Think about it: Election campaign blues

Unfortunately, even when the important issues do emerge, the public is not exposed to the real facts.

Likud's new campaign video (photo credit: screenshot)
Likud's new campaign video
(photo credit: screenshot)
If an alien from outer space were to land in Israel and be asked, on the basis of what he observed, what the elections in Israel are all about, its answer would undoubtedly be, “Bottle recycling.”
This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. There are several aspects of the recycled bottles story that are sad. The first is that the Likud in general and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular are not dealing with the problem of how the first lady runs the prime ministerial household.
Netanyahu is not the first political leader who has a wife with behavioral problems. I can think of at least two Israeli presidents, and at least two American presidents, who had a similar experience. The question is how the political figure himself deals with the situation.
I am sure that Netanyahu knows there is a problem, and he might be doing his best to cope with it.
Unfortunately, his own problematic record regarding payment for goods and services received, starting with “forgetting” to pay the bill in restaurants in the days before he lived in the prime minister’s residence and could charge the public purse, doesn’t make things easier.
As to the Likud, instead of feeling shame, it is inclined to blame the media, and to suggest that the conduct of the Netanyahu family is in accordance with the traditional norms among prime ministers and presidents, overlooking such minor details like the fact that Yitzhak Rabin resigned his first premiership over a $90,000 private bank account left over from his period as Israeli ambassador in Washington DC, and allegedly managed by his wife, following a recommendation by then-attorney general Aharon Barak.
The second aspect of this affair that is sad is that many Israelis don’t believe there is anything wrong with the conduct of the Netanyahu family, poo-pooing the whole affair as “much ado about nothing” – or rather, NIS 4,000 that were repaid (but what about all the sums that were not repaid?).
In any normal country, with basic public norms and a proper system of enforcement of regulations regarding the conduct of senior public servants, the recycled bottles affair would never have occurred in the first place, and perhaps the election campaign would focus on more important issues.
Unfortunately, even when the important issues do emerge, the public is not exposed to the real facts.
Ask anyone what the Netanyahu’s forthcoming speech in Congress is all about, and you will get one of two answers.
The “Bibi go home” camp will say: it is about Netanyahu’s putting his reelection before Israel’s relations with its most important ally, and intervening in US politics in favor of the Republicans. Netanyahu’s supporters will say: it is about Netanyahu’s sincere concern for Israel, and about the treachery of the Left and its lackeys.
What no one except Netanyahu himself is talking about is the fact that a nuclear Iran poses a serious threat to Israel. Even a non-nuclear Iran, which supports some of Israel’s most lethal enemies in money and arms, poses a serious problem to Israel.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the Zionist Union in general and the Labor Party in particular has not been saying from every possible podium and on all the social media in Israel that they are in absolute agreement with Netanyahu that Iran poses a serious threat to Israel, and that the policy of the US and of Europe toward Iran, and especially on the issue of what sort of nuclear capability it should be allowed to maintain, and whether the economic sanctions on it ought to be lifted, is of great concern to Israel and liable to backfire.
BOTH LABOR leader Isaac Herzog and Zionist Union candidate for Defense Minister Major General (Res.) Amos Yadlin said as much the other day at the Munich Security Conference.
How many people know that the first person in Israel to publicly warn against the Iranian danger was Brigadier General (Res.) Ephraim Sneh, a former Labor Party MK and deputy defense minister in Ehud Barak’s Government, who started speaking out on the issue in 1992? Ehud Barak himself, who twice led the Labor Party, is reported to have been on the same page with Netanyahu when he served as defense minister in the latter’s second government, with regard to the desirability of seriously considering attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities. However, unlike Netanyahu, he always understood that Israel couldn’t and shouldn’t “go it alone” without being fully coordinated with the US.
Though Barak was considered to be one of the more hawkish Laborites, he understood that Israel cannot go openly against the US – its benefactor and only true ally – with regard to Iran, and most other issues. The current Labor leadership – including Yadlin – might appear to be less hawkish and brazen than Barak, but in fact has no issue with the prime minister as far as the nature of the problem goes.
The differences lie in what to do about it. The speech in Congress is simply considered to be the wrong tactics, since in addition to serving Netanyahu’s electoral interests it only serves anti-Obama Republicans, who do not determine policy, weakens those Democratic Congressmen who support strengthening the sanctions on Iran, and is unlikely to convince Obama to change his policy.
What is the alternative? Diplomacy, diplomacy and more diplomacy. However, diplomacy can only work if there is someone on other side willing to listen, and Netanyahu has managed to alienate most of the world leaders to the point that they refuse to listen to him, no matter how forceful and true his arguments.
Doesn’t Netanyahu know all of this? Apparently not, unless the problem is that being reelected is more important to him than honestly contending with the Iranian challenge.
Finally, what I find most upsetting about the current election campaign is that instead of dealing with the real issues such as what to do about the Iranian threat; how to improve Israel’s international standing; what to do about the supply of affordable housing to the poor and young couples from all social groups; settlement in Judea and Samaria; how to contend with the problem of corruption and/or the absence of norms etc., the lists seem to be concerned with all sorts of tricks and shticks to try and strengthen the chances of either Netanyahu or Herzog to form a government after the elections.
Incidentally, it isn’t only in Israel that politicians have stopped presenting their platforms in favor of doing everything possible to maximize support by any means, even at the expense of ideology and common sense.
The truth of the matter is that in the current elections the most important question connected to the outcome is how the United Arab List on the one hand and the Yahad list on the other will fare.
Neither of these lists is a candidate to join a government (unless the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit faction breaks away from Yahad right after the elections, should the joint list pass the 3.25 percent qualifying threshold).
If the United Arab List manages to achieve its goal of 15 seats, and Yahad fails to pass the threshold, then Herzog will form Israel’s 34th government. If the Arab voters fail to measure up to the challenge and the extreme Right proves to be stronger than most of the polls predict, then it will be Netanyahu who will form the next government. Other scenarios might result in a deadlocked, impotent national unity government.
How sad that the chances for a clear ideological outcome seem elusive.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.