Israeli Election Season: An Unedifying Spectacle
Most of us would be relieved if the election season could be considerably shortened. The worst aspects of our dysfunctional politics have been highlighted in this campaign, commencing with primaries which tended to promote the lowest common denominator, frequently involving seamy deals and even outright corruption.
A record number of candidates were undemocratically and summarily handpicked by leaders like Avigdor Lieberman, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid or even Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef – not to mention Shaul Mofaz whose Kadima party is unlikely to muster sufficient votes to pass the threshold for any representation.
In such a chaotic, corrupt and undemocratic environment, it is understandable why most talented Israelis shun political careers.
Barring a dramatic political earthquake, the outcome of this election is a foregone conclusion. Notwithstanding his weaknesses, in the absence of serious competition, Binyamin Netanyahu stands head and shoulders above any other candidate and will be reelected.
The unity ticket forged between Likud and Israel Beiteinu will guarantee that the combined list will be the largest in the Knesset. But at this stage it seems that running as a bloc may alienate radicals and liberals in both parties and substantially reduce the number of seats they obtained when they ran separately.
This may be further complicated by the intervention of the Attorney General. I have no axe to grind on behalf of Lieberman, but having procrastinated for over twelve years before failing to indict him on any serious charges, one must wonder what motivated the Attorney General, just a month before elections, to indict Lieberman for a relatively minor offense, thus prompting his ministerial resignation. It undermines confidence, stinks to high heaven and warrants an investigation into the entire judicial system.
The polls indicate that the ‘national camp’ and religious bloc will be strengthened. In addition, Likud seems to have moved further to the right with liberals like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan eliminated at the primaries. The national religious Habayit Hayehudi, which absorbed the right wing settler party, is predicted to emerge as a major player in the next government winning as many as 10 to 14 seats.
Although Aryeh Deri’s return to Shas failed to generate an upsurge in votes, there is concern that the Haredim may retain sufficient leverage to protect their one-dimensional interests and prevent the government from introducing overdue reforms relating to the draft and inducing them to productively contribute towards the economy rather than preponderantly remaining lifelong recipients of welfare.
The centrist and left wing opposition parties are in a state of total disarray. Many of their candidates are chameleons, shameless opportunists devoid of principals or morals, adapting themselves to any party to retain their Knesset careers.
Kadima is the role model for immorality and crass opportunism. Its successive leaders have all been disastrous. Tzipi Livni, the darling of the anti-Netanyahu camp, proved to be a serial failure. Her frenetic personal hatred of Netanyahu made her lose all sense of perspective, as she shamelessly demonized the government abroad. She opposed Netanyahu for conceding to a settlement freeze and then attacked him for failing to re-introduce a settlement freeze. Her hysteria ultimately led the party to replace her with the current leader Shaul Mofaz – who proved to be an even greater failure. The electorate is now likely to humiliate Kadima, currently the largest party in the Knesset, by sending all its members home.
In this almost insane environment Tzipi Livni forms a new “Tzipi Livni Party”. After previously leaving Kadima with debts in excess of NIS 30 million, she had the chutzpah to cajole seven former Kadima members to join her in order to exploit the “Mofaz law” (which she had opposed), to obtain millions of shekels of government funds for her new party which would otherwise have gone to Kadima. She invited scores of people – most of whom declined – to join her list. Describing herself as a follower of Jabotinsky, she persuaded Amir Peretz, the number 3 on the Labor list, whom she had previously excoriated for his failures as a Minister of Defense, to defect to her.
She also appointed as number two on her list, Amram Mitzna, the former failed leader of Labor whose views would qualify him for Meretz. Meir Sheetrit, who admitted he holds Livni in utter contempt but was desperate to remain in the Knesset, became her number 5. Livni succeeded in seducing the national religious Elazar Stern to join her list as number 4 by allowing him to vote independently on all issues relating to the Palestinians, making a mockery of the political process. In a subsequent interview, Stern conceded that he had not bothered to check whether his views concerning the Palestinians coincided with those of his party leader.
Yet notwithstanding the support of Yediot Achronot whose proprietor’s vendetta against Netanyahu is obsessive, it is astonishing that there are Israelis who are actually contemplating voting for this mad hatters party. As the election draws nearer, maybe some sanity will prevail.
Shelley Yachimovitch is poised to lead Labor into reasserting itself as a formidable political force and becoming leader of the opposition. She has distanced herself from Oslo and the delusionary leftists and post Zionists who had hijacked and virtually destroyed the Labor party. Instead she is concentrating on social and economic issues. The defection of Peretz to Livni will in the long run be to her benefit. Regrettably, if her social welfare program were to be implemented, it would lead the nation into bankruptcy. But she may prove to be willing to join a broader government.
There are other flamboyant players. The smartest is Ehud Barak who, recognizing that his party – Atzmaut – might not pass the minimum threshold, announced his retirement immediately after the Gaza conflict when his standing was at its highest. He failed to give advance notice to the other four loyal members of his party whose political careers came to an unexpected and abrupt end. There are other colorful politicians who will not return including those remaining in Kadima.
Despite lacking political experience, if Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party joins the government, he could make a major contribution in relation to the Haredi draft issue. In contrast to his late father, a former Minister of Justice who was a Haredi basher, Yair is more tolerant and would support responsible reform in relation to religion and state. That he selected a prominent religious Zionist rabbi as his number two demonstrates his sincerity.
Habayit Ha-Yehudi would also encourage the government to introduce major internal reforms relating to state and religion, especially a gradual but ultimately universal military and national service which would incorporate Haredim and ensure that they become productive elements of society rather than subsisting on welfare.
Notwithstanding this appalling corrupt circus and despite the increased strength of the right, I predict that the next government will be more broadly based and will retain a consensual centrist stand which will be flexible and enjoy the support of the vast majority of Israelis.