Early Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his victory speech – signaling the end of a bitterly fought election that further revealed the deep ideological divide in the country.
On paper, there seemed to be very little that separated Netanyahu and his challenger, Benny Gantz, on the subject of security. But Gantz, a former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, made it a point to discuss the need to confront corruption, which has been commonplace in the government for decades. He also pledged to focus on the growing divide between Israeli’s wealthy elite and working class.
While Gantz was able to capture the Tel Aviv and non-religious vote, Netanyahu won in Jerusalem and bolstered his base in smaller cities throughout the country.
All of this pointed to a dead heat between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party – with each party garnering about 35 Knesset seats. And, like some previous elections, the political divide threw a lifeline to smaller parties that were poised to gain by the country’s split vote.
As of Wednesday, at least four parties, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism, along with Kulanu and the Union of Right Wing Parties had pledged their projected 25 Knesset seats to Netanyahu, providing a clear path for him to begin his historic fifth term as prime minister.
Netanyahu, who was bolstered in the polls after President Trump’s recent recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, made several controversial moves during the election and it remains to be seen what the fallout might be, at home and abroad. Already preparing to being indicted on three charges of fraud, bribery and breach of public trust, Netanyahu did what he felt he needed to in order to win: he presented Gantz as mentally unstable and a weak leader; he promised to annex settlements in the West Bank; on election day, his Likud supporters placed hidden cameras in Arab polling stations.
Even as dirty tricks reached a new low during the election, it is unclear how all of this will impact the public. Those who were looking for transparency and vision – outside of national security – will have to wait.