Commentary

Israel’s revolt into normality

Published: January 25, 4:00 AM
Updated: January 26, 12:11 AM
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Israeli voters delivered a painful blow to Mr Benjamin Netanyahu in Tuesday’s election and halted the country’s worrying drift to the far right.

The incumbent Prime Minister is likely to keep his job, but his political bloc failed to put the expansion of West Bank settlements on top of the national agenda and to sacrifice civil rights in favour of majority rule.

The election’s rising star, Mr Yair Lapid, positioned himself as Israel’s new kingmaker and will be the key player in the next governing coalition. He promised his voters one thing: Normality — to live in Israel as if you are living in Western Europe, with a government that worries about education, housing and economic opportunity, rather than Iran’s nuclear programme or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Midway through his recent four-year term, “Bibi”, the supposed master politician, lost touch with the Israeli public. Lacking a rival who could challenge his power, he behaved like a monopolist, ignoring the customers.

Viewing himself as the saviour of the Jewish people from the wrath of Iran’s atomic bombs — as the Israeli reincarnation of his hero, Winston Churchill — Mr Netanyahu behaved like the King of Judea.

He stayed on this message during the campaign, which showed his image under the hollow slogan, A Strong Prime Minister for a Strong Israel, but failed to draft a platform. Rather than engaging the public, Mr Netanyahu made a deal with Mr Avigdor Lieberman, his then Foreign Minister, to merge their parties for the election. This sealed his victory but further alienated the voters.

WHAT VOTERS WANT

The public was not satisfied with Mr Netanyahu’s attitude and, in the summer of 2011, sent a powerful warning sign to the Prime Minister. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis marched in the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities in an unprecedented middle-class revolt against the rising cost of living, and of property in particular.

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