'Jerusalem Post' correspondant Gil Hoffman moderating the Jerusalem Post English-language election debate.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Saturday night’s rally against the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first signs of life in this lackadaisical election season. As if waking from a mind-numbing slumber brought on by apathy, cynicism and the prospects of yet another early election with the same deck of cards slightly reshuffled, thousands of people gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to call on Israelis to vote in a new leadership on March 17.
It’s unfortunate that the rally was based on a negative message of “anyone but Netanyahu” and was not a positive gathering enthusiastically backing a party and leader with new and exciting ideas. This demonstrates that no matter how much a certain segment of the population is fed up with having Netanyahu lead the country, there is still no groundswell of support for his main opponents, Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
This election has basically been theirs to win or lose, but it appears that Herzog and Livni have not been able to step up to inspire the centrists and center-left voters to the extent needed to create a political upheaval.
Instead of touting the attributes of an alternative to Netanyahu, the speakers at the rally – most noticeably former head of the Mossad Meir Dagan – focused almost exclusively on why the incumbent must go.
“Israel is a nation surrounded by enemies, but I am not afraid of enemies. I am frightened by our leadership,” said Dagan in an emotional speech. A longtime critic of Netanyahu, Dagan was the marquee speaker at the event which also featured a Druse officer in the IDF and a widow of another IDF officer who was killed in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge.
The speakers raised valid points regarding the need for a political settlement with the Palestinians, with former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen (res.) Amiram Levine stating that Israel cannot sustain the status quo and, without negotiating a Palestinian state, “we will lose all of Israel.”
Unfortunately, no speakers mentioned the fact that despite Netanyahu’s alleged willingness to negotiate with the PA based on the 1949 armistice lines, he received absolutely no response from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, a testament to Palestinian intransigence that is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to the kind of peace Levine called for.
Other speakers related to the social issues that have dominated the election campaign, such as housing and food prices. But what was missing was the solutions – and the galvanizing figure to implement those solution – to all of the ills raised at the rally.
Since the days of former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, the Center-Left has not produced a charismatic leader that Israelis who do want a change can enthusiastically back. Herzog and Livni, while running neck and neck in the polls with the Likud, have not generated the fervor and passion that could have made them the front-runners in the campaign.
Instead, they have for the most part campaigned on a similar “anyone but Bibi” platform, as touted at the rally. It’s a shame that they haven’t been able to offer a campaign of hope instead of a negative message. As a result, their natural constituency has been diffused, with support splintered between their Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Kulanu.
While it’s commendable that tens of thousands of citizens felt compelled to become engaged in the elections to the extent that they emerged en masse on Saturday night, with eight days left before Election Day it might be a case of too little, too late.
This campaign season has been one of the most uneventful and uninspiring in recent memory. The days when voters gathered to raptly watch the party election TV ads, party volunteers jammed intersections handing out flyers, and huge banners dotted the country’s landscape are largely of a bygone era.
We can only hope that in the final week of campaigning, the country springs to life from its malaise, with meaningful debate and careful consideration of the candidates. The Jerusalem Post
is doing its part, with debates among the candidates being held in Ra’anana Monday, Beersheba Tuesday night and Jerusalem on Saturday night.
Saturday night’s rally was a faint reminder that the elections really do matter and will determine how we live for the next four years, or until early elections are called again.
It was an encouraging sign that Israelis still feel they have a say in the direction their country should head.
Unfortunately, the negative message and lack of new ideas at the rally only underscored the fact that, despite the country being led for the last six years by the same person, a viable alternative with broad-ranging appeal has not emerged.