1. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scored a stunning victory in Monday’s election, the sweetest and potentially most momentous in his long and illustrious career. His triumph, despite the albatross of three criminal indictments hanging around his neck, is undeniably stupendous. He has fully justified his reputation as the all-time master magician, if not supreme sorcerer, of Israeli politics.
2. Netanyahu ran the most ruthless, sleazy, deceitful and dishonest election campaign in Israeli history, which was also the most precise and lethal. He assassinated his rival Benny Gantz’s character with doctored videos, sexual innuendo, malicious rumors and deliberate distortions. His success will whitewash his dirty campaign, which will be scrutinized, dissected and admired throughout the populist, nationalist world.
Bibi went gunning for his only real rival
If Democrats want a sneak preview into how U.S. President Donald Trump can win in November, no matter who is the final choice as their candidate, they should watch and learn.
And if Trump calls in his debts, Netanyahu will try to reciprocate for what many believe was the turning point of his entire campaign – the presentation of Trump’s “deal of the century,” which, among other things, credited Netanyahu with what many Israelis regard as the country’s greatest diplomatic achievement ever. It’s a hard act to follow, even for Netanyahu.
3. Having said that, Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz was a flawed candidate who is unlikely to retain his position as leader of the opposition to Netanyahu unless he joins the new government, which still seems unlikely. Gantz, admittedly, was a novice at politics when he entered the race in January 2019, but he’s also been a slow learner. He finally found his bearings in the last week of the campaign, responding to Netanyahu’s libels forcefully and retaliating in kind. But by then it was too little, too late: The die was cast.
- Israel election: Netanyahu's dream of 61 seats spells certain danger for rule of law
- Netanyahu’s election comeback puts Israel on course for constitutional crisis
- Israel election results: Over 96 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu bloc at 59 seats, Arab party surges
And as accurate and incisive as the Likud campaign was, Kahol Lavan’s endeavors were pitifully uninspired and ineffective. In terms of electioneering, the matchup between the two contenders for the throne was more or less the Terminator vs. Inspector Clouseau.
4. But Netanyahu’s devilish expertise and Gantz’s amateurish ineptness offer only a partial explanation for the scope of the right wing’s triumph on Monday and should not obscure its significance. Israel’s religious right is emboldened, its center-left devastated. Nationalist and ethnocentrists are jubilant; two-staters and civil righters are rightfully distraught.
A significant majority of Israeli Jews voted for a candidate whose criminal trial is about to start in Jerusalem District Court in exactly two weeks, and thus embraced – implicitly if not explicitly – his dystopian delusion of a leftist cabal that has conspired to frame him in order to depose him. Only a distinct minority stood up for the rule of law, for equality before the law and for accountability at the top.
5. Kahol Lavan, a makeshift and hodgepodge coalition united by common disdain and hostility for Netanyahu, will be hard pressed to survive such a crushing setback. The party was set up for one purpose and one purpose alone: to unseat Netanyahu. After a third straight failure, Kahol Lavan’s sole raison d’être is undermined.
The Israeli left is in a much sadder state: The combined constituencies of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz union hardly made it past the electoral threshold. Labor, the party that founded Israel and ruled it with an iron fist for its first three decades, is set to evaporate into thin air.
6. Let’s not get carried away. This being Israel, nothing is in the bag just yet. If the final tally of votes does not give Netanyahu an absolute majority of 61 seats in the Knesset, he could wind up just as stymied as before. In the April 2019 ballot, the first stalemated round of three, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc garnered 60 seats but could not form a government because of Avigdor Lieberman’s defection from their ranks. There was no indication last night that he had changed his mind.
7. Even if he does overcome the 61-seat hurdle, Netanyahu will face legal challenges to his very eligibility, as an indicted criminal defendant, to be picked by President Reuven Rivlin to form the next government. Any decision to the contrary by the attorney general, the Supreme Court or Rivlin himself will spark an unprecedented clash between the branches of government, and between the legal system and Netanyahu’s ardent supporters. The worst-case scenario of such a clash is a complete breakdown of Israel’s constitutional framework, with all that this entails.
8. Monday night was one of the most festive and jubilant for Netanyahu’s supporters, one of the most frustrating and despondent for his opponents. Netanyahu’s fans saw his victory as a triumph over the leftist-Ashkenazi-secular cabal that had, in their eyes, denigrated them and discriminated against them since time immemorial. For Netanyahu’s opponents, who have long viewed themselves as representing the true values of good old Israel, it was a night of humiliating repudiation by their fellow citizens. For some, it will be remembered as the night they tore old Israel down.