Pray for a Fourth Israeli Election

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People walking on a bridge under an election campaign billboard for Kahol Lavan, in Ramat Gan, February 18, 2020.
People walking on a bridge under an election campaign billboard for Kahol Lavan, in Ramat Gan, February 18, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Benjamin Netanyahu is doing it again. A big surge toward the end of the campaign and a wild ride on a wave of “the whole world is against us.”

He’s doing it the good old way: controlling the agenda, slandering and vilifying, uninhibited and limitless mudslinging at rivals, insane energy, fighting for his life. Not only don’t his voters flinch, in most cases they admire and even worship him for it. In their eyes, this is how a leader should act.

On the other side, Kahol Lavan has been in crisis too long. Things don’t look good. This is not a fair fight on equal terms. Netanyahu, as prime minister, apart from his skills and lack of restraint, also has an advantage in the means and ability to dictate the election agenda.

Kahol Lavan’s people, as usual, are running with weights on their legs. On the one hand they pander to the right with their continued slander and smearing of the Arab citizens’ elected political leadership. On the other hand they’re trying to distinguish themselves from right’s extremism. At the same that they label themselves as respectable and classy, they’re periodically dragged down into Netanyahu’s mud bath.

In its current predicament, Kahol Lavan no longer has the privilege to linger and hesitate.

Netanyahu’s brutal, focused attacks generate great momentum, which will likely translate into a great Likud achievement. Here and there maybe a few Likudniks who didn’t vote last time will do so now (though certainly not in the exaggerated numbers the Likud is citing). There are also those who, surprisingly, don’t exactly know where they stand in the division between those who love the man and those who hate him. In most cases, these are Netanyahu’s hidden worshippers, those who are embarrassed to admit it because of cultural or social circumstances. Netanyahu’s resolve may bring them to Likud.

Will this sentiment give Likud enough votes to break the tie? Is this a shift that could generate a breakthrough by the right-wing bloc? I very much doubt it.

Even if Netanyahu brings Likud an especially big achievement, it will be mainly at the expense of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who are finally assuming their natural size – similar to that of the National Religious Party’s in the days of Zevulun Orlev.

In the other camp, as has been proved and will be proved again until the barrier against Arabs cracks, Kahol Lavan doesn’t have a government without the Joint List – which, according to all the signs, will gain a record number of Knesset seats. Here, too, the movement of support from party to party is mostly inside the bloc: Kahol Lavan’s weakening bolsters mainly Labor-Gesher-Meretz, and the two slates have even started bickering. It’s interesting to see how on the right, politicians like Bennett – who has gotten nothing but humiliation and insults from Netanyahu – continue to defer to the great leader, while on the left the infighting is going full blast.

Thus there are two likely scenarios after the upcoming election – either a fourth election or a unity government that includes Netanyahu and his indictments. These are pretty frustrating scripts, which keep Israel mired in the mud and public-governmental chaos it has been caught in for the past year.

But it’s enough to remember the most frightening possibility, one we barely escaped in April, to make those two likelihoods seem appealing: a 61-seat bloc for Netanyahu, with some new trick to spring him from the reach of justice. When you consider that, a fourth election doesn’t seem like the worst option.

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