Labor leader Avi Gabbay speaks at a meeting of the Zionist Camp.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
If you were the leader of the opposition, what are the main areas you would target to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the next elections?
An obvious one is Netanyahu’s sleazy character, highlighted by his weakness for accepting expensive gifts from billionaire friends; his household’s determination, according to the criminal indictment filed against his wife Sara, to live high on the hog at the taxpayers’ expense; and the suspicion, still under investigation, that the prime minister altered government regulations to favor a business tycoon in return for favorable news coverage on a website owned by that tycoon.
Another target surely would be the prime minister’s failure to make any advances on securing a peaceful future between Israel and the Palestinians, leaving the country sliding ever more quickly to becoming an apartheid state or a democratic one state for two nations in which the Jewish character of Israel will become just a memory.
But, according to Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay in a radio interview last week, the above would be a waste of time and energy. Netanyahu never promised he would bring peace, so why attack him on that? And as for the distinct whiff of corruption surrounding Netanyahu, the Labor leader continued, Netanyahu never promised to run a corrupt-free administration, so there’s no leverage to be had in attacking him there.
There is some truth to Gabbay’s argument. Netanyahu’s character flaws, particularly his avaricious nature, have been evident for years, but they have never harmed him at the ballot box. The prime minister has excelled in conning supporters into believing that legitimate police investigations against him are nothing more than a left-wing witch-hunt. Meanwhile, for as long as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to blame Jews for the Holocaust and refuses to meet with the American administration’s Middle East peace team, Netanyahu has a free pass on this issue.
Instead, Gabbay outlined three areas where he felt Netanyahu was vulnerable: security, house prices and the cost of living. Netanyahu, Gabbay said, had pledged to bring down both house prices and the cost of living and has clearly failed in both spheres. In this, the Labor leader is correct, but elections in Israel are rarely, if ever, fought and won over economic issues.
The 2011 summer of social justice protests over the continuing rise in the cost of living and housing prices swept the nation from its epicenter on Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of Tel Aviv. The chant “the people demand social justice” was heard everywhere and yet Netanyahu rode out the storm. By the time of the next elections, in January 2013, even with social activist (as opposed to peace campaigner) Shelly Yacimovich leading Labor, the party polled extremely poorly, allowing Netanyahu to return to the prime ministerial residence with ease.
On security, Gabbay perhaps has a chance. Despite Netanyahu’s so-called special relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the fact is that Russia has done nothing to prevent Iranian and Hezbollah forces approaching the Israeli border from Syria. Back in May, Iranian forces, in a first, even fired rockets at IDF targets on the Golan Heights. In response, Israel launched its most extensive strike in Syria in decades, but a taboo of not attacking Israel from Syrian territory has been broken under Netanyahu’s watch.
In the south, Israel is seemingly powerless to stop fire-carrying kites and balloons flying across the border with the Gaza Strip and destroying Israeli farmland and forests in the surrounding area. Gaza itself is a tinderbox waiting to explode, and Israeli policymakers have yet to produce a coherent strategy for alleviating the threat coming from this small territory which has seen numerous rounds of fighting since Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
The opinion polls, however, currently show Gabbay tilting at windmills, as Netanyahu is riding strong. But at least Gabbay has a plan and is determined to do his best to unseat the prime minister. Which is more than can be said for the other pretender to Netanyahu’s crown, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.
Lapid’s decision last week to support the government’s proposed law for haredi enlistment in the IDF threw the government a lifeline. Although the haredi parties voted against the legislation, they did so in the hope that it would pass anyhow, as it’s the most favorable law they could hope to see in terms of drafting young haredi men into the army.
Lapid had the chance to sow the seeds of division within the coalition and differentiate himself on a core issue from the Likud and Netanyahu. On what else, if not the banner of haredi conscription, can Lapid fight the next elections? His term as finance minister was hardly a resounding success, so the economy is out for him, and recently he’s been boasting that he’s to the right of Netanyahu on security issues.
Rather than seeking to oust Netanyahu, which should be the aim of any opposition leader who takes themselves seriously, it seems as if Lapid is lining himself up to be the prime minister’s senior coalition ally in Netanyahu’s next government.
Potential Yesh Atid voters should keep that in mind when election day comes. The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.