“Take a Likud voter, you can cut off his hand and he still won’t vote Left,” said Roni Hava, outside a kiosk off Tel Aviv’s Hagana Street the day after the election.
The postmortem on the Zionist Union’s campaign for the 20th Knesset seemed clear as day Wednesday morning in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood, far away from the city’s left-wing bubble.
Whatever they may think of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, people in staunchly Likud neighborhoods like this one aren’t going to jump ship easily, especially not to vote for the Left – and certainly not because they heard in the media that their guy was on his way out.
Furthermore, so many still seem convinced Netanyahu is the only option, at least for now.
“Only Bibi can lead the country,” said Hava, a resident of the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood next door. He called Netanyahu “a magician” for pulling off what a week ago would have seemed an improbable upset, at least in central Tel Aviv.
He and his friends at the kiosk added that something had changed in the past week or two: Once it had become apparent that the Left might come to power, that “redline” had driven Likud voters and others on the Right to get off the couch and vote Tuesday to keep Netanyahu in power.
The assessment – backed up by polls – that Netanyahu was all but certain to lose appeared to be one way the media may have unintentionally tilted the election for the Likud.
Another was what several Hatikva residents described as a brutal, one-sided and personal campaign against Netanyahu by a left-wing media that had banded together to bring him down. Rather than turn the public away from Netanyahu, they said, it had made his constituents feel embattled and sneered at, and instilled a greater sympathy for the candidate.
“I don’t like Bibi, but they attacked him too much, and it was so exaggerated,” said Moshe Cohen, the kiosk owner.
“This is where they went wrong – they kept going after him for every little thing, for Sara [Netanyahu] and the bottles and the ice cream, and all this nonsense,” he said, referring to two scandals involving the Netanyahus’ alleged misuse of taxpayer money. “All [the Zionist Union Party] ever had to say was, ‘Anybody but Bibi. This is why they lost.”
Cohen, a lifelong Likud voter who this time around cast his vote for Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party, said that the media in recent months had “created a feeling that they’re working against the will of the public, that we’re being attacked.”
He added, “They’re such idiots.
They kept saying that the Left was going to win, and all they did was drive tons of Likudniks to vote who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise.”
A look at the morning-after statistics across the country also shot dead the pre-vote prediction that Likud voters might spurn Netanyahu and his party in favor of others on the Right, or even the Left.
A sampling of five towns that have been solidly Likud for decades – Bat Yam, Tiberias, Sderot, Or Akiva and Afula – showed that according to Central Elections Committee statistics, the voter turnout in each town had increased by 5 percent to 10% over the 2013 election. It also showed that the Likud had matched or exceeded its support by the same margin, even though in 2013 it was running on a joint list with the Yisrael Beytenu Party.
There was also a popular prediction that cracks were beginning to show in the Likud’s support in neighborhoods like Hatikva, which for decades have been synonymous with the party. Again, statistics told a different tale.
All together in Hatikva, the Likud received 39% of the vote this year, higher than the 31% it received in 2013 when it ran with Yisrael Beytenu.
At one voting station – the Beit Dani community center in the heart of Hatikva – the Likud received 42% of the 1,601 votes issued, nearly double the 23.26% it received nationwide.
That said, despite Hava’s comment about Likud voters preferring to cut off their hands rather than vote for the Left, there were 144 votes for the Zionist Union at Beit Dani, and this reporter did not see any amputees walking around the neighborhood on Wednesday.
Sami Shiri, a 66-year-old longtime Likud voter working a stall at the Hatikva market said that the media had been too hard on Netanyahu, but he seemed more concerned that the Zionist Union would “give Jerusalem and the country to the Arabs.” He also said he was not at all turned off by Netanyahu’s Election Day warning to voters that Arabs were heading to the voting stations, saying that it was true and he had been right to say it.
Around the corner, three women in a hair salon smiled and said they were happy and not at all surprised that Netanyahu had emerged victorious.
One added that talk about a potential Zionist Union victory was all part of media “propaganda” against Netanyahu.
There were voices that thought otherwise, though – or at least were surprised by the results. Out on Etzel Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, Tomer Sharabi, 43, sat inside a small real estate office watching the day go by.
“I don’t know where he [Netanyahu] got these votes from,” he said. “You talk to people out here, and all they talk about are their problems, the taxes, their lost benefits, the cost of living, and they all blame Bibi. Maybe they’re just masochists.”
Sharabi didn’t vote this time around, but in the past election he voted Shas, even though he is not haredi. He said there were two main aspects to the election – security issues and the economy – and that while he thought that people were tired of Netanyahu and complained about him heavily, “maybe they’re just more afraid about security issues. They worry that the Left will do another Oslo [Accords]. I don’t know.”
In the end, he repeated an assessment that could be heard in similar neighborhoods across the country after the reelection of Netanyahu – a man many of these people may dislike, but not nearly as much as they dislike the Left.
“Maybe they had no other choice,” said Sharabi. “Everyone here spoke against him [Netanyahu], but maybe they felt there wasn’t another option.”