In Israeli politics, everyone wants to be top dog - analysis

Huldai’s party will be a Jewish, Zionist left-wing party.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, February 19, 2020 (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, February 19, 2020
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
“Great, just what we need, another political party,” was a thought that many people undoubtedly shared Tuesday when they heard that Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was setting up a party to run in the upcoming elections.
“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel that they don’t have a home in the present political system,” he said, explaining the need for his new list.
There are currently eight different parties in the Knesset for a nation of just over nine million people, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis can’t find their place in any one of those? America has two parties for 330 million people, and that works out pretty well (or at least it used to).
No, if Huldai were truly honest with the public, he would not have said that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are politically homeless, rather he would have said, “I, Ron Huldai, cant find a home on the top of a list in the present political system – so I’ll just start my own party.”
And why not? If Benny Gantz could do it, setting up the Israel Resilience Party in 2018 instead of joining up with the existing center party at the time, Yesh Atid; if Gideon Sa’ar can do it, setting up the New Hope Party rather than trying to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from inside the Likud; then Huldai could be excused for thinking, “Why can’t I do it? Am I any less capable? Am I any less important?”
And that goes to the crux of what ails the Israeli political system. It’s not about ideology, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about a well-defined path and set of ideals – it’s all about who wants to be No. 1. And if someone thinks he deserves it, if he thinks he is uniquely able and capable but can’t find an existing political framework that agrees and will catapult him to the pinnacle, he’ll just start a new party on his own.
What really will be the ideological difference between Huldai’s new party and, for instance, the Labor Party which is still registered as a party in this country, and even has two ministers in the outgoing government? Or, why not join Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party?
Could not Huldai have felt comfortable in one of those homes, or if they were not Left-wing enough for him, perhaps in Meretz?
To feel comfortable in a home do you have to like every picture hanging in the hall, the arrangement of every piece of furniture in each room, the color of the paint on every wall? Might you not be able to feel comfortable in a home, for instance, even if you would prefer the kitchen table be in the center of the kitchen, not off in the corner? Is that any reason to go out and build a brand new house?
Huldai’s party will be a Jewish, Zionist left-wing party. According to a 2020 poll for the Jewish People Policy Institute, five percent of Israeli Jews classify themselves as Left, and another 11% as Center-Left (Some 60% classify themselves as Right or Center-Right). So does 16% of the Jewish population really need three left-wing Jewish parties to choose from, and another two – Blue and White and Yesh Atid – that could be classified as appealing to the Center-Left?
BUT THIS plethora of parties is not a phenomenon that only bedevils the Left.
The raison d’être of Sa’ar’s new party, New Hope, is wanting to unseat Netanyahu. Other than that, there is no ideological difference at all between it and the Likud.
In fact, that is why Ze’ev Elkin and Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi’s defection from the Likud to the new party is so significant – it shows that you can leave the Likud, vote for the new party and not feel a traitor to the Likud cause, because it is essentially the same cause.
There is only one thing that distinguishes New Hope from Likud, and that is Netanyahu. The Likud loves him, New Hope loathes him, which is why it was formed. Apart from that, a microscope would be needed to detect ideological differences.
But even that difference – regarding wanting to see Netanyahu forced from his seat – does not exist between Sa’ar and Yamina head Naftali Bennett. Neither of them wants to see Netanyahu remain as prime minister.
So what are the gaping ideological differences between New Hope and Yamina that are keeping Sa’ar and Bennett from running on the same list? Do they disagree about settlements, Jerusalem, the economy?
No, the reason they can’t run together is simply that each man wants to be No. 1. The same is true of Huldai and Lapid.
To Lapid’s credit, he was willing to defer to Gantz and run on the No. 2 slot in a combined Blue and White party in the last three elections. In the September 2019 election, the merged list actually beat the Likud by one seat, which shows the potential of parties running together.
Sa’ar will campaign essentially on a platform that Netanyahu must be replaced, and that his party is the only real vehicle able to do it. But even as well as he is doing in the polls today, his party is not close to defeating the Likud, so that Netanyahu will likely again get the first shot at building a coalition.
If Sa’ar and Bennett were to merge lists, however, that party would be the largest, and have the first shot at forming a government, at least if one adds together the number of seats the two parties are currently receiving in the polls.
But such a merger is not on anyone’s radar screen because although both Sa’ar and Bennett say they want to unseat Netanyahu, neither has shown a willingness to sacrifice ego and ambition to do so.
This is also true of Huldai. He says he wants to unseat Netanyahu, but rather than joining an existing list with that aim, he wants to divide an already small piece of the left side of the pie into even smaller parts. Why? Because to join an existing party would mean being No. 2 – or even lower – on that party’s list. And, for a 76-year-old man who has been Tel Aviv’s mayor for the last 22 (!) years, what fun is that?