Heading into Israel’s Elections: The So-Called Dilemma of the Center-Left

This is an important week for Israeli politics and society. Israel’s national elections are set to be held this Tuesday determining whether Benjamin Netanyahu will begin yet another term entering his eleventh consecutive year as Prime Minister or whether new leadership headed by former Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, will be elected to take up the torch.

There is much at stake for both the left and right camps in these elections. For the right, there is a fear that a loss for the Likud and Netanyahu will undo the near hegemonic right-winged rule that has dominated Israeli politics for most of the past four decades. In the eyes of the center-left, seeds of hope are beginning to sprout seeing the Blue and White party as a real alternative for change and the golden opportunity to finally remove Bibi from power.

Unfortunately, Israeli politics aren’t so cut and dry. In fact, they’re quite messy. The choice isn’t as simple as “Or Benny or Bibi,” or even what an article published in Israel’s Haaretz this past week claimed as “voting from the heart or to remove Bibi.” The choices the center-left camp is faced with do not amount to either casting a vote based on values for the smaller, more ideological parties such as Labor and Meretz or to replace Netanyahu at all costs by voting for Blue and White, but rather both.

It’s important to be reminded that in order to become the Prime Minister in Israel you must first and foremost win the elections and subsequently build a coalition of parties accounting for the majority of seats. In 2009, the Kadima party headed by Tzipi Livni defeated the Likud by one seat but did not receive the majority of support from the other parties in order to form a government. Consequently, the result was that despite the fact that the Likud lost the elections, the politically savvy Netanyahu enlisted enough support to successfully build the coalition, thereby becoming Israel’s Prime Minister for the second time.

This is an invaluable lesson for all observers and candidates challenging Netanyahu—it’s literally not over until it’s over as the saying goes.

This is exactly why Blue and White needs strong parties on the left, that will automatically place their support for Gantz to form the government in any given situation. This means that instead of Blue and White “drinking the votes away from the center-left,” as Yair Lapid was recorded saying, they must convince the voters on the right that prefer not to vote for Netanyahu but feel that they have no choice. A significant part of the party’s list including Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, Tzvi Hausner, and Yoaz Hendel are either former Likud members or have worked for Netanyahu. Moreover, Yair Lapid didn’t hesitate to say following the establishment of Blue and White that their party is the “real” Likud. Thus, if their party line is that they are the “real right,” then those are the votes that they should be pursuing.

Benny Gantz needs a strong center-left bloc comprised of the Meretz and Labor parties in order to ensure that he will successfully form a coalition and to promise a government that will truly serve as a force for change. Even if he wins without including Meretz and Labor, can it really be expected that Israelis will see change in governing and policy?

If Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, Betzalel Smotrich, and the rest of the current government retain their positions with the only addition being Blue and White, we won’t see a change in the values the government will advance. No separation of religion and state, no civil marriage and no public transportation for certain communities on Saturday. We will only witness the continuation of the same ideological line inching towards the annexation of nearly two million Palestinians and the undermining of Israel’s fragile liberal democracy. Let’s make sure not to let 2009 repeat itself.

About the Author
Jason Silverman holds a BA in Middle East Studies and Hebrew from the Ohio State University. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Jason decided to make Aliyah in August, 2014 and served in the IDF as a tank commander. He currently resides in Jerusalem and is a graduate student in International Relations at Hebrew University.
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