Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will continue to be Israeli’s prime minister. That much was clear once the votes were counted after the recent Israeli election which took place just two weeks ago. But what astounded so many in Israel was how different the actual election results were from the many surveys that had been published as recently as a few days before the election. And even the exit polls painted a totally different picture than the actual results.
So what happened during this election? What did the surveys reveal and how were they so wrong in predicting the actual results?
The election was called by Netanyahu himself, a rarity for the ruling party to bring about the fall of its own government. But Netanyahu felt that his ability to accomplish anything was deeply hampered by the dissension within his own government. Just two years ago, Israel had national elections but the results left the Likud with a small number of seats and heavily reliant on coalition partners to advance any agenda. Netanyahu at that time also made a critical mistake in putting together the coalition. Intent on creating a government that would appease US and European interests and that would at least give the appearance of a more liberal coalition, Netanyahu invited Zippy Livny to join the government and closed a deal with her party before any other parties. He also gave her the important justice portfolio, a position she manipulated to prevent vital settlement interests from being advanced.
At the time, Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party, had just won an all-time 12 seat win and as a solid right-wing, pro-settlement party, it was expected that Bennett would be the first MK with whom Netanyahu would close a deal. Once Livny joined the government, however, Bennett feared that Netanyahu would try to leave him out of the coalition so he forged a deal with Yair Lapid which forced Netanyahu to include both in the government.
At first there was hope that the coalition would be stable as Lapid and Bennett found common ground in social and economic issues. The consensus was that the peace process was dead, so any differences on that issue did not seem relevant. But as time went on, Lapid felt the need to demonstrate his left-wing tendencies to his constituencies, creating tensions with both Bennett and Netanyahu. And Livny, sensing political opportunity, began to undermine the government’s stated policies whenever she could. Other coalition partners behaved similarly. The result was an ungovernable government.
When the present election campaign began, the left-wing parties sensed that for the first time in a long time, they might be able to form the next government. But the campaign they launched was an incredibly negative one, based on one nasty principle: just not Bibi (Netanyahu’s nickname). Convinced that the country had grown tired of Netanyahu and that the country was eager for change, both in economic policies and in international relations, the left maintained a campaign that was both arrogant and derisive to anyone who was not in their camp, and in particular the religious, and the so-called settlers. One typical example was a snide remark by Lapid that accused the government of spiriting away vital budgets needed for poor families to communities in Samaria. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. While security needs in Judea and Samaria do demand higher budget resources, the actual allotment of civilian budgets to the communities in Judea and Samaria are actually much smaller than most other areas of the country. Lapid’s statement, however, fed the prejudices of the most left-wing citizens of Israel but only drove the wedge deeper in other sectors of the country.
Probably the most egregious of these remarks was made just a week before the election by a writer / artist at a left-wing election rally. He mocked religious Jews, deriding their faith as primitive superstitions. Many at the rally cheered these statements, while the political leaders said nothing.
But the country heard and the country reacted. Israel is a very traditional, conservative country. Most of the Jews in Israel feel connected to Jewish traditions, believe in G-d, and love the Land of Israel. Many have been willing to make compromises over the years, supporting limited territorial concessions, but not because they did not love the Land of Israel – rather because they wanted to give peace a chance. But today, after years of concessions followed by terrorism, the country is no longer willing to take that chance.
But in the Tel-Aviv area, most of the residents are young, liberal, secular Jews. Very different from the population in the rest of the country, they often scoff at religious values, continue to believe that peace is possible, and are disproportionately influenced by the anti-Israel statements of European and American leaders.
One other sector that is disproportionately secular and liberal is the media. Although much has changed in recent years, and some of the most popular television stations feature religious broadcasters, there is still an overwhelming bias in the media for left-wing perspectives.
The recent elections brought home the extent to which the media, the people of Tel Aviv, and the pollsters, all suffer from a distorted perception of who the people of Israel are and what they want. That is the only thing that can explain how wrong the surveys were and how deeply shocked the media was to discover that Netanyahu won the elections, and by a wide margin. They did not expect Netanyahu to win because they never talked to anyone who supported Netanyahu. They did not understand how deeply offensive the anti-religious slur at the left-wing rally was because they barely meet or talk to religious people.
When elections were first called, Yair Lapid was one of the first political candidates who challenged Netanyahu, expressing utter confidence that he would lose the elections. And his reasoning was summed up in one statement – Netanyahu is out of touch. He doesn’t understand the people, he doesn’t know what they really want.
At the end of the day, when the votes were counted, it became clear that it was Lapid who was out of touch. His party alone lost 8 seats in this election and will sit in the opposition. The people of Israel are in touch – with their destiny, with their faith, with their traditions. Today, more than ever before, the people of Israel voted right.