Hubris: At the news of the exit polls of Israel’s (first?) 2020 elections, when voting ended at 10 PM Monday, rightwing pundits did not hide their smiles: The polls showed the would-be Netanyahu coalition with 60 seats (out 0f 120). This was considered, and accepted, as a major victory: Last time, the rightwing coalition had only 55 seats.
Netanyahu immediately announced a “huge victory“, and his supporters immediately explained how he would get out of his trial for corruption, set for March 17th: He would create a coalition which would pass a “French Law”, excepting acting Prime Ministers from indictments. Netanyahu could be only prosecuted after he left office, which means never.
The media, with almost no exception, echoed Netanyahu’s claims. He thus managed to convince the public he has indeed won. His campaign staff and himself were filmed singing (badly) a religious song which became a focus of their campaign.
Meanwhile, as Labour/Meretz (they ran together this time) lost about 40% of their seats from the last election, their leaders cancelled the traditional meeting with activists after the polls. The commentators went on to eviscerate Benny Gantz and Blue/White’s non-campaign. Israeli media did not spend much time about the Palestinian Joint List, which rose from 13 to 15 seats, including what seems to be a whole seat gained from Jewish voters.
And few noticed a minor mathematical aberration: 60 is less than 61, the necessary majority required to form a government. Thus ended Monday, and the leftists raided their alcohol stores.
Fall: As Tuesday started, the results shifted. Exit polls are just that – polls; the true results are tabulated by the Central Elections Committee. And they are based on ballot boxes as they are brought in and re-counted. With 50% of the ballots in, Netanyahu’s so-called majority of 60 tipped down to 59. Which, people quickly noticed, is not actually a majority.
The Netanyahu side was unabashed. Not a problem, they said. We’ll just convince some members of the non-Netanyahu bloc to defect to us, and we’ll get a majority this way. They even named names: Omer Yanelevich, Yoaz Handel and Zvi Hauser from Blue-White; Amir Peretz and Orly Levy-Abekasis of Labour/Gesher. This was especially brazen: Defections like that are illegal and carry legal sanctions. No matter, said the Bibi-ists: We’ll change the law. They actually started calling Blue-White Members of Knesset and offering them ministries for defecting. Never mind that such defectors are violating their oath to the public who elected them. When it comes to enthroning Netanyahu, anything goes.
In the meantime, the counting continued; and the pro-Netanyahu bloc went down to 58 seats.
Thus ended Tuesday: In nervous confusion.
Hate: As Wednesday started, people of the non-Netanyahu bloc realized that:
- Hey, we’re actually the majority. We have the votes.
- We may be able to do something with this.
The fact that it took so long to realize this is because the anti-Netanyahu bloc is divided into four blocs, which do not play well with each other.
A. Blue-White, or rather Likud Light. A right wing party with much less corruption, and more secular. 33 seats.
B. The Joint List, a combination of four Palestinian parties, with 15 seats.
C. Labour/Meretz/Gesher, quickly fading Zionist-Liberals, with 7 seats.
D. Avigdor Liberman/Yisrael Beteinu, with 7 seats.
A and C could play well, as could A and D. D could exist uneasily with C. B and C would go fine together. But D and B are mortal enemies, and A spent the entire campaign dissing B and saying how they would never sit down with them, that they’re looking for a “Jewish majority.”
So, the chances of creating a stable government with all four components are slim. Not impossible, but slim. And everyone but C would be politically damaged by this unholy marriage. Which is fine, as it unlikely C could take any more damage.
But what if the goal is not a stable government? What if the goal is limited – fixing the election law, so that a defendant in criminal court could not become prime minister, then riding out the Coronavirus, and afterwards going for a new elections? That is, what if the anti-Netanyahu bloc would use its majority to take Netanyahu out of the game?
This idea spread faster than the Coronavirus; there were meetings between Members of Knesset from Blue-White and the Joint List for specifically this purpose. Liberman, after keeping mum for a day, announced at noon today (Thursday) that his “party caucus” of complete non-entities decided to support the law. Ofer Shelach, considered to be something of a puppet master in Yesh Atid (a division of Blue-White) declared this morning:
“The new Knesset has a majority for the State of Israel and against the State of Netanyahu. We will use it with without hesitation in order to decide the battle over the character of our country.”
In less than 12 hours, you had the anti-Netanyahu bloc cohering around this plan.
Bibi-ists went nuts. In minutes, they said this was an illegitimate plan because it tampers with the rules of the game. Culture Minister Miri Regev called it “stealing the elections.” As the same people were gladly advocating defectors just hours earlier, this didn’t fly well.
So the Bibi-ists drew the ultimate weapon: A government including the Palestinian parties, they said, was illegitimate. This is a Jewish state. And we will not allow the Palestinians to cast out Netanyahu. We’d rather have a civil war. This sentiments were echoed by a senior writer in Israel Hayom, Netanyahu’s mouthpiece newspaper.
On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu repeated, in his own voice, the same argument. The Palestinian votes are illegitimate, he said. His bloc, he claimed, contained 58 seats; the opposition had only 47 votes, as Palestinian votes don’t count:
“The left bloc has only 47 seats. The Arabs are not a part of this equation. This is the people’s will. Gantz is pal-ing up with the Joint List’s terror supporters in order to cancel the people’s decision… Me, and millions of citizens who voted for us will not let this happen.”
In five minutes, Netanyahu went full Kahane. The so-called master of hasbara was perfectly willing to torpedo one of hasbara‘s main points– that Palestinian citizens of Israel have full civil rights– in order to save his ass in court.
Netanyahu did not use the words “civil war” directly, but he did say that “millions of Israelis” will take to the streets to prevent the law from passing. As earlier, when speaking of defectors, he was using psychological warfare against Blue-White: Either you capitulate and join me, or I’ll escalate – this time, to civil war levels. Do you feel lucky, punk?
This is where we are now. The governing party announced the votes of 20% of the population don’t count, because of racism. The acting prime minister threatened his opponents (who won the vote!) with riots bordering on civil war.
Not all votes have been counted yet, and much of the façade of “the only democracy in the Middle East” has collapsed.
To be continued.