Israel media review

Israel pleads the fifth: What the press is saying after another indecisive vote

As ballots are counted, pundits are laying out various scenarios based on math that will likely change and may not matter anyway, with many already gearing up for round 5

A ballot station in the Knesset elections, March 23, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)
A ballot station in the Knesset elections, March 23, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)

1. The after-math: Had Israel gone through four nearly consecutive elections but learned a valuable lesson about the unreliability of opinion surveys and exit polls, it may have been worth it. Alas, memory is a cruel mistress, so it was as voting drew to a close Tuesday night that TV channels started pumping up viewers for “dramatic” results (Channel 13) and a “tense” vote count ahead (Channel 12).

  • In the end, it appears that the pollsters ahead of the election totally missed out on robust support for Blue and White, which had been written off for months, and then totally dropped the ball on the Ra’am party in exit polls, with all three channels showing the Islamist slate drawing nowhere near enough votes for four seats, let alone the five it is projected to be getting as of this writing.
  • And so it was that Israel went to sleep with Yamina’s Naftali Bennett as kingmaker, based on an analysis of the premature numbers, and woke up with Mansour Abbas holding the key to the castle, or jail cell, depending on how you feel about the never-ending parade of democracy the county has been subjected to.
  • “Compromises on the right or fifth elections,” reads the top headline on Israel Hayom’s print edition, out of date in its attempt to pressure potential Likud partners into lining up behind Benjamin Netanyahu before it even hit the newsstands.
  • Haaretz went as far as devoting its lead editorial to urging Bennett to stay away from Netanyahu.
  • “Bennett, his Yamina colleagues and all the rightists in the ‘anyone but Bibi camp’ have a responsibility to stop Netanyahu, who won’t hesitate to use any means to escape justice. They must prevent the governing coalition of his dreams, which would be the most extremist, nationalist and benighted in Israel’s history.”
  • But by Wednesday morning, Bennett has essentially been unceremoniously shunted into the Netanyahu camp by much of the media, since he doesn’t matter much anymore anyway. Instead Ra’am’s leap over the threshold with most votes counted is the new difference-maker, as news outlets busy themselves with watching the votes trickle in and calculating the seat totals for each party, and the blocs they assume each will fall into.
  • “Netanyahu has no majority with Bennett,” reads the top headline on Channel 12’s news site.
  • “With nearly 90 percent of votes counted, Netanyahu lacks clear path to majority,” reads the top headline on Haaretz’s website.

2. Married to the Mansour: Well the path is there, but some compromises may have to be forged, and some strange bedfellows made. “If I understand correctly, the coalition of Bibi, [Itamar] Ben-Gvir, [Bezalel] Smotrich and a few more known Arab lovers depends on the support of a party that came out of the Muslim Brotherhood,” tweets ToI contributor Avi Issacharoff. “Enjoy.”

  • Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas tells Kan that “we won’t be in anyone’s pocket, we want to be part of the government, but we won’t sit with those who will put us down.”
  • Ynet points out that Netanyahu made clear in a visit to the studio a week ago that he would never agree to lead a government dependent on Ra’am’s support, as if anything a politician says before an election has any currency the minute the vote ends, as if they were somehow bound by their comments.
  • Channel 12 reports that “Abbas is tearing Likud apart,” after party member Tzachi Hanegbi tells the channel it can reluctantly work with Ra’am, leading Likud colleague Shlomo Karhi to go on the air and declare that such an opinion “is unacceptable. This is a man who has no place in a right-wing government — he throws all Likud’s values into the trash.”
  • “Who is Shlomo Karhi?” responds Hanegbi. “When I leave the studio, I’ll google his name.”
  • Israel Hayom reports that after the Likud rhubarb, party officials have been prohibited from giving interviews.
  • Likud whip Miki Zohar tells Channel 13 that the party needs to explore “all, but all options… to avoid fifth elections.”
  • On Channel 12, Aviv Bushinsky says a fifth election is a near-certainty, since nobody will defect from their camp to join Netanyahu. But writing for the same outlet, fellow strategist Moshe Klughaft sounds an optimistic tone: “In order to prevent a fifth election, someone will have to break a promise. And everyone vowed to avoid a fifth election.”

3. Will you be my friend? In that vein, Likud appears to be gearing up to find anyone who will join it. “Sa’ar come home,” reads the headline on a column in Israel Hayom by Netanyahu groupie Jacob Bardugo, referring to New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar.

  • Minister Eli Cohen tells Army Radio that the party is “taking Benny Gantz into account. It could actually be a stable government — he could be defense minister, interim prime minister,” he says, apparently in seriousness.
  • But even Likud’s faithful partners may be having second thoughts. “We’re saying ‘Netanyahu,’ but we’re going with the right-wing, the traditional approach. We’re not saying ‘Netanyahu and nobody else,’” UTJ’s Uri Makleb tells Army Radio.
  • Haaretz’s Nir Hasson notes that Netanyahu’s victory speech didn’t seem very victorious. “Netanyahu worked hard to convey a victorious air on election night during Israel’s last three elections. This time, his speech was cautious. He referenced the looming threat of a fifth round of elections again and again, seemingly to pressure the Knesset members he will need to enlist to his cause in the coming days.”
  • “Netanyahu’s best hope given Tuesday’s exit poll results is to establish that 61-seat coalition just to prove that he can, and then fish around among opposition lawmakers for defectors who might be willing to cross over to Likud, thereby growing and stabilizing his narrow coalition. It’s a reasonable strategy, but it depends on two things coming true: He must beat the exit polls and win 61 seats, and he must find willing defectors,” writes ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur.
  • “Last time, Netanyahu managed to peel none other than his great nemesis Benny Gantz away from the center-left camp in exchange for a rotation deal he never intended to carry out. A year later, that trick won’t work again. His treatment of Gantz makes his search for defectors this time around much more difficult.”

4. A for effort: As for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, nobody gives him much of a chance to make any headway, with the options basically seen to be Netanyahu as prime minister or a fifth election.

  • In Haaretz, Uri Misgav praises the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s ability to fight the right to a tie as a “near heroic achievement.”
  • He calls Lapid “a leader and a gentleman, who once again demonstrated responsibility and maturity by lifting his foot from the accelerator that threatened to run down Meretz and Labor…. Lapid’s nobility and sensibility kept his own Yesh Atid party from crossing the 20-Knesset seat barrier that it deserved, in favor of preserving the possibility of preventing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir from forming a nightmarish government.”
  • Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi writes, though, that “a government of Bennett, Lapid, Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman, Gideon Sa’ar and Merav Michaeli, supported by Ra’am and the Joint List is one big shaky structure. There’s no natural political linkage, and no necessary minimum of shared ideology.”
  • Walla points out that if there are 61 anti-Netanyahu MKs, they can get together without forming a government and push out Netanyahu anyway by appointing a new Knesset speaker who will forge ahead with a law banning a prime minister under indictment.
  • The one thing everyone can agree on is that until all the votes are counted, we won’t know anything. According to Channel 12, the double envelope votes won’t be done being checked until Friday morning.
  • Or, perhaps we can skip the wait and find whatever oracle Ra’am’s pollsters are using. On Twitter, Globes employee Salam Sharkiaa publishes a chart showing internal Ra’am polling from a week earlier projecting it getting 155,342 votes. As of this writing, the party has 155,279 votes.

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