Israel Elections mode 2 – saying a final farewell to consensus

In their desperation to get elected, nothing a candidate says or does can be taken at face value.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a fake ad presenting him as a haredi man  (photo credit: YISRAEL BEYTENU SPOKESPERSON)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a fake ad presenting him as a haredi man
To make sense of what’s going on as Israelis head to the polls Tuesday, one would need to be part mathematician and part psychologist. Determining who will sit with whom in a prospective coalition is like choosing sides at a schoolyard pick-up basketball game.
Blue and White would consider forming a unity coalition with Likud if Netanyahu isn’t its head; Deri would sit with Liberman but Liberman won’t sit with Deri or join any coalition with ultra-Orthodox members, likewise Blue and White; Liberman also isn’t crazy about sitting with Blue and White at the helm; the ultra-Orthodox would sit in any coalition that lets them keep their subsidies and draft deferments; the Joint List would support Blue and White from the outside but won’t join a Zionist coalition; Netanyahu would talk with any party that would conceivably enable him to stay in power – even the outside-the-tent Otzma Yehudit if it passes the 3.25% electoral threshold; and poor Amir Peretz (the chubby, glasses-wearing last player picked) would probably accept an offer from just about anyone.
The numbers game is equally murky. If Liberman sticks to his policy that forced this second election in five months of not sitting in a coalition with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, it looks like we’re headed for another stalemate. Some polls show that neither Likud nor Blue and White have enough support to form a coalition without each other. Others show Netanyahu squeaking through with a narrow 61-seat majority if Otzma Yehudit sneaks in. If President Reuven Rivlin throws the gauntlet to Benny Gantz, the Blue and White co-leader will have a tough time forming a coalition, even if Liberman goes with him – unless Yisrael Beytenu’s anti-haredi stance resonates with voters and he surprises the pollsters by stealing more votes than expected from Netanyahu.
The end result of all this maneuvering and speculation is that the second round of election campaigning has been devoid of anything resembling substance and issues – it’s a gaggle of used car salespeople peddling their wares to a public unsure of what’s beneath the hood of the jalopy they’re being asked to put their faith in.
In their desperation to get elected, nothing a candidate says or does can be taken at face value.
“If you don’t vote for Yamina, Bibi is going to allow a Palestinian state,” warns Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked.
A vote for Blue and White will bring Arabs into the government, claims the Right. A right-wing government will mean the end of a two-state solution, claims the Center and Left.
“I’m going to lose right now,” claims Netanyahu, honing his gevalt political tactics to a science. His latest transparent electioneering – from a ‘dramatic’ announcement of another Iran disclosure, to his Jordan Valley and Kiryat Arba annexation plans, to his lightning trips to London and Sochi – reveal a candidate who will pull out all the stops to get re-elected.
It’s no wonder, then, that the nation has treated Election Round 2 with apathy and disdain. Even the annoying SMS messages that took over for banners, flyers and traffic-intersection campaigning in the April election have receded in numbers. You can walk around the streets of any Israeli city and barely notice that Election Day is here.
Perhaps, that’s because it looks like the closest we’re going to come to any final outcome in this election is Likud heading a 61-majority coalition. The sad thing is, that will be seen as a major victory, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of Israeli politics and society.
Are the days gone forever where Israelis were able to form a broad national consensus on the primary issues that affect everyone’s lives? There have always been wildly divergent interests and stances – a natural occurrence when the makeup of the population is as diverse as Israel’s – but now it appears that the chasm between Right and Left, religious and secular, and Jewish and Muslim has become unbridgeable.
The day before the April election, I wrote – without a clue of what we were in store for: “Sure, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand – or under the covers – and plead apathy or exhaustion. There’s plenty enough here to fill one with despair. But Election Day is also a reminder of the maturing nation that Israel has become and of the responsibility that weighs heavy on each of us to shape the kind of country we want to live in.
“And if, after making the effort and getting to the polls, the results don’t turn out exactly as you had hoped? Not to worry, chances are we’ll be back in the voting booth in less than four years.”
If only that had been the case; instead, it almost seems like a certainty we’ll be headed to another election in less than four years, and maybe in another five months. Before we enter the voting booth, we would all be well advised to check the tires on that used car we’re relying on. Because it looks like we’re in for a long, bumpy ride.