Last week Israelis went to the polls in the highest numbers since the 1999 elections. The eventual results surprised everyone – especially the media who in the run up to the elections had put Israel on trial, predicting that the Jewish State would take a radical jump to the right.
We Israelis are passionate and unpredictable and just when the the world media thinks it has us all figured out, we take another sidestep in our never ending tango with the press and public opinion, defying predictions. While Bibi and his Likud faction won by a much more narrow margin than expected, the real winners on the day were democracy and Israel’s new Prince, Yesh Atid (There is a Future) leader, Yair Lapid. Dubbed “The Kingmaker” this former journalist now holds all the cards when it comes to forming the new coalition.
So what prompted Israelis to move more to the centre than the right as predicted?
In various polls leading up to the elections, Likud held the lead with Yesh Atid veering in respectable but modest positions between fourth and fifth place with estimated mandates between 12 and 15 seats. The smart money at the time was on Shelley Yachimovich and the Labour Party or even on Bayit Yehudi whose leader Naphtali Bennet enjoyed a seemingly meteoric rise in popularity in the last weeks. Lapid ran a tight campaign with clearly defined platforms. He also resisted the urge to stick it to the competition, a tactic employed by several of the parties that jostled for the Israeli vote. There was no Bibi bashing or Shelley smearing and perhaps this is something potential voters took cognisance of. Yesh Atid is attractive to Olim Chadashim (new immigrants like me) who have invested in this country but like the to know what the fine print of our contract with our new home involves. Will we be able to afford to buy homes, what happens with our tax and will we, the middle class, play some part in the shaping of our new home.
Last weeks election results proved that it is the every day issues that affect Israelis that are first and foremost on our minds when it comes to casting our ballots. Perhaps many wish to move from a dogmatic, hawkish government to a more inclusive, broad and centrist one. One thing is for sure, the high cost of living, housing, education and the very important conscription issue were factors that motivated decision. Israelis have grown tired of factional politics. Left versus right. Religious factions with their iron grip on policy and ceaseless “you scratch my back and I will tickle yours” politicking. It remains to be seen as the coalition is formed if we will see the dawn of a new era. International pundits wring their hands in dismay that the peace process seems to take second place to domestic issues. This is not to say that we have given up any dream of peace with our neighbours. We are just like any other country’s citizens, concerned with daily life.
Most of us are cynical but hopeful. You can be sure that in the coming weeks we will return to our favoured national pastime, criticising the government and debating its decision making skills.
This election also sees a record amount of women voted into the Knesset. Activists, journalists, women and an Anglo invasion make this 19th Knesset an interesting patchwork of ideas and philosophies.
Despite the game of chess that defines clever coalition forming, Israelis face the future with cautious optimism, renewed vigour and a curious eye on how Lapid’s Yesh Atid party performs. It may still have to prove that it is the little party that could.