Bye-bye Bibi, hello unity or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯: 7 things to kinda know for September 18
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Israel media review

Bye-bye Bibi, hello unity or ¯\_(ツ)_/¯: 7 things to kinda know for September 18

Poll results show both sides struggling to form a coalition, setting the stage for unity or an end to Netanyahu’s rule or whatever — nobody really knows yet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP)

1. The only thing we can know is that we know nothing: After three months of campaigning, an election day, several weeks of failed coalition talks, three more months of campaigning and another election day, Israelis are no closer Wednesday morning to knowing who their leadership is or where they are taking the country.

  • That includes the print press, frozen in amber like Jerusalem under the Jordanians, as well as the online media and the twittering masses on social media.
  • But gosh darn it, do they try to make sense of the mess the country still finds itself in. Everybody has an opinion about where things are going and rare is the pundit who admits “I have no idea” and goes out for a pint after working their tush off during yet another election day.
  • “Government morass,” reads the top headline of mass media circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, with a smug-looking Avigdor Liberman in the middle of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.
  • And there the kingmaker is again as an awkward third wheel on the cover of Maariv, lording it over the headline “no decision.”

2. Let’s start with what we do know: Exit polls, for one, were not the terrible figments of some pollster’s fever dream but actually bore some semblance to reality this time around, at least if the partial vote count being reported as of Wednesday morning is any indication of the final tally.

  • All three exit polls showed Likud and Blue and White with between 31 and 34 seats, with a slight edge for Blue and White and indeed, it seems both parties will end the day with 32 seats.
  • The polls also showed 12-13 seats for the Joint List — Channel 13 was an exciting outlier with as much as 15 — and it seems that the party will indeed have 12 seats, while Kahanist Otzma Yehudit will be relegated to the David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes of the footnotes of the footnotes of history.
  • “Israel’s exit polls are always somewhat unreliable, given that the pollsters are grappling with numerous parties, diverse demographic sectors, a 3.25% threshold below which all votes go to waste, and other complexities. In April, one of the three main polls proved to be way off the mark. On Tuesday night, however, all three were broadly similar, and all showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no obvious path to a majority coalition,” a ToI staff writer notes.
  • And we know that Netanyahu won’t be able to garner the support of 61 MKs to avoid prosecution.
  • “Today’s elections results are a resounding NO to an immunity government for PM Netanyahu. This is very good news for Israel’s democracy, as immunity for a sitting PM would have created a perverse incentive to stay in power forever to avoid jail. Beyond that, little else is known,” tweets former MK Einat Wilf.

3. Bye-bye Bibi? We also know that the Miami Dolphins have a better chance of winning a game this year than either side has of getting 61 seats without reaching out to a rival (or at least we’re pretty sure), and that appears to be bad news for Netanyahu.

  • “Netanyahu is far from a majority, Liberman is again the difference-maker,” Haaretz crows on its front page.
  • The paper’s army of commentators can hardly conceal their glee: “The unimaginable may have happened in tonight’s Israeli elections. Based on initial exit polls, the age of Benjamin Netanyahu may have come to an end,” writes Chemi Shalev.
  • “Netanyahu sought a clear mandate from the voters and didn’t get it. Politicians understand this, and so do the leaders of the world powers, the attorney general and Israel’s defense chiefs. Everyone has noted his weakness and will respond accordingly,” writes the paper’s editor Aluf Benn. “On Tuesday the magician ran out of rabbits.”
  • But on Twitter, activist and journalist Mairav Zonszein counsels that “Haaretz already putting out headlines that it’s over for Netanyahu, but as Israelis are waking up, there is absolutely no way to know yet if Netanyahu may or may not be prime minister, of whatever govt constellation is formed.”
  • Indeed, all the pieces of punditry, in Haaretz and elsewhere, are smart enough to hedge their bets.
  • The poll numbers “suggested that Israeli politics have been thrown wide open after a decade of [Netanyahu’s] rule,” writes ToI’s David Horovitz.
  • “While the results do not guarantee that Gantz will be the next prime minister, they signaled that Netanyahu, who has led the country for over 10 years, could have trouble holding on to the job,” writes the AP.
  • “Whichever way you look at it — if the exit polls are right — Bibi is not in a great position. Bibi is a consummate politician, though, and you’d never put it past him to get out of any situation,” strategist Simon Davies tells Bloomberg.

4. Party poopers: The feeling of it all being over pervaded an early morning Likud rally, where a tired-looking Netanyahu struggled to be heard over a supportive heckler, ToI’s Raoul Wootliff reports.

