Contrary to the usual procedure, we will start with the defeated side and not with the winners. The battle of accusations within what Automat continues to call “the change block”, actually began long before the first models. The frightened partners of the Prime Minister began to warn about the “electoral cannibalism” of the Yesh Atid party even in the midst of the election campaign.
Nothing helped them. Not the stinging tweets of the head of Meretz Zehava Galon, not the excited calls of the head of the Labor Party Merav Michaeli, not the polls and not the explanations of commentators in the studios. Yair Lapid continued to trample and run over the members of the bloc and grow more and more at their expense, as if there is no tomorrow, or more precisely – as if he is not counting on remaining in the office of the Prime Minister of Israel. Anyone who tried to ask Lapid (and almost everyone asked him about this): “How and with whom will you be able to form a government after the elections?” – heard the same standard answer: “Don’t try to convince me that I won’t form a government.”
Well, there was really no need to convince Lapid that he does not have a majority, that he really does not have any bloc, and that he is also with his own hands reducing and dwarfing what is left of this unreal bloc. Why was there no need? Because Yair Lapid is many things, but he is not stupid or innocent. From the first day of the election campaign to the last day, he knew exactly what he was doing, and for what purpose. So the nervous briefing that came out of the cockpit area of the state camp the day after the elections and talked about how Lapid “failed to manage the bloc, didn’t take care of the connections in the bloc and didn’t take care of the surplus agreements and didn’t take care of work and energy”, seems particularly unfortunate.
No, friends. Lapid did not fail in managing the bloc, and this is for two clear reasons. ALF, because he did not intend to run the bloc for you either, but only his Yesh Atid party, as the main antagonist against the Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu. And BIT, because you do not and did not really have a bloc. Today in the State of Israel there is one political-ideological bloc, the so-called right-wing bloc, consisting of the Likud movement, religious Zionism, Shas, and Torah Judaism. What stood against it for the past three and a half years was a strange conglomerate, a hybrid creature consisting of the Israeli left, which was temporarily joined by Maukhzavi Netanyahu is from the right.
Their hatred of one man and their strong desire to oust him from the position of Prime Minister was exactly enough for them for three years of floundering and five election campaigns, and that was the end of the ceremony, and with it – the temporary partnership of political bodies that belong to such different worlds. It turns out that once you can sell the start-up “Just Not Bibi” to the public, once you can even convert it in power. But what was impossible to derive from it is a real conceptual and ideological basis, one that turns self-interested political partners into a bloc and a camp.
The public bought a ticket to the suspense film “Only not Bibi” – see, hear, Mitza, and did not ask for a rebroadcast. And not all of those who hated the Netanyahu family turned over the past year and a half and became burned-out bibists. Well, they don’t. After exhausting the “just not Bibi” concept, they need fresher and more recent reasons to continue hating him. Presumably the reasons will come, but it will take time.
Therefore, any attempt to blame Lapid for the loss of power due to “failed management of the bloc” is naivety bordering on stupidity. Lapid and his team consciously went about crushing the “Bloc of Change” – also with the understanding that the right is going to win, and also with the intention of eliminating the efforts of Benny Gantz and his partners to be an alternative option.
Unlike the defeated left-wing parties, when one of them survived by the skin of its teeth, and the other crashed below the threshold, the Yesh Atid party fully achieved the goals it set at the beginning of the campaign: in the 25th Knesset, opposition leader Lapid will head the second largest party in the country.
The public has had its say
However, it should be noted that on one point Lapid was still wrong. The working assumption was that Netanyahu would return to power with a narrow right-wing coalition that would reach a maximum of 61 or 62 seats. “It will be extreme, shocking and short” – assessed Bish Atid. “This coalition will compete with itself in extremism, nationalism and ultra-Orthodoxism, and will collapse after a year. Then Lapid, a strong and cohesive opposition leader with a ruling background, will know how to form a government. By then the people will probably forget about the disturbances in the Arab sector, the attacks and the Shura Council. Netanyahu’s natural partners will provide The people have new reasons to be upset, to be angry and to look for an alternative.”
However, the smart strategists of Yesh Atid did not take into account the power of the narrative “You sold the state to the Arabs!”, the result of a “government of change, fusion and healing”. The narrative was born against the background of the great political experiment of adding an Arab list to the ranks of the coalition, and against the background of the consequences of this revolutionary combination. The Israeli public found out on the move how unprepared it is for revolutions of this kind – and gave its answer at the ballot box.
Netanyahu is indeed returning to power at the head of a very right-wing and very religious coalition, but it will also be more stable and much less narrow than his opponents estimated. Lapid and his partners in the opposition will not have any realistic chance of winning from the outside the cohesive and homogeneous coalition of 64 members with parliamentary tools. Not in legislation, not in plenum votes and not in filibusters.
On what, after all, can Lapid base his hope of trying to return to the Prime Minister’s office? On the only possible scenario of the coalition collapsing in on itself. By the way, even then it is not clear whether the chairman of Yesh Atid will have enough partners to build a governing alternative to the right-wing bloc. Not every time a miracle happens and politicians from the right side with a center-left leader, in order to overthrow a strong and popular prime minister.
Demography is an objective and rather cruel factor. The demographic structure in Israel determines the political reality, and the political reality is that the left is not the majority in the country. One of the components of Netanyahu’s dizzying and unprecedented success is the fact that in the current millennium it is impossible to beat him from the left. Ehud Barak did this way back in 1999, and since then many have tried, but no one has succeeded.
