Poor Bibi. Just when his electoral strategy began to work, it fell apart. What
began with the elegant removal of yesterday’s great threat to him from the Right
– a burly, bearded champion of pork-eaters – soon gave way to a new threat from
another corner of the Right – a slender commando, hi-tech hero and champion of
And poor Shelly. After having cleverly shed her party’s
peace-in-our-time lingo, she is being hammered by Meretz in the morning and by
Tzipi Livni in the evening.
Yes, the leaders of the two big parties have
only themselves to blame for what at this point seems like their loss of
LABOR’S LEADER fell victim to hubris, having ignored Prof.
Shlomo Avineri’s wise advice the morning after her impressive victory in the
primaries to surround herself with a team of high-profile experts who would
compensate for what she lacks in experience and expertise.
Alas, as has
happened to so many self-important people here before her, most memorably Ehud
Barak when he led her party, Shelly turned herself into Labor’s only face and
voice, leaving no room for others. That might have worked well had she been
larger than life. But Shelly isn’t larger than life. In fact, the whole beauty
of her message has been its appeal to the ordinary citizen’s ordinary problems.
And ordinary people’s ordinary problems are never larger than life; they are
It would therefore have made sense for Shelly to assemble a
shadow government of sorts where the public would hear more voices and see more
faces, and where the party leader would appear not as a soloist, but as a team
leader. Having failed to do this, she showed the swing vote not only a one-issue
ticket but also a one-woman show. Apparently, many people aren’t into
BIBI’S MISTAKE is different, as he already went through hubris last
century and this time around has avoided its temptations. One might agree or
disagree with their records, but Netanyahu’s key ministers have dedicated
themselves to their assignments and he has delegated them enough authority to
lead their party’s campaigning each in his field.
cannot be blamed for lacking an agenda. His views on most issues, from the
Palestinians and Iran to illegal workers, taxation and spending, are clear and
His mistake was in failing to probe his own allies’ mind-set and
Had Netanyahu engaged in serious dialogue with the
modern-Orthodox portion of his electorate, he would have known that the threat
they pose is potent. Had he spent an occasional evening with rabbis of the sort
that staff the yeshivot that feed Naftali Bennett and his party’s growing
following, he would have acknowledged that they are messianic in a way that is
deeply disagreeable to him and dangerous to Zionism.
Liberman’s following was mostly secular and Russian-speaking, and that once he
struck the deal with him, his right flank would be secure. Well, it wasn’t. Many
of Liberman’s voters were crocheted kippa-wearers who liked his bravado and
cared little for the kind of religious issues that observant politicians
celebrate. Now that Liberman is within the Likud, this electorate sought the
next nationalist adventurer, even while Likud’s Knesset list already sports
Moshe Feiglin, a declared messianic whose political journey Netanyahu tried in
the past to derail.
Faced with this challenge, Netanyahu should have
publicly attacked not this or that pronouncement that his new rival from the
Right did or did not say, but the very idea of political messianism which the
A secular man head to toe, Netanyahu should have said
sincerely and publicly what he anyhow thinks: that God will not be with us the
day we abandon our sanity and that annexing 60 percent of the West Bank, as
Bennett demands, would be as reckless as Shabtai Zvi’s promise of redemption and
as catastrophic as Rabbi Akiva’s war on Rome.
This kind of sobriety and
sincerity people would have respected, and it would also have put the Jewish
Home’s Don Quixote where he belongs – on the defensive.
Shelly’s challenge is largely similar, albeit inverted. Having lost her ticket’s
momentum since Tzipi Livni’s last-minute entry into the fray, Shelly now faces
daily attacks by the former foreign minister, who claims to have “almost”
finalized a deal with Abu Mazen back in 2008. If only she had.
Israelis think Livni is either delusional or disingenuous when she says this,
even after President Peres joined her. Indeed, in their refusal to call a spade
a spade and in their insistence that “we have a partner,” Livni et
are as messianic as Bennett et al. are on their side of the spectrum,
because they, too, deny reality and escape to wishful thinking.
should therefore come forth and say what its leaders really think; namely, that
they and the rest of Middle Israel were right to insist we shouldn’t rule the
Palestinians and that they were wrong to assume the Palestinians were ready for
peace. That’s the truth, and saying it frankly and publicly would complement the
kind of anti-messianic statement Netanyahu would make if he were to restore his
party’s centrist foundations.
Sadly, neither Bibi nor Shelly will make
these statements. That is why – come January 23 – they will wake up sharing
between them less than half the Knesset, whereas in 1996, when Bibi first won
the premiership, Likud and Labor had a combined 66 seats, and in the previous
election, when Rabin defeated Shamir, the two won a combined 76 seats and a
decade earlier Shimon Peres and Menachem Begin sported between them 95
It follows that history will soon be calling on Likud and Labor to
set aside their differences on other issues and jointly present a bill for
direct and personal elections of most lawmakers.
They will likely be
joined in this by Yair Lapid, and this way will have a majority for the only
scheme that can secure our political system’s balance, stability and
District elections would produce two or three very big parties
and thus restore their role as political pivots while the tail parties will lose
the ability to wag the dog. Once restored to the margins where they came from,
our messiahs from Right and Left will be able to voice their advice without
risking its being heeded.
The writer is a research fellow at the Shalom
Hartman Institute. www.MiddleIsrael.com