismantle the right wing in Israel. It tried to masquerade as right wing: it joined up with Yaalon, and adorned itself with right wing MKs, but it was not able to break the right wing armor. Fourth elections will not bring about the miracle.

The second option: A minority government with Gantz and the Left, with the abstention of the Arab parties and Lieberman. This requires a warning note: Gantz and Lapid also realize that the three ultra-radical, terror supporting Balad MKs cannot be connected in any way to such a government, not even with abstentions. That brings the left wing bloc to just 59. In order to get there, Gantz has to despair of every alternative option. We’re not there yet.

The third option: Gantz brings 59 people who recommend him as prime minister, to Netanyahu’s 58 and gets the first mandate. Then he will rush to do the following: he will push out Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein, with the support of the Left-Lieberman bloc, and appoint in his place MK Meir Cohen from his party. Then he will take control of the work of the Knesset through the Organizing Committee. The third stage will be to pass a whole string of anti-corruption laws and matters of state and religion, and then he will become the de facto controller of the Knesset.

Today, Gantz realizes that he made a mistake when he did not insist that Lieberman help him oust Edelstein and didn’t take the act of leadership. At this point, even if he has to get to fourth elections – Gantz will come as the ruler of the Knesset, backed by a series of new laws, which will inject some wind into the sails of the despairing left. It is a step that, he claims, will help him crumble the right wing bloc and he will join up with one or two parties from there.

Netanyahu was the first one to foresee Gantz’s options and he is uptight. Very. This is the most bittersweet achievement he has ever experienced in his political life.

7. We're All in the Same Boat


ow, to the internal chareidi scene.

In these elections there was a clear disparity between the two chareidi parties – Shas and UTJ. While UTJ operates as a federation of parties, and each representative works in his sphere of influence and deals with rebellious elements, and there isn’t one person who can rise above and look at the entire horizon, Shas operates differently. Party Chairman Aryeh Deri rose above the party considerations and worked to help the entire bloc. He analyzed databases, traveled from city to city and combed the bloc, working to extract the maximum from the databases.

Although Deri knew that by linking up with Netanyahu he would be contributing some 100,000 votes from the potential pool, he realized that it was necessary. That is why Shas worked to compensate itself with new votes, including those who hadn’t voted for the party in the past. These included Chabad chassidim and the ‘working chareidim.’ The mindset was that it doesn’t matter how many mandates Shas and UTJ have, but whether Netanyahu will be able to govern or not.

The connection with Chabad, for example, was very interesting. Seeing askanim of that Chassidic court working tirelessly to make Shas successful in the chassidus, was an unbelievable scene. We have to admit that Shas made a herculean effort, but ultimately was left with the same nine mandates that it had before it all. But the party made the effort. In the end, Shas also contributed votes to Netanyahu and increased the database.

In UTJ the story is different. The seven factions are all self-focused; each one took a large election budget and distributed it among the chassidic courts, gabbaim and members of the communities. The delicate sectoral divides make it necessary to print each flyer in two runs – half at a chassidic print shop and half in a Litvish one. In addition, budgets need to be paid to every faction of the party, so instead of focusing the effort on generating votes, they spent their efforts on dividing the budget.

We saw the dancing in the party’s headquarters on Election Night, and we can say: it’s good to be happy in Adar, but it’s also worth recognizing the reality: UTJ did not grow in most places. When you subtract the natural growth, it turns out that at least ten percent of the party’s potential supporters stayed home. About eight percent more voted Likud and five percent voted Shas.

It’s unacceptable. UTJ is a party built on obeying Gedolei Yisrael. But it is impossible to build a campaign only on obeying. There are wide margins of people who need to be spoken to eye to eye; they need to be reached with an effective, sharp, focused campaign. You can’t use the weapons of 1999 in 2020 and hope for the same results.

Perhaps the fourth election will be a chance to correct this.

8. A Message From Above


t the end of this week, I'm trying to ask myself: What is wanted from us from Above? Why are we being dragged into the same annoying stalemate? We were so close to victory – why weren’t we able to attain those two mandates so we could celebrate Purim drunk with victory?

And then I had an understanding: Every group has a natural desire to prevail over the rival group. It is a human, natural need; everyone will do what they can to reach that goal. But when the dialogue devolves into hatred, mudslinging and humiliation, and when the entire atmosphere is marred by the discord, no victory can possibly emerge.

I write this with a lot of pain, because we will all pay for this lack of victory. But if there’s something that these elections taught us, it is the fact that it is impossible to make any genuine Jewish achievement when you go against the Shulchan Aruch.

Character assassination might work in Trump’s election polls, but not in a Jewish state. Perhaps at the end of the day, the two parts of this nation will learn to talk to one another. Not to agree, not to get together, but at least to speak respectfully. To agree how not to speak and which red lines don’t get crossed. A culture where every person is a walking media station and every telephone is a shooting cannon, a situation where everyone is allowed to disseminate rumors and slander in the name of the desire to win, without making any calculations, is unacceptable. And, as it turns out, it doesn’t lead to victory.

We’ve gotten a message from Above: Do you want to win? Go with your truth. Don’t go against all rules of ethics and morals, and transgress every tenet of bein adam lachaveiro. Don’t offend people, even if they are not on your side. The path to victory goes through the Jewish channel, not through Trumpian language.

We are Jews and next time we will need to win another way.


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