Reflections on a Difficult Election

As of this writing — 24 hours after Israelis went to the polls for the second time in less than six months — the country’s political future remains highly uncertain.

With over 90% of the official vote tallied, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White has a slight edge over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, 33 to 32. But neither has a clear path to a coalition. On paper, Gantz could assemble 56 MKs, but that’s only with the Arab parties, a barely plausible scenario. Netanyahu, with 56, is also short of the magic number of 61 — unless Avigdor Liberman, Übermensch of the unpredictable, should unexpectedly change direction and discover a way to work with the chareidi parties — again, also hard to imagine.

We will leave the multifarious schemes, tenuous and melancholy that they are, of coalition-making to others for now, and focus instead on what can be learned from the facts before us.

A major story, largely ignored by the mainstream media, was that of the chareidi parties. The polls published prior to election day predicted 6 or 7 seats for United Torah Judaism and Shas, respectively. In fact, both surpassed expectations. Shas won 9 seats, one more than it had in April; UTJ took 8, maintaining its strength.

The outcome is a tribute to the dedication of their leaders and campaign activists, and to the loyalty of the Torah community, which once again heeded the call of Gedolei Yisrael. They understood the vital cause: to vote for representatives who will fight for all that we hold sacred — for the yeshivos, for shemiras Shabbos, for maintaining halachic standards in conversion and kashrus, for defending the traditions of Judaism at the Kosel.

Regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, and whether UTJ and Shas are included in the government or not, that fact stands out. We have reason to be proud of the impressive showing of our community.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the success of those who devoted their energies during months of campaigning to defaming the chareidi community and undermining the values of Jewish tradition itself.

Liberman, in particular, has earned an odious place in the annals of Israeli politics. As one who had over the years allied himself with the chareidim and personally befriended some of its leaders, his betrayal was especially bitter.

Faced with a dwindling base of support, Liberman decided to pander to the worst instincts, the most vile prejudices, and the pitiful ignorance of his constituency. He invested millions of shekels in convincing people that the chareidim and national-religious leaders are messianic fanatics who only want to expand their budgets in order to impose a halachic state on the secular Israeli. No matter how detached from reality the claims were, enough voters believed them to give him nine seats in the Knesset and a pivotal role in deciding the next government.

But whatever damage he caused to the chareidim, ultimately it will be his own name that will be dragged forever in the mud, as history marks him as one who raised his hand against the Torah for his own temporary political advantage. His eight Knesset seats are eight marks against him in the eternal record.

Benny Gantz succumbed to the current political wisdom that attacking chareidim and appeasing the Reform wins votes. With the notoriously anti-religious Yair Lapid at his side, he cast away his image as a moderate leader seeking national unity and declared that he would not sit in a government with chareidim. His, too, was a shameful capitulation to vulgar ambition.

Considering the hundreds of millions of shekels spent on the election, it was a terrible waste. It did nothing to resolve the stalemate between the right and left, and did much to aggravate tensions between the religious and the secular.

Predictions about the formation of a new government are less confident than the predictions of Tuesday’s indecisive results. It’s being said that it could take weeks, if not months, to arrive at a viable coalition. The alternative, a third round of elections, is so unpalatable that President Reuven Rivlin and other senior officials have repeatedly promised that they’ll do everything they can to prevent it.

We can only hope that a government coalition is formed without undue delay, and that somehow it will uphold the true values of the Jewish people despite all those who seek its destruction.