On election night in 1999, at the height of the euphoria of the great victory of Ehud Barak and his One Israel party, several dozen senior officials and associates squeezed into a suite in Tel Aviv’s Dan Hotel, where Barak was watching the results of the exit polls and planning his appearance in Rabin Square. About an hour after the results were publicized one of them turned to Barak and smilingly asked how he was feeling. Barak placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned toward him and asked in amazement: “From where did Netanyahu get 44 percent?”
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At that moment his interlocutor thought to himself that you have to have a very strange personality in order to latch onto a presumably marginal, almost petty question; in hindsight, it’s clear that it was a brilliant analytical insight. How the hell did a failing prime minister, who destroyed everything he touched until he aroused a general sense of revulsion and was ousted from his position at the end of an abridged term of office, manage to come up with 44 percent of the vote? Why did four out of every nine Israelis vote for him, and who were they?
I recalled that story this month. In many polls respondents are asked which candidate is most suited to serve as prime minister. The rate of support for Netanyahu is quite stable – 44 percent. In terms of Knesset seats the Likud’s situation under his leadership is weaker; in the latest polls it averages 25 seats. And still, to an outside observer they are liable to be seen as 25 seats too many.
I can understand Israelis who vote for Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, United Torah Judaism or Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon. Their world view is vastly different from mine, but as a citizen of the country and a consumer of politics, it’s easy for me to draw the map of their motives and their considerations. I don’t identify with the way they’re voting, but everything is clear there.
In the same breath, I find it very difficult to explain what is going through the minds of those who are planning to vote for Likud headed by Netanyahu this time around. Despite serious efforts, I am unable to understand them, or even to imagine their ideological and emotional world.
I can narrow my eyes and imagine Netanyahu aide and Likud spokesman Nir Hefetz voting for Likud under Netanyahu. And attorney David Shimron or family associate Yossi Cohen and Prime Minister’s Office Deputy Director General Ezra Saidoff. You can add to them the candidates on the Knesset slate and their families. But how do you get from here to 25 seats? What is Netanyahu selling them? What past achievements is he flaunting? What promises for the future is he making?
This is the second election campaign in which Likud under Netanyahu is defiantly not even bothering to publish a platform. In other words, his supporters are being asked to support an entirely abstract idea, in the guise of “Likud” or “Netanyahu” – without any essence that can be cashed into plans or activities. That is a supreme level of condescension and disdain for the voters. Although they aren’t coming in droves, neither are they unanimously turning their backs on a party that doesn’t even bother to explain to them what it plans to do for them.
When that is the case, it’s no wonder that the ruling party is basing its election propaganda on a campaign of scare-mongering and mudslinging that is opposition-like in spirit, and based entirely on invalidating the other. But that still doesn’t solve the riddle of the voters, who are not only ignoring the damage caused by Netanyahu and Likud to every sphere for which they are responsible, but are willing to continue to give them yet another chance, while forgiving not only the proven sins of the past but also the total cynicism regarding the present and the future. Almost one in every five voters plans to vote for Likud. In the name of God: Who are you, Likud voters, and why?