Voting in Israel

Voting in Israel

So -Bibi won.

Against all odds, against most of the polls, against expectations, Benjamin Netanyahu has won Israel’s election. He has pulled out yet another victory against what seemed to be growing odds and the world’s sharply expressed desires, and now he seems more than likely to serve an unprecedented fourth term.

This newspaper is a weekly, and we write this on Wednesday. We expected to write an editorial about the way that Israel’s electoral system, designed so that every fringe group has a voice and many of them have vetoes, would dictate a slowly unfolding political vista.

But no.

Of course, it’s still not over until it’s over. Netanyahu still has to make a coalition. We don’t know exactly who will be in it, so we don’t know exactly what compromises he will have to make, how many promises that once made will be either kept or broken.

This election has given us a reason to think about the differences and the similarities between American and Israeli elections.

First, the difference. Let’s start with the polls. Ours often are not right, but Israel’s were breathtakingly wrong. This was not the outcome they predicted. There are no doubt all sorts of reasons they were so off – there are so many parties, so many candidates, so many issues, no geographic center, great volatility, last minute changes of mind. But still, to an outsider, who has no idea how to break those particular eggs but still expects a well-cooked omelet, the miscalculations look like mortifying incompetence.

Second, even though the results were clear, the process isn’t over. That sometimes happen here – there was the contested 2000 presidential race, undetermined until the Supreme Court stepped in – but generally we know who our next set of elected officials will be within hours after the polls have closed. (And then, of course, we wait for almost two months until the new government is sworn it.)

It’s not that way in Israel.

Our system is binary, geographically specific, and chronologically predictable. Israel’s is a country-wide melee, with fringe parties able to leverage themselves as kingmakers, and elections that are held almost randomly, as long as there are no more than four years between them.

Both systems are held hostage to extremists; that always has been true for Israel but we are finding it increasingly true here as well, as parties pick candidates who are willing to spout their hard lines but go on to flail and fail as their lack of moderation is exposed to more standard-issue voters.

That’s not particularly confidence-inspiring, either here or there.

Now that Netanyahu’s won again, we hope that he, his partners, and his opponents all will be able to see past their own self-interest and conquer the bitter divisive ugliness of the campaign to act in a way that ensures Israel’s future. The stakes are toweringly high. They can get it wrong. We desperately hope that they get it right.