Behind Netanyahu's Victory With Poor Israelis

A Likud party supporter carries a poster of Benjamin Netanyahu, Modi'in, April 8, 2019.
\ Gil Cohen-Magen

After this election, just like after every election that Benjamin Netanyahu has won, many leftists were angry at the poor and the Mizrahim who voted for him, and especially at the residents of the south, who voted for Netanyahu despite the Hamas rockets fired at their communities. “The compassion for the residents of Sderot and the south who voted for Bibi en masse is over. Apparently they like incendiary balloons and bomb shelters,” went one of many similar posts that filled left-wing feeds on social networks.

Except the results were supposed to do the opposite: Create alienation toward that sort of leftist political perspective. After all, the breakdown of the votes by polling stations and towns does not leave any room for interpretation: The poor voted for Netanyahu – but the left is supposed to be the camp whose heart is with the poor.

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Political explanations that attribute the support for Netanyahu to people’s stupidity need to make anyone who considers themselves a leftist recoil. If during this election, given the harsh circumstances in which they were held, the people chose to give Netanyahu a mandate for the fourth time in a row – and the fifth in total; if, despite the rockets on Sderot, 42 percent of its residents voted for him; if, despite the fact that Kiryat Shmona bores him, 49 percent of its residents voted for him; if, despite the draft indictments against him and the image of him as a rich hedonist living at the expense of the people, the poor put their confidence in him once again, then it is clear that Netanyahu gives them something that cannot be seen from the political perspective of his opponents – and it is actually his opponents who must reexamine their perspective. Those who conclude from the analysis of the election results that the residents of Sderot like incendiary balloons – they are the ones who are stupid and not the residents of Sderot.

The estrangement from the left’s political perspective could already be felt back at the time of the Elor Azaria affair. That affair was in the backdrop of this election campaign, even though it was not discussed. But Moshe Ya’alon’s joining Kahol Lavan would never have happened if not for the Azaria affair, which was also what was behind Ya’alon’s leaving his post as defense minister. The shooting in Hebron incident and the split that developed in its aftermath between the senior military leadership and the right-wing politicians who came out in defense of Azaria, was the moment when the Kahol Lavan party was conceived.

As a result of the support for Azaria, Ya’alon stood at the Knesset podium, criticized the soldier’s supporters and said: “We are not ISIS.” Yes, he turned Azaria into ISIS. But Netanyahu did not abandon him: “Our soldiers are not murderers. They act against murderers,” he said. So, it is not a surprise either that in the book Azaria is about to publish he blamed Ya’alon. “He called me a ‘soldier who went bad,’ and said we will not be like the enemy ‘that does not condemn terrorism’… It is so disappointing, so painful.” Azaria accused Ya’alon of allowing one of his combat soldiers to be slandered: “Why did you throw me to the dogs?”

What about Netanyahu, who at first condemned the shooting? “There is a small difference,” writes Azaria. “The prime minister came to his senses and had the courage to call my father and listen to him, to tell him I would receive a fair trial. [Ya’alon] also attacked Netanyahu and said he called my father because he saw in the opinion polls that most of the people supported me. From Ya’alon’s point of view, to be attentive to the people, to admit that you might have made a mistake, was something negative.”

Many found it hard to understand the glue that binds Ya’alon to his colleagues in Kahol Lavan. Not just the hatred for Netanyahu, but also the hatred for Azaria could explain this strange alliance between the trio of the alt-right – Ya’alon, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser – and Benny Gantz, Miki Haimovich, Yair Lapid, Ofer Shelah and Yael German. Maybe because, over the years, the hatred for Netanyahu has become the mechanism for whitewashing the hatred of Mizrahim and the poor. “If only they hated the terrorist I killed like they hate me,” wrote Azaria. Until then, just to be safe, we will stick with Netanyahu.