Strong Labor presence in next Knesset is vital as a brake against the dangerous policies of the Right.
By JEFF BARAK
There is no such thing as a wasted vote in tomorrow's elections. Thanks to the system of proportional representation, every vote that is not a vote for Avigdor Lieberman directly helps reduce the possibility that this crude demagogue, who has successfully run an election campaign based solely on fear and racism, will become the leader of the third-largest party in the Knesset. Israeli Arabs in particular, whose participation in general elections is already low because of their growing estrangement from a state that they see as discriminating against them, are likely, in a bitter irony, to help boost the sorry Lieberman phenomenon.
It is also important to vote against Binyamin Netanyahu and foil his planned return to the Prime Minister's Office. In the decade since he was voted out of office, he has learned nothing and has nothing new to offer the electorate. The Knesset list he heads is one of the most right-wing ever to run under the Likud banner, and his public embrace of Lieberman last week, in which he promised a senior portfolio to the Israel Beiteinu leader, shows that Bibi is not troubled by willingly associating himself with a man who is not only tainted by xenophobia but also happens to be the target of a serious police investigation. Indeed, should the nightmare scenario become reality, and Netanyahu is able to form a government in which Israel Beiteinu is a senior partner, then he will not be able to offer Lieberman either the Justice or Public Security portfolios because of these investigations.
And there are plenty of other reasons not to vote Netanyahu, ranging from his opposition to the concept of two states for two peoples to his neoconservative economic philosophy. Bibi's vision of "economic peace" in place of a Palestinian state is simply laughable: The root of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is political, not economic, and the Palestinians cannot be bought off with a few shekels. The fact that both intifadas broke out after periods of economic growth in the territories seems to have passed Bibi by. Voters have also not yet internalized the change in Washington and digested the fact that President Barack Obama is no George W. Bush. While Netanyahu shared Bush's same (limited) vocabulary, Bibi's old-style, hard-line policies will almost certainly lead to a damaging clash with a new US headed by Obama.
The country's growing economic crisis, which is going to deepen this year, will not be fixed either by Netanyahu's almost voodoo-like belief in the power of cutting taxes on the one hand, or his cozying up to Shas and its economic demands on the other.
SO THIS NARROWS down the choice, among the major parties, to either Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak, and the choice has to be Barak and Labor. Livni is simply not prime ministerial material, and Kadima is a party empty of ideas now that the disengagement from Gaza is over and the call for further unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank disappeared from the political agenda immediately after the Second Lebanon War.
Livni, it must be said, has been unlucky. She had hoped to run a campaign based on her image of Ms. Clean, but Operation Cast Lead put paid to that. Unlike Defense Minister Barak, who proved his worth in that operation, the foreign minister, yet again, has little to show for her efforts around the cabinet table during the three weeks of fighting. Livni's ministerial career, in fact, is noticeable for the fact that she did very little in any of her portfolios. Her one real chance of victory was based on her image of personal integrity, particularly when compared to outgoing premier Ehud Olmert or Netanyahu, whose premiership was full of scandals, but simply not cheating on one's expenses is not enough to make one worthy of the prime minister's chair.
A vote for Barak and Labor, moreover, is not just a vote against Lieberman, Netanyahu and Livni. It is a vote for a party with a clear diplomatic and social-economic agenda and for a worldview that, while solidly grounded in reality, offers a hope for the future.
Labor is committed to seeking a comprehensive peace in the region, making the necessary territorial concessions in return for diplomatic relations with the entire Arab world, along the lines of the Saudi initiative. With the Iranian threat looming in the background, it is vital that Israel solidifies its relations with the moderate Arab world and not become the pariah state of the Middle East.
On the domestic front, now more than ever is the time for a social-democratic party to be in charge of the country's budget, as public spending has to be increased to help it weather the present economic crisis and prepare the infrastructure so that we emerge from the recession in a stronger position.
And even if the opinion polls are correct, and Labor has no chance of forming the next government, a strong Labor presence in the next Knesset is still vital to combat and act as a brake against the dangerous policies of the Right. Tomorrow is the day of truth: Vote Labor.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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