I woke up just before 7 a.m. to see that…drumroll please…Benjamin Netanyahu has won a fifth term as prime minister of Israel. It was a rollercoaster of a night. Every exit poll had Likud coming in second place, not first. One had them losing to the Blue and White Party, 33 to 27, which would have been the end of Netanyahu as prime minister.
Likud could afford to come in second place, but only by a few Knesset seats. A six-seat gap would have spelled disaster. However, with nearly all votes counted, Likud and Bibi have a slight lead over Benny Gantz’ Blue and White, with both parties receiving 35 Knesset seats.
That is not a Tie?
Why is this a victory for Likud? Simply put, there are enough smaller right wing parties, two considered racist even, that Bibi can work with to form a 65-seat coalition, whereas Blue and White could only muster up 20 new partners, for 55 seats, and that would include the far left (as in, doesn’t live in reality) Meretz (Energy) party and the Arab parties.
My hope, and it is not based on reality, is that Bibi will instead bring the Blue and White into his government and have just two parties—Likud and Blue and White. Why?
- Bibi will not be forced to work with racists.
- Bibi will not be blackmailed into giving millions of shekels to ultra-Orthodox parties that represent people who don’t want to work (but pray) and despise the Israel Defense Forces and refuse to serve.
Bibi under Indictment
However, it is uncertain if Blue and White would work with Netanyahu, as they have repeatedly said that as long as the prime minister is under indictment, they would not join his government. Yes, Bibi will stand before a grand jury soon who will decide whether or not corruption charges will be brought against him as the attorney general has recommended. If so, how can a prime minister run the country while on trial? Technically, he is allowed, but is that good for the country?
Some have wanted to pass what we call, “The French Law.” In France a sitting prime minister cannot be indicted while in office. If that happens, and I think the chances are slim, then Netanyahu’s gamble for early elections clearly paid off. He has a new four-year mandate from the people and there would be no chance of his being prosecuted until out of office. If nothing else, Benjamin Netanyahu has proven to be one of the greatest political minds in modern history.
Middle of the Night Gaffe
Based on the exit polls, Benny Gantz came out to greet jubilant supporters, and declared, “We are the winners.” But by morning he would have to eat those words, finding that it was more or less a tie. And in this case, the tie goes to Likud.
Houdini of the Left
One of the interesting aspects of this election is the disappearance of the Israeli left. The Labor Party is the historic party of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founder and first prime minister. It has lost most of its significance and may soon disappear. The question is why?
Is it because Israel is a center/right nation? Maybe. But it is also because of the way the Labor party treats is leaders. Most parties have iconic leaders who remain leaders whether the party wins or loses. That gives the charismatic leader four more years to appeal to the public. But Labor beheads losing leaders (which would be every leader since 2000!) and thus, they can never build momentum. For instance, Likud has had one leader, Netanyahu, for roughly 15 years. Yesh Atid has been led by Yair Lapid since its inception in 2011. Labor’s current leader took the reins less than two years ago and is sure to be shown the firing squad any day after their poor showing.
For believers, the most troubling result is that the ultra-orthodox Shas party, led by the anti-Messianic Aryeh Deri, who spent several years in jail for accepting bribes, will now be the second largest party in Bibi’s coalition with eight seats. Shas had fought against granting natural born Jews who have embraced Yeshua citizenship. Also getting eight seats is United Torah Judaism. So in order for Bibi to form a government, he will have to woo (bribe) 16 ultra-orthodox minsters, giving them a disproportionate amount of power in relation to the population. In exchange, they will vote for anything Bibi wants—just as long as they get their money.
Also, it was stunning that the very popular, at least on the right, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, who left the Jewish Home party several months ago to form the right wing secular New Right party, did not break the threshold of 3.25 percent and will be excluded from the government.
Former Likud member, Moshe Feiglin, started a new party called Identity, hoping to get back in the Knesset. They focused on rebuilding the third Temple (something Israelis don’t think about, save a few radicals) and legalizing marijuana. My guess is the legalizing marijuana platform was merely to get votes from the pro-pot public. It didn’t work as he went from a projected seven seats a one point, to not breaking the 3.25 percent threshold.
Bibi is back. He will have, unless he goes for a national unity government with the center party Blue and White, 65 seats in his coalition. He could be prosecuted in the midst of his term for corruption and bribery. If he goes to jail, new elections could be called and Blue and White will be waiting to challenge a Bibi-less Likud. But if he skates, we may be hearing the popular chant that was heard all over Israel yesterday—rak Bibi—only Bibi—for years to come.