When Jared Ben-Caro’s unit was called up last November, he got back to Israel as quickly as he could: There was no way he was going to let his friends head into Gaza without him.
“I took a one-way El Al flight. Got my equipment together, got my uniform and jumped in my friend’s car. And then they called the cease-fire. The general attitude of the people was that they really were upset with the cease-fire,” Ben-Caro said, referring to the Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas.
The upshot was that the Northern Liberties resident, who is a dual Israeli-American citizen, decided to remain in Israel for several months, long enough to cast an early ballot in the Jan. 22 elections. He did say who he voted for but asked that it be kept out of print for personal reasons. He also said many of his friends who typically vote Likud backed the new Yesh Atid, Jewish Future party out of anger over Netanyahu’s decision to enter into the cease-fire with Hamas.
Now back in the United States for less than a week, Ben-Caro was one of about 40 people who attended an election-analysis program held at Congregation Mikveh Israel in Old City, which took place hours after the polls closed in Israel.
It was mostly but not exclusively a right-leaning crowd that came to hear the post-election thoughts of Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in the department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan as well as a research associate at the university’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Kedar argued that, despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s narrower than expected victory, the election showed how much Israelis are hungering for fresh faces in politics, such as Naftali Bennett, leader of the hard-right Jewish Home Party, and Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party. “Any party that does not know how to inject blood in the veins will go the cemetery,” he said.
He predicted that Lapid’s party, which according to unofficial results garnered 19 seats — the second highest total in the Knesset — will suffer the same fate as previous centrist parties, such as Kadima, and have a short shelf-life. What was significant about Bennett’s party, he said, is that it included non-religious candidates for parliament and appealed to a much broader and younger base than its previous incarnation as the National Religious Party.
In terms of concerns for the future and issues facing whatever coalition arises, Ben-Caro said, “Iran trumps all else.”
He said his main issue is security, which includes Iran. “A lot of people are unhappy with Netanyahu for not going along with Obama. I personally like the fact that Netanyahu stood up to Obama.”
Liliana Elkouss, a board member of Mikveh Israel who grew up in Argentina, said she was still getting over the disappointment of Mitt Romney’s defeat in the American elections and hadn’t followed the Israeli campaign too closely. Any reaction, she said, would be meaningless at this point anyway since there are so many scenarios for what a new government could look like.
“Politic are very mysterious,” she said.
Cary Hillebrand, an engineer from Cherry Hill, N.J., who has lived in Israel for long stretches and served in the Israel Defense Forces in the early 1970s, said he would have cast a vote for the Labor Party had he been in the country.
“My main concern is about Iran. Iran just seems to be moving forward towards the development of the atomic bomb and I don’t think sanctions are going to do the trick,” he said. “Does America have the commitment, when the time comes, to take it out?”
As someone who has lived and worked in Israel, Hillebrand said he is also concerned about the high cost of living in the Jewish state. Working as an engineer there, it wasn’t just difficult to earn a good enough living to take care of a family, he said, “it was impossible.”