Despite lackluster performance, Yisrael Beytenu meets voting threshold with 5 seats

‘What’s clear is that those who tried to write us off the political map did not succeed,’ says party candidate.

March 17, 2015 23:23
3 minute read.

Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Dozens of Yisrael Beytenu loyalists and members convened for a subdued gathering at a banquet hall in Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel Tuesday night to take in the party’s lackluster showing after garnering a mere five seats in the day’s election.

According to numerous polls, the party was in jeopardy of not procuring the four seats necessary to reach the minimum threshold. Still, after the preliminary results were broadcast on three large projectors, the mood was anything but celebratory.

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“Of course it’s a disappointment from two aspects,” said MK Dr. Shimon Ohayan, as talking heads broadcast live from the ballroom. “It’s disappointing from the national point of view, which stated that we were the leading party, and from the social aspect.”

Stating that Yisrael Beytenu was on the forefront of socioeconomic matters, including prohibitive housing costs, nursery assistance and promoting the status of teachers in the country, Ohayan described the event as an “Irish Wake.”

Nonetheless, he said he held out hope that the party’s anemic numbers may look up by the morning.

“We have to wait until tomorrow because right now it’s only a poll,” he said. “I hope that by the morning things will improve.”

During the drawn-out campaign, party leader Avigdor Liberman said the party’s list of 34 MKs represented “the whole spectrum of Israeli society,” including “men, women, Druse, Muslims, Jews, mayors, kibbutzniks and professors.”

As recently as January 15 Liberman claimed a poll sponsored by his party indicated it would garner eight seats in the next Knesset, although he said his goal was a lofty, if not entirely unrealistic, 16 seats.

During a January press conference, Liberman focused on the current conflict, stating that it is not between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather between Jews and Arabs.

However, citing Muhammad Zoabi – the Israeli-Arab teenage cousin of MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) who spoke out as a Zionist during Operation Protective Edge, and subsequently went into hiding due to death threats – Liberman emphasized that there is a place in Israeli society for loyal Arabs.

Declaring that “the norm has to change,” Liberman said Arab’s loyal to Israel must no longer be vilified in their communities as pariahs.

“We talk about Jews in Europe who are afraid to wear a kippa or peyot [side locks]... What angered me [about this case] is that a supporter of Israel had to run away with no protection and was made an anathema to his society,” Liberman said.

Accordingly, Liberman said Israeli Arabs who are loyal to the nation can remain Israeli, but that “there is no reason for [Haneen] Zoabi, [UALTa’al MK Ahmed] Tibi or the northern branch of the Islamic Movement to remain Israeli citizens” when a Palestinian state is formed.

During the campaign, Liberman contended that his party was best equipped to champion Jewish interests.

“Yisrael Beytenu is the only party with a pragmatic approach from the Right – the nationalist camp – that will have a Jewish state in the maximum amount of land and [Jewish] people,” he said.

Moreover, Liberman claimed his rivals were not up to the task.

“[Labor leader Isaac] Herzog proposed his ideas at Camp David with [then prime minister Ehud] Barak [in 2000], and [Tzipi] Livni did at Annapolis [in 2007], and they failed,” he said. [Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali] Bennett’s plan will lead to either a binational state or apartheid.”

In the meantime, Ashley Perry, who was number 20 on Yisrael Beytenu’s list, said he was at least heartened the party’s turnout defied predictions of political ruin.

“We’re still waiting for the final results, but what’s clear is that those who tried to write us off the political map did not succeed,” he said.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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