In Israel we vote for the party, not the man. In Israel we have learned how to separate our personal feelings for the individual from his politics. In Israel we know that stakes are too high to get hung up on petty name calling. It’s also a parliamentary democracy so, unlike with the Presidency in America, the Prime Minister does not have all sorts of unchecked powers and can be deposed at any time by his cabinet. And so on Election Day I will be casting my ballot for the Likud Party and not for its leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
For all of the above, I will not debate here the many negatives of the man Binyamin Netanyahu. (You can read what I wrote about him in 2015 here.) So for the sake of argument I am willing to stipulate here and now to all of the criticisms of the man, even the unjustified ones. As for the current cloud over his head concerning the investigation into some sort of corruption involved with the purchase of new submarines by the Israeli Navy, to date no criminal charges of any kind have been brought against anyone. And should Netanyahu be returned as Prime Minister only to find himself under indictment, in a parliamentary democracy he would simply be forced to step aside and whatever coalition government is formed would continue under a new leader.
There will be no need for any drawn out impeachment proceedings or special prosecutor investigations. Netanyahu would not even need to resign if he is voted out by a majority of the Knesset and the loss of a coalition partner or enough Knesset members from various parties would be enough to force new elections, again.
Now you may be wondering why we are having new elections after only five months. It’s because in Israel we have elections twice a year to keep the politicians really responsive to our needs. Just kidding. Actually it’s because of three specific people who were all cabinet ministers from the smaller parties in Netanyahu’s last government.
The first was Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Israel is our Home Party. In 2015 Binyamin Netanyahu was able to get a majority in the Knesset of 61 seats with his Likud Party, the right-wing Jewish Home Party and the Haredi parties. Avigdor Lieberman sat and sulked in the corner and kept his six seats out of the government. This was because Lieberman is a man of principle and refused to serve in a coalition with the ultra-orthodox Haredi parties unless they agreed to his agenda of allowing secular marriage in Israel and requiring the Haredim to serve in the army after decades of receiving deferment for studying in yeshivas. Only, Not!
You see Mr. Lieberman had agreed to sit with the Haredim under the leadership of Ehud Olmert after the elections of 2006, the only time that the Kadima Party – or any party other than Likud or Labor – led a government. He also sat with them under Netanyahu’s first government when he returned to power in 2009. But then in 2013 some new players came along, including Naftali Bennet the leader of the Jewish Home Party, and refused to sit in a coalition with the Haredim. Since Netanyahu could form a government without the Haredim, but not without these other parties, he of course chose the former option. Oh and no, Lieberman did not refuse to sit with them like those other people.
But then the coalition partners caused trouble so Netanyahu fired a few cabinet ministers from the smaller parties and called for snap elections after only two years. All the smaller parries lost seats while the Likud gained. Lieberman’s block was cut in half and he blamed Netanyahu instead of himself and, like the spoiled child most Israeli politicians tend to be, he took his ball and went home. But his tantrum lasted for only a year. In 2016 he agreed to become the Defense Minister and forgot all about his objections to the ultra-orthodox. (Ultra-Orthodox is a really dumb term and sounds kind of like “really special” or “very unique,” but for lack of an alternative it is the English term for the Haredim. In Hebrew Haredim means “those who tremble,” as in tremble before God.)
So what changed in 2019? Well the Likud led block came out with only 60 seats and could not form a government without Lieberman. So Lieberman pushed his luck and made demands that the Haredim could not accept. And the new Blue and White Party (more on that later) refused any coalition with Netanyahu. So here we are.
But wait! There’s more! Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, the leaders of the Jewish Home Party, were bothered that they were not treated like the gods that they are and walked out to form their own party. At first they thought that they would outdo their previous home, but in the end they failed to pass the minimum threshold of 3.4% of the vote (4 seats) to get into the Knesset. But they came close and in so doing wasted a large number of votes which, if they had all been cast for their old party, would have given Netanyahu a majority without Lieberman. But of course this is Israel where politics is all about the individual narcissistic politicians and their need to be the guy, and not the issues.
And after all of that. After Bennet and Shaked slammed their old party all through their campaign in April and their old party trashed them for being selfish idiots who only left when they saw that they would no longer be its leaders, and after they harmed their whole camp, the Israel Home Party got remarried to Bennet and Shaked, renamed their new party the “New Right” and even made Ayelet Shaked the new leader. I’m still not sure what is so new about this new right.
So what about the left, you might ask. Great question. What the hell happened to the Labor Party? Well it fell to only six seats after the April elections and now they are worried that they may even disappear entirely after these elections. This is amazing considering that it is the party of Ben-Gurion and Israel’s other founding fathers. It is the party which ruled with no real opposition for Israel’s first 30 years. It once led with more than 50 seats, well over 40% of the vote, and now it has only 5%.
