Tensions Explode, Then Fizzle in Israel Post-Election

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After an emotional, controversy-ridden election, some call for calm as Israel attempts to move forward.

BEERSHEVA, Israel — Last week’s elections in Israel passed through the Jewish state in a whirlwind, with divisive pre-election campaigns creating a sense of impending doom for whomever lost.
 
Essentially, voters were told by the right: Vote for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud to avoid a nuclear Iran and Palestinian state on your door­step. On the other side, the Zionist Union Party, under the direction of Isaac Herzog, claimed that a change in leadership was crucial in order to avert damage caused by Netanyahu to the economy and foreign relations, most notably with the United States.
 
The wild rhetoric continued amid the dramatic reactions by voters across the political spectrum after the results were announced, with right-wing voters claiming a jubilant victory and left-wing voters despairing that an apocalypse was upon them. 
 
But the reactions confused some, including Teddy Fisher, a 29-year-old engineer working on the Tel Aviv light rail project and living in the nearby city of Rishon LeZion. 
 
Though he had voted for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party because of Lapid’s support of liberal Judaism, he said he couldn’t understand the post-election drama he watched unfold on his social media feeds, particularly from his American friends.
 
“From my Facebook page it just seems like everybody’s so anti-Bibi, he’s devil incarnate, the America-Israel relationship is over and Israel is going to be an apartheid state — I just don’t get that reaction; I didn’t vote for Bibi but I don’t see why people are hating him so much,” said the Boston native, who earned a B.A. in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania before moving to Israel in 2011. 
 
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s Election Day video urging his supporters to come out to vote to counter the Arab vote touched a nerve with a group of social work students, mostly in their 20s, who are working toward their doctorate at Sapir Academic College near Sederot. They were gathered for their second class in a monthlong mini-course called “Creating Social Change,” run by Ed Newman, a professor at Temple University, who has been traveling to Israel every March for the last four years to teach the course.
 
The vocally liberal-leaning students slammed old party lines and racism in Israel.
 
Merav Zevulun declared, “If you are left wing in Israel, people think you don’t care about security.” 
 
From across the room, Gal Zohar, who grew up in nearby Ofakim, a small town that has been a target of Hamas rockets in recent conflicts in the South, said, “People are putting more gasoline on the fire by exhibiting racism not just toward Arabs but toward everybody.”
 
Guy Ben-Porat, head of the public policy and administration department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, stopped short of calling Netanyahu’s move racist but acknowledged that old party line stigmas were decisive factors in the election.
 
“The Labor Party is still unable to cross the same old lines, the ethnic lines, the peripheral lines, the class lines, and it’s ironic here in Israel that the left-wing party, which talks about social justice, gets most of the bourgeoisie votes and Netanyahu gets the votes of the periphery, of the poor sectors,” Ben-Porat said. 
 
He pointed to Beersheva, a southern city generally populated by immigrant populations and considered to be part of the “periphery” or areas geographically located outside of central Israel.
 
There, 38 percent of voters in the economically depressed city voted for Likud and 12 percent voted for Zionist Union.
 
An example of one of the Likud  voters is Nisim Vaknin, a 51-year-old security guard who was assigned to protect a voting station during the election.
 
“Likud is strong and Netanyahu stands up for his principles, he doesn’t want to return territories; he wants things to go well for Israel,” said Vaknin, a lifelong Beersheva resident. “I hope these elections will help correct the problems of the past.”
 
Fisher picked up the thread, saying “Israel is made up of something like 7 million Jews, more than half are Mizrachi Jews and they voted in higher numbers for Likud; they were looking for somebody they think is strong and going to help them survive in the Middle East.”
 
One of the most interesting aspects of the elections was how quickly the country moved on to business as usual the day after the vote, which had caused such emotion and divisiveness.
 
Even leftists still smarting from the loss scaled back their frustration.
 
Zohar, the student concerned with how racism and bias may have negatively affected the election, wryly remarked, “It’s not like I can’t picture tomorrow.” 
 

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