Analysis |

Gone Till November: On Israeli Election, Listen to Wyclef Jean

A quarter-century ago the Haitian rapper presciently predicted the best strategy for following the 2022 Israeli election campaign: Get away from it all, for the moment

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Alon Pinkas
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Israelis doing what they should be doing: ignoring the polls and the speculation.
Israelis doing what they should be doing: ignoring the polls and the speculation.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP
alon pinkas
Alon Pinkas

It’s that time of the year again. The birds are singing, the sky is bright, the sun is shining, you’re feeling all right and Israel has an election coming up.

You think it’s interesting. You think it’s a big deal. You’re sure this is a critical juncture in Israel’s history, or so you've been told, and you want to know what's going on and what might happen. You’re right. So what should you do?

Your best bet is to do what Wyclef Jean did: Be gone till November.

The November 1 election is in fact the fifth in a series. It doesn't stand alone. Israel had an election in April 2019, September 2019, March 2020 and March 2021. All four produced an impasse, though the fourth somehow resulted in a weird amalgam of a coalition government that limped on for year.

Our fifth round is like all four preceding it. It's about one thing: yes or no, pro- or anti-Benjamin Netanyahu.

It’s not so much about the person named Netanyahu but rather what's termed “Bibi-ism”: a populist, incendiary, right-wing, antidemocratic, illiberal, Viktor Orbaneque and Trump-acolyte candidate. A guy on trial for alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust. To his followers he's a righteous, gifted and ordained cult leader. To his pontificating rivals he is evil incarnate.

Benjamin Netanyahu appearing before a state commission last week to testify on the 2021 Mount Meron disaster.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

For both sides, pro- vs. anti-Bibi-ism is an epic clash that will, after maybe the sixth or seventh election, shape Israel – whether it's a (flawed but functioning) liberal democracy or whether it's becoming an intolerant, Orban-like Hungary with theocratic highlights.

Again, jaded and increasingly incredulous Israeli voters are being asked to kindly determine their future and, by and large, trust the same people who did nothing the last four times around.

Again, it's the same – yes, I’m generalizing – cast of misfits, the same rabble of inarticulate, vulgar and untalented politicians asking for a mandate “to govern.”

Again, the ratings-driven, bored media will try to turn this into a breathtaking drama, but very few Israelis will buy it.

Again, newscasters will put on a serious mien when they announce “a surprise poll’ with “far-reaching implications.”

Most importantly, again, no one will seriously debate the Palestinian issue, the demographic reality, Iran policy, law and order, the exorbitantly high cost of living. Everything will be reduced to empty cliches and meaningless one-liners as issues of national importance degenerate into worthless bumper stickers.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaking at an event in Tel Aviv on Thursday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Then there will be the inevitable stalemate. Even if one of the two potential coalitions – pro- or anti-Netanyahu – wins the coveted 61st seat in the 120-member Knesset, the majority will be patently unsustainable and nothing will be done about any of the issues mentioned above. Political inertia is the only plausible outcome.

The impasse is real. The system's structural deficiencies and the quality of the politicians produce political dead ends. But the election results are a true reflection of an Israeli society divided rigidly into two over the Netanyahu/democracy issue. From there society is further clustered into distinct groups, or tribes, on all other issues.

But you’re still interested, either because you care deeply about Israel, or you’re interested in the Middle East, or you’re a political scientist. So what should you do?

Here’s a bit of advice to keep you sane, help you battle information overload and prevent you from being cynically manipulated in the coming months: Ignore. Just ignore.

Ignore the polls. They'll tell you nothing of predictive value until mid-October; they'll just serve as a hollow basis for an ill-informed debate on the makeup of the next governing coalition.

Ignore speculation. In other words, when people with the best of intentions tell you “this is what’s going to happen,” they're speculating. They haven’t the faintest idea, and your speculations are just as good as theirs.

Ignore spin. It's not always easy to separate the signal from the noise. So if you have the slightest suspicion that what you’ve just heard or read is spin, ignore it. The same spin doctors will say the exact opposite in two or three days, hoping you’ll buy that one too.

When an article mentions no names but only “senior sources,” “people close to,” “X’s close associates” or “a confidant,” it’s spin. Go watch baseball, football or soccer. No one is lying to you there.

Ignore bombastic television headlines. They try to create news by eliciting confirmations or refutations, but these surely aren't political facts you need for forming an intelligent understanding.

Ignore those pretending to provide you with unique in-the-loop information. They don’t have that information. What they're doing is practicing the old art of “it’s not implausible.” They take random political tidbits, link them with some coincidental statement, package them in what they think is a trending development and before you know it, they’re feeding you bogus hypotheticals, only to contradict themselves the next day.

Ignore those claiming to tell you what will happen after the vote. A will go with B and invite C, but D will undermine the move so X and Y can join. It’s all nonsense. Remember everyone who forecast that Netanyahu would surely form a government in 2019 or that Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid would never form one in 2021.

They then blame politicians for lying to them, and they’re probably right. But in the process, they sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ignore politicians’ statements, interviews, tweets and TikToks. They're either lying, have no idea what they're saying, parroting lines fed by campaign advisers, disseminating disinformation to elicit a response or confuse opponents, or don’t mean what they say.

Most importantly, on November 2 they'll renege on everything and blame the election results. They'll say “circumstances have changed” to justify their blatant lies about the kind of coalition they'd join. That's the best time to really start paying attention.

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