In following the Israeli election returns, American observers had to feel as if they were experiencing déjà vu. It was like the night of the 2016 American elections. The Left media all were reporting exit polls that night that a huge turnout of young Hispanic voters in Florida, determined to defeat Donald Trump, had swung that state to Hillary Clinton. It was all over. Without Florida, Trump had no path to victory. Remember?
Meanwhile, Georgia was late to report, and pollsters would not call the state. Would it fall to the Democrats? The Midwest was a Democrat lock. Hillary could measure the Oval Office curtains.
By the end of the night, it sure was curtains for her.
Throughout Tuesday, the Left media in Israel and in America touted the defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party, the end of his time leading the only American-style democracy in the Middle East (unless you consider Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc. as American-style democracies). His leading opponent, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, heading a center-left-Arab coalition, would be winning. Indeed, the Left media’s exit polls were so assuring that Gantz could not even wait for the actual votes to be counted. After learning that he had won the exit polls, Gantz declared victory and promised to be a Prime Minister for all Israelis. “In elections there are winners and losers, and we are the winners,” he said. “We won and we will keep on winning.” Sort of like the Stacey Abrams of Israel: “Thank you for electing me, and yes of course I deserved it. We don’t have to count the votes now, do we?”
As my earlier pre-election analysis noted, Israel’s polls are notorious for underestimating the religious-right vote. In that earlier analysis I noted, for example, the hesitation among older immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union to reveal their true political views when interviewed by journalists, remembering how such candor could land them in the Gulag back in the USSR. So they do not talk, or they tell the Left media what they assume the Left journalists want to hear. As a result, early exit polls reported that outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s party had done so poorly that he had failed to meet the 3.25% threshold needed for his party to enter the new Knesset (Parliament). However, as the night wore on, it emerged that he had received far more support than his voters had acknowledged when interviewed. Thus, he not only may get in but even may end up with six seats of the 120 Knesset seats.
Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu’s Likud numbers also grew as actual ballot numbers replaced the fantasy data of exit polls. Whereas the exit polls had prompted Left media to report that Gantz’s party had beaten Netanyahu’s solidly by 37-33 seats, the actual returns started to show that Likud indeed may beat Blue & White by two or three seats, with the remaining parties that comprise the center-right assuring a possible center-right coalition of as many as 68 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
The quirky Zehut party of Moshe Feiglin, which put great stock in promoting marijuana legalization, sustained exactly the problem that I had suggested in my pre-election analysis: pot-heads may tell pollsters they support the dude who promotes weed, but they are not the most reliable constituency on election day. Between tokes and munchies, and just overall amiability and chilling, enough fail to show up to vote that they, like, lose. Bummer.
The Haredi “old world” Orthodox parties held their own, while the Modern Orthodox Religious Zionists scored enough to pass the threshold, justifying their strategic wisdom in choosing to have their three different parties merge into one combined slate for the election to assure they would pass the 3.25% threshold and not see four or five seats lost. Moreover, in a complex agreement they made with Likud several weeks ago, one of the seats that Likud has won will go to the Religious Zionists.
On the Left, the socialist Labor party that had dominated Israel for its first thirty years, from 1948-1977, suffered a stunning collapse, winning perhaps only 6 or 7 seats, compared to the 40-45 seats they regularly won back in the days when leftist Labor socialists like David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin held court. Israel has moved well to the right. The Meretz party, which is even more left-wing, came in with only 4 or 5 seats.
It now seems that the center-right will emerge as a coalition of at least 63 seats, and potentially with 67 or 68 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, led by a strengthened Likud under Netanyahu. Liberman, if his six seats hold, may well be Defense Minister again, and Kahlon of the conservative Kulanu party that focuses on advocating for the economic underclass, probably will emerge as Finance Minister again. It seems that the impending conflict between Kahlon and Feiglin over the Finance Ministry thus has been avoided, as Feiglin’s chances may have gone up in smoke.
The remaining important things yet to watch for over the next two days:
1. First, Israel counts all votes cast on election day. The whole country votes in person the same day at voting booths unlike the American craziness where so many mail in early ballots weeks before election day, even before the parties have made their cases to the voters. Those tallies should be done by noon on Wednesday in Israel, coinciding with early morning in America, and those votes comprise 95% of the total cast. That should give a pretty good picture of the pending results, as reflected above.
2. Then Israel starts counting the remaining five percent of the vote that has been mailed in from the only four venues permitted to vote by mail: (i) soldiers on duty in military outposts, (ii) patients in hospitals, (iii) prisoners eligible to vote, and (iv) overseas diplomats. Historically, the mailed ballots end up swinging the final results one or two seats more to the right. The young soldiers in the service comprise the vast majority of the mail ballots, and they historically are among the most sensitive to Israel’s security needs because they are on the front lines facing Hamas and Hezbollah on the other side, and they best understand the dangers posed by Left calls for appeasement and Left fantasies of “peace-making” with crazed Islamic terrorist fanatics. It therefore should result in the right-religious coalition emerging at close to 67 or 68 seats.
3. The New Right party of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is in peril of missing out because, with 95 percent of the voting-booth ballots now counted, they are at 3.17% of the votes. They need to reach 3.25%. Insanely close! Bennett, who headed the Religious Zionists the past two Parliaments, took a huge gamble by breaking from them to form the New Right party that would appeal to secularists, too. His main campaign issues included that he advocates annexing parts of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) where there are heavy Jewish populations. Some 400,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria, primarily in a region known as “Zone C.” Although Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both now recognized by America, she had not yet done so with Zone C, despite its clear Jewish majority. As Bennett’s party gathered steam at the expense of Netanyahu’s Likud, Bibi pulled an “October surprise” during the last days of the campaign by announcing that he and Likud will move to annex those areas. That shocker is credited with winning back to Likud a great number of their prior backers who were gravitating towards Bennett. In that sense, Bennett’s gamble paid off even if he misses the 3.25% threshold: by creating a party that appealed to that segment of Netanyahu’s base on that issue, he forced Bibi and the Israeli government’s leading party, Likud, to go on record as preparing to annex the part of Judea and Samaria that is majority Jewish. Again, it is not yet clear whether Bennett’s own party will retain enough of its earlier support to pass the threshold. So Bennett and Shaked may have to wait until the last envelopes are opened and tabulated, which Israel’s Central Election Bureau estimates may be as late as Friday.
However it finally shakes out, the Left media’s glee in Israel and America was premature, Benny Gantz’s victory speech was Israel’s Stacey Abrams moment, the Leftist exit polls got it wrong yet again, and now we must wait to see which Leftist Israel anchor will be the Martha Raddatz of Zion who breaks down and cries when the reality of the center-right victory proves irreversible.