I called up my best friend today to ask her who she voted for. She grew up in Israel, went to a liberal religious high school, spent a year studying in a renowned girls seminary, was drafted into the IDF's Army Intelligence unit where she became an officer. At present she is studying law at Hebrew University, is a Stand With Us fellow and edits a section of her law review. These days she leans left, but not too left. Lets call it "center-left." I rang because I wanted to know where that left her in these elections. It wasn't so easy, she told me. She had a long discussion with her family, and at the end, she said, she wound up voting for Yair Lapid. Because she wanted to make a difference.
Going into the polls today, most of my friends didn't know which party would get their vote. And while I have heard of certain internal struggles that don't a lot of sense (say, between whether to vote for Hadash, Israel's communist party, or the Jewish Home, a religious right-wing party), the question most Israelis are asking themselves is not "who do I want to be Prime Minister" and not "what are the issues and who has the best platform," but the question of "how can the party I vote for influence the next government"—its strategic, it's thoughtful, and this year for most of the folks I talked to it wound up being a game of "voting by elimination." A goodly number seem to have been debating over Yair Lapid and someone else.
Another good friend who is studying to become a tour guide had been deliberating between Labor and Yair Lapid. He told me that, while his issue is the economy and he would normally vote for Labor, since Shelly—Yachimovich, Labor chairwoman—has made it clear the that she is not going to sit in the coalition with Bibi, he calculated that she likely wouldn't have much power as the head of the opposition. So he looked around for someone who would sit in the coalition—and found Yair Lapid. His hope, he said, is that if Lapid gets enough votes he will be more important for a Netanyahu coalition than the ultra-Orthodox parties, and maybe then we'll get something done. This is nothing if not strategic.
The same was true for my "center-left" best friend. She listed the "no's" for me—"not Bibi, not Bennett, not Meretz. Amsalem is cute. Shelly won't sit in the coalition. But I want someone who will drag Bibi to the center. So it was between Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid. And I really don't like Tzipi Livni. So even though I don't love Yair Lapid, he's OK." Yes—he's OK, and a vote for him is a vote strategically placed to give Bibi an option that, simply, isn't so damn hard right.
This election has been about Naftali Bennett—but a few things he's done today are telling. For example, upon exiting the polling booth he sang the Israeli national anthem, HaTikva. To your average Israeli voter, that's weird. And it's super nationalist. And he just compared the closing ballots to the final service of Yom Kippur. Again, to your average Israeli voter, that's even weirder. And it's super religious. Naftali Bennett has got the centrist voters scared, and they're turning out to make a difference.