By Resa and Stanley Davids
According to Wikipedia, Nate Silver is a statistician, sabermetrician, psephologist and writer. Two words in the previous sentence were rejected by our Google spell-check; truth be told, we needed to track the meaning of those same two words in an online dictionary. Silver became famous in the United States in 2012 for having developed an incredibly accurate algorithm for predicting the outcome of national elections…..as well as for developing another algorithm capable of accurately predicting a given professional baseball-player’s chances of success in the Majors.
However, Nate Silver will never be truly able to claim that he stands at the pinnacle of success unless and until he develops an algorithm capable of accurately predicting the outcome of Israeli elections. Mr. Silver: This is a public challenge. We in the State of Israel await your courageous intervention in our contentious political sphere!
We voted here in Israel on January 22nd. The pundit class told us that we shouldn’t get too excited: PM Netanyahu, with his newly cobbled together Likud/Israel Beitenu party, was going to sweep to victory, even as Israel in general would most assuredly take a dramatic and drunken lurch to the extreme right. The Jerusalem Post agreed, and mostly celebrated that outcome. Haaretz agreed, and draped most of its editorials in figurative black. Yisrael Hayom all but declared that despite the many millions of dollars its funder/founder Sheldon Adelson lost in trying to defeat Barack Obama, he would see far greater success in the paper’s unabashed support for Bibi and friends. Tom Friedman agreed, and shrugged his shoulders in resignation. Roger Cohen agreed, and trumpeted that his view of Israel isn’t that of a harsh and unremitting critic, but rather the objective view of a dispassionate observer (who just happens to be a harsh and unremitting critic).
Israel – every poll, pundit and politician seemed to agree – was about to plunge off its own cliff, opening the door to an era of racism, religious fundamentalism, right wing reactionary leadership and a complete break with the United States and with Europe.
Many of our friends and colleagues wrote in blogs and letters to a wide variety of editors about the dawning of Israel’s doomsday. As for the two of us, we refused many requests for us to set out in advance exactly what will come of Israel-Diaspora relations, après le deluge. It isn’t that we were smart. It probably just meant that if what absolutely everyone else was saying about the elections would come true, then the dream behind our Aliyah, the dream of working to strengthen Israel as a Jewish AND a democratic state, would be severely called into question.
And Nate Silver, resting on his laurels, was nowhere to be found. The coward….
The signs were, in fact, bad. The parties of the left and center-left were headed by egotists who in the main could not see past their own yearning for power. They would battle each other for votes rather than forge a common base from which to attempt to bring Bibi down. Yair Lapid, head of the year-old Yesh Atid (We have a Future) party, was too pretty, too new, too inexperienced to really be a player. On the strong right and extreme right, Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) party was swelling in strength and popularity, especially among those who rejected Bibi’s intimations of support for a two state solution and who were comfortable with religious intolerance.
But, three days before Election Day, pollsters were intrigued by a floating population of those who had not yet made up their minds or whose choices were soft. Resa and Stan were in that floating group, struggling to choose between our ideological comfort with Meretz and our institutional partnership (and our many friends) within Labor. We received personal calls from the heads of three parties. Well, they weren’t exactly ‘personal’ calls, but they did sound mechanically friendly. Our conversations continued literally up to the moment that we stood at the door of the room within which we would cast our ballots, and then we offered up a split decision.
Election Day was positively gorgeous; the warmest day of the year. The polls were well run, and we stood in line for not more than five minutes. Two-thirds of eligible Israelis voted. By early evening, Likud/Israel Beitenu was visibly worried. Electronic messages flooded our cellphones, urging us to support Bibi. The polls closed at 10 p.m and immediately the projections pointed to nothing less than a total refutation of all of the pundits and pollsters. The earth began to shudder beneath our feet. Yesh Atid would come in a strong second. Bibi was publicly humiliated and bloodied, though his party still captured more seats than any other single party. Seats in the new Knesset will be almost evenly divided between parties on the left and center and parties on the right and far right.
Yair Lapid is now Israel’s king-maker. Nate, could YOU have told us about an outcome that absolutely no one had predicted??
The final results are not yet in. The votes of soldiers and prisoners have yet to be counted. Final results will probably not be reported to President Peres until this coming week. But, the coalition building process is already underway and may take three weeks to complete. As the first projections were made, Bibi declared that the people want him to continue as Prime Minister and that their first priority is to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
But, you are wrong, Mr. Prime Minister. Yes, the public sees no one else who should be head of government right now, but that same public wants the ultra-Orthodox to share equally in the burden of protecting Israel and it wants economic justice and a better life for the middle class. It wants the ultra-Orthodox to more rapidly embrace Israel’s core curriculum and to enter the marketplace and become self-supporting. It wants a government that is willing to be open to the possibilities of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians and it wants a better relationship with the United States, especially with regard to how to stop Iran.
Four years ago, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima Party garnered one more seat in the elections than Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but then she did a miserable job of trying to build a governing coalition; thus, Bibi was offered the chance, and he took power. Will Yair Lapid be a more effective negotiator as he seeks to exact promises from Bibi so that Yesh Atid can be included in the new governing coalition? Will Lapid agree to sit in a government alongside Bennett’s aggressively right wing approach toward any compromises in dealing with Palestinians? Will Shas (Sephardic, ultra-Orthodox) yield to the demand to bring its young men out of the Yeshivot and into Israel’s national service or the IDF? Will Labor change its decision to refuse to join a national coalition government?
Will the political sharks in the Labor Party, already beginning to circle their leader, Shelly Yacimovich, for her perceived failure to take advantage of the shifting political currents, succeed in shredding her political future?
Will Bibi’s new government be too fragile to survive more than two years?
There will be disappointments, we know, when the guidelines of the new governing coalition will be announced within the next several weeks. Bibi may outwit and outmaneuver Lapid. The left and center may yet find new ways to shoot themselves in the foot.
And might things have been even better if so many of those American Jewish liberals who were asked to support, in a fully transparent and legal fashion, Israeli candidates to the center and left had given us of their strength, instead of remaining on the sidelines?
Even as some questions will soon be answered, many more questions remain to be addressed.
But, we both admit to being in a mild state of euphoria. This is Israel, so that euphoria will not last long. But if feels so very good right now.
Measure THAT, Mr. Nate Silver!
Resa and Rabbi Stanley Davids are longtime ARZA members and supporters. Stan is a Past President and Board Member and a current member of ARZA’s Leadership Council. The Davids made aliyah in 2004 and now split their time between Jerusalem and Santa Monica, California.