Three Notes on Election Day

1. Even in the now-unlikely event that Benny Gantz becomes Israel’s next prime minister, it is clear that Blue and White is the biggest loser of this election. Before Gantz announced that he would form a political party and run for Knesset, the excitement and energy surrounding his then-potential candidacy was palpable. As an former IDF chief of staff, he was a clear alternative to Bibi Netanyahu’s unstated assertion that he was the only person qualified to ensure Israel’s security, and he was seen as a “nice” guy that would maintain a moral high ground by running a positive, issues-based campaign that would Netanyahu and the Likud alone in the gutter of wild allegations and mud-slinging. 

All that dissipated when Gantz failed to resist Netanyahu’s attacks. I believe that Blue and White’s path to a 40-plus Knesset seat showing would have been easy: “If you are convicted felons (Aryeh Deri, Tzahi Hanegbi) returning to serve in government, vote for the Likud. If you’re happy with Netanyahu’s stewardship of Israel’s relationship with American Jews and his nurturing of division in Israeli society, vote for him. If you’re happy with a crumbling health system, with 42-child first grade classes, vote for Bibi. If not, vote for me.”

In other words, Bibi fatigue is real, and Gantz failed to analyse the reasons and to capitalise on it. That alone makes him unfit to be prime minister. 

2. Netanyahu will form the next coalition, and invited Meir Kahane’s disciples into the Knesset along the way. There is no way now to discourage his feeling that he has received a strong mandate for his Arab-baiting, Trump-embracing, Haredi-coddling administration ways.

This is unfortunate, because Bibi fatigue is very much real. In an election focused only on personalities, Netanyahu emerged tied with a previously admired, but essentially unknown quantity (Gantz). between two parties with essentially the same security views (the Zionist left appears headed for a grand total of 10 seats). 

3. Netanyahu’s victory is also the functional end of the litany of corruption charges he has been battling for years. Despite the allegations of Cases 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000, the voters have spoken: They want Bibi. 

On one hand, one could view this as a good thing: Despite Netanyahu’s conviction in the media, the people have spoken: Israelis – even prime ministers – are innocent until proven guilty, and we will not accept trials-by-media.

Despite Bibi’s certain celebration that he was right all along (“there won’t be anything because nothing illegal happened), the cloud of corruption grew darker over Israel yesterday. In addition to aforementioned Deri and Hanegbi, Israelis returned to office no fewer than four individuals facing ongoing police investigations on corruption charges (Netanyahu, David Bitan [Likud], Yaakov Litzman [United Torah Judaism], Deri again [Shas]). Together, those parties hold 51 Knesset seats.

Add into the mix Jewish Home/Otzma Yehudit chairman Bezalel Smotrich’s insistence that he would condition joining the next government on passing a clemency law for Netanyahu (there is no chance he will stick to that threat, but still…) and you can add in another five seats. 

Netanyahu and his supporters can crow about a “the strength of Israeli democracy” all they want, and at first glance they are right. We had elections; the people have spoken. But the description of Israel’s democracy as “healthy” too closely resembles the prophet Isaiah’s warning.

חָדְשֵׁיכֶם וּמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם שָׂנְאָה נַפְשִׁי, הָיוּ עָלַי לָטֹרַח;

“Your monthly and holiday sacrifices have become disgusting to [God],” the prophet warned. 

In other words, Isaiah noted that he lived at a time when people carefully observed the letter of religious law while allowing the sacred principles underlying them to rot. Everyone smiled and laughed as they observed the laws of kosher food and of Shabbat, of dressing modestly and of avoiding hametz on Pesach, while paying little more than lip service to the deeper principles of religious life – true inner modesty, deep-seeded awareness of God, to humbly celebrating our place in God’s creation. 

In the current example, I fear that we fool ourselves into thinking that on a technical level, we’ve fulfilled all the requirements of clean politics and democracy while allowing the inner meaning of those exalted phrases to wither. (Yes, democracy: Last time, Arab Israelis were charging to the polls; this time, they Likud saw fit to film Arab citizens as they entered the polling stations. If that doesn’t make one shudder, I don’t know what would). 

This, to me, is the only existential issue facing Israel today, and today’s election results indicate that my fears are well-founded. More than security policy or our geopolitical relationships, this is the issue that truly frightens me.

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