Yaakov Katz says elections should be about hope

The rhetoric will not change...

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in front of the Leviathan gas platform (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in front of the Leviathan gas platform
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
All signs indicated that this would happen: these elections are about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political survival, and it was clear already for a year now that he would not go down without a fight.
But even when we knew it would be this way, sometimes there are moments that can surprise even the greatest of cynics.
Take the case of Madhat Yousef. Yousef was a Druze border policeman who had been stationed as part of the security detail at Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Nablus in October 2000 when a firefight broke out at the outset of the Second Intifada. Yousef sustained a gunshot wound to the neck and was slowly bleeding to death.
At the time, Benny Gantz – former IDF chief of staff and current chairman of the Israel Resilience Party – was commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, and was one of the top officers at the scene.
In an attempt to evacuate Yousef from the compound, Yitzhak Eitan, head of Central Command, asked senior Palestinian security officials to halt the gunfire. The chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, arrived at a nearby field headquarters to supervise the operation, but it never took place. The Palestinians refused to comply, and by the time Israel decided to launch a rescue raid Yousef had bled to death. Ehud Barak, who was then Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, was updated throughout the day.
None of that, though, stopped the Likud from using Yousef’s tragic death to sling mud on Gantz. Anti-Gantz videos about the tragedy have been posted on Netanyahu’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts, and Likud Knesset members have spoken about his role in radio and TV interviews. One post on Netanyahu’s page was titled: “Benny Gantz left Madhat Yousef to die.” That simple.
The use of their brother and son as a political tool led the family to threaten legal action this week against Netanyahu.
“The prime minister is using our son’s death for political gain,” the family said. “This has to stop.”
Will it? Probably not. Just like the rhetoric will not change among the other parties.
This week, for example, Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev accused former leader Naftali Bennett of “raping” the party when he decided in late December to leave its helm and establish his new party, called the New Right. The fact that a young 19-year-old girl had been raped and murdered by a Palestinian terrorist just a few days earlier didn’t give him pause when accusing Bennett of rape. Why should it, right?
GANTZ IS not guilt free. While his inaugural speech last month was full of hope and optimism, he has since also taken a negative turn. Two campaign videos this week slammed the prime minister for allowing the transfer of Qatari money to Hamas in Gaza, and for enabling the evacuation of Jews from Gaza in 2005.
On the one hand, this is not the way to launch a new, fresh and different political campaign like Gantz said he would. On the other hand though, it is tough to blame him. When a politician is under attack like he is from the Likud, the instinct is to fight back and to also get dirty. Sadly, that is the nature of politics.
With this as the culture, it is no surprise that Netanyahu is also using security issues and soldiers as part of his re-election campaign. First was his continued use of photos and videos with IDF soldiers, despite a warning by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that doing so during an election campaign was illegal.
Videos and photos from his visit to a navy base on Tuesday were shared on his Facebook page and sent out to all of the different Israeli news organizations. Mandelblit said no? Who cares.
If all that wasn’t enough, Netanyahu then announced on Tuesday evening that Israel was responsible for a series of attacks against Syria the day before, referring to IDF strikes against command posts close to the Syria-Israel border. As with most cases until now, the IDF initially remained silent, neither confirming nor denying that it had carried out the attack. It stuck to the long-standing policy of ambiguity, very much like the position Israel maintains regarding its purported nuclear capabilities.
This time though, the policy lasted barely 24 hours. By Tuesday evening, as he was boarding the plane that would take him to the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Netanyahu revealed that Israel had carried out the attacks.
“We operate every day, including yesterday, against Iran and its attempts to entrench itself in the region,” Netanyahu said.
Why reveal that Israel had been behind the attack? After it happened on Monday, the Military Censor – like every time before – banned news organizations from reporting that the strike had been carried out by Israel. But then Netanyahu came and pulled the rug out from under official government policy.
This raises a whole separate question of why the censor is even needed in cases like this. If, for example, the defense establishment’s official policy is to keep quiet to reduce the chances of retaliation, how can Netanyahu simply decide to overturn that policy on his own? But if there is no such policy and the prime minister is not doing anything wrong, then why is the story being censored to begin with?
FOR NETANYAHU, though, all of this probably doesn’t matter right now. He is threatened by Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon – another former IDF chief of staff – and feels that he needs to play up his security credentials. If that means taking credit for attacks that should otherwise stay under the radar, then so be it.
This is an issue that will eventually need to be dealt with, although it would be naïve to think that it will be resolved before the election on April 9. What is more concerning is that we are only in the middle of February, and the negativity is already soaring to new heights. With Mandelblit’s announcement on Netanyahu’s criminal investigations and a possible indictment still on the horizon, we can only imagine what the next seven-and-a half weeks are going to look like.
When the campaigns are negative, however, the public misses out on hearing what truly matters: what will these parties do when and if they come to power? Except for Labor and Yesh Atid, for example, no other party has publicized a detailed plan for how it will fix and upgrade Israel’s health system, currently going through one of its greatest crises ever. While the New Right does not present a health plan either, it has been quite clear about one of its primary objectives – to continue the reforms Shaked has already begun in the Justice Ministry.
Likud doesn’t even share a platform with the public;  and when it’s not on the attack, it simply plays up Netanyahu’s foreign policy successes and high-popularity rating overseas. It seems to want the election to be about him and his investigations, likely based on the thinking that when it comes to the question of who Israelis prefer to have as their prime minister, they will ultimately choose Netanyahu.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Israelis could demand that their political parties offer a different message, one that is positive and provides a glimpse of what the future could look like. That is what an election is meant to be about: not how bad the other guy is, but rather how good life can potentially be.