  • AFP describes the less than jovial atmosphere at Likud’s “victory party.”
  • “Rank and file members of his Likud were not admitted to the building until after 11:00 pm, an hour after the first exit polls. Those results — which fell short of Netanyahu’s hopes — were not shown on the screens. [Some] sat down exhausted and checked their phones, election signs reading ‘Netanyahu strong right’ discarded in empty chairs as dance music played.”
  • The Guardian notes that “Netanyahu, who is attempting to win a fifth term in office, looked sullen and sounded hoarse when he tried to rally his supporters in Tel Aviv last night. In contrast, Gantz beamed with confidence when he told activists that he hoped to form ‘a broad unity government.’”

5. Untying unity: Clinging to hope, Netanyahu’s supporters appear to have shifted from dismissing a unity government to welcoming it as the last refuge of Likud.

  • “Unity” reads a headline across the top of Israel Hayom, where the word was once as dirty as “leftist.”
  • Reporter Mati Tuchfeld goes even lower, writing that “new elections, or unity, with or without a rotation, is definitely on the table following the results.”
  • Likud MK MIki Zohar tells Army Radio that a rotation is out of the question, but doesn’t discount unity.
  • “Netanyahu and Gantz both pointed to the goal: Unity,” reads a headline in right-leaning Makor Rishon.
  • Channel 13’s Sefi Ovadia notes that Netanyahu himself and others close to him have quickly softened their tone toward their potential partners.
  • “During the campaign he called the Joint List an inseparable part of the centrist bloc that would support Gantz and said Ayman Odeh would be a minister. But the Likud messages have started to change, and earlier police minister [Gilad Erdan] hinted that the Joint List is not part of the leftist bloc, and one also got that message from Netanyahu.”
  • ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur writes that when it comes to unity, there’s more than one way to skin a coalition.
  • “He’ll need to deliver a real upset, such as convincing Liberman to abandon his bid for kingmaker status and his promise to his voters to be the linchpin of a secular coalition; or breaking up Blue and White and drawing one of its three constituent parties to his banner; or even, after a campaign obsessed with fear-mongering about Arab turnout, finding a way to draw the Joint List, a coalition of the four largest Arab-majority parties, into his coalition,” he writes.

6. Kingmaker for a day: Unity happens to be the dream of Avigdor Liberman, who is crowned kingmaker across the board for forcing the new elections and coming out smelling like Moldovan cabbage.

  • “The clearest winner on Tuesday, according to exit polls, was Mr. Liberman, the longtime Netanyahu ally turned nemesis who leads an ultra-nationalist secular party,” writes the New York Times.
  • “Liberman isn’t just the winner of the elections, he’s the one who will determine the makeup of the next government,” writes Sima Kadmon in Yedioth.
  • “His secular agenda and iconoclastic straight talk — delivered in a slow, Russian-accented monotone — has made him an unlikely savior for those tired of Netanyahu’s corruption-tainted, decade-long grip on power. That’s despite the fact that Lieberman survived a lengthy corruption scandal himself,” notes the AP.

7. Just another politician: Others advise caution against putting too many eggs in Liberman’s basket and wonder if he will be tempted by promises from Netanyahu’s bag of goodies.

  • “Given the already unprecedented promises he has made during this campaign it is well within the realm of possibility that the prime minister, at his lowest ebb, could offer his own form of premier rotation to Liberman in exchange for his mandates and support of an immunity law. In the face of such a generous and unprecedented overture, Liberman’s protestation against Haredi parties would likely ring even more hollow than it does at present, and be revealed for what many assumed correctly to be political posturing,” Guy Frenkel writes for the Israel Policy forum.
  • “The entire festival of Israel’s election brought us back to pretty much the same place. We already know that Avigdor Lieberman is the key figure in Israeli politics,” writes Haaretz’s Ravit Hecht. “The only lingering question that will remain with us in the coming autumn is the same one that accompanied us during the last coalition negotiations: Will Lieberman follow through?”
  • The right-wing too is less than enamored with him. “In contrast to his image, Lieberman isn’t an ideologue,” writes Akiva Bigman in Israel Hayom. “Where will he go in the future? We’ve already seen him vote with the Left against the so-called camera law, and there’s no way of knowing which niche the next political constellations will force him to slide into down the road. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see him heading the Joint Arab List. After all, he has already promised to give them Wadi Ara.”
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