‘He’s a hunk’ — an afternoon with Bibi’s unwavering faithful

Nathan Jeffay spent the afternoon of election day speaking to residents in Hadera



Avi Yalo says people think he is daft, but he knows better.

“The left says Bibi voters are stupid,” he said as the sun began to set on Hadera, a seaside city that provides a real slice of multicultural Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents hoped that Israelis would see it as common sense that they do not want a leader who has been inducted for corruption. The Bibi faithful is, they said, blinded by loyalty.

But they did not convince the public, and huge numbers reached the same conclusion as 39-year-old Mr Yalo. He insisted that he sees things clearly but the left “doesn’t want to see the whole picture.”

What is this big “picture”? That corruption allegations are irrelevant because all that counts is that Mr Netanyahu does so much for Israel.

“Security is everything,” said Mr Yalo. “If you don’t have security you don’t have anything.”

Mr Yalo moved to Israel as a child from Ethiopia. What makes Hadera, a city just north of Netanya, so fascinating, is that it is extremely diverse, but as you traverse communities, talking to native Israelis and immigrants, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Russians and Ethiopians, you will hear very similar sentiments about Mr Netanyahu.

The election result held no surprises for anyone who has spent time here.


The sound of Russian-language chatter dominated a small cafe where sixty-something men were drinking tea with lump sugar and lemon. Unlike Mr Yalo, who is sure that the prime minister is innocent, they think it is conceivable that he did break laws — but were incredulous at the idea that anyone would shun Mr Netanyahu because of this.

“We aren’t kids,” said Rambam, 61, who was happy to be photographed with his pals, but not to give his surname, saying that “Bibi isn’t clean,” but he does not care. His friends agreed.

Soviet-born Yudit Avidilov, 62, was undecided between Likud and Blue & White at the start of election day, but settled on Mr Netanyahu “because he is a wiser man and a better politician.” The legal case “doesn’t bother me, as everyone who gets to the top has legal issues.”

Mr Netanyahu’s personalization of Likud as his party has seen him solidify its support among voters who may be expected to vote for more niche parties. Avigdor Liberman’s key voters are Russian immigrants, but in Hadera city centre the Russian-speakers were mostly gunning for Bibi — and nationally, Mr Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party lost a percentage point at the ballot box.

Mr Netanyahu also enjoys strong support among religious voters. Many cast votes for Orthodox parties such as Shas, knowing that their factions aimed at a Bibi-led coalition, while some decided to vote Likud. “I’m normally with Shas but decided, because of Bibi’s suffering, to vote this time for his Likud,” said Mordechai Mor, 50, referring to the PM’s legal case.


He was talking, on a Hadera street, with Yehoshua Ken, a middle-aged religious Zionist, who also voted Likud because of Bibi. “He has the strength as a leader to get things done,” said Mr Ken. “He has good connections in the world; he’s a lion.”

Both men insisted that Mr Netanyahu’s alliance with religious parties is much more than a marriage of convenience, and actually represents a meeting of minds — and souls. Mr Mor insisted that the non-religious politician has a “religious soul,” and was convinced that suggestions that he cheated on his wife are spurious — despite Mr Netanyahu’s on-air 1993 admission that he did.

A common suggestion on the streets of Hadera was that security woes are not Mr Netanyahu’s fault while improvements in security should be credited to him. “Right where you’re standing there was a terror attack,” Yaakov Shemesh told this reporter.

For Shemesh, who was selling fruit and vegetables at his stall, the fact that attacks like this don’t happen today is a Netanyahu achievement. “For years there haven’t been attacks like this,” he said.

North of Hadera, in Pardes Hanna, three Israeli-born friends were having coffee, all of them raised in Likud-supporting homes and all of them convinced that Bibi is best place to carry the values they grew up with.

Moti Dayan, a 43-year-old businessman, considers Bibi a “born leader” who is being framed by corruption allegations and “will come out clean.” Mr Dayan said: “He’s a leader, a wise man, the best we have. He does lots of good things.”

Rami Kachlon, 52, admires Bibi’s relationship with Mr Trump and thinks the “Deal of the Century” is a joint stitch-up operation by the two of them on the Palestinians. The peace proposal “assumes aheads that they [the Palestinians] won’t agree and we’ll get the territory.” Kachlon meant that the Palestinians will fail to follow the deal and Israel will end up annexing the entire West Bank — a step that he would welcome.

Liz Sadia said she was not thrilled by any of the options in the election, but “we grew up in a Likud house and it stays with you.” And what is more, she said, there are his looks. “Write this down,” urged Ms Sadia, who is significantly younger than the 70-year-old politician. “Bibi is a hunk.”

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