NEW YORK – As voters throughout Israel watched the election exit poll results come in on Monday night, Israelis in the United States found themselves once again glued to their phones, taking in the latest numbers and following local news from afar.
In New York, some expats, like Shanie Korabelnik, organized election parties where guests could watch the developments in real-time. An Election Day, especially one so crucial, is a “very difficult and frustrating day for any Israeli who lives abroad and feels attached to Israel,” Korabelnik said.
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She noted that while many Israelis who live abroad fly home to vote during each election cycle, far fewer chose to do so this time. “Maybe because of coronavirus or because it’s the third election cycle in 11 months – and how many times can you get days off work? – almost no one went,” she said. “Many stayed here this time and stuck to their TV screens.”
It is those times, she said, “when you really wish you were there.” To assuage her frustration, Korabelnik is running for a seat at the World Zionist Congress as chair of the Israeli-American Israel Shelanu party. Together with her running mates, she held the election party for Israelis in the New York area.
“If you are happy with the results, this is a great opportunity to raise a toast. And if you are frustrated, it’s a great way to dance your feelings off,” Korabelnik said. “Either way, it is the best place to be tonight.”
Gabi Haberfeld, who moved to the United States from Israel in 1984, says the physical distance from her homeland takes the “daily emotions” out of the campaign, providing a different perspective on the election cycle.
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The 62-year-old New Jersey resident also sees parallels between the leaders of both countries. U.S. President Donald Trump, he noted, “said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and nothing will happen to him. And in Israel you have someone facing three indictments and it’s the same result,” he said of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party garnered the most Knesset seats according to the latest tally of the vote.
“It’s a never-ending nightmare,” Haberfeld told Haaretz moments after learning of Netanyahu’s win. He said it is illogical to him that a person about to stand trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust could reliably lead the country.
“Where are all the people who put the country first and not the leader? It’s become like soccer teams,” Haberfeld said. “How can people not see the major differences between [Likud and Kahol Lavan]?” he asked. “From here it looks so clear.”
Noam Gissis, 33, works in New York as an analyst in advertising technology. He told Haaretz he is mainly concerned about the possibility that Netanyahu will now be able to receive immunity from his legal cases, which “would allow him to do whatever he wants.”
“These polls are evil incarnate, the final results will be worse,” he said, as the first exit poll results were announced, showing the right-wing bloc just short of having a majority of 61 seats. “I think Bibi lost his ideology and is only thinking about staying prime minister – which means that everything is kosher and the law doesn’t matter.”
But although he feels “defeated,” Gissis believed that some are exaggerating the threat. Netanyahu has been prime minister continuously for over 10 years, he said, “and the state still exists; we are over-panicking. We also need to understand why the moderate left is so weak, globally: In Israel, the U.S. and the U.K.
“It is time to refresh and rethink a long process,” he added.
Unlike many of her Israeli friends in the United States, Tal Heinrich was satisfied with Monday’s result.
“I think Netanyahu made huge mistakes and he should have known better, because he had a big legal target over his head ever since he first came to power,” she said. “Having said that, as an Israeli expat, as long as he keeps Israel and the Israeli narrative strong, I am able to be a proud Jewish Israeli living abroad.”
Heinrich, who moved to the United States three years ago, believes that this latest election should serve as “a lesson” for the Israeli left. “If the left is looking to blame someone, then here is a list: Benny Gantz and the lack of a real agenda; the Israeli media; Bernie Sanders; and the release of the Trump peace plan,” she said.
“Whenever the left is running on the agenda of moral superiority, it doesn’t work,” she added. Monday’s vote was not only a referendum on Netanyahu, but even more so a “vote against the left.”
Heinrich also credited Netanyahu for Israel’s “very positive momentum on the world stage, and it will be a shame if this stops.
“I believe in the concept of peace through pride and strength, and there is a real opportunity here,” she said.