The Election That Got Away

In Israel, Democracy flexes its muscles.

The Israeli flag. (photo: James Emery)

The Power of Democracy

In the post-Donald Trump era of 2019, it’s a familiar story in the U.S.

2019 was the election Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was always doomed to lose.

It was the legal troubles. It was the polls. Most of all, it was the forgone conclusion in the press and in tight-knit circles of political insiders that Netanyahu would not, could not win this election. Then, it was the early celebrations, followed by dismay and disbelief.

But while Netanyahus closet competition, Blue and White candidate Benny Gantz, was busy declaring a premature victory on Tuesday, veteran politician and consummate survivor Bibi was on the phone. Strengthening old alliances, forming new ones; securing last minute support.

By the end of Election Day 2019, the Israeli people had spoken. And Bibi’s hard work during a long and fraught campaign season that went right up to the wire, had paid off.

“He demonstrated again his mastery of alliance-building among the different political tribes of Israel — he is unmatched in this.” — Ofer Zalzberg, International Crisis Group think-tank

Under Bibi’s leadership, the Israeli economy was strong, security was well-maintained, Israel was making great diplomatic progress on the international stage; Israeli voters saw no reason to change.

How could the politicos and prognosticators have gotten it so wrong- again?

Democracy Worked

In spite of Likud Party fears to the contrary, the Israeli voters rejected outright the so-called “American disease” of using the legal system to undermine the democratic electorate for political reasons.

In the end, the corruption charges Netanyahu still faces weren’t enough of a deterrent at the ballot box.

The sitting Prime Minister ran on diplomatic breakthroughs; in western nations, in Africa, even in Gulf States that have long opposed the mere existence of Israel.

He also ran on his relationship with Donald Trump.

It is true: Netanyahu has scored an unprecedented number of concessions and a tremendous outpouring of public support from its longtime American ally in a very short time and without reciprocation. So far.

Trump, of course, is never shy about taking credit. In a way, he can hardly be blamed. His entire term in office has been dogged by allegations in the international press that an alliance with Trump is the political kiss of death.

What Bibi critics fail to note in their critique of the fawning relationship between the Israeli Prime Minister and the U.S. President, is that consummate statesman Bibi was working hard to deepen his relationship with then-U.S. Presidential shoo-in, Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Bibi understands the importance of diplomacy in a democracy: Representing voters on the world stage means answering to them on election day. Playing personal favorites isn’t an option.

Yet for all his astute political maneuvering, his understanding of the soul of the Israeli voter, his shameless love for his country, Bibi gets little credit in the international press.

It’s Netanyahu’s Israel Now, writes the New York Times. ‘King Bibi’: perennial survivor Netanyahu comes out ahead, from Yahoo. Netanyahu is King of Israel Now, Not King of the Jews, Forward.

Netanyahu Vows To Clog The Rivers With Skulls Of His Enemies In Last-Minute Push To Win Over Undecided Voters. Ok, that last one was from the comedy satire site, the Onion, but you get the drift.

With many leaders, and leadership structures, at the helm of all manner of self-styled governments around the world, it seems odd Benjamin Netanyahu gets so much negative attention.

Bibi leads in a democracy; in a democracy the will of the people is at the helm, not one person.

No Democracy

Critics of Bibi and defenders of Middle Eastern countries which are not democracies should take another look at regimes which, once in power, set up systems of government that endure for a generation.

Or a dynasty.

Once leadership like that is in place in a country that is not a democracy, what recourse do ordinary citizens have to do anything about it? To remove deeply entrenched leadership like that, you don’t need an election; you need a coup.

That is why deeply entrenched leadership in non-democratic nations usually maintain strict control over the country’s military; not to defend the home nation from outside opposition, but to defend the rulers from the ruled.

Because the ruled always far, far outnumber them.

Bibi is not a King, far from it. Kings don’t have to deal with corruption charges, or face reelections. But a fairly elected leader in a democracy has the advantage of the support of the governed.

And that, it would seem, is better.

“After the election he can play the democracy card.” — Hugh Lovatt, Israel analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank said of po reelection.

Good. Let him.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)