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For whom to Vote?

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The Religious-National Party was once a very moderate political force, which put a brake on David Ben-Gurion's adventurism. But its semi-autonomous education system has turned out generations of extremists. Now they are the party of the settlers, and Bennett is wooing young Arab-hating, war-loving secular Jews, who otherwise would vote for Likud.

THUS WE come to Likud, the party of "King Bibi," as Time Magazine admiringly called him.

Binyamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life. A few months ago, when he decided to dismiss the Knesset and call early elections, he certainly did not dream of such a predicament.

It seemed that Israel's march to the right was inevitable and unstoppable. That Netanyahu's eternal reign was preordained. That the Left was facing a sordid end. That the Center was evaporating. It was just a matter of Netanyahu changing his horses (or asses, some would say).

And here we are, a few days before election day, with Likud almost desperate.

Why? How?

It seems that people are just fed up with Netanyahu. They seem to be saying: Enough is enough.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a great leader in peace and war, was elected for the fourth time, the American people decided to limit the terms of presidents henceforth to two. Perhaps the Israeli people have decided the same: three terms of Netanyahu are quite sufficient, thank you.

On the internet, a very funny clip is now circulating. Netanyahu is standing on the podium of the Congress, like a gym teacher (or like the trainer of very tame lions in a circus), commanding his pupils "Up! Down! Up! Down!" with congressmen and senators jumping at his command.

The Likud spin doctors had hoped that this sight would improve his fortunes in the election. And indeed, for a few days his numbers in the polls rose from a dismal 21 seats (of 120) to 23. But then they went down again and settled at 21, with Herzog at 24. Perhaps the senators did not jump high enough.

Where do the Likud votes go? First of all, to Bennett's party. That would not be an unmitigated disaster for Netanyahu, since Bennett, with all the hatred between them, will have to support Netanyahu in the Knesset.

BUT SOME of the votes will go to the two "center" parties of Kahlon and Lapid, whose eventual allegiance is uncertain.

Kahlon comes from the Likud. He was a typical party member, son of immigrants from Tripoli (Libya), the darling of the party's powerful central committee. A Likud member can vote for him now with a clear conscience, especially if he wants to change the social situation and ameliorate the lot of the poor.

Lapid is much the same, with one great difference: he has already been Finance Minister, while Kahlon only aspires to become one. Though Lapid has an unlimited enthusiasm for explaining his huge success in this job, the general opinion is that he was just so-so, if not a complete failure.

Nobody -- not even they themselves -- knows the answer to the decisive question: will they join a Netanyahu or a Herzog government? They can do either. No problem. It may be a matter for a public auction: who will pay more. More ministries, more budgets, more jobs. It will probably depend on the results of the elections.

The same is true for the two Orthodox parties -- the Oriental Shas and the Ashkenazi "Torah Jewry." They believe in God and Money, and God may instruct them to join the coalition which offers the most Money for their institutions.

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