The numbers game
Hebrew media review

The numbers game

The press puts Lapid in the driver's seat even before final election results are out

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks to reporters after results revealed him to be the big winner of the elections on Tuesday, Jan. 22 (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks to reporters after results revealed him to be the big winner of the elections on Tuesday, Jan. 22 (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

Today’s newspapers all share the same basic flaw in their election results coverage. The political arithmetic, which makes up the lion’s share of reporting two days after elections, rests on wrong figures. As the papers were going to print last night, in the Knesset, elections officials were still counting the ballots of 240,000 citizens. The final tally, which includes the votes of soldiers, prison inmates and guards, diplomats and hospital patients, was only released Thursday morning.

Had the results been out earlier, the papers would have known that Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party earned an additional Knesset seat at the expense of the United Arab List, a small but significant boost to the right wing. The extra seat gives the so-called right-wing bloc 61 seats, leaving the center-left with 59.

They also could have removed all the caveats from Kadima, which we now know for certain has its two seats in the legislature.

That said, the papers don’t need the soldiers to tell them who the real winner of the elections is. A glance at the front pages, all parading the handsome face of political newcomer Yair Lapid, tells us more or less all we need to know about the results.

“Lapid’s terms,” reads the top headline of Yedioth Ahronoth. Lapid’s announcement last night that he would not join the left wing and Arab parties in boycotting a Netanyahu-led coalition may have handed the prime minister another term in office, but it placed the Yesh Atid leader in a key position to determine the character of the next government.

The possibility of Netanyahu forming a coalition without Yesh Atid and its 19 MKs, though mathematically possible — especially in light of Jewish Home’s last-minute boost — is politically unthinkable. Dismissing the public’s clear message of desire for change and proceeding to build a right wing-religious coalition numbering 61 MKs would put Netanyahu at the mercy of his nemesis Bennett and the extortionist tendencies of the religious parties. By partnering with the flexible Lapid and his list of moderate unknowns, Netanyahu can get the broad coalition he hankers for, even if it means surrendering top ministerial posts to a group of untried political novices.

Already deep in the speculation game, Maariv leads the paper with the headline: “Netanyahu seeking a formula for a Likud-Lapid-Shas government.” According to the article quoting sources close to the prime minister, Netanyahu prefers to deal with Shas and its pragmatic leadership rather than turn to the ideologically driven Bennett. The fly in this particular ointment is the issue of the universal draft, one of the reasons for the breakup of the previous Knesset and one of Lapid’s major campaign platforms. In principle, Shas objects to the mandatory enlistment of yeshiva students into military or national service, but Netanyahu has already said that ensuring a more equitable distribution of the burden will be one of the coalition’s central tenets, and as one Likud MK tells Maariv, “Shas will enter [the coalition] at any price and will compromise on the issue of sharing the burden.”

Haaretz leads with “Lapid on his way to a Netanyahu-led coalition,” and stresses Netanyahu’s realigned priorities in light of the elections results. The main question it poses in its coverage is whether Lapid, the son of notorious Haredi baiter Yosef ‘Tommy’ Lapid will veto the inclusion of religious parties in the coalition.

The Netanyahu-loving Israel Hayom features at the top of its front page the prime minister’s announcement yesterday that he would form a broad coalition based on ensuring affordable housing, equal sharing of the (military and national service) burden and governance reform, but even there the largest space goes to Lapid and his public refusal to join a blocking majority.

The inside pages of the papers are dedicated mostly to elections wrapups. Party by party each paper breaks down the results and their significance to the political system looking forward. To sum it up concisely: Everybody was shocked by Yesh Atid’s dazzling first-time showing and disappointed with their own lackluster-in-comparison achievements. Everybody is waiting to see how the coalition shapes up and whether Prince Charming will invite them to the ball.

In addition all the papers report on the new faces about to be let loose in the halls of the Knesset, stressing that more than a third of the next legislature will be made up of entirely new MKs. Yedioth Ahronoth specifically highlights the female gains made in the elections — a record 26 women will serve as parliamentarians — and even manages to gather 10 of thems for a joint photo op that adorns the front page.

One article that pops out is Maariv’s online editor’s mea culpa on behalf of Israeli journalists (Maariv p. 6). Udi Hirsch writes that personal bias and lazy reporting resulted in the media providing readers with a skewed version of reality, one that failed to take seriously the public’s sincerity when it demanded social change, one that insisted on keeping diplo-security issues at the front, one that hailed Netanyahu as a political genius following his union with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and failed to predict the close battle between the blocs.

“It is time for all of us to remember why we entered this profession. It is time we went back to being curious, to being journalists,” concludes Hirsh.

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