Israeli Vote Shows the Age of Rulers and Subjects Is Over

The public has demanded to be treated differently by whoever heads the next government.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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A Likud party campaign poster depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lies on the ground in Jerusalem on Election Day.
A Likud party campaign poster depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lies on the ground in Jerusalem on Election Day. Credit: Reuters
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Outside the polling station this morning, a nearby clock showed 8:00 A.M., although it was actually seven. Someone must have forgotten to set the clock back before the short winter.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the man, the policy and the leadership, has become a negative representative of the brand “Israel.” This time around, Netanyahu also damaged the image of his own brand, Likud. In the end, Netanyahu managed to bring all of the would-be defectors, who embraced his former advisor Naftali Bennett, back home to Likud.

Until the early evening, as the voting hours began to wane and the preliminary results were being tallied, Netanyahu shrouded himself in gloom, Nixon-like fear, and accusations. If he was doing some soul-searching, perhaps he thought it would have been best if last year, he could have traded the premiership for the presidency. Then, instead of having to depend on Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu would have been able to fly across the globe in style, from festive speech to festive speech, from Congress to the UN, with no responsibility, finally, Citizen Number 1, with a First Lady, for a term of seven years, perhaps with a new beginning at the end of the rainbow.

Netanyahu likes receiving presents, not bestowing them, but he did give one precious gift to Isaac Herzog when he called for early elections: Netanyahu gave him a mandate to implement a different policy. Netanyahu declared that a leftist-Bougie-Tzipi government would mean concessions and withdrawals and other terrifying things. Netanyahu retracted his agreement to a Palestinian state. If Herzog is forced into the opposition, the next government will not be able to toe Netanyahu’s line, as it entails danger of conflict with the Palestinians and the Americans. If Herzog manages to come out on top, it will mean that the voters gave him a clear mandate to steer the ship in the other direction. In that case, according to Netanyahu himself, it will be the will of the people.

Right now, the candidates don’t have time to wipe their tears. They have about thirty seconds before a government is born amidst severe labor pains, to prepare for a journey that will include visits to King Abdullah in Amman, and Presidents Abu Mazen in Ramallah, Sisi in Cairo, and Barack Obama in Washington. While in Washington, they will most likely have to accept the resignation of outcast ambassador Ron Dermer.

During his inaugural speech, John F. Kennedy spoke about passing the torch from generation to generation. Nothing would display a clean slate, a new era, more than adding an Arab minister into the delegation that makes this trip. Ayman Oudeh, for example, could bring the Hadash faction into the government, should internal arguments tear apart the Joint List.

During the 1950’s, before Isaac Herzog was born, and his uncle, Abba Eban, served as ambassador, the Eisenhower administration would have shuddered at the notion of a communist party like Hadash joining the Israeli governing coalition. These days, the Obama administration would welcome it with open arms. It would be an expression of Israel going through a kind of Canadianization – turning into a binational state, with an 80-20 Jewish-Arab ratio, similar to the English-French ratio of America’s neighbor to the north. Maybe there’s something to the old joke, that Moses, with his stutter, tried to tell the people of Israel that they were destined for Canada, but muttered Canaan, instead.

The public, mostly fed up with Netanyahu, instead placed their hopes in Moshe Kahlon and Herzog. The age of rulers and subjects is over. The people don’t want to be subjects any longer. They want a new relationship, a customer-supplier relationship. Service is no good? No payment. Politicians will be under the magnifying glass, and the new government’s honeymoon won’t last as long as one moon. There won’t be any grace period. One prospective Labor minister, who was asked this week which portfolio he’ll get from Herzog, said “you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Yesterday morning Likud ministers were brandishing their back-stabbing blades, but they’ve sheathed them, following publication of the preliminary results.

At 7:15, leaving the polling station on Rothschild Boulevard devoid of any tents, it turned out that the hands of the clock still pointed to 8:00. It wasn’t set at the wrong time – it was just broken. This time, we don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind will blow Netanyahu; and the unrealized hope is that the watchmaker will show up, fix the clock, and set Israel back in sync with the winds of change.

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