Mainstream Israel is Blue and White

We have almost arrived at crunch time. Will it be Bibi or will it be Benny?

By PAUL GROSS
April 8, 2019 21:59
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz speak in 2013. One of them

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz speak in 2013. One of them will likely be asked to form the next government. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

We have almost arrived at crunch time. Will it be Bibi or will it be Benny?

If you read certain foreign news reports, you might be forgiven for thinking there is no difference between the two candidates. It is a matter of supreme shock and displeasure for some Western journalists that Benny Gantz, like Benjamin Netanyahu, does not foresee a two-state solution arriving any time soon. This myopia of the media is not only in the persistent refusal to accept that Palestinian rejectionism is real – and fatal to peace efforts. The ill-informed focus on the (non-)peace process also leads to a failure to divine the importance of the real divide between these two potential prime ministers: two different visions for the country.

Benny Gantz is committed to, in his words, “a Jewish and democratic country in light of the Zionist vision expressed in the Declaration of Independence,” an allusion to the clear injunctions in that document to establish the nation-state of the Jewish people, alongside a commitment to “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

Netanyahu, by contrast, has pledged to re-establish a hard-right coalition, which will continue its assault on the rule of law, separation of powers and free speech, which led the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute to denounce the recently concluded Knesset as “the most injurious of all with regard to democratic values, freedom of expression, gatekeeping and, above all, minority rights.”

That searing critique refers not only to legislation passed, but to bills proposed which, thankfully, did not make it through – but will likely reappear should Netanyahu be reelected. They include the attempt to impose a “loyalty” criteria on arts and culture projects that receive state funding, or Ayelet Shaked’s personal vendetta against the Supreme Court in the form of the “supersession law,” which would allow a simple majority of the Knesset to overturn a Supreme Court decision.

A true liberal democracy requires separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law. Shaked’s bill would remove the only real check on the power of the Knesset majority. Simply put, it would mean that there would be nothing to stop 61 Knesset members legislating specifically to target the rights of the other 59.

Blue and White represents a continuation of the idea of a Jewish and democratic state, envisaged by Zionists from Herzl to Ben-Gurion to Jabotinsky, and promised in the Declaration of Independence. The party’s claim to be “beyond Left and Right” sounds like a platitude but actually speaks to the fact that its positions represent the center ground in Israeli society.

It is true that if you are a right-winger who believes Israel should continue to expand settlements across the West Bank and ultimately annex the territory, Blue and White is probably not the party for you. If you are a left-winger who believes that we should withdraw from the West Bank tomorrow, with or without a peace agreement, Blue and White is probably not the party for you. But those are both minority positions.

Most Israelis understand that the Right’s dream of Greater Israel could lead us to the demographic reality of a bi-national state – the end of the Zionist dream of a democratic state with a Jewish majority. And they understand that the Left’s dream of “peace now” runs the real risk of Gaza 2.0, on a much larger scale: a terror-state holding the strategic high ground of the West Bank, with all of Israel within missile range.

BUT IF you’re on the moderate Right, and you want a government that will be tough on security, here is a party with three former IDF chiefs-of-staff at the helm, one of whom went on to be a Likud defense minister. Many of you might agree with the assessment of the Likud offered by that former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, who quit the party saying, “To my great regret, extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement, and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants... this is not the Likud I joined – the Likud of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin.”

Many of you on the moderate Right will have been appalled by Netanyahu’s engineering of the merger between Bayit Yehudi and the racist terror-supporters of Otzma Yehudit. Those of you who have been around for a few decades may recall a time when a Likud prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, would walk out of the Knesset when Meir Kahane got up to speak.

Meanwhile, many of you on the moderate Left want to be rid of Bibi, but are voting Labor or Meretz for reasons of social justice or social liberalism. Blue and White is liberal on social issues just as it is hawkish on security. It has investment in education, healthcare and child care as clear policy priorities. It supports civil unions and equality for LGBT, Jewish pluralism at the Western Wall, and the repealing of the religiously coercive “Minimarket Law” that prevented municipalities from determining how Shabbat should be observed in their towns and cities, according to specific local character.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: corruption. Netanyahu has pledged not to personally advance legislation to grant himself immunity from prosecution. But with a typical political sleight of hand, he has also intimated that he would welcome such legislation being advanced by someone else. He will do everything he can to stay in power and to incite against the judicial system, so that when the indictments inevitably come, they will be seen as illegitimate by a portion of the population. Whether successful in this bid or not, he will not be able to fulfill the responsibilities of prime minister to anything like the required standard while pursuing these efforts to save his own skin.

Blue and White has a raft of proposals aimed at ensuring that we never suffer another Netanyahu again, including term limits so that a prime minister will not be able to serve more than eight consecutive years, or three terms (whichever is shorter). Never again would we have a premier so corrupted by his own power that he sees himself as indispensable to the state.

Blue and White has declared that its constituency is everyone within the broad spectrum of “responsible Right to Zionist Left.” Everyone will have the particular considerations and pet causes, but the real decision is the macro one of which direction the country will be facing the day after the election: toward equal civil rights and the rule of law, or toward unchecked majority rule that rejects basic Western democratic principles? Toward an agenda of social solidarity and national responsibility, or towards populist incitement, social division and the empowering of racism? Finally, will we be choosing an Israel that tackles corruption, or an Israel that perpetuates it?

In Hebrew, the word for “a vote” is the same as the word for “voice” – kol. Elections are when we as ordinary citizens can make our voices heard – and many of us are calling out for change. Let’s make it happen.

The author writes and educates about Israeli politics and history, and has volunteered for the Blue and White Party in this election campaign. He is writing here in a personal capacity.


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