Many people distrust campaign promises, which is wise. My advice is to take that one step further and ignore election campaigns altogether. God did not create them to inform. They were put on this earth to bamboozle the gullible and give the rest of us a migraine.
Sure, campaigns can reveal some things about candidates. But mostly they reveal who lies, cheats, schemes and manipulates with the greatest energy and skill. That may be truer now than ever, and there is no reason to reward the rascal who does it the best.
Yet there is an election in Israel Monday, and decisions must be made. How should readers proceed if not on the basis of the campaigns? I certainly do not recommend the other popular method — of balloting by autopilot stereotype (which generally helps the right). So I’ll risk ridicule and urge citizens to vote based on the issues, rationally and dispassionately. As an experiment, that’s all. A mobile-friendly checklist follows, as time is running out:
- Corruption: Do you think a prime minister should continue to “serve” while on trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust? Do you like Benjamin Netanyahu’s antics in this domain – procedural stalling, accusing prosecutors and police and judges of framing him, lying on TV about immunity schemes, and the suggestions that voters can overrule the law? Do you enjoy the spectacle of multiple ruling party figures facing charges while the interior minister is an ex-con under investigation yet again? Do you approve of systematic and vicious attacks on the legal system, police, the media, and the “elites”? Do you enjoy false equivalences suggesting all sides are equally mendacious and corrupt? If you don’t love that stuff, the center-left may be a little more for you; the current right wing is not.
- Religion: Do you want to weaken the Orthodox religious establishment’s grip on marriage and divorce? Do you want reasonable arrangements for public transport and commerce on weekends? Do you oppose separation of the sexes at public events? Do you disapprove of the education minister seeking to convert gays and the transport minister wanting religious law to reign supreme? If you said “yes” to any of the above, seek ye the center-left.
- Haredim: Do you want them to continue to be enabled to deny their communities’ students English and science and math, which given their growing numbers assures the country of a disastrous economic decline? The right will continue this because the right cannot rule without them and the Haredi politicians and clerics are cynics who do not want their community to have free thought. Change requires supporting the center-left (or Avigdor Liberman).
- Palestinians: Do you want Israel to become inseparable from the West Bank, which is the practical outcome of the settlement enterprise? Eventually the Palestinians will demand annexation of the whole area and Israeli citizenship. This way lie oppression by Israel, terrorism by the Palestinians (mostly), economic sanctions and the destruction of the Jewish state. The side that stands for continuing this questionable path (out of cluelessness, not design) is the right. Even if peace is not right around the corner, the side that would at least try to move in the other direction — and which has the rudiments of a moral compass — is the center-left.
- Arabs: Jews must decide whether they want relations with the one-fifth of fellow citizens who are Arabs to continue to be tense and combustible, and whether they think it’s cool that the prime minister incites against this large minority in order to fire up deplorable sentiments among his base. Voters who do not should plainly support the center-left. (And Israeli Arabs, of course, should stop overthinking and flock to the polls.)
- The experts: Are you a deep-state conspiracy theorist who thinks it irrelevant that the living Shin Bet and Mossad chiefs put out a rather astounding video collectively calling Netanyahu a danger to the security of Israel? Have you had enough of experts? Do you favor alternative facts? If none of this is so, you may want to consider the center-left.
- Economy: A government that projects moderation and modernity is more likely to boost the economy. Netanyahu seems proud of his economy — the past decade when GDP grew by an annual average of 3.8%. It’s not bad, but also not great. The three post-Oslo years in the 1990s saw average annual GDP growth of 7.6%. Ehud Barak’s single full year in power offered 8.8% while Ehud Olmert’s three averaged 5.1%. Do you want a bigger pie redirected to education and health and infrastructure and away from the religious establishment and the settlements? If so, the center-left is a better bet.
- Relations with the US: Do you want Israel to enjoy bipartisan support and not be at loggerheads with the next non-Republican administration (which would arrive soon if Donald Trump loses in November)? That may not require a center-left government, but it certainly does require the removal of Netanyahu, who recklessly bet the farm on Trump.
To be fair, there are arguments in favor of Netanyahu as well. Tourism is up and terrorism way down, and he does not appear to be inclined to military adventures. His reluctance to just pull out of the West Bank is not without reason (though a form of it is ultimately essential). There have been some infrastructure improvements (but not nearly enough). And he may be the world’s cleverest politician – a brilliant tactician and a communicator so phenomenally articulate that he might do good if he understood his country’s strategic needs.
But alas, he is on the wrong side of every one of the above issues, which is probably why the security chiefs consider him a menace. And I contend that despite the right’s resilient popularity the people are not with him really; he would never stand a chance if most people considered the issues and voted for what they actually want.
You don’t often win elections with rational arguments — but it cannot hurt to try. Yet all three Blue and White campaigns since last year have been timid about messaging these arguments in a manner that is powerful and clear, to the exasperation of those who want to see the center-left win.
This restraint is generally understood to come from skittishness about alienating potential soft-right crossover voters or making enemies of the Haredim who might be coalition partners in some remotely plausible future constellation. It also sits more comfortably on the persona of its leader, who projects a solid and stolid decency but is not an agitator in the mold of the incumbent. Critically, though, it does not take heed of the elementary political imperative of controlling the message, projecting clarity, offering hope, and firing up your own base to get out and vote.
And so we have reached this juncture, where three military chiefs, three corruption counts, and three election campaigns do not appear to have sufficed for a knock-out blow to a catastrophic incumbency. And one is left, somewhat absurdly, hoping voters will decide at the last second to be rational.
Yet hope does spring eternal! Such is the human spirit. If voters use their heads, change may yet arrive. And some normality — that modest, quaint and nearly forgotten state — would follow in its wake.