Analysis

Israel Election Results: Israelis Want Nicer Rightists in Power

In casting ballots for Kahol Lavan voters were rejecting Netanyahu's boisterous campaign, more than they were voicing disagreement with Likud's ideology

Gantz's calm demeanor on display in a Tel Aviv media appearance in March.
\ Moti Milrod

The mathematical mess Israel now faces in forming a governing coalition is like the old riddle about the farmer who has to cross a river with a wolf, a sheep and a cabbage, but only has one raft: This one can’t sit with that one, and the other will eat another.

Years of inflaming fears and mutual hatreds, coupled with a prime minister under serious suspicions who is clinging to his job by his fingernails, made the current tangle predictable. It simply reflects the nature of our society and its leaders.

But amid the confusion and disgust, when you look closer, you can nevertheless discern a pattern that contradicts the drift described above. Approximately 32 seats were won by a party that once again, and almost until the end, based its campaign on one single difference with the Netanyahu government: We’ll be the nicer right-wing.

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Likud and Kahol Lavan had almost identical diplomatic and, especially, security ideologies. But Kahol Lavan put slightly greater emphasis on social issues and a great deal more on human relations. Aside from one moment of hysteria against the ultra-Orthodox toward the end, Kahol Lavan waged a campaign relatively free of vilification – and this time, so did Shas and even Yamina and other parties.

This was especially noticeable when compared to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, deep in legal distress, chose to wage an exceptionally dirty, aggressive, Donald Trump-style campaign. He thereby turned this election into a referendum on his character and that of the people around him.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement during a news conference in Jerusalem September 18, 2019.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

Populism, lies, blows below the belt, harsh language and boastfulness – none of it helped him win a clear victory. In fact, it apparently did the opposite. It drove away for example some votes previously won by Kulanu, which merged with Likud this time around. It drove away supporters in Netanyahu’s own Likud party. It drove away people who had worked for him for years.

As someone who has covered him for the last two years, it is sometimes rather tragic to observe a man who doesn’t understand he is shooting himself in the foot on an issue so easy to control – decent behavior. Yet he has nobody around him who can tell him so. On the contrary, those around him intensify the shooting.

Netanyahu has often said the media would have coddled him had he only ceded territories to the Palestinians. But the truth is that Benny Gantz doesn’t pose a challenge to him because of the territories. For many people, Gantz simply represents a more likeable Israel. He is someone they would like to be, and also to live next door to.

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As one voter told me, “What we need first of all is air and quiet. To calm down. Normal people who are surrounded by normal people. Then we’ll see about the rest.”

The slow and painful downfall of the “magician,” which may still take quite a while longer, once again proves that after all Israel isn’t America. True, many Israelis are afflicted with various forms of racism, nor are they interested in what is done in their name in the occupied territories. But it has once again been proven that deep inside, a great many Israelis – what is known as the moderate majority – want to “calm down.” They want the nicer right-wing in power.

If there’s any reason for the left to be a little optimistic these days, it’s that this isn’t such bad news. At least it’s a starting point.

In his book “A People’s History of the United States,” Howard Zinn wrote, “Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex.” In short, it’s “a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners.”

This is true of Israel as well. We aren’t a community or a family, and we never were. We aren’t “brothers.” We have many disputes.

But Zinn ended this paragraph by quoting Albert Camus. In this world, he wrote, “it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.” And indeed, that’s what many Israelis chose this Tuesday.