A Landslide in Israel

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19 Feb 2009

The votes have been counted, the official results are now in and there is no doubt as to the outcome of Israel’s February 10 elections: it was a clear and decisive victory for the right.

Sure, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party may have come out just ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in terms of the number of seats that were garnered. And yes, just a few weeks ago, the Likud was leading Kadima by double-digits in the polls.

But don’t confuse any one particular party’s fate with that of the overall trend. That is like losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Last Wednesday, Israel’s Central Elections Commission published the final, certified tally of the balloting. No matter how one looks at it, the bottom line is this: the left collapsed while the right emerged triumphant.

The three left-wing parties of Kadima, Labor and Meretz combined received just 44 seats in the Knesset (not including the 3 Arab parties), while the right came home with 65.

In terms of the overall vote, the split was equally pronounced, with the left receiving 35.4 percent, or barely over a third of the votes, while the right got 52.4 percent for an unambiguous majority.

In other words, Israel’s religious and nationalist parties received a whopping 50% more votes than the parties on the left.

That, my friends, is what is known in the political world as a good ol’ fashioned landslide.

Indeed, both Labor and Meretz, two of the bulwarks of Israel’s left for the past few decades, suffered punishing and humiliating defeats.

The once-vaunted Labor Party, which played such a central role in founding the State more than sixty years ago, was summarily cut down to size, reaping just 13 seats in the Knesset. That is the party’s worst showing in its history, consigning it to virtual political insignificance. It is akin to the New York Yankees coming in last in the American League East.

No wonder one political analyst dubbed the elections as “the night they turned out the lights in the Labor Party”.

Meretz, too, which has been the vanguard of Israel’s peace movement since its founding in 1992, was also dealt a heavy blow. The party was nearly wiped off the map, barely managing to win 3 seats and thereby squeak past the minimum threshold required to enter parliament. At its peak back in the 1990s, Meretz had 12 seats in the Knesset, and during Ehud Barak’s brief tenure as premier it was represented by three ministers serving in his cabinet.

But all that seems like ancient history now, as the left is busy licking its electoral wounds and wondering what went wrong.

Indeed, on its own, the left cannot and will not form a coalition, and will most likely be consigned to the back-benches of the opposition.

This is as it should be. After all, the people of Israel delivered a loud and resounding “no” to the outgoing Kadima-led government’s proposed concessions to the Palestinians.

Faced with a stark choice between two radically different approaches to Israel’s contentious diplomatic and security challenges, the public unhesitatingly and unequivocally chose the right.

Nonetheless, that has not stopped Kadima and its sympathizers in Israel’s media, from trying to “spin” their defeat in the eyes of the public as a victory. Two days after the elections, Kadima issued a press released accusing the Likud of “attempting to steal power”.

And Ben Caspit, the political commentator for the Maariv daily, even went so far as to call Livni “the Israeli Al Gore”, suggesting that she had won the election even though she had lost.

This theme was picked up by much of the Israeli and foreign media as well. The BBC (February 12) asserted that Israel was in “deadlock”, while Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s most widely-read daily, ran a banner headline saying “Political Stalemate” alongside photos of Livni and Netanyahu.

But don’t let the spin-meisters fool you. Their talk of Livni’s “victory” and “comeback” is little more than wishful thinking and it cannot obscure the reality that the people of Israel have spoken, and quite clearly at that.

One of the few journalists honest enough to admit this was Avirama Golan in Ha’aretz. On the day after the elections, the left-wing firebrand wrote that the results demonstrated that the right-wing “has finally become established as the main political stream in Israel”.

If he so wishes, Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to form a stable, solidly right-wing coalition, one which can restore the Zionist and Jewish values that have eroded so much of late.

He can stem the tide of retreat and withdrawal, and once again begin to strengthen the Jewish presence in every part of the Land of Israel.

There is no doubt that is precisely what a majority of Israelis now wish to see. After all, the people have spoken, and their message has come through loud and clear.

Michael Freund served as Deputy Communications Director in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999 under former premier Binyamin Netanyahu. He is currently Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.