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Ahead of Israeli Elections, Only One Thing Is Clear: You’re Either ‘For Bibi’ or Against Him

03-18-2021
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An election campaign billboard for the Likud party shows a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid.  (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
An election campaign billboard for the Likud party shows a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

On Tuesday, Israelis go to the polls for their fourth election in less than two years. Dozens of political parties are vying for government control and as election day gets closer the picture is anything but clear.

In the latest surveys, the top contenders are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

“You have to put someone in charge to revive the Israeli economy, who are you gonna [get to] do it? Somebody who’s already done it successfully, and brought Israel’s economy to the best results in our history or someone like Yair Lapid?” Netanyahu said in an interview with the Tel Aviv International Salon in conjunction with The Jerusalem Post, in a venue that reaches out to Anglos living in Israel.

“I think it’s time for a generational change, shift, in Israel. As I was saying, I’m ready, the party’s ready. We have the right plans, we have the right abilities, the right experience by now,” Lapid said in a separate interview with the same group.

For this population, that’s weary of lockdowns, a battered economy and too many elections, result projections are unclear. 

According to a poll from Israeli public broadcaster KAN:  Likud remains in the lead with 30 seats; Yesh Atid is next with 21; followed by Yamina with 12 and New Hope at 11.

Seven more parties would likely enter the Knesset with fewer seats including Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.  Others won’t pass the threshold required to get in.

Whether any of the top contenders can form a coalition is the question.

“For the first time it’s not two rivals that are fighting head to head or neck to neck as we had in previous elections with Benny Gantz and Netanyahu. Here it’s some kind of quadruple elections and no one can really forecast what will be the outcome,” said Aviv Bushinsky, Former Advisor and Chief of Staff  to Netanyahu.

In Israel’s parliamentary system citizens vote for a party, not the prime minister.  There are 120 seats in the Knesset and the leader whose party wins the most seats or who is most likely to succeed, gets the job of building a coalition.

Bushinsky says there are really only two camps.

“We can define these elections that it’s ‘yes Bibi’ or ‘no Bibi’ – ‘yes for Netanyahu’ or ‘no for Netanyahu.’ And in a way it’s not exactly what he did or did not do,” Bushinsky told CBN News.

Many praise Netanyahu for the mass vaccination campaign and the Abraham Accords peace agreements.

And while some 70 percent of the Knesset is rightwing, many on the right oppose him.

“There are a great number of people who despise Netanyahu, who don’t like Netanyahu for other reasons. Because, Netanyahu is here for many, many years -- some say too many years -- and without even mentioning the fact that he’s being tried for corruption,” Bushinsky said.

At Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda open-air market the division was clear.

“I’m a Likud man. I’ve known Bibi since he was the United Nations ambassador when I was living in New York and I remain Likud,” said Rafael Har, Founder of the United Jerusalem Freedom Alliance.

“The religious are really ruined by this subject. Until now I always chose Bibi, all the years, simply. This time I won’t vote for him, unequivocally,” said Hani.

“We have a great prime minister. I believe it’s time to change. This country needs a change. And on top of all, I would actually put a limit to the time that he should be elected,” said Michael.

According to Bushinsky, more than 40 percent of those who intend to vote are undecided.

“I think that when the ideology is not the main issue then people are confused,” Bushinsky said.

“So after reading a lot of agendas, a lot of ideologies, I’ve settled on Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid party, and I mean I’m not certain that’s exactly what I support but I feel right now that’s the best option,” said Itay, a first-time voter.  

“I really hope that stuff will change after this election, although I have to say that as someone going to vote and I have no clue who I’m going to vote to. I have no clue,” said Shaked.

And if all else fails, Israelis could find themselves heading to a fifth election again this year or next.

 

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