Israelis, This Election, Vote as if It's Your Last Chance; It May Very Well Be

No one, it appears, has a lower opinion of Israelis than does Benjamin Netanyahu. There are indications, though, that the feeling may be mutual. Vote this time around. It's worth a shot.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Ballots behind a voting booth at a polling station.
Ballots behind a voting booth at a polling station.Credit: Tess Scheflan
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, there's going to be an election here in the coming year.


Yes, it will be extraordinarily expensive in a country which cannot afford it. Yes, it is almost certain to be divisive. It may well even prove inconclusive. Nonetheless, bring it on.


Because if enough Israelis come out and vote in 2015, they can actually do something this government has failed to do for years and years and years now: change this place for the better.

And because of something my wife told me this morning:

It may be the last time you, I or anyone gets the chance to vote in a democratic election in Israel.

Every single day since it came to power, the Netanyahu government has worked overtime to promote policies and laws which enshrine inequality, subvert due process, deepen Orthodox rabbinic theocracy, disenfranchise and alienate minorities, incite against the powerless, and degrade the workings and the institutions of democracy itself.

Fearing a rebirth of social protests, the government has succeeded in inculcating the debilitating sense that nothing can nor will be done to reverse a palpable decline in available health care (outside of the settlements), affordable housing (outside of the settlements), quality education (outside of the settlements) or icy official indifference to the distress of its citizens. Outside of the settlements.

Since he won his third term in 2013, the prime minister has cultivated the paralyzing sense that nothing, not even the Israeli public, can persuade this government to negotiate with anyone. Nor can anything or anyone stop it from pointing its every middle finger toward Obama's America and, for that matter, toward its Jews.

Nothing can stop this government. Except for an election.

We know what the prime minister's strategy will be for winning a fourth term. He's been trying it out on us for weeks. He's betting on nationalism-cloaked racism, fatalism, terrorism, disenchantment, force of habit, force of fear, and the pervasive depression of a belief that nothing can change – all to convince voters to stay home on election day, and let him cruise to yet another limping victory.

He thinks it's a winning bet. No one, it appears, has a lower opinion of Israelis than does Benjamin Netanyahu.

There are indications these days, though, that the feeling may be mutual.

It's a matter of momentum.

In a mid-November survey, only 35 percent of respondents judged Netanyahu suited to be prime minister, while 47 percent said that it was "time for him to retire and make way for others," a plurality which edged out those who said he should run again.

In making his calculations, he's placing the bulk of his chips on a low voter turnout. But that strategy may backfire.

Netanyahu is betting that Israeli Jews of the center and left, disappointed for decades, and Israeli Arabs, discriminated against for longer, will stay away from the polling places, assuming that the election is a foregone conclusion.

He's taking a risk.

His Likud party's pull among right-centrist voters has dimmed markedly. It has already sunk from a bloc of 32 Knesset seats last year to a contentious core of just 18 MKs, nine of whom have led the drive for extreme and anti-democratic legislation. Rightist infighting, meanwhile, has drained the Likud of seats. It is now the second-largest party in parliament behind Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid.

Moreover, analysts noted this week, if the Likud begins polling at around the present 18-seat level, and a contender from the center or center left begins to poll at 16 or 17 seats, center and left voters may awaken in sizable numbers, and momentum may build for a bid to unseat Netanyahu.

Adding to his problems, the electoral group which polls most consistently hardline, young voters, is also the most likely to stay home, or hit the beach, on election day.

Netanyahu is betting that Druze and other Arab citizens, who have voted Likud in the past, will not view as a betrayal his support of an extreme version of a Jewish nation-State bill.

He's betting wrong.

Netanyahu must also contend with the mercurial strategizing of the grandmaster of Israeli coalition politics, Avigdor Lieberman, who in 2006 brought his party into a centrist coalition led by then-Netanyahu arch rival Ehud Olmert, and including Labor, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, and others.

Netanyahu can't afford any more mistakes. But in calling for elections despite widespread public disapproval, he may be making his worst mistake of all.

Vote this time around. It's worth a shot. Netanyahu's been wrong before. Netanyahu's been defeated before. Two landslides, 1999 and 2006.

Vote in this election. Vote as if it's your last chance. It may just be.

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