Tzipi Livni speaks with Labor head Isaac Herzog in the Knesset.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
On Thursday it was announced that Benny Begin, former Likud party member and son of prime minister Menachem Begin, had decided to accept the 11th slot on the Likud list in the upcoming elections. For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the return of the prodigal son holds several advantages.
Among traditional Likud voters, Begin is viewed as his father’s son, a humble and honest man seeking office out of a desire to serve his country rather than an affinity for the spoils of Babylon. Among the general public Begin is perceived to be a principled hawk, a right-wing politician who is committed to preserving Israeli democracy, even at the cost of his own Knesset seat. As such, Begin is one of the few wholesome Israeli political brands.
Given his affinity for branding, Netanyahu has often relied on Begin to lend legitimacy to his campaigns.
In the 1996 general elections, Likud TV ads showcased Begin repeating the phrase, “Vote Machal and Netanyahu, Vote Netanyahu and Machal!” While Begin may restore voter confidence in the Likud and aid its flailing campaign, his 1996 campaign slogan must now be adopted by Center and left-wing voters.
Someone must call on such voters to unite and to “vote Herzog and Livni, vote Livni and Herzog!” If current public opinion polls are an indicator of the results of the upcoming elections, Isaac Herzog’s and Tzipi Livni’s Zionist Union and the Likud are in a virtual tie. Such a result would lead to mayhem in the days following the elections. According to Israeli law, the president of Israel appoints the task of creating a new government to the member of Knesset who has the greatest chance of bringing together a coalition of 61 MKs. Yet in a tie, both parties will claim to have 61 supporters.
Netanyahu will storm the podium and thank Israelis for reelecting him to a fourth term. His electoral math will include the Likud, Bayit Yehudi, the remains of Avigdor Liberman’s party, Moshe Kahlon’s new Koolanu party and the religious parties, which Netanyahu refers to as “his natural partners.” Herzog, on the other hand, will declare an historic victory given the support of Meretz, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Moshe Kahlon’s new Koolanu party, the religious parties and the support of the United Arab List.
With three contenders for the crown, President Reuven Rivlin’s decision will be of paramount importance given the fact that once an MK has been tasked with forming a new government a certain momentum begins to build.
Contrary to Netanyahu’s claim, most religious parties have no political allegiance. Like the US, the business of Israeli religious parties is business and they will happily negotiate with either the Likud or the Zionist Union. Moreover, neither Lapid nor Kahlon entered politics to sit on the opposition backbench, and will therefore join whatever government takes form first.
On the other hand, if the final margin between the Likud and the Zionist Union consist of five or six mandates there will be no confusion as to who should be given the task of forming the next government. Moreover, such a margin will serve as a resounding statement by the Israeli electorate regarding its confidence in Netanyahu and his right-wing policies.
The difficulty lies in the fact that Israelis have resounded themselves to being experts in political blocks.
Many Israelis who wish to see Netanyahu removed from office do not intend to vote for the Zionist Union.
Some plan to vote for Lapid, under the assumption that he will join Herzog and Livni rather than suffer yet again at the hands of Netanyahu.
Others plan to vote for Kahlon given his socio-economic message and an assumption that he is opposed to Netanyahu’s trickle-down economics.
But given the expected tie between the Likud and the Zionist Union, and the political aspirations of Lapid and Kahlon, it is imperative that Center and left-wing voters unite and offer Herzog and Livni a clear mandate to form the next government. Only a significant electoral victory will end Netanyahu’s reign as prime minister.
For all those longing for a change in government, now is the time to vote Herzog and Livni, vote Livni and Herzog!
The author is concluding his Mass Media Studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to The Jewish Daily Forward and 972online Magazine.
He blogs at www.digdipblog.com.