By the end of election night Tuesday, when it became increasingly clear that the next Israeli government would be led, again, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, central Tel Aviv started shutting down. The cafes along Ibn Gabirol Street and Rothschild Boulevard, which had rigged up large viewing screens, switched over to soccer matches and started closing the tills. Young activists at the Tzavta club, where the left wing Meretz party had set up its headquarters, wandered around aimlessly, and Rabin Square, the site of many a left-wing victory party in the past, was deserted — but for a small group of teenagers on skateboards enjoying the dance of the TV laser lights on the empty grounds.
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Central Tel Aviv clearly does not a nation represent, though, and in other parts of the city and up and down the country, Netanyahu supporters and other right wingers were just starting to celebrate.
“It was a totally amazing evening,” said Even Cohen, a senior lecturer in linguistics at Tel Aviv University who is a Likud activist, and the former chairman of “Likud Pride,” the party’s LBGT group. Waiting for results at Likud headquarters at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds Tuesday night, he recounted, all the tension and nerves that had been building up “exploded,” when the first official exit poll results were announced at 10 P.M., giving the Israeli right a lead.
“We knew the odds were against us," said Cohen. "That’s normal for an incumbent, and in this case, with huge amounts of money being poured in from Brussels and the White House to try and influence the vote, we had even more reason to be worried,” said Cohen. “So when we saw we had succeeded despite it all, it was a tremendous feeling and an enormous relief.”
Those gathered at the fairgrounds welcomed the prime minister and his wife to the celebration with “earsplitting” shouts and “so much love and support,” Cohen continued — especially for first lady Sara Netanyahu, who, he explained, “has gone through such a hard time in the media and public.” They partied on until 2 A.M., and Cohen could not fall asleep until 5 A.M. his heart was beating so fast. “I felt like I, along with the nation had spoken: This country wants a right-wing government,” he says simply. “It was an exciting moment.”
Far away from the fanfare over at the fairgrounds, other Likudniks watched on their couches at home, or gathered together with friends with fingers crossed.
“I had a coffee and some cake to celebrate,” says Noam Fathi, an advertising agency copywriter who is one of the most popular right-wing commentators on Israeli social media. “The right punished the left–wing media who have been attacking Netanyahu mercilessly and nastily for a long time. And the result is good and reflective of who we are — we are a right-wing nation because we have gone through a lot and paid for our existence with blood,” he said.
“All the lefties in my office had angry and bitter faces on today,” wrote another popular right wing social–media commentator Yotam Zimri on his Facebook page. “I don’t know if its because of the election results or because that's just who they are.”
“I didn’t vote for Bibi, but rather for [Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali] Bennett because I wanted to make sure Bibi [Netanyahu[ had a strong right–wing wind to support him,” said Hilla Koren, a marketing and communications executive who served as an observer at the polling stations during election day. “But I am thrilled with the results. I did not know it would be so good.” Her 13-year-old daughter called her at exactly 10 P.M. and was almost in tears she was so relieved, Koren added.
“I went to bed with a big smile on my face and woke up with an ever bigger smile — and am feeling optimistic about our future here,” she continued. “This was no time to start experimenting and betting on unsure leadership. This was a time to be strong.”
To her left–wing friends that feel it’s fine to say such things to her as “we thought you were intelligent,” and to post statuses on Facebook announcing it’s “time to leave the country,” and “the next war is coming,” Koren has a message: “Let’s stop waiting for Bibi to fail. His failure will be a failure for all of us,” she argues. “I’m crossing my fingers for our country – not for Bibi – but I feel safe knowing he is the one leading it.”
“It’s time to stop calling the right-wingers in this country primitives and idiots,” chimed in Koren’s sister Idit Lachover-Roth, a pediatrician who voted for Likud. “The left wing has to learn how to accept the will of the majority in this country and stop projecting so much hatred.”
For Magda Caruse, a Romanian–born new immigrant from Canada, these were her first elections and she is happy with the outcome, although perhaps more cautious about when to start celebrating.
“What surprised me about these elections compared to those in Canada,” she said, “is that in Canada we more or less know the platform of each of the candidates, whereas here there are no complete platforms, so its hard to know what to expect.”
She voted for Netanyahu, she said, because she wanted a strong leader. “I wasn’t comfortable with [Zionist Union Chairman Isaac] Herzog’s willingness to partner with an Arab party that is supported by those who want our destruction. That was my main concern,” she said.
So, yes, Caruse feels more secure knowing Likud will remain in power, yet she is holding off on celebrating. “I don’t celebrate before I see results,” she said. “Let's wait to see what happens in the next few years.”