In the two cases in which Netanyahu was defeated and removed from power, the winners were right-wingers: Olmert and Sharon did it in 2006, Bennett and Sa’ar in 2021. Either way, anyone who intends to try to replicate their success a third time will have plenty of time to get organized. The current Netanyahu government has all the data required to extend its life.
However, it is not unreasonable to assume that the right-wing government that will be established here in the next two weeks may have an expiration date, but it is highly probable that it will not complete a full term. Sounds paradoxical, but precisely the central component of the victory of the right may become a hidden mine that one day will explode and collapse the entire construction. The winning factor’s name is Itamar Ben Gabir.
Wake up from your slumber
Here, after the reasons for the collapse of the “Only not Bibi” bloc were detailed and analyzed, it was time for the winners. First of all, Benjamin Netanyahu is the big and central winner of the 25th Knesset elections. There are many elements to every victory, including the current one of the right-wing bloc, but no explanation will diminish the achievement of the brilliant politician in the history of Israeli politics.
In December 2018, Prime Minister Netanyahu followed a move that seemed familiar, natural and almost technical to him: he dissolved the Knesset early in order to guarantee himself another term as Prime Minister. He did the same exercise several times in a row and never regretted it.
In May 2019, after the chairman of Yisrael Beitenu Avigdor Lieberman did the unexpected and preyed on the bloc cards, the government was not formed, and the country entered a state of flux. No one could have predicted that after three and a half years and five election campaigns, in the fall of 2022, Netanyahu would reach the goal he set in December 2018 and will return for another term as Prime Minister of Israel.
Time after time, election after election, Netanyahu tried to overcome the mortal damage to the composition of the political map made by Lieberman, who for years completed the required majority for the right. Netanyahu saw a solution in encouraging voting among hundreds of thousands of right-wing voters, who in his estimation repeatedly did not go to vote.
During four election campaigns, it seems that there is no exercise, slogan, lie or truth left that Netanyahu has not yet tried to convince the passive right-wingers to vote in favor of the right-wing bloc. It turns out that for this to happen, a politician like Bennett needs to rise up, join the left, throw the Likud into the opposition – and only then will the passive right-wing person feel humiliated and wake up.
No prophecy of rage and no geweld, which includes threats about the left’s rise to power, are able to influence the right-wing consciousness like the scenario in which all this happens in reality. Only the defeat and a year and a half on the opposition benches, far from the centers of power, positions and budgets, did the job. The demographic factor and the years of a generation in power put the right-wing parties to sleep. An electric shock in the form of the “government of change” brought the right back into action.
It was a lot, but still not enough for a win. The missing ingredient was provided to the right by a talented politician named Mansour Abbas. The explosive mixture of the inclusion of an Arab party with an Islamist ideology as a member of the coalition, the consequences of Operation Wall Guardian, the severe trauma experienced by the Israeli public with the outbreak of violent disturbances in the cities involved, plus well-known and long-standing crime in the Arab sector – reduced the survival chances of the “government of change” to zero. . It was already too much, far beyond the absorption capacity of the general public.
The impressive victory of the Likud bloc and of Netanyahu was born, among other things, there, during the disturbances in Lod and Acre. At the meetings of the Shura Council, when the Israeli government ministers sit and wait impatiently for the words of the spiritual leaders of Mansour Abbas. Not only the right-wing voter was not ready for this, but also the eternally undecided voter, who in every election gives his vote to a new air party. But not this time.
The real challenge
The victory of the right-wing bloc was largely based on this. This is the unimaginable success of a politician, who until recently was seen as a scary extremist activist. Itamar Ben Gabir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, is without a doubt a brilliant politician. Few in the political system are able to compete with Ben Gabir in his performance, political intuition and bursting charisma.
But all these talents belonged to a great man first. Even when he flew off the wheel with 17 thousand votes. Even when he entered the Knesset thanks to the internal unions in religious Zionism. Well, it wasn’t Ben Gvir who changed and jumped into the game almost miraculously. This is the frightening and threatening reality of that combination of disturbances, the continuous crime and the Arab party sitting in the government.
The ground was prepared, and Ben Gavir did not miss the fitness hour. The chant “You sold the country to the Arabs, we will return to being the landlords in our country!” – changed in an instant from a terrible extremism to a message accepted by many. Many to the point of making religious Zionism the third largest list in Israel.
Ben Gabir’s precedent is impressive, but not new. The votes that ran into the arms of the chairman of Otzma Yehudit are the ones that gave victory to the right-wing bloc, they are the ones that returned Netanyahu to the prime minister’s office. They are also the ones who are easily able to leave the right-wing bloc and in the next election, whenever it will be, look for a new star for them.
Is that hard to believe? Ask Avigdor Lieberman. It is difficult to find two people and two politicians who are as different from each other as Lieberman and Ben Gvir. But in 2022 Ben Gvir repeated Lieberman’s dizzying success of 2009. Then, 13 years ago, the chairman of Israel Beitenu was in exactly the same position.
Lieberman’s election slogan “without loyalty, no citizenship” awakened the hearts of the public and matched the current reality of the election season – and the day after the counting, Lieberman rose to unimaginable success and a double-digit number of mandates. The “Russian” base of Israel Beitenu was joined by masses of citizens who never dreamed that they would vote for this strange politician who speaks with a harsh accent.
The “knitters” of today are the “Russians” of 2009. This time the knit and not very extensive base of religious Zionism was joined by the masses of the House of Israel who were frightened by the events mentioned above, by the Shura Council and the outstretched hands of Mansor Abbas. The big challenge facing Itamar Ben Gabir today, and with him the entire right-wing bloc, is to try to hold the same masses of votes for some time. It will be difficult and maybe impossible. But they will try, they have time.