Civil Fights: Stop whining, start voting!

Likud will never be as rightist as the ideological right would like.

netanyahu bibi boyish 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
netanyahu bibi boyish 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The election campaign has begun, and rightists are once again demonstrating why they remain politically impotent. I hear constant whining and moaning about Likud's turn to the Left: Why is Benjamin Netanyahu bringing leftists like Uzi Dayan and Assaf Hefetz into the party? Why is he talking about forming a government after the election with leftist parties like Labor and Kadima? Yet the whiners and moaners largely refuse to do the one thing that could actually affect Netanyahu's choices - namely, vote. For instance, Netanyahu cannot actually grant Dayan and Hefetz places on Likud's Knesset list, thanks to a reform he himself introduced in 2005, under which the slate will be chosen by party-wide primary. Thus Likud members - or rather, those who bother to vote in December's primary - will determine whether leftists make it onto the list at all, whether they constitute a minority or majority of it, and whether they occupy the top slots or the bottom slots. And if Likud forms the next government, the answers to these questions will be vital. FIRST, THE Right's numerical strength on Likud's list is the key constraint on Netanyahu's ability to move leftward after the election - both because no politician would commit political suicide by going where his party refuses to follow, and because he will need Likud's Knesset votes for any major diplomatic move. The disengagement, for instance, could never have passed had two-thirds of what was then Likud not backed it. Thus if Likud's list winds up in the Dayan-Hefetz mold, Netanyahu will find it easy to move left. But if it consists mainly of people like Bennie Begin and Yuli Edelstein, a sharp left turn will be difficult: The necessary Knesset support will be lacking. Second, an MK's place on the party list greatly influences his chances of becoming a minister. Netanyahu might pluck one or two ministers from the bottom of the slate, but any large-scale circumvention of those at the top would spark a party revolt. Thus a slate headed by rightists will produce a more rightist cabinet. And since the cabinet makes most governmental decisions, its composition is crucial. Rightists thus have an especial interest in Likud's primary this year. But this interest existed even before Netanyahu's reform, because Likud has chosen its leader by primary for years - and Likud's leader is the closest thing the right has to a prime ministerial candidate. No party farther to the right will lead the country anytime soon. Nevertheless, far too many rightists still turn up their noses at the idea of joining Likud and voting in its primaries. Likud is not ideologically pure enough: It attended the Madrid conference, signed the Hebron and Wye agreements, and withdrew from Gaza (before the pro-withdrawal faction left to become Kadima). Yet as long as rightists prefer whining and moaning about the party's leftward tilt to dirtying their hands by joining it and using their votes to have an impact, Likud will go right on inching leftward. RIGHTIST PURISM also lies behind Netanyahu's desire to form a government with Labor and Kadima. If current polls are accurate, Likud will win 30 to 35 seats, and a coalition requires 61. A strictly right-of-center coalition, if one is possible at all, would thus require at least four other parties, some of them serial extortionists, and even then, it would barely exceed 61 seats. In short, it would be a coalition constantly on the verge of collapse, kept afloat only by regular blackmail payments and incapable of implementing any serious reforms. If the goal is solving the country's problems rather than mere survival, such a coalition is not worth having. Netanyahu will thus have no choice but to bring in either Labor, Kadima, or both. The situation would be completely different if Likud had 50 seats rather than 30: Netanyahu's choice of coalition partners would be much greater, and whichever partner(s) he chose, whether rightist or leftist, would have far less power to dictate his moves. That, however, will never happen, because too many rightists prefer either voting for small parties - including fringe groups with no chance of entering the Knesset - or not voting at all to voting for a party that is less than ideologically pristine. One would have thought 1992 would have cured the right of this folly: Had all the rightists who wasted their votes that year on parties that failed to make the Knesset voted Likud instead, Likud would have formed the government instead of Labor, and there would have been no Oslo. Yet if anything, the volume of wasted rightist votes has only increased since then. Moreover, even voting for small parties certain to win seats is playing with fire, because most polls show Likud and Kadima virtually neck and neck. That means a few votes either way could determine whether Netanyahu or Tzipi Livni forms the next government. LIKUD WILL never be as rightist as the ideological right would like: Precisely because it aspires to be a governing party, it must remain near the center; a far-right party cannot win. Yet the center-right is still vastly different from the Left. It was the Left that brought us Oslo, Camp David, the intifada, the Second Lebanon War. It was the Right (Sharon's first government) that brought us Operation Defensive Shield and the subsequent sharp drop in terror. Politics is the art of the possible, and that means the choice is often not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. Still, the difference between bad and worse can be substantial: Just compare the 63 terrorist deaths under Netanyahu's first government (1996-99) to the 211 of the preceding three years. If one truly sees no difference between Bennie Begin and Uzi Dayan, between Netanyahu and Livni, there is indeed no reason to vote. But people who understand that there is a difference have only two choices: They can dirty their hands and cast their votes where they might matter, or they can continue confining themselves to whining and moaning about Likud's leftward turn - thereby confining the right to continued political impotence.