Likud supporters celebrate at party headquarters on Election Day.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Likud supporters experienced a roller coaster of emotions Tuesday night, expecting the worst and getting more than they had dreamed of.
At the beginning of the evening at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, where throngs of local and foreign press gathered, the atmosphere was not only bleak, it was dead.
"What are you hearing?" stressed strategists whispered to reporters, trying to find leaks of early exit polls. Some were almost certain Likud would fall significantly behind Zionist Union.
Speaking to the press, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said "we're hoping things will be good," hardly an expression of confidence from someone who is not known for his subtlety.
A couple of hundred activists trickled in to the hall and gathered in front of giant screens at 10 p.m., where they watched the exit polls on Channels 1, 2 and 10.
Suddenly, the Likud's agony turned into ecstasy.
The crowd roared, cheering "Bibi, Bibi" and singing "Bibi, king of Israel" while tossing hundreds of Machal voting slips in the air. They counted out loud to 28 in unison several times.
Ironically, the Likudniks were excited to have tied for first place, whereas in the last election, when the combined Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list led by a significant margin, they were miserable.
National Infrastructure Minister Silvan Shalom was one of the first ministers to arrive after the news came in, and activists thronged to him, hugging him and cheering his name.
Standing on a platform where she was about to be interviewed for Channel 1 news, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely waved at activists like royalty, as the Likudniks cheered for her below.
"I feel excellent," MK Gila Gamilel said. "It's a big jump in seats. We have 18 [in the 19th Knesset, without Yisrael Beytenu] and Labor and Hatnua have 21 combined, but we had an unprecedented achievement tonight."
For Gamliel, it was clear that the results would lead to the formation of a Likud-led, right-wing coalition, because Likud and Labor are too different.
Nava Boker, 25th on the list, took the news that she was about to become a member of Knesset seriously.
"There's a lot of work to do," she said solemnly.
She, too, was sure of a victory for Likud and the right-wing.
"I have no doubt [Netanyahu] will form the next government, because there is a strong, united right-wing bloc, which will make it easier for him to accomplish things," she added.
Meanwhile, some activists pretended that they had no doubts at all.
One said he knew Likud would win because he "never saw so many Likudniks coming back to Likud" in an election.
Sharon Levy of Rosh Ha'ayin, who wore a Likud shirt and wrapped himself in an Israeli flag, said he had an "amazing feeling of victory."
"After so many attacks on our party and on Bibi and on the right and all the talk of change, this was a surprise," Levy explained. "Even a tie is an amazing victory. After the ugliest election ever, we had an amazing result. The truth won."