THE WRITING WAS ON THE WALL
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday February 11, 2009
Monday morning football is always rough, even when it happens on a Wednesday. Players nurse their wounds and elevate their swollen joints. Bruised egos need massaging and swollen egos need time to relax.
The elections in Israel are over. The race was tight, but the winner won by a large margin. The winner, you see, is not a party. The clear cut winner in this Israeli election is the Israeli people, the masses were the winner.
Sure, some commentators will say I told you so and others will justify their projections. In the coverage leading up to this election most commentators fell into the trap of predicting what they, personally, wanted to happen rather than what the Israeli public was saying they wanted to have happen.
The masses in Israel are in the middle and that is how exactly they voted.
That is how the voters voted in the last election and in the elections before that. Israelis are not extremists. Despite stories that pepper media around the world, Israelis are not on the lunatic fringe. Israelis are moderates.
In every election since Yitzhak Rabin was voted into office the masses have voted for the middle. The same people sway slightly to the right on one election and then slightly to the left on the next election. The same people who ousted Peres when he took over the position of prime minister following the Rabin assassination voted for Netanyahu. And the same people who voted Netanyahu in ousted him and voted for Barak. And those are the same people who then ousted Barak and voted for Ariel Sharon.
Sharon was the first prime minister and party leader to figure it out. And that is why he moved away from Likud - toward the center, and created the Kadima party, a party that could swing a little bit right and a little bit left. That is why Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni will be called upon to form a government. She did not tinker with success.
And that is why Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud Party was successful and garnered so many seats. The vast majority of Israelis voting for Likud are only slightly right of center, they are not extremists. And the vast majority of Israelis voting for Kadima are only slightly left of center and some are actually right of center.
That is how the center took the plurality.
So why were so many people, pundits and pontificators fooled? There are several reasons.
The foreign press stationed in Israel, and it is one of the largest postings for foreign journalists in the world, find it entertaining to cover the characters who occupy the fringes. It's good reading. It's sexy. The people on the fringes are interesting, even if they are not representative of mainstream Israel.
The local press, for the most part, is revolted by the right wing. And they feel the need to transmit that revulsion to the masses. They see the right, even the slightly right of center party supporters, as Neanderthals, as people who have only one response to every situation - violence. Don't get enough health and welfare services - violence. Not enough money for education - violence. The Palestinians - violence. Of course, the local press knows how to temper their portrayals of the right wing. But when local stories are picked up by international media the nuance is lost, the coverage is warped, the story is out of perspective. For their part, the average Israeli feels battered by the press. The lives they lead and the lives portrayed on media screens and in newspapers collide and clash.
And that explains why everyone was so far off in predicting the end result of the election in Israel and in predicting the continued stability of Kadima and Livni. No one paid attention to the masses in the middle. The coverage focused on the extremes.
The race was close and Livni squeaked by Netanyahu. They may have to share power, they may even have to negotiate a rotation of power. Right now the process of coalition building, the true art of compromise, begins. There too the center will emerge - just watch.
Instead of reading their own columns, the commentators should have been reading the writing on the wall.
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