The Israeli elections are over, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party has “soundly defeated” the Israeli Left led by Isaac Herzog, according to The New York Times. Herzog is the chairman of the Israeli Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset. Herzog’s Labor Party formed a political alliance with the Hatnuah, another liberal party, to form the Zionist Union for the 2015 elections.
After media reports were saying either the race was too close to call, or that Likud had a slim lead; it became clear, once 99 percent of the vote was tabulated, that Likud soundly beat the Zionist Union (via NYT):
#BREAKING: Decisive victory for Netanyahu as 95% of votes counted: Likud 30, Zionist Union 24, Joint Arab List 13, Yesh Atid 11, Kulanu 10— i24news_EN (@i24news_EN) March 18, 2015
After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel won a clear victory in Tuesday’s elections and seemed all but certain to form a new government and serve a fourth term, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process.
With 99.5 percent of the ballots counted, the YNet news site reported Wednesday morning that Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had captured 29 or 30 of the 120 seats in Parliament, sweeping past his chief rival, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, which got 24 seats.
Mr. Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for three years in the 1990s and returned to office in 2009, exulted in what he called “a huge victory” and said he had spoken to the heads of all the parties “in the national camp” and urged them to help him form a government “without any further ado.”
“I am proud of the Israeli people that, in the moment of truth, knew how to separate between what’s important or what’s not and to stand up for what’s important,” he told an exuberant crowd early Wednesday morning at Likud’s election party at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. “For the most important thing for all of us, which is real security, social economy and strong leadership.”
Based on the results reported on YNet, Mr. Netanyahu could form a narrow coalition of nationalist and religious parties free of the ideological divisions that stymied his last government. That was what he intended when he called early elections in December. President Reuven Rivlin, who in coming days must charge Mr. Netanyahu or Mr. Herzog with trying to forge a coalition based on his poll of party leaders’ preferences, said shortly after the polls closed that he would suggest they join forces instead.
“I am convinced that only a unity government can prevent the rapid disintegration of Israel’s democracy and new elections in the near future,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Yet, the Times noted that both Netanyahu and Herzog have rejected the unity government approach since they cannot reconcile their differences on the issues. They also reported that all eyes are focused on Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud minister, who formed the Kulanu Party–“All Of Us”–after a falling out with Netanyahu. Kulanu won 10 seats, and holds the balance of power for either the Zionist Union or Likud. Kahlon leans to the right, but reportedly has issues with Netanyahu. Regardless, Likud is expected to form a conservative government with 63 to 64 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset. Sixty-one seats are required to approve a new government. As Dan wrote last night, no party has ever won an outright majority due to Israel’s proportional election system.
Updated - over 4 millions votes counted, above 95% pic.twitter.com/1lTkVWgvJE— Nehemia Gershuni A. (@Nehemia_G) March 18, 2015
Prime Minister Netanyahu was jubilant in his victory speech saying, "These are important things for every family, citizen, soldier, and all of Israel's Jewish and non-Jewish citizens…you are all important, and you are all important to me…now we must form a strong, stable government that will know how to uphold security and socioeconomic well-being."
Isaac Herzog spoke before, noting 2015 was Labor’s best electoral finish since 1992. He said he would try and form a government as well. Yet, i24news noted in their coverage that the Israeli left has a messaging problem, citing patronizing tones and a general lack of focus. Even the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper–in an article about Arab-Israeli participation in elections–noted that the political left has been a disappointment since the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.
Over here, media reaction to Netanyahu’s win was that he’s a racist. Slate’s Will Saletan wrote, “Netanyahu has become Israel’s George Wallace.”
Here’s CNN’s Jake Tapper speaking with Christiane Amanpour about the last minute get out the vote efforts, which some have considered racist towards Arabs(via Newsbusters):
JAKE TAPPER: Christiane, in the United States, we woke up this morning to the news that Netanyahu had put out a YouTube video imploring his supporters to show up to the polls today, claiming that Palestinians or Arabs as he called them were being bused to the polls by left-leaning organizations. He was very criticized by people in the Israeli media for what they describe as a racist appeal, but it looks as though this appeal, whether or not one likes it, might have helped galvanize his base to get to the polls.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, you're absolutely right and it wasn’t just the press. It was also the Arab-Israeli parliamentarians, those who made the joint list, who are also incredibly upset by that YouTube appeal and I just spoke to one of them who’s part of the joint list who said, look, we have made an unprecedented coalition. We want to work unprecedentedly in the system for our rights and for, you know, Jewish rights and by the way, who are these Arabs that they are scare-mongering us? We are citizens of this country. Let’s not forget, it’s not like a bunch of Arabs from neighboring next door are being bused in to the elections. Israeli Arabs, citizens of the country, 1.7 million of them, as this parliamentarian told me, have been incredibly motivated in this election and they want to get out and try to better their lives, but they’re very conscious, as one of them – as this one told me, that they feel that the Likud Party and the right wing do have a sort-of racist policy towards them and it's very scary for them.
CBS and NBC warned that Netanyahu’s win “could destroy” future peace plans with the Palestinians and relations with Obama.
Arab-Israelis have felt like they’re being treated as second-class citizens, but the Joint List–the political alliance comprised of mostly Arab-Israeli political parties formed for the 2015 elections–has some interesting members of its own–and I don't mean that in a good way. Curtis Houck at Newsbusters cited the Daily Beast, which gave the details [emphasis mine]:
The fault lines of the Joint List already have been cause for heated debate among Israelis. The bloc includes conservatives who believe in polygamy, and also those who rally for women's rights. Ayman Odeh’s Hadash party, a coexistence-communist party calling for an “alliance of the disadvantaged” between both Jewish and Arab citizens, alongside Haneen Zoabi, of the nationalist Balad party, who is notorious among Jewish-Israelis for being belligerently divisive. She was banned from the Knesset last summer after saying that the Palestinian militants accused of abducting and killing three Israeli teenagers in June were not terrorists, and has repeatedly applauded Palestinian resistance.
Moreover, the wider Israeli public is wary of the more radical views of some of the Joint List’s members, such as its Raja Zatraa, who at Bar Ilan University on Tuesday denied that Hamas was a terror organization, and said that ISIS learned its crimes of rape, looting and murder from the Zionist movement.
Yeah, some would classify the latter statement as anti-Semitic. That’s not to condone the campaign actions deployed by Likud, but let’s not pretend that the Joint List is an innocent victim here.
It’s hard for Americans to empathize with the Israeli strategic situation. We don’t live in an area of the world where millions along our borders wish to see us destroyed. We don’t have rockets raining down upon us, and we live in a country with “strategic depth.” Israel is only nine miles at its narrowest point near the city of Netanya.
Regardless, it seems as if Netanyahu has defied the odds and clinched a sweet win.