The home stretch

Netanyahu seems to be so afraid of Bennett that he might now be viewing the centrists as much more palatable.

Naftali Bennett 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
This is it, the final weekend for us to mull over our choices for Tuesday’s election. If you’re like me you know who it is who won’t be getting your vote, but aren’t quite sure who will. To be honest, I don’t think I ever made up my mind until I was actually standing in the booth and looking down at all those slips with the strange combinations of Hebrew letters.
I know a lot of people like me. We’re out on a stormy sea with no safe harbor in sight. We don’t belong to a party and don’t even support one because there are too damn many, and all too often the aspects we like about them share a platform with other aspects that are silly, stupid or plain wrong. It’s like some menus you come across where you positively love the Manchego cheese but hate the anchovies. In restaurants, though, they generally allow substitutions.
It would be bad enough were this just any election. But it’s coming at something of a crossroads for Israel, and for me personally.
Weaker populations are being besieged from all sides. Budget cuts have eaten away at benefits and at government-sponsored programs designed to help them hold their heads above water, and real-estate prices are keeping decent housing well beyond their reach. As for the middle class, it now seems to be bringing home less and less money, and paying ever more and more taxes.
Whereas we and our parents have had it better than previous generations, the prosperity of our children is now in serious doubt.
Many among the wealthy, however, never had it so good – especially those who, as the saying goes, are close to the table and get the inside scoop on privatization opportunities and cozy government tenders. The wealthy tend to be organized into dynasties that often intermarry or otherwise become just chummy enough to gain control of symbiotic segments of the economy and create cartels that keep prices high and wages low.
Matters of religion and state continue to simmer. The secular-religious divide is widening, with deep-seated resentment among the former over inequality in everything from military service to benefits and tax burdens, and fury among the latter over what they see as the continuing defilement of a holy land. There is also a growing divide between Jews and Arabs, with anger over an imbalance of rights and responsibilities, and lingering suspicions that fully one-fifth of the population could be a fifth column.
Security-wise, the nuclear-hungry ayatollahs are leering, and their proxies just across our borders continue to flex their own muscles (with one, Hamas, making no bones about its desire – and perhaps ability – to take over the West Bank like it did the Gaza Strip half a decade ago). Elsewhere, the so-called Arab Spring seems to be bringing only Islamists to blossom, to the befuddlement of a naïve West and the mounting concern of an Israel that is wary of one and perhaps two peace treaties possibly going down the tubes.
On the diplomatic front, the peace process with the Palestinians is going nowhere, the EU seems to spend more time berating us than it does Bashar Assad, and in the US, traditionally our main ally, there are a president and senior cabinet secretaries-designate who will not be joining American Friends of the Likud anytime soon.
All of that is at the national level. At the personal level I have a son who’s about to join an elite IDF unit, the kind that does the really hard, dirty work of keeping this country safe. The two people who become prime minister and defense minister in the coming weeks will hold more sway over my son’s fate than he, my wife or I will. That’s a very sobering thought.
ANYONE WHO has read this column before probably knows that my political views tend to be centrist. Aside from core values I believe there’s little in the way of absolute rights and wrongs – life is mostly a matter of priorities. But I’m also a pragmatist and know that even if something is a top priority, it must be realistic, attainable and affordable.
Just about everything that’s at stake for us is a matter of priorities. For sure there are several common goals that, for those of us who are committed Zionists, go to the very core of who and what we are.
Chief among them are the very survival of the world’s only state for the Jews, but also continued health, welfare and prosperity for its citizens. Yet it’s the way we seek to attain these goals that cuts to our priorities. Who? Where? How? When? How much? How little? Why? These are issues that require balance, insight and understanding – something we too often lack, which becomes even more pronounced at election time.
SOMETHING THAT struck me in the past few weeks since the election mechanism shifted into high gear has been the approach to campaigning by Likud Beytenu, the joint list of the still-separate Likud and Yisrael Beytenu parties.
Whereas in the past they tended to conserve their venom solely for the centrist and leftist parties, this year they’re taking aim primarily at Naftali Bennett.
Bennett is the new boy on the block.
He came virtually out of nowhere over the past several months before turning himself and his party, Bayit Yehudi, into household names. Religiously observant and deeply supportive of the West Bank settlement enterprise, he took a splintered and politically moribund national-religious sector and gave it a party with teeth.
Like Netanyahu he served as an officer in Sayeret Matkal. Like Netanyahu he’s charismatic, attractive and articulate in both Hebrew and English. Like Netanyahu he has a business background, though he fully eclipsed the prime minister when he sold his sixyear- old on-line security start-up and pocketed many millions in the process.
Like Netanyahu he’s an alpha male, brave, polished and well-to-do. But with that kippa on his head he’s telling us he also has values, something our current prime minister, through the years, has been hard-pressed to show.
Meet a hungry young man (he’ll be 41 in March) who’s ready to crawl on his belly, knife in mouth, to efficiently, if not exactly silently, attain his objective.
He’s the first politician on the Right side of the political spectrum who might be able to out-Bibi Bibi.
Clearly, Netanyahu seems much more afraid of Bennett than he is of the Center.
Note how Likud Beytenu, in its campaign ads, has been leaving those parties more or less alone. Which is why I think they should admit that, like the polls say, Bibi will remain our prime minister, and then make the best of it and strive for a Center-Right/Center-Left coalition. The alternative, a coalition of the Center- Right, far-Right and probably the ultra- Orthodox, is not pretty.
I think our prime minister knows this. Have you noticed Bibi’s official campaign portrait? It shows a visage that’s a lot less stern and severe than in elections past. Somehow I think it’s an insurance policy, a come-hither look meant more for Tzipi and Shelly (okay, perhaps Yair, too) than for your typical Likud voter. Like I said, if something is a priority, it must be realistic, attainable and affordable.
A kinder, gentler Bibi? We’ll soon see.
I, for one, hope so.