Lieberman In, Bennett Out: Winners and Losers in the 2019 Israeli Election

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, heading for a post-election speech, Bnei Brak, April 9, 2019.
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, heading for a post-election speech, Bnei Brak, April 9, 2019.
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The winners

1. Benjamin Netanyahu couldn't have hoped for better results. Every element that had been a problem for him was diminished or eliminated outright, and his dream of serving as prime minister under indictment seems increasingly realistic. All 35 of the seats won by Likud will feature people who line up to laud his brilliance and talent. Given the results, even Gideon Sa'ar and Haim Katz will toe his line.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 22

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The ultra-Orthodox parties that the prime minister loves so much gained three seats, and Moshe Kahlon, who threatened to leave Netanyahu's last coalition if indictments were served against the prime minister, won't be able to topple him — Netanyahu has a majority of 61 (out of 120) seats in the Knesset without Kahlon. Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both of whom Netanyahu loathes, and Moshe Feiglin, who was marked as a troublemaker, didn't make it into the next Knesset at all, barring a change in the final results.

Benjamin Netanyahu hugs his wife, Sara, during his victory speech, Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

>> Read more: Live election updates ■ How Netanyahu won the election ■ Left wakes up to darker day ■ Netanyahu's next coalition: Annexation for immunity from indictment ■ Arab parties need to do soul-searching ■ Netanyahu's incitement against Arabs in 2015 proved a big success in 2019 election ■ Opinion: Time we admit Israel is a dictatorship

Netanyahu will be able to do whatever he pleases with this governing coalition. Bezalel Smotrich already announced he will be amending the immunity law to make sure the government can survive four years. All Netanyahu's promises not to promote changes of that sort have been voided by the election outcome. Not even Trump's peace plan can shake this government. Smotrich with his five seats can't pose serious opposition.

Avigdor Lieberman addresses supporters after the elections, Jerusalem, April 9, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

2. As the people went to the polls, Likud leaders were looking morose, fearing they'd be landed with inferior jobs in the next government. Not now. The position of Israel's president is right there for Yuli Edelstein in two years, if he wants it. Amir Ohana, Nir Barkat, Avi Dichter and Tzipi Hotovely are likely to become ministers, and the Finance Ministry itself could remain with Likud, which will also keep the education and justice portfolios. Netanyahu also intends to keep the defense portfolio for himself.

 3. The ultra-Orthodox parties grew from 13 seats in the outgoing Knesset to 16. After 20 years, Shas is the third largest party in Knesset once again. True, in 1999 it had received 17 seats, just two less than Likud. But because of the upheavals the party has experienced since then, its achievement this time around is impressive. The electoral threshold served the ultra-Orthodox parties well, and support for them grew because the religious communities are growing faster. Shas can be expected to demand the interior portfolio, immigrant absorption and religious services, while United Torah Judaism head Yaakov Litzman will ask to continue holding the health portfolio.

Bezalel Smotrich, of the Union of Right-wing Parties, at the party's primary, January 14, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

4. Many polls signaled that Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party wouldn't pass the threshold. However, he demonstrated confidence throughout. For months he ran, below the radar, the most extreme anti-Haredi campaign ever seen. He gained five seats and now has the power to topple the government, which he couldn't do beforehand. Orli Levi-Abekasis, who abandoned him, didn't get in at all.

The losers

From left: Moshe Yaalon, Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid of Kahol Lavan, April 9, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

1. The primary loser looks like being Hayamin Hehadash. Naftali Bennett, who came into our lives in 2013 as some sort of wunderkind, was humiliated. His second political startup, Hayamin Hahadash, didn't make it in (although this could change once all of the soldiers' votes are counted). Bennett's campaign was frenetic and unfocused, immature and, ultimately, couldn't hold its own against Netanyahu's machine. This is probably the end of the political road for Bennett. Shaked, though, is popular in right-wing circles and could reinvent herself within Likud.

2. Achieving 35 seats is an accomplishment that few parties in Israeli history can claim, but in this case Benny Gantz is among the losers. The only way to go from here is down. Netanyahu has a stable government that the Kahol Lavan leader will find very difficult to tear down if and when charges are filed against the prime minister. Gantz may face four very long years in opposition, with a party that he probably does not completely control. Gantz, ultimately, did not attract votes from the right side of the political map: his votes came from Labor and Yesh Atid.

Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay greets supporters after a resounding blow in the election, April 9, 2019.Credit: David Bachar

3. Eighteen months ago, Avi Gabbay was saying he could win 30 seats and would be the next prime minister. The stampede to Gantz attests that Gabbay's pretensions had no basis. He could not make the people perceive him as a serious contender. The six seats his Labor Party won are tantamount to a death certificate. It has to rethink if it is even needed given the current political map: It is doubtful whether a different leader, such as Amir Peretz or Isaac Herzog, could have led it to a different outcome given the advent of Kahol Lavan. As a former businessman, Gabbay knows perfectly well that with a performance like that, any company would have sent him packing.

4. Moshe Feiglin is used to losing elections. His 20 years in Likud were characterized by being surrounded by a small group of fans and failing at the finish line. This time, with the establishment of Zehut, there had been a feeling that he would make it this time. But it didn't happen. It isn't clear if the fatal move was the bizarre foot massage video, or if the negative messages about him from all directions did succeed in tarnishing him. It seems that the group supporting libertarian economics may be very loud but also very small.

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