Never has an election been so undecided, while the result has seemed so certain. But contrary to the belief of many voters that a Netanyahu government is inevitable at the January 22 elections, Shelly Yachimovich’s announcement last week that she would either lead the government or lead the opposition has given new life to the opportunity to oust this government.
Voters who believe that Israel can do better as a nation than the crass appeals to nationalism and naked economic rationalism of this government now have a choice: Shelly or Bibi.
When Benjamin Netanyahu announced the merger between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, the new right-wing party sat on 45-plus seats in the polls. Barely two months later, Likud-Beytenu’s share in the polls has collapsed, averaging less than 34, and still going down. The combined parties hold 42 in the current Knesset.
The party merger was an exercise in weakness. Without the merger with his partner Avigdor Liberman, Bibi would be polling in the low 20s. Nobody would be talking about Netanyahu as an inevitability. As Aluf Benn pointed out this week, Netanyahu has been the default choice, rather than the popular choice.
Those who refer to a “right-religious bloc” are mistaken. There is no such thing, in my view. The right is polling at 48 or 49 seats. That includes plenty of voters who have been flirting with Naftali Bennett’s polished, seemingly liberal image, whose radicalism is only now being revealed. The center-left is polling upwards of 42. And what’s left are the Arab and ultra-Orthodox Haredi parties who will take the remainder of the Knesset.
The Times of Israel published a poll last week saying that 31 percent of voters are still undecided. As that piece points out, Labor is well placed to pick up a great number of undecideds who by and large see the country heading in the wrong direction. Yes, we can!
Israelis sense that the right talks tough before elections as a ploy to lure its conservative base. And Israelis know that Labor’s diplomatic and security credentials are stronger than those of any other party. Labor built and has safeguarded this country for most of its existence, has an elaborate plan on all issues, an excellent list of experienced people, and a coherent ideology.
The reality is that the Israeli middle class is hurting. Unlike Netanyahu, Labor would not cut government services during these tough economic times. Instead, Labor has a carefully considered, reasonable, fiscally responsible, and fair plan to get the Israeli economy back on track, funded primarily by modest and fair tax increases on the richest and most profitable large corporations and extractors of natural resources.
Labor will help the middle class by putting money into the ailing public health system and public transport. We will bring downward pressure on housing prices by building thousands of new housing units, and on food prices by cutting the VAT. Labor is committed to increasing the minimum wage, regulating capital markets effectively, enforcing labor laws, helping small and midsize businesses, improving the public education system, and reducing income inequality more generally so that working families can do better.
Labor has declared that within three months from forming the government it will commence direct negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions. We see an urgent need to implement the two state solution for the well-being of Israel.
The reality is, Israelis can all do better than the government we’ve got in power now. Now is the time. There is a choice: it’s Shelly or Bibi. It can be so much better here.