Familiar left versus right bloc disappears

Credit: Andy Peebles

Since the very first Israeli election back in 1949, the campaign fight has mostly been between the Left versus the Right. That all changed in April 2019 when it became practically everyone, against Bibi Netanyahu, and Netanyahu still came out on top.

The familiar Left bloc versus the Right, collapsed soon after the 2015 election and once again, this campaign is no longer about ideology and social and economic issues. It’s about the Bibi camp holding onto power through the ballot box, against those who wish to oust him.

In fact, you have to go back 20 years to find the last Labor led coalition government in power, which was under the leadership of Ehud Barak. His reign lasted for just over one year, before Ariel Sharon assumed the role, following a wave of suicide bombings across the country.

In some circles, the left are still blamed for the aftermath of the dreaded Oslo Accords, which turned over security in Palestinian cities to the PLO and brought about more than 2000 Israelis deaths, and tens of thousands of injuries.

The country then moved to a centre party called Kadima which has since disappeared into the fire of insignificance. Labor renamed itself the Zionist Camp for the 2015 election, but they fell apart. Blue and White appeared next in April 2019, which was a merger of the anti-Bibi camp with ideologies from the left to the right. They have now practically disappeared.

These days, the Likud led by Netanyahu have strengthened their voter base and its natural satellite parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism continue to watch Bibi’s back.

Shas is the strictly orthodox chareidi Sephardi party, although in the past, it has attracted, many traditional, but not religious voters.

United Torah Judaism is made up of two parties, Degal Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael. Degal is the strictly orthodox chareidi Lithuanian faction while Aguda is the strictly orthodox chareidi Chassidic party.

For many years, these two parties ran alone, as they each had their own board of Rabbinic Sages advising them. But when talk began in the nineties about raising the minimum threshold for a party to enter the Knesset, both sets of Rabbis decided they had more in common with each other, and after two years of talks, officially merged. It was hoped that Shas would eventually follow, but that failed to happen.

Both Shas and UTJ together make up a strong 15 or 16 seats and will once again endorse Netanyahu to become the next Prime Minister. In addition, if the Religious Zionists can make it over the line, Smotrich is also expected to recommend Netanyahu to the President, in return for two cabinet posts.

Today’s anti Bibi camp is made up of two right wing parties, similar to Likud, but led by Sa’ar and Bennett. A centre to left party, led by Lapid. A smaller right wing left party, headed by Lieberman. The apparent re-emergence of Labor, although its ideology has moved much further to the left and a far-left Meretz party. Plus the Arab bloc.

Yesh Atid, which was once part of Blue and White, has made it very clear that it will never join a Netanyahu led government. Its leader, Yair Lapid, would prefer to have another dozen general elections, costing the country hundreds of billions, rather than work with Bibi.

Yesh Atid first sprang onto the political scene in 2013 with 19 seats, behind Likud Beitenu’s (merger with Lieberman’s party) 31 seats. Lapid was appointed Finance Minister by Netanyahu, but senior officials of the Finance Ministry later hinted that Lapid’s strong points were not economics.

Netanyahu went further and ridiculed Lapid for accepting the job when he did not really understand the subject. The government fell apart two years later and Yesh Atid lost 8 seats in the 2015 election.

Yair Lapid should have insisted on taking the Foreign Minister post in the next Netanyahu government, but Lapid refused to work with the Prime Minister.

As a former popular television chat show host with a great image, Lapid is a smooth talking articulate communicator, in both English and Hebrew and could have been a very effective Foreign Minister.

It was a job designed for Lapid as he could have carefully built Israel’s case in the international arena and had he been successful, Lapid would be seen today as a possible alternative to Netanyahu.

But his entire past 6 years have been spent criticising and condemning Netanyahu at every opportunity. Much of the public does not see Lapid as a competent Prime Minister, as he has not been tested in government.

Besides, it’s very difficult to see Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett who are also running for Prime Minister, crowning Lapid because he may have 6 or 7 seats more than New Hope or Yamina.

In fact, what is more likely, is both Sa’ar and Bennett would join their factions, with an approximate 25 or 26 seats combined and have a rotating Prime Minister slot for themselves. But it’s hard to see Lapid backing this, even if Netanyahu was ousted. In any case, the anti-Bibi parties would still fall far below the magic number of 61 seats.

According to polls, Likud are about 10 seats ahead of their nearest rival, Yesh Atid. This is the electorate speaking, not the media or the establishment or the anti-Bibi camp. The election results are the people’s voice. Therefore Bennett or Sa’ar or preferably both, should adhere to the election results and join another Netanyahu led government.

Israel’s big issues are not going away. Covid, the economy, unemployment, numerous threats on Israel’s borders and Iran is closing in on the nuclear bomb.

Intelligence shows Hezbollah has an arsenal of at least 400,000 missiles aimed at Israel and in the next war, 2000 to 3000 missiles could fall on the country every single day, in a war. The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. The settlement enterprise remains divisive. The relationship with the new American administration is currently cold. More help is needed for new olim, bridges need to be built with Diaspora Jewry and inequalities in Israel must be addressed.

There is no shortage of problems and challenges and real politicians would step up to the mark. It’s very easy to sit in opposition, criticising and condemning, or worse, calling for a fifth election. But being part of government is about leading and making the tough decisions and this is exactly what the Israeli people expect and demand.

About the Author
James J. Marlow is a broadcast journalist and public relations media consultant. He has previously worked for ITN, EuroNews, Reuters, Daily Mail, Daily Express, LBC Radio and Sky News. In addition he has trained and prepared hundreds of business and entertainment people, politicians and Rabbis, for the media, including television, radio and audiences.
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