Israel is a remarkable country. Despite the challenges it faces, its credit rating is high, its high-tech brand remains untarnished, its scientists lead the world in Nobel laureates per capita, it retains a strong and well-trained army, it leads the world in vaccinations per head, and day to day life is generally good. Is it any wonder there is enormous inertia against replacing our Prime Minister at the ballot box? Even those who are concerned by Netanyahu’s divisiveness, his attacks on the justice system and attempts to evade his court case, are still concerned that any replacement will only be for the worse. In fact, Netanyahu’s “stickiness” is all the more impressive, given the current election is not being fought as a battle between Right and Left.
But despite all of that, I will not be voting for Bibi or any party that has committed to or is likely to enter into a coalition with him. If you are still thinking of voting Bibi or even Bennet, here are some additional factors you may want to consider before casting your vote.
- It wasn’t long ago, that when Bibi formed a coalition with Ehud Barak instead of Otzma Yehudit (led by the Kahanist Michael Ben Ari), stating “you cannot run a government with Otzma Yehudit”. That logic has not changed. At a time when Israel is already in the crosshairs of the ICC (International Criminal Court), is it really in Israel’s best interests to have a “full throttle” rightist government? Do you think the ICC will be more or less likely to take an aggressive stance on Israel with such a government? What would be better for your kids?
- There are those who will say better that than a Left wing government with Labour and Meretz. Is a government led even by Yair Lapid likely to evacuate all or parts of the West Bank? Is a Lapid government more or less likely to defeat Hamas in Gaza? Or, is it more likely that Saar, Lapid and the Left can agree on freezing any issues relating to the Palestinians for a period in order to concentrate on the economy? How likely is such an agreement among a highly sectoral and ideological Right wing government led by Bibi? And, we have already seen how Bibi’s personal interests trump national interests. There is no other reason that can seriously be provided for holding these elections in the middle of one of the worst economic crises ever faced by Israel. Irrespective of the damage it has done to our economy, Bibi chose the one exit ramp he had available to him to avoid the rotation – failing to pass the two-year budget that he agreed to in his coalition agreement with Gantz. A last roll of the dice to avoid his trial is more important to him than anything else.
- Who is likely to serve in the next Bibi-led government? In his last government when Likud had a limited number of seats to give its ministers (something that is highly likely to reoccur, given the power the smaller members of his coalition will hold), Bibi did not give the principal ministerial positions to his most capable ministers such as Avi Dichter, Tsachi Hanegbi, Gidon Saar or Gilad Erdan – but to his loyalists such as Amir Ohana, Miri Regev (with Miki Zohar leading the coalition). Is this a government that will be staffed by the MK’s most capable of running important ministries at such a crucial time, or by those whom Bibi can most rely on for their personal loyalty?
- There are many who are concerned by Bibi’s attacks on the justice system, police and media, but at the same time also accept the arguments these organizations are somehow influenced by an elitist agenda. We have to remember that (i) the Likud has been in power for the vast majority of the last 45 years; and (ii) that Bibi has been in power for the last 12 years and has appointed the head of the police, the State Prosecutor and Attorney General? Is it likely that these three personal choices are part of this faceless cabal? We cannot let the rhetoric make us forget that the courts in Israel jailed Ehud Olmert (who we are told, had previously agreed on a full peace deal with Abu Mazen), and that the Attorney General closed what could have been the most serious police investigation involving Bibi (the so-called “Submarine Affair”) – as well as dozens of police investigations into Sara Netanyahu. Bibi’s attacks on the gatekeepers are dangerous for all of us. Do we really believe that Bibi will aim to maintain and protect the independence of the judiciary and police, and safeguard the media and journalists, if reelected?
- And finally, for a country filled with people who believe that no one is better at extracting a better deal, we Israelis are remarkably at ease with being third best. Just a few sobering statistics: According to a recent report by the Shoresh Institution and Tel Aviv University, Israeli household’s spend about twice as much on their kids’ education as US households and about 33% more than the OECD average; we also have the highest percentage of population in tertiary education as any other OECD country and among the highest number of years of education per person; and yet – our average level of education is the lowest of the 25 OECD countries measured. According to the latest PISA report on maths, science and reading in OECD countries, we have the highest share of pupils failing in core subjects. We also have the highest class numbers, and lowest paid teachers. According to a 2019 OECD Report, Israel is 32nd out of all 37 OECD countries in the number of nurses it has for every 1,000 people (5 in Israel vs 18 in Norway). Israel is the 7th most expensive country on earth but one of poorest OECD countries (23 out of 37). We are years behind the richest OECD countries in terms of 5G cellular networks (that’s what Bibi’s case 4000 is about….), and have one of the slowest broadband networks. The percentage of poor in Israel is growing faster than in any other OECD country and the disparities between rich and poor is greater and growing. Life is not as good as we think and the trends are not promising. With a sectoral government, we certainly cannot expect any improvements.
Even if you believe that Bibi has been a world-class leader despite his flaws, a vote for Bibi or even Bennett could result in significant long term adverse consequences for this country. While no alternative may seem ideal, they will not be worse and will hopefully be better. Right now, as we emerge (hopefully) from the ravages of the past 12 months, we need a leader less fixated on short term personal goals, and a government focused on national and not sectoral issues. A Bibi victory will result in neither.