Israel is still in turmoil following Tuesday's re-election of Netanyahu, and the media is already slamming him for backing away from a two-state solution as part of his desperate last-minute campaign (a statement from which he has already backed away from, again). Herzog's sure-win was snagged right from under him and left half the Israelis with their jaws dropped in astonishment at the turn of events. But why did Netanyahu's "fear of Arabs" call to the Israeli public succeed as much as it did?
What non-Israelis don't realize is that Netanyahu's controversial move proves only one thing: many have forgotten that Israel may be a thriving democracy, a high-tech haven and an innovation hub, but underneath all this lays something pretty dark. A morbid fear.
On the everyday level, Israelis have learned to live with this fear. It is repressed and largely ignored, probably because it's impossible to live with. There is a huge gap between the way Israel is perceived (strong and confident) and the way most Israelis feel. The world has become very familiar with the Palestinian anguish, but no-one ever talks about the fear that Israelis live with (Ari Shavit described it well in his book My Promised Land). Israelis live with constant fear of kidnapping, fear of terror tunnels, fear of Islamic suicide bombers or intentional "hit and run" incidents, fear of rocket attacks, fear of pan-Arab hatred, fear of ISIS and Hezbollah. These subdued fears only arise when there's a reminder, like an attempt to lessen the missile threat from Lebanon which is 100 times worse than Hamas, or talks of Iran going nuclear. A reminder can also be an Arab-Israeli extremist, who is an equal-right citizen but backs terror actively or morally.
While Israelis repress these fears as a means to lead normal lives, non-Israelis don't acknowledge their existence at all. Israel's many security threats have been overlooked in the past years by EU politicians, by U.S. media and even by Israel's own extreme-left wingers.
But the actual meaning of the elections is that Israel will not be able to elect a more centrist government, without its basic fears being addressed. Lately, the western world has been giving Israelis the feeling that it completely abandoned them. That it doesn't care whether they live or die anymore.
Coincidentally or not, just a few days before the elections, two seasoned American journalists (Richard Behar and Gary Weiss) published a long "investigative report on an investigative report" by AP about Israel and Gaza. They showed how unprofessionally the AP report was botched together and how extremely politically biased it was. How it showed a very partial picture and reached wrong conclusions about casualties in Gaza, and what's worse -- was distributed throughout the world. According to Weiss and Behar, this is only one report, but it represents a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli approach as part of an agenda, and completely twists news coverage of the area.
The report's bottom line is that international coverage of Israel ceased to exist. Instead, news has become an extremely one-sided campaign, as a means to put more pressure on the right-wing Israeli government to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership. While the intention may be good, the true outcome is destructive. And how is this connected to the surprise of the elections? Because it is a part of the vicious circle Israel is in.
Terror against Israel is either overlooked, or backed and justified. Artists , movements and academics call for sanctions on Israel, and no-one even bothers to check the motives behind them anymore. This has put the Israeli public on the defensive. The sentiment is that "the world is against us and we must be strong enough to protect ourselves." In all of the polls, most Israelis favor a two-state separation from the Palestinians, under the condition that it will leave them secure. But despite the growing revulsion from Netanyahu, apparently Israelis didn't feel that Herzog was strong enough to protect them. Ben Caspit, one of Israel's most prominent journalists, wrote today that "if it were someone with a military background leading the same party, Netanyahu's spin wouldn't have worked and he would have ceased to be Prime Minister."
This basic, underlying national fear was not acknowledged by Herzog's party, and it's not acknowledged by people outside of Israel either. But the more Israel is resented and the more its security needs don't get recognition, the more anxious the Israeli public becomes. Regretfully, once this morbid fear was awakened as a desperate last-minute campaign move, it got the job done. The paradox is that Israelis voted for someone with a tough image to "protect" them, despite the opposite reality. Netanyahu's being a poor statesman probably puts the Israeli public in more danger than a more moderate and skillful statesman would.
Since one reality derives from the other in this vicious circle, the need for a venture like Behar and Weiss plan to launch has never been bigger. They intend to bring back professional coverage of the area (depending on the funding they raise), in order to break this circle. According to them, the pressure on Israel has become so one-sided and extreme, that it's actually achieving the opposite of what it intends. 100 percent growing hatred and pressure on Israel, and zero pressure on the problematic (not to mention part terrorist) Palestinian leadership, is a result of an agenda that's gone too far and become propaganda. Behar and Weiss are out to broaden their investigations in order to present a more accurate picture of the conflict, so as to change the discourse and bring about policies that will be more effective for peace.
At the moment, between the terror regime in Gaza, the forming right-wing government in Israel, and the international media that only pushes the parties deeper into their corners, there's really not much chance for an agreement. With some luck, Weiss and Behar's efforts may actually have a positive effect on this reality.