Israelis residing in Pittsburgh responded to last week’s election in their home country, when Benjamin Netanyahu secured his fifth term as prime minister. With Netanyahu’s Likud party taking 36 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, it appears certain “Bibi” will form a coalition of religious and right-wing parties. Likud narrowly edged out Blue and White, a centrist party headed by Benny Gantz, which took 35 seats.
Smadar Blumenthal, a Squirrel Hill resident, who came to Pittsburgh in the 1990s from Gedera, Israel, called the results of the April 9 election “not surprising.”
From conversations she had with those in Israel, she said, “it was obvious the right would have won.”
“To everyone who participated and watched, it’s clear that these last elections were actually a referendum on Netanyahu,” said Oren Dobzinski, a Squirrel Hill resident who was born in Tel Aviv. “The voters had to weigh two things: Netanyahu’s problematic personality and accusations against him versus his achievements, and I think for the majority of the people it looks like they said the achievements were more important than the problems or the drawbacks he brings to the table.”
Netanyahu has been indicted on charges involving fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He denies the allegations.
Dobzinski said most Israelis remain largely unconcerned with Netanyahu’s alleged criminal activity because they’re more worried about bigger issues.
“I think most people realize the elections are between imperfect people or parties. No one is expecting to have a perfect leader or perfect party, and I think people are realistic and understand that the stakes are large,” he said. “I mean, Israel has a lot of problems, such as security problems, and I think people prefered to stay with someone who has been doing it for a long time and brought good results.”
Tali Matsliach, a former Haifa resident who lives in Somerset, disagreed with the notion that Israel is better off now.
Regarding security, she said, “the last eight years have been a nightmare for people living in the area surrounding Gaza. In terms of education, the level of education compared to the OECD in Europe got lower from year to year and the level of education got worse.”
When it comes to health care, there are “not enough hospitals, not enough equipment, not enough beds, people are put in the corridors and the dining rooms,” she said. “Doctors are working impossible extra time, it’s really inhuman to work in these conditions. There is not enough money invested in health. People are going to the ER and waiting for 12 to 24 hours for someone to help them. If you want an MRI or any kind of exam which requires more equipment you can wait three to four months or six months unless you have the money for an exam in one of the private facilities. For people with cancer, they can be dead already.”
Matsliach additionally decried the state of transportation: “There are not enough new roads in proportion to the amount of cars.”
Matsliach had hoped for a different outcome to the election, but understands the challenge Blue and White faced.
“People were not ready enough to trust a new party. It takes some time,” she said. “Maybe there will be another turn of election in a year or two and they will gain more support and interest of many people that went with the Likud for so long.”
Having all but secured his fifth term, Netanyahu will replace David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
That fact is troubling, said Matsliach.
“Every little kid who was born over the past 13 years, all he knows is Netanyahu as a role model. The corruption is so bad and this is the model for the youngest. Morally, we want to see a change — not only who leads the country but what are their values?”
The situation is best understood through metaphor, explained Dobzinski.
“Let’s say you have to undergo a serious operation and you have two options: a surgeon who is experienced and performed the operation hundreds of times successfully, but as a person he is a horrible person and not a good man. And on the other hand you have this mensch, a great guy, but he has no experience and actually has a pretty bad track record. Which one do you choose? It’s pretty clear which one I would choose, and this is how I see it.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.