Why Pundits Got the Israeli Election So Wrong

Israelis who handed Benjamin Netanyahu a smashing electoral success had a message for the pollsters and pundits who predicted a Labor victory: “gotcha again.” Notorious for its propensity to lie to pollsters, even in exit polls, the Israeli electorate demonstrated once again that it takes pleasure in misleading those who claim to predict its behavior.

But Bibi’s voters also sent a second, far more serious and troubling message to the outside world: “We could care less what you think.” Fully aware of the Prime Minister’s tense relationship with the chief executive of the one power that has consistently supported their country, Israelis seemed to be saying, “our guy will outlast your guy.”

Neither Netanyahu’s reneging on his commitment to a two-state solution, nor his overtly anti-Arab diatribe as the election came to a close could repel Israeli voters. On the contrary, the electorate made it clear that it does not think the Palestinians are serious about peace, and that efforts to achieve it are a waste of time. Indeed, aware that Europeans are frustrated by the lack of progress in the search for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, the voters also seemed to be saying: “Why should we kowtow to those who have looked the other way, while anti-semitism in their countries has re-emerged with a vengeance?”

If the pollsters were misled by Israeli preferences, why did the pundits also seriously misread the Israeli mood? In part, it was because so many journalists wished for a Labor success. The old time left-leaning Israeli elite has much in common with many Westerners who report regularly on Israeli affairs. These journalists have far less insight into what motivates Israelis whose only language is Hebrew (or Russian). For their part, these Israelis are deeply suspicious of the Arabs and hardly less so of Europeans. They see no need to accommodate either.

Nor do the pundits understand the religious commitment and messianic fervor of the West Bank settlers. Many of them do speak English — though with a distinctly New York accent. And if they have difficulty comprehending what motivates the settlers, they are completely flummoxed when trying to fathom the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Haredim, or, for that matter, the Sephardi Haredim that Shas appeals to.

It is these groups that either voted for Bibi, or whose parties are ready to…

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