Yogi Berra, the American baseball legend, would come out with classic statements, some of which would cause people to double over with laughter. For example: “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” Or, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.” We chuckle at how ridiculous some of his “Yogi-isms” are. But, one of his statements embodied the attitude of “don’t give up, no matter how difficult things might appear to be”. In 1973, he came out with: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” That could well have been the catch phrase the night of the elections for Israel’s Prime Minister that took place on April 9th.
The pollsters tripped all over themselves. At first, they were leaning towards the success of Benny Gantz, the former General-turned-politician, who is the leader of the Blue and White party. He was favored to be the main opponent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party. In fact, he and the three other major figures in his party, two retired Generals and Yair Lapid, a former journalist, who also is the head of the Yesh Atid Party, declared an early, upset victory on the basis of the “polls”. Some believed it to be over even before the majority of the votes were in. It was a long night and despite the neck-and-neck race between Netanyahu and Gantz, it became obvious that it was premature to declare victory – and that, in front of the cameras – because things could change. And, in fact, things did change. By 01:30, the two leading candidates were tied, with 35 “mandates” (seats) each.
The closest to them were two religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, with 8 seats each. It began to look like the handwriting was on the wall: the two front-runners going neck-and-neck, while the two major camps were being split unevenly: 65 for the right and 55 for the left/center-left. Under Israel’s political system, the President of the country, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, would request the leader of the party that would most likely be able to form a new government to do so. In this case, it would be Netanyahu, who was on his way to an unprecedented fifth term in office.
Then, as the night grew on with little change in the two major camps, the dawn appeared and with it, surprise time! The pollsters were wrong! Gantz did not defeat the seasoned politician who constantly seems able to pull rabbits out of non-existing hats. The Zehut party, originally expected to win half a dozen seats or more, didn’t make the cut and is out. Yisrael Beytenu, the party of Avigdor Lieberman, was considered a political has-been by many after severing ties with Netanyahu, but proved everyone wrong and is still in the game with 5 seats, one less than what his party was able to garner in the last election. The New Right party, headed up by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both of whom broke ranks with the Jewish Home party, did not garner enough votes to make the cut for a continued presence in the Knesset. When it seemed that “it was over”, some still said that we all needed to wait because “it’s not over until all votes are counted”. In other words, things could still change. And, they were right.
Still an open question is which way will Avigdor Lieberman go? Despite being groomed in the shadow of Netanyahu and the Likud, he has proven over the years to be an adept politician and a skilfull negotiator, able to work with Netanyahu, as well as to work against him. He could hold out until the last minute, as he did following the last election, when he finally decided to join the coalition government and became Minister of Defense (until last year).
In similar fashion, Moshe Kahlon, leader of the Kulanu (All of Us) party, barely made the cut and it is still not clear whether Kulanu will end up with 4 or 5 seats. Despite his relatively successful service as Minister of Finance, he fell victim in the shadow of the political battle between Gantz and Netanyahu and his party ended up losing ground. It is doubtful that he will have much influence in the setting up of the new government, unless he agrees to be wooed back to the Likud by some of the party faithful, a possibility hinted at by Likud’s Gideon Saar on election night. This could well occur. Kahlon has demonstrated that he can get the job done, is well-respected by many in politics and he would be warmly embraced by the leadership of the Likud if he did so, as his return to the fold would serve to strengthen Netanyahu’s leadership. But, he would need to backtrack on his statement during the campaign that the Prime Minister cannot continue to lead the nation after the filing of a criminal indictment against him. There is no doubt that if Kahlon gets a ministerial post in the new government, he will be a stabilizing influence between the Likud and some of the extreme-right parties, particularly the ultra-religious. And, Bibi could trust him. So, we’ll see what happens.
And what about the Labor and Meretz parties? Back in the early ’90s, they constituted a formidable leftist alliance, with all that resulted from their joint perspective on being willing to compromise the safety and security of the people of Israel. They managed to scrape together 10 between them. It’s time to say good-bye to them both.
Today, after tallying votes of those serving in the military, the New Right was revived and was looking forward to being part of the new government. But then, it turned out that they fell short by 1,000 votes, which meant that they again did not make the cut. Bennett is, of course, asking for a recount. And, it turns out the 35-35 tie was broken, with Bibi getting a 36th mandate and United Torah Judaism losing ground to 7 seats. The United Right party (headed up by a former military officer who also served as the Chief Military Rabbi of the IDF) also dropped from 5 to 4 seats. If Bennett and company end up making the cut, it could give Bibi a “right camp” of 67 seats against 53 to the left/center-left. If they don’t get it, the “right camp” could end up with a 64 to 56 majority. The final tally, including some 200,000 votes that still needed to be counted as of this afternoon, is expected to be in by the end of the day.
There is no doubt that the big winner in the election is the Prime Minister, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. Notwithstanding on-going criminal investigations and the major opposition of three former IDF Generals, his party received, as of this writing, 36 seats. A dream fulfilled, enabling Bibi to gather under the wing of the Likud, the various right-wing parties and to have a clear majority in the Knesset. He has demonstrated his ability to provide stability to his party, something which the other parties hoped for, but were unable to attain.
Much more can be said regarding the results of the election, including speculation, some of which is reasonable, on who will get what ministerial post in the next government. But, why get into that now. After all, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”
With that said, where do we go from here? Yair Lapid, the fourth major player in the Blue and White party, and who was slated to switch with Gantz as Prime Minister, one year on and one year off, has promised that the Blue and White party, which will now lead the Opposition, will make life miserable for the government. What does it take for Lapid and company to get it into their heads that the people have democratically made their decision for the government to be headed up by the Likud, with Bibi as the Prime Minister, not as a king?
One TV personality blamed the media for Netanyahu’s victory, stating in part (in Hebrew): “My friends in the media, don’t be confused. The victory of Bibi and the ultra right-Haredi coalition that was here is registered on your name…You thought that if you would give the chosen leader of Israel no rest even for a minute, that you would leak the conversations in the investigation files, ignore and disdain his accomplishments, bark at him in interviews, in the end he would fall. And what came out of that? He didn’t fall, he is stronger than at any time, and the new government doesn’t even have a representation of center. Nothing.” Then, he referred to a conversation that he had with someone on the street, who told him – “I don’t care if Bibi stole, he can even take a thousand shekels a day, the main thing is that he will be the head of the country. You thought that in the name of legal correctness the nation of Israel would give up on someone it perceives as the leader of a generation. Not only did you err, but now you pushed him to be more right-wing than he is…You wanted to bring the left back to rule, but in fact, you smashed it to pieces.” He concluded his article with: “And now what?…Keep going your way, because that is what you know to do, or will you draw conclusions? To the sounds of your scornful snores I say to you – take a break. Bibi won’t stand trial during his tenure. Let the guy work, let the public rest from you…at least change the frequency, accept the decision of the majority….“ (emphasis mine)
After the final results are in, will it be over? Or will we just be beginning the next round of political confrontations and battles? We’ll soon see.
Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. (1 Chronicles 29:12)
Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people. (1 Samuel 9:17)
May the prayer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be: Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of Yours? (2 Chronicles 1:10)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.