Yonatan Levi is right : “Centrism” will not win israeli elections. But neither will “Leftism”.
In his very interesting article published in the Guardian lately, Yonatan Levi asserts that “Centrism” will never be able to beat Netanyahu, and he is completely right. Indeed, the electoral system is what it is, and the “Bibi’s block” is too stable, too strong to be defeated by a “Center” that has nothing to bring to voters but a “everything but Bibi”. The best this “Center” can do is to create an ephemeral party or movement strong enough to compete with Likud, but at the -high- expense of the destruction of the leftist parties. The strength of Netanyahu lies in the religious and far-right parties, allowing him to build a coalition.
And Levi is also right to add that the israeli “left” enthusiastically cooperated to its own dislocation.
Yes, Avoda voters have massively opted for “strategic voting”, supposed to bring down Netanyahu. With Livni in 2009, with Livni and Herzog in 2015, and with the Gantz/Ya’alon/Lapid/Ashkenazi last month. Each time, true, Avoda voters have stopped voting for an “Avoda political program”, and instead, gleefully voted “strategic”. And each time, all the media buzzed and prophesied the “coming Revolution” and the end of Netanyahu’s era, and each time, the “centrist” ship hit the iceberg Bibi. Each time, Bibi won, blatantly, for many reasons. And, yes, probably, the fact that the israeli left has no political program or ideology whatsoever for nearly 20 years, is one of these reasons. Since 2009, the one and only subject raised during the electoral campaign remains the same : Bibi. No debate about education, the palestinian problem, countless problems in the public transportation system, about the health system on the edge of collapse, environmental challenges, religion and state, etc. No, the only subject has always been “Bibi or not Bibi”. There is not the slightest chance to win at this vain game, Netanyahu is a briliant chess player, always two moves ahead.
Netanyahu is not only Likud’s chairman. He is the Likud (which, by the way, should terrify every Likud’s supporter regarding the “after Bibi” era), and its voters stick together as one, exactly like soccer supporters stick together for their favorite team champion.
Netanyahu was wily enough to build a strong bond with H’aredim parties, and turn them to “natural allies”, despite the very complex relationship they nurture towards the State and zionism in general. Besides, nobody can deny he is a formidable politician when it comes to international politics and diplomacy. Countless editorialists, journalists and political analysts, often leftists, predicted countless times since 2009 that Netanyahu’s politics will lead the Apocalypse to strike Israel. Obama will twist Netanyahu’s arm and force him to sign a deal with Abbas, Arab countries will never accept any normalization whatsoever with Israel, Saudi Arabia will withdraw the “2002 initiative”, Europe will impose sanctions, boycott israeli goods, sever economic, cultural, scientific ties, etc.
Finally ? Nothing. None of the dire predictions revealed true, and the opposite happened, each time. These screams of outrage were the israeli left first error. Confusing systematically desires with the crude reality of an immensely complex world and ignoring the geopolitical evolutions that shook both western and middle-eastern countries. Levi is right when he says that courage is magnetic. But they hate the systematic pessimism which often verges on self-hatred. A sane democratic society needs a free press, and, obviously, a totally free political opposition. But if the opposition is in no way able to propose any political or ideological alternative, it plays in Netanyahu’s hand. It became too easy for Bibi’s to play on the patriotic fiber, especially in a country where people still have a deep feeling of living in a dangerous environment, in which the slightest error leads to tragedy.
Israeli left fell into the same errors that most of leftist parties in the western world. They forgot the social issues (the most significant social laws in Israel were brought by … Shass), they deserted the debate on identity and offered the whole patriotism stuff to the right. It was a terrible mistake in the West, but in Israel, it is a fatal error. We are talking about a young country, built in wars and conflicts, still traumatized by the suicide bombings of the second intifada, the second Lebanon war, the disaster of Gaza’s evacuation in 2005 ans the dozens of thousands of rockets that followed, what do you expect ? Netanyahu lies blatantly, but he tells more than what the voters want to hear. Most of them probably know he won’t keep any oh his promises. And many of them are probably very mad at him, very often. But he has a master card, a card the left threw away years ago : he talks about Israel as an independant state. His voters don’t want a Prime Minister who put Israel’s fate into the hand of the world. That’s why even if many don’t really care about the settlements’ fate, they don’t want to feel the Prime Minister hurries to comply with international injunctions, or bend to hostile NGOs.
True, israelis often declare in polls that they approve the “two states” model. But it’s an illusion. What they really approve, is the principe of “separation”, mostly because they are just fed up with the palestinian issue. It doesn’t mean they are willing or ready to evacuate Ariel and Hebron, not even mentioning Jerusalem, and allow the creation of a palestinian state. They dream that they can just put the palestinian issue under the carpet, and forget it for good.