JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — September 11, 2019 —In case you missed it, Israel will be holding national elections on September 17. Yes, this is the second time this year. Hopefully the outcome will not be a stalemate like last time. Please enjoy this series of articles offering insight to perspectives beyond whether Bibi will be reelected. These details are probably not understood overseas and ultimately, at least indirectly, is part of answering who will be Israel’s next Prime Minister. (For background about the electoral system from prior to the election in April, please feel free to contact me, firstpersonIsrael@gmail.com.)
ICYMI = In Case You Missed It
Read Part One:
When A Fast Day Becomes A Feast Day By Jonathan Feldstein
ICYMI = Read Part Two”
Israel’s Election Do-Over By The Numbers By Jonathan Feldstein
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To Bibi or Not to Bibi That is the Question By Jonathan Feldstein
In many ways Israel’s upcoming election on Tuesday, September 17, 2019th is a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, even more so than the inconclusive election in April 2019. Bibi, Israel can’t live with him and can’t live without him.
This summer he surpassed Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben Gurion as its longest serving Prime Minister. Indeed, for young Israelis voting for the first time this year, for most of their lives Bibi is virtually the only Prime Minister they’ve known.
If they have a little historical memory, they might remember Prime Minister Ariel Sharon whose tenure and lifetime of service to Israel beginning with the founding of the state and a famed military career ended abruptly in 2006 following a stroke.
Sharon was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, a career politician whose tenure was abruptly ended by an indictment, trial, and imprisonment on charges from when he served as mayor of Jerusalem.
Since 2009, Israelis have only known Netanyahu as their Prime Minister. While we care about peace, the economy, international relations, employment, education and social welfare, when elections come as they have now for the second time in a year, typically the top three issues that govern the outcome are security, security and security.
To that end, with little exception, under Bibi’s tenure Israel has enjoyed a period of unusual calm. That’s part of what makes him so strong, and having been reelected so many times.
Of course, this is all relative in the sense that Israel has never had a day without threat of war or terror. Under Bibi, we have had multiple battles and mini wars with Hamas in Gaza, and no shortage of Arab terrorism with too many heartbreaking casualties from stabbings, car rammings, shootings and explosions.
But we have not had a repeat of the 2006 Second Lebanon War with relatively high casualties, and for which the army was criticized for being unprepared as millions of impacted Israelis evacuated from their homes.
And we have not had buses and cafes getting blown up on a regular basis by suicidal Islamic “martyrs” as happened from 2001-2004.
To a degree, although terror still takes place, the violence and threats are “managed.” Despite national frustration that Hamas can still turn up the heat and fire dozens or hundreds of rockets at Israeli communities in the south, and then “peace” (or more accurately relative quiet) is restored after Israeli concessions. For the most part most Israelis don’t feel the direct impact so we feel relative calm.
We know that Hezbollah has as many as 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel which can be launched any time Iran says “go.” Under Bibi, Israel has at least effectively created a deterrent such that the war that may be inevitable hasn’t happened yet. So we feel relative calm.
And we know that there have been a select number of widely reported Israeli attacks on Syrian and Iranian positions in what’s left of Syria. This underscores what Bibi assures is that we have not just the intelligence but the ability to strike anywhere and anytime against threats that may be existential.
So for the calm we feel, even if it’s just before an inevitable storm, Bibi gets credit that it’s materialized under his watch. Or at least that something catastrophic hasn’t happened yet.
The economy is strong, tourism is at record highs, unemployment is low, and many Israelis feel a combination of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
For these reasons and others, polls show Bibi being the most qualified candidate by nearly 2:1, and is why Israelis can’t live without him.
At the same time, many Israelis feel Bibi has to go, either because he’s served too long or because during his time in office as Prime Minister he has not cultivated nor cultivated logical successors. In fact, there are many who would say that he has undermined and pushed many successors away. Many Israelis feel it’s time for a change. Even more so, despite being conditioned by the precedent of a previous sitting Prime Minister (and President and other senior political leaders) resigning and going to prison, the different cases for which Bibi might be indicted shortly make it too unpalatable for him to continue.
There’s a growing “anybody but Bibi” movement. That’s limited by the most likely potential victor in this election having wide support despite having no previous political or government experience at all.
While it’s unfair to fault a Prime Minister for the acts and behavior of his wife and kids, a wide confluence of issues also make Israelis want him out to have a new, untarnished, first family that’s less embarrassing.
These are some of the reasons that Bibi is also the Prime Minister that Israelis can’t (and don’t want to) live with.
Ghosts in and out of Netanyahu’s closet are widely known. There remain many factors that can influence the vote down to the last minute since Israel has no early voting. We must be physically present in the country, in our districts, with ID in hand to put a slip of white paper into a blue envelope to cast our votes.
Bibi didn’t win the last election in April, nor did he lose. Polls show that he’s the most qualified by a lot, but that his Likud party is at a dead heat with the opposition Blue and White party.
What will happen is anybody’s guess. But there’s one thing for sure that Israel’s will have on their minds, to Bibi or not to Bibi, that is the question.
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Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six and became a grandfather in 2018. Throughout his life and career, he has been blessed by the calling to fellowship with Christian supporters of Israel and serve as a bridge between Jews and Christians. He shares insights and experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, writing for prominent Christian and conservative web sites and appearing on many Christian TV and radio programs. He is the president of Run for Zion and the Genesis 123 Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via www.runforzion.com.