Israel Election Results: Despite Deadlock, Centrist Voters Cautiously Hope for Gantz Victory

Those who cast ballots for Kahol Lavan puzzle over the muddled results of a dead-heat election whose victor remains unclear

Benny Gantz, the morning after taking the lead in Israeli election 2019
\ Moti Milrod

At a neighborhood café in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the morning after Israel’s do-over election, the talk was of the muddled results and what they might mean. The only consensus was head-scratching and frustration, tinged with relief that change might be afoot.

“What a waste of money, what a waste of time. And here we are, stuck again,” said Hadas Einav-Debby, 41, an administrative assistant in Tel Aviv, and Kahol Lavan voter. Results show a dead heat between the ruling Likud party, headed by embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz's centrist party.

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She’s been listening to the talk that the parties might possibly forge a unity government to resolve the impasse. That's what Gantz is advocating. “But I don’t know what it even means. Will it even be so different policy-wise than what we have now?” Einav-Debby asks.

And she’s uncertain such a government will fix the problems she sees as especially broken in the country, specifically issues of equality and education.

Einav-Debby, like several other centrist voters interviewed, said she would support the taboo-breaking inclusion of Arab lawmakers from the Joint List — the Arab party now poised to be the third largest party — in a coalition government.

“Why not?” she said, before adding the proviso that they should not be appointed “defense or foreign minister, because sensitive [security] issues could come up and there might be a conflict of interest.”

Adrian Daniels, 49, a Kahol Lavan voter and lawyer from Ra'anana, was among those looking forward to a potential unity government if it means a government without Netanyahu.

“I am more optimistic than I’ve been for a while,” said Daniels. “The results looks bad for Netanyahu, which is good. But it’s not over for him yet; he’s a wily fox. It seems he was even prepared to go to war last week without consulting his generals and the attorney general stopped him. But he’s perfectly capable of doing some kind of action in Gaza with the goal of stopping everything.”

Daniels noted how, compared to the April election, the right-wing bloc has lost five seats. “Perhaps [Netanyahu's] friends in Likud will use this to displace him — that’s my hope,” he said.

Although Daniels worries that a national unity government would be inefficient and clumsy, he would still prefer one to one with ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties, saying, “It’s time to start using our resources to help the country as a whole.”

“We have survived worse. And we would not have survived the same way after another four years of Netanyahu, which would have left us a completely different country,” he said. “And however bad it is, it won’t do irreparable damage.”

Social worker Michal Sagiv-Zanger, 44, agreed that the outcome may help pave a path away from Netanyahu.

“If the final vote is 32 seats for Kahol Lavan and 31 for Likud, I think it gives a strong message that a change can begin, with my hope to move people within Likud to part from Bibi. But if you look at the blocs, the country is still quite right-wing,” said Sagiv-Zanger, also a Kahol Lavan voter who voted for Labor in the April election.

Amir Daniel and his wife voted Kahol Lavan, as did most of Kibbutz Ma'abarot, where they live, he said. (According to the Central Elections Committee data, 42 percent of Ma'abarot voted for Gantz's party while 40 percent voted for the Democratic Union.) 

“We would be very happy to see right and left together — unity is what we need," he said. "I think there is not a lot of difference between Likud and Kahol Lavan ultimately, and that’s what drew us to the party,” added Daniel, 38, who works in marketing for a construction company.

“If you look at the country, it’s a small country; we need to live together. And if you look outside, there are more enemies from the outside than from the inside.”

He described himself as a right-leaning centrist, but said he would like to see the Joint List in the government: “We want Arab citizens to be fully part of the country, to experience the benefits of being part of it and its obligations.”

Ilana Ginni, 72, defined herself as a centrist. She’s a longtime Labor Party activist who is an elected member of the Labor Central Committee and heads the Zionist women's organization Na'amat in Netanya.

She also supports a unity government, but was unequivocal about her opposition to any such government that might include Netanyahu.

“You just cannot have a government led by someone facing indictment,” she said, referring to the corruption cases facing the prime minister. Netanyahu’s fight for political survival has seen him try to pass legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution if he remains as premier.

“We are in such a difficult situation in our region — with security threats from the north, the south and from across the Middle East,” said Ginni. “I want a broad government stretching from left to right that can focus on our security issues, and also our economic and social challenges. But we as citizens cannot tolerate a prime minister facing at least three corruption cases,” she added.

Ginni, too, said she was open to some kind of partnership with the Joint List. In response to those who argue that the Joint List is comprised of non-Zionist or anti-Zionist parties, she said: “Are the ultra-Orthodox parties all Zionist?”