Whether it was unexpected, as his naysayers suggested, or breathtaking as his supporters maintained, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party scored a huge win in last week’s Israeli election, taking 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and maintaining the upper hand in forming a new government.
The Zionist Camp, the centre-left opposition led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, which pollsters had assured were in a dead heat with Likud, or even ahead, finished second with 24 seats.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Netanyahu “on his election results. We look [forward] to working with the government once formed. Israel has no greater friend than [Canada],” he stated on Twitter.
The New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, said in a statement that the party would “be watching as a coalition government emerges.”
The NDP “remain[s] steadfast in our commitment to a negotiated two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, side-by-side with negotiated and agreed-upon borders.
“We will continue to urge the government to press this position with whoever forms the government in Israel,” he stated.
The Liberal party had not commented on the election as of The CJN’s press time.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the community’s largest advocacy organization, noted that those who ran for public office showed Israel is “a vibrant, healthy democracy.
“Israelis are clearly engaged and passionate about the choices facing the country, as exemplified by the fact that this year’s election drew the highest voter turnout in nearly two decades and was a close race to the very end. In particular, the success of the Joint Arab List – which ranked third in seat count – is an unmistakable example of the openness of Israeli democracy as is the fact that more women have been elected to the Knesset than ever before,” said CIJA chair David Cape.
Avi Benlolo, a dual Canadian-Israeli citizen, voted in the election during a visit to Israel. While there, he said, he spoke to many Israelis who were unsure of how they’d vote. He said he, too, was uncertain whether to vote primarily on security concerns or issues related to social welfare.
Commenting on behalf of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, which he heads, Benlolo said, “The strength of Israel’s democracy can be seen by the 34 political parties that fielded candidates in the election, including a newly formed Joint Arab List party… that finished third overall. It was a real privilege to participate in such a vigorous, albeit singular democracy in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu’s opponents on the left wing of the political spectrum said his victory was tainted by campaign rhetoric they called bigoted and by his rejection of a two-state solution. They said Likud’s victory will likely lead to isolation of the Jewish state.
Arie Raif, a former Israeli diplomat and a Herzog supporter, said “I am concerned because of the fact that Mr. Netanyahu considers Arab Israeli citizens a fifth column. He called to make sure Israelis come to vote because, God forbid, Israeli Arabs gain power.”
As for Netanyahu’s campaign statement against a Palestinian state, Raif said, “Now we know the true colours of Mr. Netanyahu. We know he never meant a separation from the West Bank or a Palestinian state.”
Karen Mock, a spokesperson for JSpace Canada, a “Jewish, progressive, pro-Israel, pro-peace voice in Canada,” said the organization was disappointed in the election result “and especially the way Netanyahu resorted to last-minute fear-mongering and not-so-veiled racism. It reminded me of [former Quebec premier Jacques] Parizeau’s comments [after the 1995 sovereignty referendum]how upset he was with the ethnic vote, and it worked for him. It rallied far right voters. [Netanyahu’s] fear-mongering about Israeli Arabs voting in large numbers is just totally unacceptable.”
Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state “is a step backward and not in Israel’s best interests. We’re fearful it will fuel the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement,” she added.
Responding to criticism of Netanyahu’s two-state remarks, Israeli Ambassador to Canada, Rafael Barak, advised people to take the statement “with a grain of salt,” the Ottawa Citizen reported.
“What my prime minister said is related more to the fact that we don’t have a credible interlocutor to date that [can] come to a compromise,” Barak told a briefing organized by the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy.
Netanyahu went into “TV mode” in the last days of the campaign, the ambassador added, suggesting the comments were simply electioneering.
Speaking on Fox News in the United States, Netanyahu said his comments about the Arab vote “should be taken in a larger context.
“I warned of foreign money coming in to selectively try to bring out supporters of a list that includes Islamists and other factions that oppose the State of Israel,” he said.
As to his comments apparently backtracking on a two-state solution, he said “the conditions for that, today, are not achievable.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of a Jewish state, his alliance with the Gaza-based Hamas organization, and the volatility in the region have changed “the terms” for an agreement, Netanyahu told Megyn Kelly, host of The Kelly File on Fox.