Prophecy is the handiwork of fools, as the saying goes (or something like that). Still, at the risk of falling into the well-known trap, a small prediction about what we’ll see in the coming days and weeks. I, like many others, believe the country will be in for a shock tomorrow night at 10. In contrast to many others (and especially many of my neighbours who I believe are afflicted with hopeful blindness), I believe the results of tomorrow’s election will be something like this:
Zionist Camp 26
Jewish Home 16
United Arab List 14
Yesh Atid 14
The main reason for this layout, I believe, is Bibi Netanyahu. While neither the Zionist Camp nor the Likud campaigns addressed any substantive issues (both said merely “it’s either us or them/him”), the economic situation faced by most Israelis will deliver this election definitively to Labour. Simply put, life in Israel is simply too expensive. Too many people work too hard, only to fall deeper and deeper into debt every month. Too many people say our schools do not meet the needs of today’s Israeli children, and they do not prepare them for adulthood in the 21st century. Too many people feel our elected officials have turned John F. Kennedy’s dictum on its head, asking themselves primarily “what can this country do for me?”.
Worse, Netanyahu has fallen deep into the trap of surrounding himself with yes men, sidelining those who present differing opinions, and believing that adulation from committed supporters is an indication of widespread support. This was seen most clearly during his trip to Washington earlier this month. Yes, the prime minister delivered polished, convincing speeches both to AIPAC and to Congress, both time to rousing applause.
But even before arriving at those forums Netanyahu was assured of a fawning reception (indeed, there is ample indication that Netanyahu would never have agreed to travel to Washington had there even been a question about those standing ovations). But in influential circles that take a cautious view of Netanyahu, or even of Israel – the State Department, the White House, academia, Europe, the United Nations – Netanyahu’s voice simply is not heard. It isn’t that they argue with the facts that he presents, or with his analysis of the danger presented by a nuclear Iran. It is that they find the messenger so objectionable that they simply cannot hear the message.
This is equally true on the domestic front, which is why he is likely to lead his party to a crashing defeat tomorrow. As Nahum Barnea reported from last night’s demonstration in Tel Aviv, “the audience was overwhelmingly religious Zionist, overwhelmingly men, nearly all from outside Tel Aviv.” Rather than address the left-wing rally last week earlier – i.e. the people who say they will not vote for Netanyahu – the prime minister preferred to look out at an adoring choir and assumed his passionate preaching had convinced the masses. Rather than addressing the very criticisms of the anti-Netanyahu camp, the Likud campaign has focused only on amorphous slogans suggesting that Herzog and Livni will divide Jerusalem, that they aren’t strong enough on security, that they will endanger the very future of Israel.
But if my non-scientific observations are accurate, people aren’t buying it. Netanyahu’s condescending assumption that there is no other viable candidate is clearly not true. Working class Israelis who form an important part of the Likud voter base, and many of whom take a hawksh stance on security issues, have told this reporter for months that they would not be voting for the Likud, and they feel strongly it is time for change.
“Bibi has been carrying on about Iran for 20 years,” one Jerusalem shopkeeper said, “but nothing happens. In the meanwhile, my daughter and her husband live with us because there’s no way they can afford to rent an apartment of their own.
“I don’t know if I’ll vote at all, but if I do, it certainly won’t be for Netanyahu,” the man concluded.
With that layout, Yitzhak Herzog will easily put together a narrow, 61-member coalition consisting of the Zionist Camp, Meretz and Yesh Atid and Kulanu – barely scraping past the threshold for a government, but scraping past nonetheless.
In order to broaden the coalition to a very stable 74 members, Herzog could try hard to make peace between Yesh Atid and the Haredi parties. To those who say “bah, forget it, Andye you’ve lost the plot!”, it pays to bear in mind that the Haredim’s true political venom is reserved for the religious Zionist camp, not Yair Lapid. Yes, United Torah Judaism and Shas will drive a hard bargain in order to reverse some of the draft legislation passed in the 19th Knesset, but this is an area in which Yesh Atid can afford to be flexible: As long as there is movement towards expanding the draft (or civilian national service inside the Haredi community) and bringing Haredim into the work force, Yesh Atid will be able to tell its voters that there is overall positive movement, and that that is what counts. The Haredim, for their part, will be able to tell their voters honestly that their agreement in this area represents a victory over proposed criminal charges for draft dodgers, as well as a cost-free recognition of developments that have been going on in the Haredi community for years in any event.
So there it is: If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to shrug my shoulders and admit openly that I’m very, very far from being a prophet, political or otherwise. But if I’m right, or even close to being right, don’t forget that you read it here first.