The Yesh Atid coup in the election would have been shocking a week ago, but not 12 hours before polls closed, walking the streets of south Tel Aviv
. In classic Likud strongholds like the Hatikvah neighborhood, time and again people spoke of voting for Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid or Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), with Shas and also Labor coming up again and again. Likud was a distant fifth place, mostly mentioned with a dismissive tone directed at Binyamin Netanyahu by people who, like their parents, had voted Likud in election after election.
Bibi was spoken of as a man who took a bite out of the poor of the schunot (neighborhoods) and who had had his chance to improve things but did little. While people spoke favorably of his stewardship on the security front, there was little sentiment that peoples' lives were better off than they were four years ago.
Furthermore, the assumption that hammering the “African infiltrators” issue would win votes for the right was torn to shreds. As much as Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas spoke in no uncertain terms about the “migrant threat”, the party only received one more mandate than 2009. And the far-right “Strong Israel”, who made the issue one of the backbones of their campaign and led protests against the migrant community in south Tel Aviv, found themselves outside the Knesset, despite the projections that they'd pass the two-percent threshold. And we all know by now what has happened to the Likud, the other party who spoke of their success in fighting the influx of migrants.
The conventional wisdom that the Israeli public was moving further right has been betrayed by the results showing the right-wing bloc in a dead heat with the center-left bloc for control of the Knesset. True, with 31 seats the Netanyahu-led Likud Beytenu will still be the largest party in the Knesset, but it's a far cry from the 45 or so seats they were projected to win in the election when they announced their merger in October.
In hindsight, the hype that saw Naftali Bennet taking 17 seats also seemed to be premature, not to mention the assumption that a solid Netanyahu victory was a foregone conclusion.
On Tuesday, only a few minutes away from the offices of most Israeli media outlets were normal people heading to vote, more than willing to express what was really on their minds, and hinting at the surprises that came hours later at 10 p.m.