Published in The Jerusalem Post on November 24, 2002
This election campaign already claims the title of the most boring race in recent Israeli political history. The end result is known in advance, and the various alternatives to Prime Minister Sharon all might be characterized both as undistinguished and inconsequential.
Review almost any aspect of this campaign, and you’ll discover that nothing is new; no surprises are expected; and no inspiration is to be found.
*Likud*: Former prime minister Netanyahu’s race against Ariel Sharon for Likud leadership was a long-shot from the outset. When it ends this week with the predictable Sharon victory, Netanyahu seems set to recede again from the limelight.
Though Bibi challenged Sharon two weeks ago to commit to a formula whereby the loser would publicly back the Likud winner and agree to serve as his deputy after the national vote, Netanyahu now appears to be preparing an alibi for sitting out the rest of the race and for refusing to serve as Sharon’s deputy after January 28. “I won’t back any Likud leader who concedes to the establishment of a Palestinian state”, Netanyahu said this week.
No surprises. Bibi sat out the outgoing government too, despite the fact that we’ve been fighting a global media war and his skills as an experienced diplomat and government spokesman could have been put to good use. To summarize: Bibi came back to run for the top job, didn’t conquer, and will again sulk away. Ho-hum.
*Labor*: In the 1999 election campaign, Ehud Barak and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak promised to negotiate grand peace with the Palestinians through grand concessions. It was a dumb approach back then; and since then, the approach has been thoroughly discredited by Arafat’s war. Consequently, Israelis elected Sharon, because it was time to put the criminal, terrorist Palestinian Authority in its place. With the terrorism continuing and escalating, it is hard to envision a mass voter swing in Labor’s favor two months from now.
Nevertheless, Laborites inanely expect Israelis again to give the party the reins of power, so that this time it can go at the “peace process” with an even *more* leftist agenda! New party leader Amram Mitzna says that if he forms the next government, his first decision will be to pull Israel out of Gaza — no matter how many members of Knesset are in his coalition, even if he has to rely on a non-Jewish majority.
Mitzna also says there is “no need” to wait for negotiations to evacuate *all* the settlements, nor does he “need the approval of Yasser Arafat, Hosni Mubarak, George W. Bush or the Israeli right-wing” for drawing borders and building a permanent security fence.
Well, I guess you might call this approach “new” – Mitzna is calling for “Fence Now” and “Withdrawal Now” instead of “Peace Now”. All the same, it is quite boring. Who needs a new Labor leader to lead us in flight? If we want to run away in defeat with our tail between our legs, a la Lebanon, Yossi Sarid as leader will do. Labor as Meretz Party Number Two is irksome and unnecessary.
Which by default leaves Ariel Sharon as the only “centrist” in the race. He correctly senses that the public seeks maximum internal unity; places a high value on maintenance of good relations with the Bush Administration; and wants its government to contain, if not crush, Yasser Arafat – not to negotiate with Arafat nor shower him with undeserved political windfall.
In short, what we already have is what most of the public wants. Ho-hum. A boring and unnecessary campaign.
*Shinui*: Tommy Lapid is back again to “enlighten” us, to save us from Ultra-Orthodox “hordes” menacing our freedom. Lapid will join any government, support any peace treaty, back any policy – just as long as haredim aren’t involved. He’ll eat any pig or grasshopper, patronize any culture, promote any cosmopolitan idea – just keep the haredim down and out.
Of all the nastiness and vitriol during the ‘99 and ’00 campaigns, Lapid’s base propaganda took the cake. His advertising – “we have to stop *them*” — reeked of unmitigated hatred.
Remember Tommy on TV with a table-load of criminal grocery products? Their crime? Kosher certification. Kashrut poses an unfair tax on the secular public, he argued. Lapid complained that his hands, angling with spoon for his big mouth, were “tied behind my back with tefillin straps”. That’s a direct quote. And Shinui is set to replay the ads next month.
Why in an age of serious issues would an adult deliberately allow his stomach go to his head on national TV? Does Tommy Lapid really expect us, this election cycle, to buy into his argument that at a time of painful economic failing and critical national security decisions – the major issue is ham? Or haredim?
Here too, unfortunately, nothing is new. The haters and the propagandists who appeal to our most ignoble instincts – on the religious extreme right as well as the anti-religious left — come out of the woodwork every election season, drawing on government funds and public television time to broadcast their rage to the desperate and distraught of our nation.
For this we needed an election campaign?