Israel's 25th Knesset elections: Ideological or strategic voting? - opinion

The upcoming election presents an interesting dichotomy for left-wing voters.

IN THE current situation none of us – to whichever side of the political spectrum one belongs – can afford not to take strategic considerations into account, side by side with ideological considerations. (photo credit: FLASH90)
IN THE current situation none of us – to whichever side of the political spectrum one belongs – can afford not to take strategic considerations into account, side by side with ideological considerations.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

I must admit that for the first time since I started voting, I am seriously considering to vote strategically rather than ideologically.

I have always voted Labor, especially since I believe that liberally inclined social democracy offers the most optimal solutions to complicated socioeconomic problems, and today I believe that only social democracy has solutions for Israel’s housing problems – the problem of social housing, which capitalism is not inclined to resolve, and housing for members of the younger generation who do not happen to have parents able to purchase, or help them purchase, their first apartment.

I also believe that between the two-state solution, which the Labor Party professes to be the only ultimate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a continued process of crawling annexation and the progressive denial of Palestinian rights – the former is the less dangerous to our existence here.

However, in the current situation none of us – to whichever side of the political spectrum one belongs – can afford not to take strategic considerations into account, side by side with ideological considerations.

From my left-wing, liberal perspective, the last outcome I wish for in the approaching elections is a 61 seat (or more) victory for Benjamin Netanyahu, who would thus be able to form a Likud-ultra-Orthodox-Religious Zionist coalition, which embodies all the political nightmares I can think of.

Israelis cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on March 23, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)Israelis cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem, during the Knesset Elections, on March 23, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Examining the possibilities

My favorite outcome would be a coalition similar in makeup to that of the government of change, only not dependent on Ra’am for its majority (though Ra’am, under Mansour Abbas, should be a member), and with a more stable, better managed religious component. However, at this juncture, there is no feasibility for such an outcome.

The optimal outcome under the current political constellation, in terms of enabling a stable government to be formed with chances of surviving its full four-year term, is what I have advocated since the first round of elections, in April 2019: a wide national-unity government, without any of the extreme edges, and without any schticks and tricks.

Today, only Blue and White leader Benny Gantz can lead such a government, though I can think of one or two Likudniks who could also lead it (e.g., MK Yuli Edelstein or Nir Barkat), if Netanyahu would step aside, which he is certainly not inclined to do.

Netanyahu formed such a government, together with Gantz, in May 2020, but tore it apart with his own two hands, the moment he felt he could bring different results in a fourth round of elections. The result is that today hardly anyone in the non-Likud-ultra-Orthodox-Religious Zionist camp trusts him or any of his promises.

Gantz, on the other hand, appears to have matured politically in the last two years (partially due to the nasty apprenticeship Netanyahu put him through), and has started to act and talk like a confident leader. He also appears to have the full confidence of the members of his party, while his decision to join up with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope in a single list toward the elections to the 25th Knesset will most probably pay off in the election results.

However, the only situation in which Gantz will find himself in the position of being able to form a government will be if Netanyahu does not attain 61 Knesset seats for his coveted coalition.

It is generally agreed by political observers that if Labor and/or Meretz will fail to pass the 3.25% qualifying threshold, Netanyahu will get his 61 seats easily.

Since, at the moment, it doesn’t look as if Labor and Meretz will run together – especially since the experience of such a union in the elections to the 23rd Knesset failed dismally – it is important that those of us who have voted for Labor or Meretz in the past should do so again.

As far as I am concerned, this means that I should once again vote Labor, which is most likely what I shall finally decide to do.

AS A registered Labor Party member, I will take part in the primaries for forming the party’s list.

From among the current Labor MKs, my three favorites are Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, whose chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in the last year has been impressive, especially in the face of nasty provocations by the haredi MKs; Naama Lazimi, who proves that women of Moroccan origin from the periphery (she was born in Migdal Ha’emek) need not follow the boisterous Likud model, and can fight the social battles in a serious and dignified manner; and Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin, who has proven herself to be an Arab MK of a different kind, who constantly seeks productive coexistence (she is married to a Jew, with whom she has a daughter), and so far has not given in to frequently cruel provocations – whether from fellow MKs or journalists.

Last Friday evening, presenter Eyal Berkovic (from Ofira and Berkovic on Channel 12), one of Israel’s greatest former soccer players – if not the greatest of them all – and currently a sort of Israeli Archie Bunker, interviewed Ibtisam, and was so nasty in his questions and comments (“I don’t believe a word you say”) that he got her close to tears, yet she kept saying “I understand you” and refused to fall into the pitfalls he set down at her feet.

Incidentally, I will also be happy if former Labor MK Revital Swid decides to run in the primaries.

Recent Labor Party snafus

HOWEVER, I must also say that I am far from being pleased with the Labor Party’s attitude toward its members, and recent media appearances of its reelected leader, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli.

I tried to contact someone in Labor Party headquarters, since despite my being a registered party member, I did not receive a notice concerning the primaries for the leadership, and I wanted to make sure I would be receiving a notice before the primaries for Labor’s list. I called up all the phone numbers, and sent email and WhatsApp messages to most of the addresses that appear on the party’s website. No one answered or got back to me, and it was impossible to leave a message on the various answering machines.

I was also rather irritated when Michaeli was recently interviewed on Channel 13 by presenter Omer Yardeni, who asked her about the fact that a TV commercial on behalf of the Transportation Ministry, which she heads, seemed to use the color purple (which is the background color of many Labor Party ads), more frequently than warranted, in the clothing of the persons appearing in the commercial, and the color of the buses portrayed (how many purple public buses have you seen recently?). At first, I thought the question was petty and provocative, but when Michaeli dodged the question inelegantly and became extremely aggressive in her statements, I started to feel uncomfortable. The same happened a little later in the appearance of one of Michaeli’s Knesset colleagues – Ram Shefa – who was interviewed by Yediot Aharonot reporter Yuval Karni on the Knesset Channel. He, too, dodged the question.

I will take my final decision after the final opinion polls are published before Election Day.

The writer, born in Haifa in 1943, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher, and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her book Israel’s Knesset Members: A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job will be published by Routledge on July 29.