King Bibi: We wanted a change

Few things I need to clarify here. I am not Israeli. Yet. I have never been exceedingly patriotic. I have never cared about elections thinking that it is still the same thing regardless of who wins; it’s all double-dealings under the table and the fate of citizens is the least of the politicians’ worries. It is still possibly true. So far I have lived in countries where my very breath did not depend on the party that was elected; usually the matters revolved around who will get the bigger chunk of my taxes without contributing even one hour of labour for the purpose of earning their own bread and butter.

Therefore, I felt very uncomfortable to have suddenly experienced the edginess from the moment I heard Netanyahu dissolved the government and we faced new elections. I didn’t want to have any feelings, reasoning that I am not Israeli after all and it is not my opinion that should matter here. I wasn’t born here and I am not forced to live here. I am here by choice and by choice I should be able to block my preferences until I have been granted voting power to have a say.

To my disdain I couldn’t help but go to bed fearing for results. The initial predictions still showed Likud leading, but only by one point. Literally the first thing I did in the morning today was to check my phone. I know, perhaps it’s not so good, but I was too eager to find out the results. And results they were; Bibi won achieving a crashing victory. With the voter turnaround of 71.8%, Likud was voted first by 23.26% of the Israeli population with the Zionist Union being voted second with 18.73%, Joint List with 10.98%, Yesh Atid 8.77%, Kulanu 7.41% and Jewish Home 6.41%. It therefore looks like we will have a more right-wing coalition, with generally less Orthodox MKs (the number dropped from 39 to 25) and more Arab MKs (the number went up from 12 to 17). The country was significantly divided over the left and the right, and generally the feeling is that the democracy, at least, has won – the nation had its say.

I jumped out of the bed worried that I would be late for work. I ran to the door and got stopped by Grandma (she’s not my grandmother, but out of respect I will call her that):

– Who came? – Her first question was. I think she even missed ‘good morning’.

– Bibi did.

– Baruch Hashem! I was so afraid he wouldn’t.

For the next five minutes I reassured her that yes, I came late home last night, no, I didn’t eat after, yes, I ate before, no, I would not have coffee now, yes, I promise I would drink at work, no, I didn’t have to go to Jerusalem today and yes, I will come home straight from work.

On my way to work I noticed that many people smiled today on the street. Really. People don’t smile here as much as they do in London, for example. That’s probably because they are down to earth, non-small talk and very-little-rubbish type of individuals. However, the atmosphere has changed. The tension evaporated and yes, we still talked about politics.

The moment I entered the teacher’s room the conversation was heated around Netanyahu.

– We needed someone more religious! – Said one teacher.

– What? You want another war?! Haven’t you had enough? – Exasperated another.

– No. But we needed change. And you what? Suddenly became liberal? You want to give everything to the Palestinians? You want to live in the Palestinian country?

– We would have another war even if we gave everything to them. – Said my co-teacher reasonably.

True. We would probably have war here and there. It’s quite sad to think that, but it does put things in a different perspective. For example, I work in a religious school, which for the purpose of the elections had a huge poster of Bennett at the entrance. I was surprised to learn that even charedi teachers did not vote for him. Rather they were relieved that Netanyahu won. I understand their feelings. With Netanyahu at least, so far, people know where they stand. I quickly made an appointment with my doctor and went to see her. Following our regular exchange of pleasantries I asked her whether she was happy with the election results. She said that she wasn’t. She also wanted a change, but there was no one, really, who offered that change and we weren’t ready to risk betting on a half-horse.

Instantly I thought she voted liberal. Cautiously I asked her what she meant by that and she answered:

– I am more… rightwing.

– You wanted Bennett?!

– No, no Bennett, he’s too extreme. But I wanted change. Bibi does not represent change.

It’s amazing how it is not really about the person. Regardless of what the Western media may think. For example, Time magazine printed an issue with Binyamin Netanyahu on the cover bolding “King Bibi. He has conquered Israel. But will Netanyahu make peace – or war?”

They really got it wrong. We didn’t vote for a person. These elections really caught us off guard. There wasn’t much time left to think about any feasible plan. All parties had the same agenda: generally all of them want our welfare and the domestic and international security of the state. There really wasn’t that much difference in their electoral pitch especially in terms of the two-state solution. The only difference was Bennett, but he is far right and so that was to be expected. Despite how we sometimes feel, it seems that the country was not ready to take such a risk. The country also wasn’t in a position to grant power to the liberals. What we need is what we asked for in this situation and what we get is Likud forming a rightwing coalition.

Certainly things can’t stay the way they are and Netanyahu should reconsider his domestic and international policy. We don’t need more enemies. It is, however, wiser at this point to have him as the Prime Minister, why? Because Israel does not seem to be in a position to allow someone else to access power, especially if we are not too sure about what they may do. It’s better to stick with the devil we know, than to think we chose better and be disappointed with hopefully not too disastrous consequences. With Bibi at least we know what we can expect, more or less. We know what he does, what he doesn’t, what he promises and delivers, and what he promises and doesn’t deliver. Would we feel equally secure if we had someone else? I doubt it.

In terms of the relationship between Israel and the US, there is really no point denying that both gentlemen hold personal grudges. Certainly re-electing Netanyahu will not improve that situation, especially with Obama as the head of the United States. One of them has to outlive the other one for that change to occur. Israel does not have partners for negotiation with the Palestinians; many argue that Netanyahu is not a competent partner for potential negotiators either, but I think at this point we chose security over the quality of life and possible progression in terms of the two-state solution. I think, though we really want that change, we were just not ready yet. Perhaps (unless Netanyahu changes his domestic and foreign politics) it will take a change in the States and on the Palestinian side for each leader to be actually able to sit together and work for the two state solution, which seems to be the focus of today’s peace talks. For now it is just talk, which gives political advantage, but doesn’t leave much in essence.

Certainly Netanyahu tends to blow the horn too much; he needs to calm down and look for partners. He is not omnipotent, despite what he may think. Sometimes one needs to swallow the ego to make a change he promises. I certainly hope Netanyahu swallows his. I do not expect him to become a pushover – we need a strong Prime Minister and however we may complain about Bibi, he is the best we have for now. I hope he forms a strong coalition and starts addressing not just the security, but also economic issues. Something needs to be changed. We need change, but there is only as much risk as we are willing to take.

It’s on you Bibi.

About the Author
Esther Fuerster is originally from Poland and lived in Britain for many years. She now lives in Israel. She's a London university graduate and plans to do her PhD in Israel. She's a MASA alumni and a recognised blogger. Her article "30 ways why living in Israel has ruined you for life" has been followed around the world and received recognition by the Israeli media. She featured in YNet and LaIsha.
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