Polls, attempted putsches and ayatollahs

The slips used to vote in the 2019 elections, April 9th, 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The slips used to vote in the 2019 elections, April 9th, 2019
With less than three weeks left before the September 17 Knesset elections, the only two issues on which the Right and Left seem to agree is that neither bloc will be able to form a coalition, and that voter turnout is going to be lower than ever. This sad consensus was born of, and continues to be bred by, polls.
The question of whether surveys reflect or shape public sentiment is not new. Nor is the discussion about their accuracy, particularly in the mass-communication age, when reaching voters can no longer be done by calling random numbers in what have become obsolete phone books. Furthermore, as post-election analysts around the world point out when faced with unexpected ballot-box outcomes, people lie to pollsters, or change their minds at the last minute.
The April 9 elections that ended in an impasse, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu ultimately unable to form a government, deserve to be relegated to a different category, however.
The surprise there was that Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman refused to join the right-wing camp to which he had previously belonged. Had he not pulled a stunt to thwart Netanyahu, his measly five mandates would have enabled the ruling Likud Party to lead a clear majority. This was not something that pollsters – whose pie charts had put Yisrael Beytenu on the same side as Likud – could have predicted.
At least this time around, they don’t need to guess. Liberman has made it clear since April 10 that he will only join a coalition that excludes the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties.
Rather than being punished for pretending that he has been standing on principle – when his higher aim all along has been to oust and eventually replace Netanyahu – Liberman has been rewarded. In the polls, that is, according to which he has doubled his seats, you know, for ostensibly being a lone champion of synagogue-state separation.
Herein lies the rub. The only way to keep the haredim on the back benches of the Knesset is through the creation of a national-unity government between Likud and Blue and White, headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Oh, and of course with Yisrael Beytenu, though why the two largest parties would need Liberman if they joined forces is not clear. This point is moot at the moment anyway, since Blue and White has announced that it will not agree to such an arrangement as long as Netanyahu remains chairman of Likud.
To tackle this little hurdle, Liberman’s latest maneuver has involved encouraging an anti-Netanyahu putsch within Likud.
ACCORDING TO a Ynet report on Wednesday, in a “closed” gathering of Yisrael Beytenu activists at the party’s Or Yehuda campaign branch headquarters, Liberman recounted meeting this week with many MKs, mayors and Likud Central Committee members who, he claimed, are “praying” for Netanyahu to fail.
“It’s hard to believe how the very people who not long ago signed a declaration of loyalty to Netanyahu are so desperate to get rid of him,” Liberman reportedly said.
He also quoted these unnamed Likud sources as having stated that if Netanyahu does not succeed in garnering the 61-seat bloc he needs to form the next government, they will reject another disbanding of the Knesset and additional round of elections. Instead, according to Liberman, they will use legal means to instate a temporary replacement for Netanyahu, and hold new primaries after the next government is up and running.
The anti-Netanyahu press is none too fond of Blue and White in general, and of Gantz and Lapid in particular. Yet its adherence to the “anybody but Bibi” school of thoughtlessness is nothing if not intact.
As a result, stories of internecine strife within Likud have been multiplying. Some are undoubtedly even true, since the goal of all politicians is to become head honcho, and internal party rivalries always exist. Likud politicians yearning for a shortcut to the top are no exception.
The trouble is that, so far, no Likud member – or any other party leader for the last decade – has been deemed by the public to possess the leadership qualities or experience necessary to steer Israel through stormy weather. In fact, if Bibi had bowed out months ago, Likud’s popularity probably would have plummeted.
This is why Gantz, Liberman and the left-wing media have been ramping up their focus on Netanyahu’s so-called “impending” indictments, though not a single one has been issued. That all of them appear to be pretty bogus is another matter, and indicates that Bibi’s opponents see no way of ousting him without police intervention.
Which brings us back to the daily polls, which do not show any real fluctuation in support for Netanyahu in relation to his corruption probes. What they do illustrate is that his natural coalition partners are liable, like last time, to be detrimental. Small right-wing parties that do not pass the electoral threshold amount to thousands of wasted votes for the bloc, after all.
So much for politics in general and dirty politics in particular. No wonder so many people are threatening not to show up on Election Day, and a host of others are scheduling their annual High Holiday vacations for mid-September, to avoid having to cast a ballot.
THE GOOD NEWS, if there is anything positive about Israel’s current shadow-war with Iran, is that Netanyahu is at the helm. While fending off the forces at home working tirelessly to push him out at best and imprison him at worst, Bibi has been fighting an actual battle abroad to defend the country’s borders, from dispatching the IDF to strike Tehran-initiated targets in Syria, for example, to preventing the mass slaughter of Israelis on the Golan Heights and elsewhere in the Jewish state.
He even summoned Gantz – who has no official capacity as the leader of the opposition – to participate in the brainstorming about how to counter the looming threat. But about this act of statesmanship on Netanyahu’s part, Gantz has had nothing to say, since it might put a dent in his narrative that Bibi is too preoccupied with his legal troubles and fear of electoral defeat to be governing.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle a useless scrap of metal.
Army Radio anchor Erez Tadmor summed up this hypocrisy in a Twitter post on Wednesday:
“As Netanyahu moves from the Kirya [defense headquarters in Tel Aviv] to his office, and from meetings with the heads of the defense establishment to talks with world leaders, and manages a military campaign alongside a diplomatic one, Lapid, Gantz and their Blue and White lie factory are hopping from studio to studio, running a campaign claiming that Netanyahu cares only about Netanyahu. Shame is dead. It’s amazing that anybody still buys [their line].”
Tadmor is an open Likud supporter, so his defense of Netanyahu may be nothing to gape at. But anecdotal evidence suggests his attitude might be gaining traction among a number of people who vowed not to back Bibi next month, and among some who did or did not vote for him in April. Admittedly, these are not liberals, but rather conservatives who hope for a ruling Likud-led coalition that will tilt heavily rightward.
Realizing that this strategy could have the exact opposite effect – and usher in a left-wing government – such citizens are beginning to question the wisdom of ideological purity. Mullahs with their sights and missiles aimed at annihilating innocent Israelis will do that.
Nobody knows at this point how large a group this actually is. And the polls predicting a repeat gridlock performance only serve to confuse the question further. They also contribute greatly to the growing public malaise with the system.
For this sorry state of affairs to lead people to conclude that there’s no point in voting, however, is beyond mysterious. Now is not the time for apathy. On the contrary, it is a moment that requires each and every Israeli to show up and be counted.
The ayatollahs are watching.