After Ehud Barak defeated Binyamin Netanyahu in 1999 the left in Israel rejoiced like the East Europeans a decade before when the Berlin Wall came down while singing “Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead.” Then just 20 months later Ehud Barak was trounced at the polls by Ariel Sharon and Labor has not led a government since. We have now had more than 18 years in a row in which the Likud Party led the government except for three years under Ehud Olmert and Kadima which was led by a bunch of Likud ministers who went with Ariel Sharon just to serve their own interests.
Since May 1996 the Labor has lost 8 of 9 elections and been at best a junior partner in coalition governments for more than 21 of the last 23 years, and in the opposition for most of that time. And now they have been lowered to the level of beggars in the street, wailing to the public of the danger to Israel’s democracy should they cease to exist.
And therein lies the problem. In 2015 the polls showed that Labor might outdo the Likud in total seats, even if the right still held an overall majority. In the end the Likud won the election and it wasn’t even close. This is because the Labor party’s whole campaign consisted of saying over and over again that Netanyahu was bad and that he had to go. And they did the same thing again in 2019 while ignoring the fact that the newly formed Blue and White Party had taken away most of Labor’s voters. Now both Labor and the left wing Meretz parties are saying that their voters must stay with them or else the country could lose both. And this would be a disaster for our democracy. But why?
You can’t just campaign on a negative. You can’t tell people that the very essence of their democratic system depends on your continued existence as a party. You have to actually give them reasons to vote for you. And here in lies their problem. They are so full of themselves that they cannot understand what is happening in the country. After two disasters in a row the Labor brought back Ehud Barak. Then he lost, but agreed to join the Likud coalition since Netanyahu made him the defense minister. Then Labor threw Barak out again.
So who is the Labor leader now? Why it’s once again Amir Peretz. The same Amir Peretz who, after being a complete failure as a leader, was replaced by Ehud Barak. And Meretz has now taken in Ehud Barak himself and renamed the party the Democratic List because somehow only they really believe in democracy. And Labor has taken into its list Orly Levi who previously served as a member of the Knesset from Lieberman’s right wing Israel our Home Party. What? (For more on this read my very excellent piece here.)
But what is the real reason they keep on losing: it’s because we Israelis keep voting for the right out of fear and because we just don’t understand and because we suffer from some sort of collective PTSD of course. (Read this too.)
No my friends it has nothing to do with the fact that the economy is OK, that we do truly believe that the heart and soul of the land of Israel are located in the areas which happen to have been left under the control of Jordan in 1949 that are now known as the West Bank and that we do not see a real partner on the other side. Nor does it have anything to do with the fact that the result of our unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, when we dismantled settlements, was the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, missiles launched from there indiscriminately into Israel and the world calling us the bad guys all of the time for responding while giving us no credit for all of the sacrifices which we have made since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
Voting for the right does not mean that one does not acknowledge that all of those people who live in the West Bank have rights or that one is an evil war mongering racist. It does, however, mean that you do not want Jerusalem to be divided again as the Left has already accepted is a possibility and that you do not want any more settlement blocs to be uprooted, especially not Gush Etzion to the south of Jerusalem. This was a major center of Jewish communities for decades before it was overrun by the Jordanian military during Israel’s War of Independence. It was rebuilt after the Six Day War. And voting for the right also means believing in the need for judicial reform in Israel where the Supreme Court has given itself the right to second guess the democratically elected governments on any issue, even on taxes or raising speed limits on highways. Yet somehow even this is decried by the Left as an example of how the Right is anti-democratic.
Now I said that I would mention the new Blue and White Party and so I will. This party began when the two immediate past IDF Chiefs of Staff decided to start their own new party because Binyamin Netanyahu is bad. However, there has been no explanation as to why they did not just join an already existing party. They then brought in their former commander who was also an IDF Chief of Staff and defense minister under Netanyahu, Moshe Ayalon and merged with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party whose name in English means “there is a future.” Where do they get these names?
Lapid is just another whinny spoiled cry baby, a model turned politician whose whole claim to authority rests on the memory of his father who was a secular politician. Lapid is personally to blame for the snap elections in 2015 after having successfully formed a government without the Haredim and coming very close to some genuine long lasting reforms. But his arrogance and childishness led him to make too many demands of Netanyahu and the result was a new Knesset in which his party lost half of its seats, was left out of power and where the Haredim returned to the coalition. Nice Job Yair Baby!
The real problem here is that at some point Israel as a nation needs to stop thinking that a general automatically deserves to be a political leader. Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon were also generals. A number of former generals formed their own parties over the years and went straight from the military to the cabinet. If the generals are all so great then maybe we should just do away with the Knesset and let the former generals all run the country.
I could go on with all sorts of reasons to vote Likud. But most people probably stopped reading this a while ago. The point is simply this. On Election Day I will be voting for the Likud Party to run the government and NOT for Binyamin Netanyahu personally. I hope that there will be a government without the Haredim somehow, but the numbers do not add up. And should Netanyahu be forced out for whatever reason then that will be OK too. It’s about the party stupid – not the man.