New Right supporters fear the worst, despite party leaders’ assurances
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New Right supporters fear the worst, despite party leaders’ assurances

While Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked assert they’ll comfortably cross threshold, TV exit polls showing the contrary leave party activists far more frustrated than hopeful

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

New Right co-leaders Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett address supporters at their campaign headquarters in Bnei Brak at the end of election day, April 9, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
New Right co-leaders Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett address supporters at their campaign headquarters in Bnei Brak at the end of election day, April 9, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The TV was on full blast at the New Right’s election results party Tuesday evening, so the nearly a hundred members and supporters in the faction’s Bnei Brak headquarters had to raise their voices in order to communicate.

But as the TV channels projected on the long wall of the cleared out office space began announcing their exit poll results one by one at 10:00 p.m., the voices in the room lowered to a uniform mumble of disbelief.

The gut punch came immediately from Channel 12, whose survey indicated the fledgling slate founded by former Jewish Home leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked would not make it into the Knesset at all.

But the activists and candidates in the room raised their heads up a bit as the subsequent exit poll from Channel 13 predicted that the New Right would squeak into the Knesset with the minimum of four seats.

New Right supporters watch TV channels announce their exit poll results at the party’s campaign headquarters in Bnei Brak on April 9, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

But the moment of wary ease was just that — a moment — as the following exit poll from Kan suggested an identical results to the one from Channel 12.

Luckily for the New Right supporters, a final poll from Channel 20 had the faction receiving six seats, a number far closer to the range of expectations in the room.

However, it was clear that the zero next to Bennett’s picture in half the evening’s exit polls carried far more weight than the other two surveys.

The New Right had been sending out message blasts to potential voters all day, warning that its entry into the Knesset was far from a lock despite it never being predicted to fall below the threshold in polls since elections were called.

Given that just about every party was sending out flares warning of low turnout all day Tuesday, many figured the ones from Bennett and Shaked were merely part of a broader strategy to garner as many seats as possible.

But the exit polls indicated that the panic may have indeed been legitimate and that there may have been good reason for their strategy in the weeks leading up to the election to try to pull supporters from fellow satellite parties on the right, in addition to warning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear-mongering campaign seeking more Likud voters would come at the cost of their obliteration.

Doing their best to remain positive, supporters chanted “the eternal people are not afraid of a long road,” as Bennett walked up to the podium surrounded by photographers hoping to get a shot of the education minister making the perfect face to illustrate the somewhat desperate moment.

But Bennett maintained his composure and offered a similar message to the one he had tweeted minutes after the exit poll results went live.

“Friends, don’t be discouraged. Leadership is tested in difficult moments. We have patience, faith and nerves of steal. We will cross (the threshold), and cross easily,” he asserted to tepid cheers from the activists.

Justive Minister and co-chair of the New Right party, Ayelet Shaked, casts her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

He then expanded beyond the pep-talk and offered a practical reason for his certainty that things would turn out fine.

“We have cared for our soldiers, and you will see that they will care for us,” Bennett added, predicting that the votes from IDF troops, which are counted last, would carry the New Right over the electoral hump. The former Jewish Home head had campaigned aggressively against what he said were broadening legal checks on the military, which he has argued have endangered soldiers and prevented more sound victories against Israel’s enemies.

Joining Bennett at the podium, Shaked tried to strike a similar upbeat tone. “We’ll reach the goals we set for ourselves, even if it takes a bit longer,” she said, suggesting that while exit polls might predict one result, the final tally would show another, better one.

Referencing the often mocked admission from ex-Zionist Union head Isaac “Buji” Herzog that he went to bed on the night of the closely fought 2015 elections, rather than staying awake for the results, Shaked told supporters to “do what Buji did and go to sleep.”

Wrapping up their brief messages, the New Right co-leaders appeared rather exhausted, and the conditions in the rather stuffy room did not help either. Bennett wiped his forehead several times and Shaked apologized for having nearly lost her voice due to all the phone calls she had made to potential voters throughout the day.

The pair didn’t take questions and party officials asked the other candidates present not to take interviews, further illuminating the faction’s distress.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett votes in Ra’anana on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Education Ministry)

The Times of Israel spoke to several supporters in the room, who were less shy about disclosing that feeling.

“Look, I’m still optimistic, but more than anything I’m frustrated,” said 18-year-old activist Itai Leshem from the northern city of Haifa.

“All those people who chose to vote for the Likud in the last minute, especially those from the religious Zionist camp, are total suckers,” he said. “They don’t realize that Netanyahu won’t look out for their interests the way Ayelet and Naftali would have.”

Leshem asserted that such voters “don’t understand the importance of the blocs,” arguing that Netanyahu is going to regret if he doesn’t have New Right by his side if or when he is tasked with forming the next government.

One party member and local city council woman, who requested anonymity, was more introspective in her reaction to the results.

The New Right party co-leaders Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

She said the combination of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party merger with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid into Blue and White on the one hand, and the rise of Moshe Feiglin’s pro-cannabis legalization Zehut party on the other, “prevented us from broadening our platform a bit”

This New Right member suggested that the faction had been unable to campaign further to the left when the formation of Blue and White filled that political vacuum, while Zehut’s emphasis on a separation of church and state had been more appealing to young Israelis than the vague policy of secular-religious equality that her party offered on the issue.

“We’re disappointed. We’re feeling that Bennett and Shaked offered a very clear vision and presented a group of candidates with them that know how to create new realities,” the New Right member lamented. “While we still have hope it’s definitely sad to see these exit poll results.

“But as they say, one door closes and another one opens,” she summarized with a cliché that is almost exclusively saved for glum moments.

Even away from the cameras, however, the New Right leaders were still more optimistic.

In the elevator ride leaving the headquarters just before midnight, Shaked told supporters that she predicted the faction would still receive four seats; the more upbeat Bennett predicted the final total would be six.

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