Israel Election Results: The Quiet Base That Saved Israel From Netanyahu

The childish, narcissistic cries of 'I have no one to vote for' were replaced by a moving mobilization against Bibi

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech.
Olivier Fitoussi

The true base went to bed drained and exhausted on election night and woke up a bit confused the next day. It didn’t open bottles of champagne or celebrate in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. It wondered whether it was even allowed to rejoice and if there was anything to rejoice about.

That’s what it’s like when you’re fighting for your home. There are no cheers of victory when you’re defending your very existence. There weren’t any in Stalingrad, or in Negba during the War of Independence, or during the holding actions of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

The true base didn’t even know it was a base. It has a poor self-image and a lot of self-criticism, some of which is justified. It tends to waste its energy, has trouble unifying its ranks, usually acts depressed and almost completely lacks the consciousness of a political bloc. Nevertheless, it is a bloc. It’s the bloc that has opposed Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing, religious, nationalist government he has represented since 2009.

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This bloc contains both Jews and Arabs. Its frameworks vary; the names change; with each new election, there’s a merger here and a split there. The division of Knesset seats within the bloc is subject to flux, but the total has remained fairly constant. This bloc won 55 Knesset seats in 2009, climbing to 59 in 2013. In 2015 it fell to 53. In the first round of 2019, it rose to 55. And in the second round, this week, it stayed around the same number.

This stability is noteworthy. For years, people have been prattling about Netanyahu’s base – the electorate that has followed him through thick and thin, surviving countless scandals and investigations. Netanyahu is deemed a “magician,” and his base is accused of “tribal” and “emotional” voting.

The base that opposes Netanyahu is much larger numerically, and no less tribal. It has lost five consecutive elections over the past decade, and survived repeated assaults on its very legitimacy, including by the mass media, which have gradually joined the mob. Demography isn’t working in its favor, and Arab voter turnout is lower than Jewish voter turnout.

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Given these facts, it is impressive that this base has remained mostly intact. It’s almost miraculous, when you add in the fact that members of this bloc have more opportunities to emigrate, either temporarily or permanently.

Netanyahu is certainly no magician but a red flag for this base. He’s the glue that binds the base together; he’s incendiary material.

True, this base hasn’t managed to grow, failing for a decade now to persuade voters to join it. The dream of “bringing down the walls” and “hooking up with new segments of society” has crashed time after time on the rocks of reality. Obviously, we mustn’t give up on this dream, but it’s time to moderate our feelings of guilt and failure.

The base’s incurable sickness for the last decade has been something else entirely: an uncontrollable urge to join Netanyahu and his governments. It was actually the emergence of the Kahol Lavan joint ticket – a seeming hodgepodge of views, a truly incoherent collection of parties – that to some extent halted this madness. The latest flickers – worrying questions about the Labor-Gesher ticket’s approach to this issue – were extinguished in time.

The danger was clear and present – an anti-democratic immunity government in which the ultra-Orthodox, the Zionist ultra-Orthodox and the Kahanists would all join Netanyahu in his efforts to finally destroy the institutions of democracy and the rule of law. Until the final days, the threats of apathy, self-indulgence and purism – familiar symptoms in this bloc – still loomed. But they were repelled.

The childish, narcissistic cries of “I have no one to vote for” were replaced by a moving mobilization. I know people who flocked to the polls from Berlin, Barcelona and Manhattan. Many volunteered to serve as observers in polling stations; others urged people to get out and vote or transported voters in the unrecognized Bedouin villages.

Together with Avigdor Lieberman, who isn’t part of the bloc but joined forces with it twice to stop Netanyahu’s out-of-control behavior, this base saved the country this week.