After months of frenzied campaigning, election day in Israel has finally arrived. Rather than flocking furiously to polling stations, however, the public appears to be limping its way to the ballot box with a lack of customary enthusiasm.
On one hand, this is not surprising, given the plethora of people who continued until the last minute to claim that they still had not decided how they were going to vote. On the other, even the “floating voters” seem to concur with their activist counterparts that the current election is a particularly momentous one. It is clearly for this reason that thousands of Israeli ex-pats arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday for the sole purpose of having a say in the outcome.
Those who flew across continents to determine which of the “Benjamins” will head the next Israeli government—Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu or Blue and White Party chairman Benjamin (Benny) Gantz—probably had made up their minds before purchasing plane tickets. Why else would they have spent the money and expended the effort to interrupt their schedules to perform a civic duty in the homeland that is no longer their home?
A more interesting question is why the Israelis whose daily lives are directly affected by the makeup and legislation of the Knesset remain in such a dilemma. This mass indecision is especially odd, given the widespread consensus that the current election is less about the usual issues of security, economics, education and health care, and more a referendum on Netanyahu—Israel’s long-standing incumbent Benjamin.
To understand the confusion, one first has to grasp the workings of Israel’s peculiar parliamentary system, which is responsible for the fact that 42 parties are running in today’s election, and only about a dozen of these have an actual shot at passing the threshold. Though even 12 is a huge number of parties, it’s nothing compared to the shocking amount of voters who could have skipped the process altogether and thrown their ballots directly into the nearest garbage can. Which is where they belong, in any case.
The good news is that the cockamamie system has not produced poor results. After all, Israel is a miraculous wonderland—political warts and all—in a region beset by barbarism. Being a country full of Benjamins will do that, which is precisely why U.S. Democrat Party Rep. Ilhan Omar and her fellow anti-Semites hate it so much.
Ironically, Omar’s infamous tweet in February—about American support for Israel being “all about the Benjamins, baby”—was actually a reference to a non-Jewish Benjamin. You know, Benjamin Franklin, whose face appears on $100 bills.
Omar thought she was being clever by using an age-old trope about Jewish money controlling the world, and by extension, the Jewish lobby acting as the U.S.
government’s puppet-master. What she did inadvertently, however, was to expose the true nature of her anti-Israel bias in particular and its left-wing manifestation in general.
Which brings us back to the battle of the Benjamins that is taking place in the Jewish state at this very moment.
The Israelis who would like to see Netanyahu lose believe, among other things, that a Gantz-led government is likely to “heal the rift” between the Democrats and Israel. Such voters are under the illusion that Netanyahu is to blame for the lack of bipartisan support that the Jewish state used to enjoy from across the ocean.
Like the notion that Netanyahu is at fault for the absence of peace with the Palestinians, this is a total fallacy. The only way peace will ever be achieved with the Palestinians—as Gantz knows—is when their leaders cease aiming for Israel’s destruction.
Furthermore, in the unlikely and undesirable event that Gantz becomes prime minister, he and the electorate will soon discover that Omar and her ilk are just as hostile to Israel as they were before.
Meanwhile, the American Jews who blame Netanyahu’s deals with the ultra-Orthodox parties for causing the religious-pluralism problems that have widened the divide with the Diaspora are in for a rude awakening. Gantz will not be able take the reins of the country without forging a coalition that includes ultra-Orthodox partners. So much for false hopes.
As for realistic ones: May the best Benjamin (Netanyahu) win.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”