This must have been the saddest night Tel Aviv's Hangar 11 port has ever seen. Only a few Kahol Lavan lawmakers and activists arrived at the huge venue that served as the election headquarters for Gantz's party as exit polls were released after voting ended in Israel's third election in a year.
It seemed like a party nobody wanted to be at. The atmosphere of defeat prevailed, and despair quickly gave way to a sense of grief once the exit polls were released, indicating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud had surged past Benny Gantz. "If it wasn't for coronavirus, I would have bought a plane ticket for tomorrow," a Kahol Lavan activist said.
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The empty stage was shrouded in loneliness, like the image of a party leader whom no one wants as the leader of the country. The accusations have already begun to fly: Kahol Lavan's campaign was non-existent, the fieldwork failed, they formed a rift with the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, Gantz looked confused in interviews and co-leader Yair Lapid denied the facts on the ground. These were only a few of the excuses offered by party activists to explain the painful defeat. Minutes after the exit polls were published, a blanket of depression and despair descended.
When Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz took the stage, he attempted to reinvigorate the hall. Gantz did not concede and urged supporters to wait for the final results. "I understand the feeling of disappointment," Gantz said, but added, "We will not give up on our principles and our path."
The Kahol Lavan leader thanked the thousands of activists and supporters for their support through "the nastiest election campaign in Israel's history," adding that "the State of Israel needs to heal, it needs unity, and reconciliation. We will continue to serve the public."
The grim faces of the Kahol Lavan lawmakers who dared to make an appearance said it all. "It’s a disappointment. We expected a better result, but we did manage to maintain our strength and I suggest we wait for the final results," Kahol Lavan lawmaker Orit Farkash-Hacohen said.
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"I don’t think we made mistake in our election campaign, we've stayed loyal to our path and didn't stoop low. Unfortunately, Likud's fake news campaign succeeded in influencing the crowd. I don’t think they have anything to be proud of," she added.
But among the party, fingers were already pointed at the "lifeless, confused campaign," with one Kahol Lavan lawmaker placing the blame on Gantz and his inner circle. "If Lapid was leading the campaign, with fire in his eyes, we wouldn’t have witnessed such a defeat."
Party activists were even more blunt. "At the moment I don't see myself continuing living in this country. I'm so sad, I'm about to burst into tears. Over the past two months, we really believed we could make a change. I don’t understand how the country is willing to vote for a person who has three pending indictment against him. Even if over 50 percent of the Israeli public want him at the helm, it doesn't mean we can overlook over a million voters [who voted for Kahol Lavan]," A Kahol Lavan activist told Haaretz.
Another Kahol Lavan activist from Tel Aviv tried to stay optimistic. "We already had elections when we went to bed with one prime minister and woke up with another, but I understand that this is time it would take a miracle."
"Unfortunately, this time the public wasn't interested in the essence, but in the package," the activist continued. "[Likud] dug up dirt on three generals and told only lies about them. People who led the country to its most important military operations were presented as insane, and the public bought it. If the nation wants a regime that completely ignore the rule of law, they got it."
"Netanyahu stooped to gutter level, it was disgraceful," the activist said. "This is how the public wants to raise our children?"
"I'm not afraid of a long journey," Gantz told the disheartened party, "I'm not afraid at all."