Editor's Notes: Talk policy, not populism

July 11, 2019 21:59
Benny Gantz has awoken from his post-election slumber.

Benny Gantz has awoken from his post-election slumber.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Last October, the Knesset passed a law to increase supervision over daycare centers. The law, which for the first time will regulate oversight, came after a number of daycare operators were caught abusing kids. One kindergarten assistant was charged with manslaughter following the death of a one-year-old baby, whom she allegedly killed while putting to sleep.

The law has yet to go into effect, but will lead toward the end of the year to the installation of cameras at centers with seven kids or more, as well as the implementation of additional criteria, until now unenforced.

This law didn’t stop Israel’s politicians from acting like a group of populists this week, in the aftermath of the Rosh Ha’ayin daycare center controversy.

Last week, a daycare provider was caught abusing children on camera. Parents took to the streets and demanded that the government take action to protect their children. It goes without saying that protection of children is a paramount issue for any country. The problem is that in Israel, during an election campaign, kids are just pawns on a political chessboard. They get moved one way one day, and then another way the next.

In Israel, the Education Ministry is responsible for all daycare centers from age three and up. That means about 200,000 children under age three go to centers unsupervised by the ministry that is supposed to be responsible for our children’s education. Instead – and for some anachronistic reason – the Labor, Welfare, and Social Services Ministry oversees just some of the daycare centers for under three year olds that are run for children from low socioeconomic families. That is only about a quarter of the 200,000 kids; the rest go to private daycare centers.

In wake of Rosh Ha’ayin though, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to do something. So did Education Minister Rafi Peretz.

What did they do? They announced that they will work to move the responsibility over the 0-3 daycare centers from the Labor, Welfare, and Social Services Ministry to the Education Ministry. The problem is that they cannot just do that. To make such a move they would have to pass legislation in the Knesset, but they can’t since there is no Knesset and there is no government. There’s a transitional government, not an elected one.

So why did they make the announcement? Because that they can do. When the legal advisers in the different ministries said Netanyahu and Peretz could not make the move, it was exactly what they wanted. Now they had whom to blame.

“We want to do it,” they could tell people. “The attorney-general stopped us.”

In other words, why really do anything when all you have to do is pretend you did something?

This is not the way a government is meant to run, nor the way an election campaign is meant to be held. But sadly, the issues are not being debated. Instead, what we saw this week were politicians – Ehud Barak, Yair Lapid, Sharren Haskel – who seemed more focused on tweeting out videos of themselves doing the ridiculous bottle cap challenge as opposed to talking about what their vision will be for the country – how they will move it forward, and what they will do differently than the last coalition. Considering the issues – health care, education, the gap between rich and poor, the growing deficit – we should expect no less.

This was evident in the interview that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz gave to Channel 12 this week. On the positive side, he finally spoke. Gantz seemed to have gone underground since elections were called at the end of May, barely speaking, tweeting or even being seeing in public. It was almost if he was in denial that new elections had been called.

On the other hand, besides saying that he would clean the government of corruption if elected and set Israel on a so-called straight path, he didn’t seem to present any policy that is starkly different than Netanyahu.

Asked by anchorwoman Yonit Levy what he would do differently in Gaza, Gantz said something about hitting Hamas hard, restoring deterrence, and not allowing Qatar to transfer Hamas money. When pressed though on what “hitting Hamas hard” meant, Gantz hemmed and hawed and used his military credentials to shrug off the question, claiming that it wouldn’t be right to reveal operational plans to the world.

The thing was that Levy wasn’t asking for him to reveal operational plans. What she wanted to know was what many voters want to know: who is Gantz, what does he stand for, what will he do, and how will he ensure the nation’s security. To just say that you are not Netanyahu is nice, but that is likely not going to be enough to win this coming election.

Then there is Ehud Barak, the Netanyahu nemesis who has returned to politics for what seems like one last run aimed at achieving one single goal: bringing down the prime minister. While Barak’s new party is polling just above the threshold with only four seats, he is the only politician to ever defeat Netanyahu (in the 1999 elections), and was his commander in the IDF. He knows him probably more intimately than any other politician.

The once-political adversaries later became allies when Barak joined Netanyahu’s coalition in 2009 and became his defense minister. The two plotted an attack against Iran at the time although even today, it remains unclear whether Barak and Netanyahu really planned to go ahead with the attack or they were just bluffing and stringing the world along with them.

Barak, though, seems to have the Likud feeling nervous. Although he hasn’t succeeded yet (and likely won’t, either) in moving votes from the Right over to the Left, he does have a way of getting under Netanyahu’s skin. His daily videos are getting extensive coverage in the media, and his provocations – like the bottle cap challenge – is making him, and not Gantz, the chief opponent to Netanyahu’s continued rule.

Will that translate into a loss of seats for Likud? That remains to be seen. As of now, polls show the party neck-to-neck with Blue and White. If that lasts until September 17, the election will come down to one key factor: voter turnout. Both parties already know that and are concerned.

When Blue and White won its 35 seats in April, it did so because the public was motivated to vote feeling that there was a real chance to unseat Netanyahu. People told stories of lines running around the block in places like Tel Aviv, Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya and elsewhere, towns where Blue and White dominated Likud.

The problem though was that voter turnout in April was 68.5%, a drop from the 72.3% in 2015. All predictions are that the turnout for the September 17 election will be even lower due to election and political fatigue in the country. People are (justifiably) more focused right now on summer vacation than on Barak, Gantz and Netanyahu.

One Likud minister explained to me that his party is counting on its strong countrywide infrastructure – branches, mayors and activists – to work to get out the vote. Blue and White is counting on Yesh Atid’s activists to do the same, and for that reason Gantz knows that without Yair Lapid he would likely be in even deeper trouble than he already is.

These elections are critical for Israel. They will not only determine Netanyahu’s political and legal future, but they will also be a vote for the type of country people want to see advanced here in the years to come. It’s time to talk policy. Enough with the bottle caps.

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