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MSM Bungles Israel’s Election

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Israelis turned out to vote yesterday in record numbers, delivering a major shake-up to the Knesset. Bibi Netanyahu is still a lock for Prime Minister, but his party, though it came in first, lost 11 seats. The big surprise is the triumph of Yair Lapid and his center-left Yesh Atid party, which came in second with a whopping 19 seats. VM will reserve judgment of the results until the new government is formed, but for a quick rundown of what they mean, read the analysis at the Times of Israel.

The story as far as we’re concerned is the spectacular flop of the West’s elite media. If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYT, WSJ, BBC, NBC, Time, Reuters, Guardian, HuffPo, Slate, Salon, Al Jazeera, and countless others. The most shameful piece of journalism was David Remnick’s 9,000-word feature in last week’s New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel’s radical right.

That didn’t happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. While Bibi can certainly form a traditional right-wing government, there’s a strong possibility for a broad centrist government comprised of Likud, center-left Yesh Atid, and center-left Hatnua.

How did the MSM get this so wrong? TAI editor Adam Garfinkle noted that the media is prone to a simple psychological fallacy: “We see what we expect to see, and we disattend (pardon the jargon) what does not fit with our framing of the situation. . . . If we’re sure that our range of expectations excludes a particular outcome, we will not see evidence of it until too late.”

That’s more or less the story of the MSM’s relationship with Israel. Many journalists in the West care about the peace process above all else. Thus, they are often concerned with Israel only insofar as it relates to the Palestinian issue, and only see Israeli society through the lens of the two-state solution, as Via Meadia alum Yair Rosenberg pointed out in Tablet last month.

It’s true that the Israeli electorate is less engaged with the peace process than it was in the post-Oslo years before the Second Intifada. But many journalists in the West incorrectly took this to mean that Israelis are shifting rightward with regard to the Palestinians, a fact that seemed to be confirmed by interview after interview with radical settlers and left-wing commentators.

And then came the election. The party that had the biggest night, Yesh Atid, ran on a strictly domestic platform: reducing mortgage prices, lowering the cost of living, and implementing universal conscription. The far-right party that the New Yorker and Time predicted would take over Israeli politics, Habayit Hayehudi, came in fifth in votes, and may later be at risk of breaking up.

In reality it seems Israelis are most concerned, like everyone else, with those issues that most affect their lives: housing prices, the middle class, the economy, education, government reform, the rabbinate, and military conscription. The Palestinian issue was important as well, but the fact that the electorate did not abandon center-left groups in favor of ultra-nationalist or Orthodox parties suggests that Israelis are also still concerned, however cynically, with the peace process.

As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM. Meanwhile, Via Meadia will look at what people in Israel are actually thinking, and try to explain why it matters.

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