The wretched state of Israeli politics and this unnecessary election have alienated the majority of voters. With the exception of those voting Meretz, Habayit Hayehudi, and the haredi and Arab parties, most Israelis will be holding their noses and voting unenthusiastically for the party that they feel least offends them.
Opinion polls can be very misleading, especially in the absence of compulsory voting, and the results could well present major surprises.
The reality is that the primitive primary system by which Likud and Labor (running on the Zionist Union ticket) choose their Knesset candidates has enabled well-organized fringe groups to promote the candidacy of radicals who do not share the mainstream view of their respective parties. Labor’s current list includes post-Zionists who condemn the national anthem as racist, call on mothers not to send their children to the army and openly declare that they are not Zionist. Similarly, in the Likud there are a number of candidates whose views would not be shared by the party’s mainstream.
This is the context that has led to the rise of the “centrist” parties which has impacted on the dysfunctionality and instability of the entire political system. These parties — Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu — are politically amorphous and lack genuine ideologies. Despite their flow of predominantly negative political babble and raucous electioneering, their principal role is to represent vehicles for their leaders to ruthlessly exploit in order to promote their own personal political aspirations.
Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Kahalon handpick their candidates and have all made it abundantly clear that the only criterion for joining a government headed by Likud or Labor will be the position that they can personally leverage for themselves.
The situation becomes more complex because the new united Arab party list is likely to represent a formidable voting bloc, obtaining as many as 12 to 15 Knesset seats, even possibly becoming head of the opposition if a broad government is formed. And if, as current polls suggest, Likud and the Zionist Union emerge with very close results, the Arab bloc could for the first time influence the outcome by recommending that President Reuven Rivlin give the Zionist Union the first option of forming a government.
There are also concerns that whichever government is elected, the haredim could yet again hold the balance of power, enabling them to neutralize former legislative initiatives to gradually integrate them into the workforce and engage them in sharing the burdens of the nation. They would then invariably discourage their supporters to work and would revert to extorting funds and living on welfare, which would ultimately result in an economic crisis.
The most distressing aspect of this election has been the lack of any serious debate on the crucial issues currently facing Israel.
Indeed, the only item that has dominated the media has been the “anyone but Bibi” campaign, comprising an unprecedented mudslinging and personal demonization of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No other Western prime minister has ever been subjected to such petty and vicious scrutiny and such a vindictive campaign of defamation and slander. His wife was portrayed as a witch from Salem and his household culinary preferences, rebates on recycled bottles, excessive house cleaning and petty cash expenses have been front-page headlines. That the expenses of former President Shimon Peres were 20 times more and that none of his predecessors were subjected to such scrutiny speaks for itself. The visceral personal hatred of Netanyahu by Noni Mozes, the publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, who formerly championed Ehud Olmert, is highlighted daily on the front pages and represents a disgusting example of the depths to which the media has descended.
The prime minister has antagonized many people but it is difficult to fault his responsible leadership during the course of the Gaza war. The opposition has no shame when it condemns him for failing to finish off Hamas. Similarly, despite loud disapproval, his congressional address was a huge success and certainly did not undermine Israel’s relationship with the U.S. as predicted.
But regrettably, it is Netanyahu ad persona who is being attacked rather than his policies. Regarding socio-economic issues such as housing and inequality, both Netanyahu and Herzog have pledged to bring about reforms. But many Israelis seem to be unaware or unconcerned about the fact that over the next three or four years, the government will undoubtedly face extraordinary security challenges and be obliged to take decisions that will have a major impact on the long-term future of the Jewish state.
We are a tranquil oasis in a region engulfed by the most terrible barbarism, and unfortunately there are no signs on the horizon of any easing of the carnage and upheavals. We must strive to strengthen our relations with Egypt and gird ourselves for the possibility of renewed terrorist initiatives emanating from Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas and even the Palestinian Authority, which shares the same objectives as Hamas.
Beyond this, we are aware that for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s term in office, his administration will be determined to continue its pressure on Israel to withdraw to indefensible borders and make further concessions that could have profound long-term repercussions impacting on the security of our children and grandchildren.
Voters should understand that the composition of the next government will have major ramifications on these crucial issues. They should also take into account that recent precedents in Israel have demonstrated that, in the absence of cabinet responsibility, overall policies are largely determined by the prime minister with coalition partners having little influence over major decisions.
Under such circumstances, Israelis should not cynically dismiss the elections as theater. They should exercise their right to vote and concentrate on one of the two major blocs rather than flippantly casting their votes to the “centrist” parties.
They must recognize that there are major differences of approach between the policies of Netanyahu and Herzog. They should set aside prejudice regarding personalities and support the party whose leader they consider would be best-equipped to head the nation during this critical period and who is most capable of confronting the pressures from the Obama administration and providing security in the face of our adversaries. That means supporting either Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union.
Netanyahu has made it clear that he would not countenance any further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians at this time, which he maintains would merely endanger Israel and advance the cause of the terrorists. He will resist pressures from the Obama administration and feels assured of the support of Congress and the American people.
Herzog and Livni believe that Israel should make a deal with Abbas, whom they still consider a peace partner, and would support another disengagement with the Palestinian Authority. They also suggest that they will placate Obama by making such concessions and agreeing on future borders.
In this context, voters should avoid casting their ballot for centrist parties that essentially subcontract their votes to individuals who will employ them primarily for personal ambition. That could result in unintended consequences and the formation of a government quite contrary to the genuine will of the nation.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom