When I moved to Israel as a graduate student and enrolled at the Hebrew University, I was struck by the popularity of French post-modern philosophers among Israeli academics. Having grown up in France, I had read the likes of Foucault and Derrida as a teenager and treated them for what they were: smart Alecks who had mastered the French art of playing with words to say nothing, with elegance. But then I realized why some academics are so fond of French deconstructionism: when your ideas keep being contradicted by reality, all you need is to claim that reality is “constructed” and, therefore, irrelevant. Jean Baudrillard pushed this technique to its limits during the 1991 Gulf War. Before the war, he claimed that “The Gulf War will not take place.” As the war broke out, Baudrillard published a second article titled “The Gulf war is not taking place.” And after the end of the war, Baudrillard’s authored a third article called “The Gulf war did not take place.”
Two days before Israel’s March 17 elections, Haaretz political analyst Barak Ravid wrote that “If Kulanu ends up with 12 or 13 seats on Tuesday night, it would mean that Likud would drop to below the 20 seats. Under such circumstances, all that would be left for Netanyahu to do is resign even before the final vote tally is in or wait until senior Likud officials come out against him and remove him as their leader.” And Ravid concluded: “The prime minister’s crash landing with reality appears unavoidable.” To his credit, Ravid didn’t “pull a Baudrillard” by claiming that Netanyahu didn’t actually win. But his colleague Gideon Levy knows just how not to lose an election again: “We need to replace the people,” he wrote in his Haaretz editorial the day after the election.
While most pre-election polls predicted a four-seat lead for Labor over Likud, Likud ended-up with a six-seat lead over Labor. In the outgoing 19th Knesset, Likud had 18 seats, Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu 13, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid 19, and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home 12. After the break-up of the Likud-Israel Beitenu bloc of 31 seats, and with the rivalry between coalition partners growing, the government had become unmanageable. Yair Lapid’s party was larger than the prime minister’s, and Lapid was able to impose his will on the government – to the point, indeed, that Netanyahu decided to go for broke by calling early elections. Netanyahu’s gamble has produced an outcome of which he himself hadn’t dreamed: Likud ended-up with 30 seats, Lapid will be exiled to the opposition benches, and Bennett and Lieberman (now with 8 and 6 seats, respectively) will crawl to the coalition on Bibi’s terms. It is the political jackpot of the century.
Netanyahu now can easily put together a stable coalition composed of Likud (30), Kulanu (10), Jewish Home (8), Shas (7), United Torah Judaism (6), and Israel Beitenu (6). With 67 seats, Netanyahu has a wide enough coalition. Such a coalition would also be stable as there are no major ideological disagreements among those six parties. Kulanu is indeed more dovish than its future coalition partners, but it ran exclusively on an economic platform and is unlikely to make a fuss about the “absence of a political horizon” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shas and United Torah Judaism will demand an amendment to the military draft law passed under the previous government, but the secular-minded Lieberman is hardly in a bargaining position to oppose it. This is Netanyahu’s dream coalition, and it will likely last for four years.
As for the prediction that the Jewish Home party might overtake Likud, it has proven completely fanciful. Some poll predicted 18 seats for the Jewish Home, sending candidates running for the party’s primary elections. In the end, the party imploded like a soufflé. There are two technical reasons for that: a. Many potential Jewish Home voters cast their vote for Likud for fear of seeing Labor enjoy a strong lead and form the next government; b. Jewish Home lost probably three seats to its rival “Yahad” party, which in the end didn’t pass the electoral threshold. But the underlying cause of Jewish Home’s retreat is that Naftali Bennett’s strategy is delusional. Jewish Home is a religious, sectorial party and, therefore, it cannot break the glass ceiling of 10-plus seats. Bennett took a ride on the Jewish Home after leaving Likud, but the core voters (and rabbis) of the Jewish Home will not let him reshape their party in the Likud’s image, even if that means remaining a small party. If Bennett wants to fulfill his political ambitions, he will have to return to the Likud.
Netanyahu has won big time. He must be giggling at Barak Ravid’s crash prediction, paraphrasing and repeating to himself Churchill’s famous line: “Some crash! Some reality!”