One week from tomorrow, Israelis will be heading to the polls once again. Since the failure of the April elections to yield any clear victor, this exercise has become an increasingly zero-sum game for many, as both sides focus on the singular central message: anything but them.
It is perhaps the greatest political tragedy for us of recent years, the way this artificial dichotomy has effectively robbed us of control over the policy issues that matter to us most. Voters have very little room to maneuver within the two large camps. Our individual voices and priorities are drowned out by the choir of voices demanding unity at any cost. This license to silence internal divergence and dissent has locked voters into a binary selection process in which there are no winners, only uncomfortable compromises and consolation prizes.
Is this really the way it has to be? What if we were to take a step back, for just a minute, and question these frameworks of “right” and “left” that we have been shackled with? Would not many of us find the equation starkly changed, if we were to examine the issues on their merits, rather than obsessing over threshold requirements and summary disqualifiers?
Because, let’s be honest: Not one of us wants to vote for corruption. Very few right-wing voters really want to vote for racism, fascism or the many other bitter pills that voters are increasingly demanded to swallow for the sake of their camp. It is only to forestall the armageddon scenario of a “leftist” government that so many have made peace with these choices. But that scenario is a lie that has been sold to us, and at a steep profit.
Why is it so bad to have a leftist government? As a former conservative voter, I’m well enough aware of the concern: It is the great fear that exists, in the nationalist camp, of the projection of military and diplomatic weakness, and its ramifications for our security. In Israel, at least, that security is the crux of it all, for a generation living in the shadow of the Second Intifada. The left, they say, will give up our land and security zones, exposing us to rocket fire. They will tear down the walls, exposing us to suicide bombers. They will bolster our detractors, undermine our military. Ultimately, they will destroy the Jewish character of the Jewish state, leaving us without a homeland that is our own. This is why we must vote for the right at any cost. Even if it means courting the Kahanists, the religious fundamentalists. Even if it means corrupt bargains, lies and indictments of serving representatives. Anything for our security.
These presumptions are born of the Oslo process and its bloody aftermath. Israelis are, quite understandably, wary of repeating the mistakes of prior leftist governments. And the right has reaped and exploited the benefits of that caution to demonize their opponents. But who are their opponents? Do they really fit into this personification of the left, and would their election likely bring about this doomsday scenario?
In the event that the right block fails to garner enough votes, Bibi will be replaced with Benny Gantz, and the Center Right-Haredi-Far Right coalition will be replaced with a Center-Left-Left coalition. Benny Gantz is a general who, until just a few years ago, headed the army under Netanyahu’s own government. He led Israel through its last, and perhaps most successful, war against Hamas, from which a state of relative stability has persisted for more than five years. He presided over quiet on our northern frontier, and military cooperation with the Egyptians to keep Daesh (as the Islamic State is known in Hebrew) away from our southern border. Joining him on his ticket are Gabi Ashkenazi, his predecessor, who also served as head of the army under Netanyahu; Bogi Yaalon, Netanyahu’s former defense minister and a former MK for Likud; and Yair Lapid, who recently served as Netanyahu’s minister of finance, and promoted economic growth, competition, and religious freedoms through a number of initiatives he launched in partnership with none other than Naftali Bennett, then-leader of the Dati Leumi (religious Zionist) faction. Supporting this government, we can expect Avigdor Liberman, a security hawk and former foreign and defense minister under Netanyahu; Amir Peretz, another former defense minister; and finally, the actual left, now represented by Ehud Barak, another general, and — you guessed it — minister of defense under Netanyahu.
This is the doomsday scenario? These are the boogeymen who will destroy Israel’s security and undermine its military, if Bibi were to fall? All giants of Israel’s security establishment who — almost to a man — served under Netanyahu as security chiefs over the last decade? If these are the people we are so frightened to entrust with our security, then why have we already done so, repeatedly — and perhaps more pointedly, why has Bibi? Could we not do worse than to entrust our security to this panel of skilled and experienced generals and statemen? Has any of them mentioned plans to destroy the border walls or surrender our security demands?
Far from it. Benny Gantz, the faction head, has not so much as mentioned the two-state solution. This is the man who will undermine our security with unilateral disengagements? It is true that his party will (hopefully) pursue a more flexible diplomatic agenda than Bibi did, but let us not forget that Bibi’s policy in respect of Gaza has been one of engagement, negotiation and containment for the past several years. He has hardly been a war-hawk in protecting the southern communities, as they will undoubtedly confirm. His policy toward our other enemies has — quite wisely — been one of deterrence and containment. Is it really conceivable that his own generals, the architects of this very policy, intend to act materially differently?
As for Israel’s “Jewish character,” it is worth noting that even the leftist Democratic Camp — and all of its component parties — refer to themselves openly as Zionists. Those who support the two-state solution have argued for it on the grounds of its necessity to the maintenance of the Jewish character of the state. The only thing that these characters uniformly oppose is the Haredi takeover of the government that Netanyahu has tacitly allowed under his stewardship, and the religious coercion they have brought with them. And the left is not alone in opposing this religious belligerence — it was Avigdor Liberman, the right-wing security hawk, who blocked Netanyahu’s last government from taking shape, expressly on these grounds. The left and center do not oppose the Jewish character of the state, or intend to challenge it in any way, even for appearances. This is the cultural boogeyman we cower from?
It is time for Israel’s right to stand up and admit that it has been sold a false bill of goods. They have been chased with the specter of a “leftist government” that would not come into being in even their worst-case election scenarios. They have been promised a security and diplomatic collapse under the watch of Netanyahu’s own generals and foreign and defense ministers. This is the fictitious right-left dichotomy that has been created — all to manipulate the electorate into voting for a man with pending corruption indictments against him, and to coax us into quietly excusing the totalitarian overreaches of the religious fundamentalists that support him. The “right” in this election is no more qualified, no more committed to Israel’s security and Jewish character than the “left.” It is only more committed to its own political survival, at any cost.
On September 17, it will be the duty of each and every Israeli citizen to approach the ballot box with their eyes wide open and with their finger on the pulse, as Israelis like to say. It is we who will decide what interests and what actors will best serve our country — not the slogan-writers, the manipulators, and the con-artists. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived into compromising our true principles and interests for a dichotomy that exists only in our minds, that has been planted there by the wild swings of a corrupt politician confronted with a prison sentence.
Come election day, do not vote right or left. Do not vote for criminals, ex-cons and trial defendants who will use your vote to serve themselves and their interests, to gain immunity from the law. Instead, vote for your country, its interests, and the representatives who will best serve it — and you. Or, in most cases, who will continue to do so — as they have been all along.