As an American political historian, I was trained to discuss politics thoughtfully without taking any particular election too seriously. “Look at the deeper forces, the important policies, not just the personalities,” I was told – and now tell students. Sometimes, however, it’s not true. This Israeli election is different. With a just-right-of-center-Likud neck-and-neck with a center-right Blue-and-White, it’s mostly about personalities, actually, one person’s character: Benjamin Netanyahu’s. His leadership has far outlasted its “sell-by” date. That’s why, rather than offering us anything healthy this campaign, his rhetoric is like spoiled milk: it was once-nourishing, it looks ok, but it’s now smelly, rancid, and dangerous for anyone foolish enough to swallow it.
I keep emphasizing that I – and many friends – are reluctant, Johnny-and-Jane-come-latelies to the LoBB club – the No Bibi Club in Hebrew, the League of Bibi Bashers in English. We appreciate his economic and diplomatic achievements. We resist joining those who delegitimize him to delegitimize Israel or Israeli democracy. One wise friend wants Bibi defeated for Bibi’s sake – if he leaves now, rather than after torturing the state with ugly legal and political fights over an indictment, he still has a chance to preserve his legacy and dignity. But Likudniks lacked the spine to dump him. On April 9, we Israeli voters should send him packing.
In voting against Bibi, you repudiate this culture of corruption that now threatens to corrupt us all, reducing us to co-conspirators greenlighting more crimes by explaining his away. First, you wave off a few(!) cigars and champagne bottles among friends. Then you say, “he was just helping a media mogul make a few extra millions” (and hurt the Israeli taxpayer). But will we also approve his violating the holy of holies, possibly auctioning off Israel’s national security to the highest bidder by buying submarines we don’t need – and the Egyptians shouldn’t have. When do we say “enough”?
In voting against Bibi, you reject a culture of polarization and demonization that keeps crossing once-agreed-upon red lines. Stop the mainstreaming of Kahanists, anti-Arab bigots and Baruch Goldstein worshippers. Don’t reduce every issue to us-versus-them – pitting Arab against Jew, religious against non-religious, right against left.
I also abhor treating “leftist” as a dirty word. We need some brave souls to stand proud and say yes, “I’m a leftist — here’s why.”
I avoid labels, but if disagreeing with Netanyahu or respecting every citizen including non-Jews or seeking some way out of the stalemate with Palestinians makes me a leftist – where do I sign up?
Even worse than sneering about leftists, is this “Bibi or Tibi” Big Lie. Voting Blue-and-White is voting Tibi? Voting for an ex-Treasury Minister, Yair Lapid, and an ex-Defense Minister, Bogie Ya’alon, Bibi appointed, for the Chief of Staff Benny Gantz he endorsed, is embracing traitors? How? And what does that say about Netanyahu’s judgment? Consider the many honorable appointees he now demonizes. He also appointed Avichai Mandelblit, the police chiefs he trashes, the judges he demeans. For such demagoguery and demonization we built a state? For such bigotry and contempt for the voters’ intelligence I made Aliyah – America’s got more than enough of that!
Fortunately, we can vote “for” not just vote against. Politics is about choosing the best alternative not an ideal superhero. I wish Blue-and-White had run a more detail-oriented and dynamic campaign. I hope that Yair Lapid listens to the 24 percent of the voters who say they would be more likely to vote Blue-and-White without this prime-ministerial rotation, and voluntarily pulls out of it – soon. But I also respect much of what Blue-and-White stands for, making my vote easier.
I will rest easy with honorable, experienced leaders like Gantz, Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, and Lapid. The way they started the party, by sidelining egos to serve the greater good, was in the spirit of Zionist self-sacrifice – the kind of patriotism we demand from our kids in the army. I have studied the Party positions and respect the vow to plan ahead in ministries, not govern on the fly; to trying uniting Israel, not just polarizing the electorate; to manage the Gaza mess better with carrots and sticks, including restoring the 300-meter buffer zone away from the border – and I trust Bogie Ya’alon to get that last move done.
Of course, if they win, there will be a learning curve with inevitable bumps, but today, the state’s leadership is veering off the rails. It must be steered back on tracks by a democracy’s wisest, most powerful force – we, the people.
Some elections pivot around particular issues. Israel faces pressing questions about our huge disparities of wealth, our insanely expensive housing that demoralizes young married couples, the crumbling infrastructure, the endless health care waits, the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the South near Gaza, the ultra-Orthodox draft, Israeli-Arab equality, an anti-Zionist rabbinate. But, thanks to Netanyahu and the Likud, Israel is relatively stable on many fronts.
So this election is less about these issues. Alas, thanks to Bibi-the-corruptor and his party of patsies, this election is about Israel’s soul. Let’s surprise the pollsters on Election Day. Let’s repudiate the culture of corruption and polarization. Vote for the Blue-and-White Party, but even more important, vote for old-fashioned blue-and-white values, for Eretz Yisrael HaYaffa– the lovely Israeli. Let’s resurrect the Zionist Shechina, the Zionist spirit Bibi traded away for cigars, champagne, and media coverage – the spirit resonating in Benny Gantz and company.