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Israeli Newspaper Yediyot Achronot juxtaposing Livni's face with Netanyahu's, with the caption reading "Half A Kingdom".

Election Banners for Avigdor Leiberman's Israel Beitenu Party, in Hebrew saying "-No Loyalty, No Citizenship", suggesting that Israeli Arabs that refuse to take a loyalty pledge to the State of Israel ought to be denied citizenship.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Outside the Israeli Consul building in New York. Note the police station in front of it.

Staff at Israeli Consul in New York watching Israeli T.V. with election results.

Behind the Scenes in the Israeli Consul in New York- An Insiders View of Israeli Election Results

By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

While in New York on February 10, I had the unusual experience of watching the results of the Israeli elections with members of Israel's permanent mission to the  United Nations, and  representatives of  Israel's Ministry of Defense Mission to the U.S at the Israeli consul building on 800 Second Avenue  in Manhattan. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, about 40 Israelis who work in the consul building in downtown Manhattan crowded around the large screen in the third floor auditorium to see the first exit poll results broadcast on Israeli television.

I was the only non-Israeli present, and as such had a rare behind the scenes glimpse of  the reactions of those who staff the Israeli mission, all of whom voted in the elections in advance. Although the people I spoke with, understandably, could not provide their names on the record, the sentiments in the room were very clear.

As the results came in showing Tzipi Livni's Kadima garnering 28 seats, narrowly edging out Netanyahu's Likud, the room broke into great applause and shrieks of joy.  I hadn't realized in advance that the members of  Israel's consul would be so pro-Livni.  In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu's name was hardly mentioned, and none of the people I spoke to had voted for him. The mission appeared to me to be made up mainly of center-left educated "cosmopolitan" Israelis, who are sensitive to Israel's position with the United States and the world, and prefer Livni to lead Israel in the post-Obama era.

As the election results came in, a member of the crowd joked, "Have all of  you all signed your loyalty forms ? The crowd burst out into laughter.  The butt of the joke was Avigdor Leiberman's anti-Arab Israel Beiteinu party which in the election campaign advocated the idea of revoking the citizenship of any Arab Israeli who refused to sign a loyalty pledge to the State of Israel. Leiberman's election slogan was "Ein Nemanut,Ein Ezrachut(No loyalty, no citizenship).”

Notwithstanding that Lieberman's party which received 15 seats  was the success story of this  election, and will be pivotal in deciding the complexion  of Israel's next government, Leiberman was an object of ridicule  in the Israeli  consul in New York.  Since his  "loyalty" pledge proposal is not taken seriously by the Israelis who occupy  the building on 800 second Avenue, I feel fairly confident in saying that I  rather doubt it  will become the actual policy of  a Netanayhu  and/or  Netanyahu-Livni led government [at the time of the writing of this article it appears that Netanyahu will become the next Israeli Prime Minister, although it is technically possible that some sort of rotation agreement between Netanyahu and Livni could emerge, notwithstanding  that Netanyahu says he has ruled this out. Avigdor Leiberman’s Israel Beiitenu party has recommended Netahyahu for Prime Minister, but  has made this recommendation conditional on Netanyahu’s forming a broad coalition with Kadima.  He also opposes a rotation government where both Netanyahu and Livni would take turns being Prime Minister, saying this is not stable].

What was very evident as the election results came in was that in New York, is that many in the Israeli mission are hoping that  Netanyahu will not be able to form a narrow right wing government. As one Israeli in the crowd uttered in regard  to a narrow right wing coalition, “We can't go out to the world with that."  As it became clear that both Netanyahu and Livni were claiming victory, a women behind me started to say "Balagan, Balagan,"(Chaos, Chaos),the results are a "Balagan."

Several female staff who worked in Israel's Ministry of Defense Mission told me that the staff people there were not political appointments and had no connections to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In fact, they said that  that they had voted for Livni, over Barak.  They were, it turns out,  part of  a larger trend of left of centre Israelis who abandoned Labour and Meretz  to vote for Livni, as a way of doing whatever was necessary to try to stop Netanyahu.  In fact, as Yediyot Achronot reported a few days later, Livni received over 17% more votes from women than men, in part due to female backlash against Netanyahu's campaign slogan that was perceived by many women to be sexist.  Netanyahu's slogan "Tsipi Livni- Ze Gadol Aleya,"(Tsipi- the P.M.'s job is too big for her.) may have cost Netanyahu a  more clear victory.

Only one of the Israelis I met while watching the election results was wearing a kippa. Afterwards I asked a young man who works on the third floor if there were any other religious Jews in the building.

He said "there are only two guys with kippot, and one is originally an  American Jew."  This young man was a buyer for the Ministry of Defense which receives a yearly allotment of money from the U.S. for arms purchases, including computers and electric equipment. "We're stationed in New York, because we are required to buy U.S. equipment with the military aid we receive from the U.S., and most of the companies are headquartered here," he said.

Within an hour, everyone in the consul building had left the big screen T.V. to return to their offices. They knew that the drama of Israeli coalition building was a saga that would continue for days and weeks to come.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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