Think About It: The dilemma of the center-left voters

Unfortunately, for the time being, the Center-Left seems to be having difficulties getting its act together.

By
January 21, 2019 09:28
Election ballots from the 2015 vote lie on a floor

Election ballots from the 2015 vote lie on a floor. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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I cannot remember a general election in which the political scene looked as fuzzy as it does today. The only thing that seems almost certain is that unless the Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit reaches a decision to indict Benjamin Netanyahu before the general elections on April 9, Netanyahu, as leader of the largest party in the Knesset, will probably be the one to be called upon by the president of the state to try to form Israel’s 35th government.

That is a depressing thought to everyone in the Center-Left.

Whether Netanyahu will be able to form a right-wing-religious government is not at all certain. The right-wing and religious parties (excluding the Likud) are in a rather fluid condition, and it is not clear whether all of them will manage to get through the 3.25% qualifying threshold. It is not certain whether United Torah Judaism will run together with Shas, and thus save Shas from failing to pass the qualifying threshold. It is not certain how Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s new party will fare; whether Bayit Yehudi will manage to recover, or will revert to the worst days of the National Religious Party; whether former Shas leader Eli Yishai will revive his coalition with various Kahanist splinter parties, and if he does, how this coalition will fare (in the 2015 elections it failed to pass the qualifying threshold. It is also not clear whether Yisrael Beytenu will survive (the irony is that it was Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman who insisted on the qualifying threshold being raised – in order to harm the Arab parties).

Netanyahu’s alternative government – a center-right government, similar to the one he formed after the 2013 elections – might be an option. For the time being Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay is the only one trying to convince the leaders of all the center parties to state clearly before the elections that they will not agree to join a government led by Netanyahu under any circumstances.

Of course, the whole story will change if Mandelblit decides to indict Netanyahu before the elections, and Netanyahu is forced to step down. One of the surprising statements by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev at the Leumiyada event in Eilat a week and a half ago was: “Without Bibi the Right will not be in power.” Of course, the saying might simply be preelection fright tactics (such as “the Arabs are rushing in droves to the polling stations”), but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

WHERE DOES all this leave the Center-Left?

The Center-Left is yearning for change: a change in direction and a change in atmosphere, a change in the personalities running the show. Of course, they are all intertwined.

If I were asked which changes in direction I find most urgent, I would say: a foreign policy orientation that is more balanced, and less dependence on Trump’s administration and hobnobbing with crypto-fascist regimes; stopping the rush toward a single-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which we Jews will remain a minority; a different balance between free market and social democratic economic principles, especially in the fields of housing and social welfare; an education system in which there is more Judaism in the secular schools, but not in the form of religionization, but, rather, in greater knowledge of the history of Judaism and its various streams throughout the ages; a better balance among various cultural streams in Israel, without turning the process into a relentless vendetta; introduction of the principle of individual and communal equality into the Nation-State Law, though Israel is to remain the one and only nation-state of the Jewish people; and a policy that respects the human rights of all non-Jewish residents of the State of Israel.

The current right-wing-religious coalition is unwilling to do all of this.

Unfortunately, for the time being, the Center-Left seems to be having difficulties getting its act together. This seems to be primarily because of the egos of a bunch of leaders, most of whom are reasonable candidates to replace Netanyahu, but none of whom is outstanding.


At the moment the most prominent among them seems to be former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, leader of the Israel Resilience Party. Besides good looks, an air of calm and a few scattered sayings which indicate that he is somewhere in the Center in his positions, we know very little about Gantz. Unlike Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, he does not seem too perturbed by Likud spokesmen calling him “an extreme left-winger.” In the Likud today “extreme-left” is anyone, or his wife, who criticizes Netanyahu or dares consider replacing him.

Once I learn a little more about Gantz and the list he will present, and if there will be no dramatic changes in the center-left camp before the elections, I would actually consider voting for him.

I say this even though I am a member of the Labor Party, and enthusiastically voted for Gabbay as leader of the party. I still believe that Gabbay has many of the qualities that current-day Israel needs in a leader, especially in the economic and social spheres, and that with the right team of foreign affairs and security experts (in which the party is affluent), he could be a refreshing post-Netanyahu prime minister.

What I don’t like about Gabbay is his apparent lack of familiarity with what Labor stands for ideologically. Worst still, he doesn’t seem to care. Furthermore, he doesn’t even try to make old-time members of the party feel at home in the “new Labor.” In other words, he seems to treat the Labor as Bennett and Shaked treated former MK Yosef Paritzky’s registered Zionism, Liberalism and Equality Party, which they purchased as an empty shell to be filled with new content.

Furthermore, while one can argue whether breaking the alliance between Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party was a correct move, the way Gabbay did it – live, without informing Livni in advance – was ugly.

And what about Lapid’s Yesh Atid? While there are several admirable MKs in Lapid’s party (I especially like MKs Ofer Shelah, Meir Cohen and Karin Elharar), I have serious doubts about Lapid’s own intelligence, knowledge and judgment. I cannot recall a single intelligent thing he said since he entered politics in 2013 (or as a TV presenter beforehand). On the other hand, I cannot forget his embarrassing performance on a Stockholm city square several years ago in which he hollered: “Ve luv Izrael,” or video footage from some of his meetings with supporters in which he sounds like an Evangelist preacher, talking about love.

As for Livni, I am sorry that she finds herself in a position where apparently no one wishes to combine forces with her, despite her rich experience, good temper and measured ego. Her willingness to make do with being No. 2 or even No. 3 in a team is certainly a bonus, but she appears to have missed her train.

Incidentally, one cannot help wondering what would have happened had Ehud Olmert resisted the temptation to be lured into foolish petty corruption.

It will be interesting to see how the political constellation will jell, as Election Day approaches. It is still fluid, and even the final number of players is as yet unknown.

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