Israeli voters showed again Tuesday just how unpredictable they can be.
Political pundits expected this week’s election for Israel’s 19th Knesset (parliament) to be an easy win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Beiteinu Party.
He did come in first, but unofficial results show him winning with a much slimmer margin than expected — 31 seats, down from the 42 his governing coalition currently holds.
Arguably, the real winner of Tuesday’s election was the runner up, Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, which is projected to win 19 seats in the next Knesset.
“This was totally unexpected.” Gregg Roman, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pitsburgh, said at the Federation’s election party Tuesday. “He (Lapid) was suppose to get 12-13 seats max.”
As for the rest of the field, Labor is projected to win 15 seats; Shas, 12, Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) — the much talked-about right-wing party of Naftali Bennett — 11; United Torah Judaism 7, Tsipi Livni’s Hatnuah party, 6; Meretz 6, United Arab List-Ta’al-Taal 4 and Balad 3
For much of Election Night, it looked as though Kadima, the party founded by Ariel Sharon, which led the governing coalition just five years earlier, wouldn’t win a single seat this time, in a stunning reversal of its political fortunes. However, with 90 percent of the vote counted, Haaretz reported Kadima would likely win two seats after all.
More than 66 percent of eligible voters went to the polls Tuesday.
Lapid, a television personality and son of the late former Justice Minister Josef “Tommy” Lapid, ran on a strongly domestic platform. His Yash Atid party favors government reform by raising the Knesset election threshold from 2 percent to 6 percent, converting half the school system to vo-tech training, lowering barriers between secular and religious education, and military or national service for the ultra-orthodox and Arab communities.
Lapid’s showing suggests that Netanyahu, who is considered to have the best chance to form the next government, may have to assemble a much broader coalition than expected, including centrist parties.
“Israel has always in the past proven surprises can happen, Elad Strohmayer, deputy consul general to the Mid-Atlantic Region, said by phone in a Q&A to party goers in Pittsburgh. “It says a lot about Israel as a democracy.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)