Poll dancing and wishful thinking

If Kahlon succeeds at pulling the wool over the eyes of voters who have an aversion to Netanyahu but see no alternative on the horizon, he will become the kingmaker of the upcoming elections.

Moshe Kahlon speaking at a Tel Aviv pub, December 5, 2014. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Moshe Kahlon speaking at a Tel Aviv pub, December 5, 2014.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
A Haaretz poll, conducted on Tuesday by the Dialog Institute and supervised by Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, revealed seemingly paradoxical results. According to the poll, which was taken among a representative sample of 505 Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is very unpopular, but remains the best candidate for the job.
Indeed, while most of the public does not want him to win a third consecutive term (which would constitute a fourth term overall), his rivals fare worse. It must be kept in mind that the Knesset elections are scheduled for March, nearly three months away. A lot can happen in that time, especially in Israel, where events are incredibly dynamic.
Proof of this is how distant the war in Gaza now seems, though it ended very recently. In July and August, Hamas missiles were flying all over the country, sending the entire populace into bomb shelters and a smaller number into Gaza to fight the terrorists and destroy their infrastructure.
By October, the cheap cost of chocolate pudding in Berlin compared to Tel Aviv was front-page news. In addition, because of the nature of survey questions, which leave no room for nuance or qualifications, they are not reliable.
What they provide, however, is a general, anecdotal sense of the way the wind is blowing at any given moment. Like man-in-thestreet interviews, they serve as a gauge of temporary gut sentiment.
Due to the way the political system works in Israel, one main question on the mind of average voters is whether to cast their ballot for the largest party that comes closest to their worldview, or to go with a smaller party with a more specific focus. Opting for the latter often means throwing one’s vote into the garbage, since narrow-interest tickets – such as the marijuana party – usually don’t pass the electoral threshold to make it into the Knesset.
This used to be a far more cutand- dry choice between Left and Right. The major parties would garner most of the votes, and the victor would form the coalition.
But since both previous major blocs, Likud and Labor, have split over the years, the Knesset map has changed. Today, there are three or four parties hovering around the same number of seats, or at least garnering a sufficient number to make them a force to be reckoned with for the party forming the coalition.
It is precisely this state of affairs that caused the current government to fall. Netanyahu’s cabinet was made up of such a diverse bunch that it was virtually impossible for him to forge and implement coherent policies, both foreign and domestic. It is no wonder, then, that the public, which gave him unprecedented support during Operation Protective Edge this summer, is dissatisfied with his stewardship.
Ironically, however, the behavior and ideology of the leaders of the other parties are also being faulted. Furthermore, in spite of all the hatred of Netanyahu from the Left, and the anger at him on the part of right-wingers who view him as a sellout, there is an unspoken consensus among the floating voters that he is the only party leader on the scene with sufficient gravitas to be prime minister.
Hence the merger of former justice minister Tzipi Livni and opposition and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. They clearly came to realize that neither has the standing and statesmanship of their mutual arch rival, and that in order to beat him they need to put their two half-heads together, on the one hand, and to stop diluting the “peace-camp” brand on the other.
The one candidate causing the undecided voters pause is Moshe Kahlon. Credited with having opened the cellphone market to competition and drastically reduced consumer prices, the former communications minister from the Likud who resigned two years ago has re-emerged to form the Kulanu (“All of Us”) party.
A handsome figure with a single capitalist accomplishment under his belt, Kahlon is becoming the social-democratic flavor of the month for promising to be all things for all people.
Yes, his message is that our children deserve a better future. How original. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of it? His goal is to bring about peace, security, quality education, better health care, social justice, affordable housing and pots of gold at the end of a rainbow.
To this end, he is in the process of recruiting like-minded “centrists,” such as former ambassador to the US Michael Oren and former MK Orna Angel, a former advisor to former prime minister Ehud Barak. He is also considering joining forces with former finance minister Yair Lapid, the former journalist who was formerly popular for promising all the same things.
This goes to show that Israelis are as stupid as they are smart.
In spite of grasping that Iran is about to get the bomb, that the Palestinians are more interested in killing Jews than establishing an independent state, that the United States under Barack Obama is a dubious ally, that anti-Semitism is on a steep rise across the world, and that “centrist” parties always move to the Left without delivering the goods, they still want to be seduced into fantasy-land.
If Kahlon succeeds at pulling the wool over the eyes of voters who have an aversion to Netanyahu but see no alternative on the horizon, he will become the kingmaker of the upcoming elections.
Only another war – or a miracle – will prevent that from happening.
Wishful thinking causes me to hope for the latter.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’