Published in The Jerusalem Post, April 5, 2019.
Campaign mistakes and takeaways, and my suggested line-up of 20 ministerial postings for a possible unity government.
In the 30 years I have lived in this country, I can’t recall an election campaign so lacking in substance and so marred by mudslinging. Nobody confronted the real issues of state. All we’ve heard is that Benjamin Netanyahu is corrupt and Benny Gantz is weak.
It is dreadfully disappointing.
So many mistakes were made along the way too. Avigdor Lieberman dug his own political grave by forcing this early election. Netanyahu shamed himself by roping-in right-wing extremists. Gantz stacked his Blue-White coalition with top IDF commanders, then went nonsensically silent on defense and diplomatic matters.
The so-predictably-lefty High Court of Justice legitimized radical left candidates and ruled-out a radical right candidate, perfectly setting-up Likud and the New Right to campaign for checks on the over-preening power of the Court. In the next Knesset, even Moshe Kahlon and the Haredim will support a Knesset override of Supreme Court decisions, which will have real implications regarding matters like migrant deportation, draft law, conversion and more.
The net result, alas, is probably an unruly coalition government of half-a-dozen parties challenged by Netanyahu’s ongoing legal troubles – which is a recipe for instability. Israel’s enemies may smell Israeli weakness. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranians in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and ISIS in Sinai could be tempted to take advantage.
And be warned: No matter who is at the helm, the next government is going to slash spending and raise taxes because Kahlon has left a big deficit. You can forget about any and all election promises that cost money, except perhaps further military build-up.
The prize for best campaign goes to Avi Gabbay – for booting-out the back-stabbing Tzipi Livni and overcoming the deep daggers of Labor Party infame to impressively climb back-up in the polls.
And it’s hard not to admire the way in which Netanyahu managed to bring both the president of the US and the president of Russia into support for Israel and his personal re-election campaign. Show me another world leader who has developed such strong ties with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, for the obvious benefit of his country. You can call it “collusion,” but crafty statesmanship is a better description of Netanyahu’s achievement.
EVEN WITHOUT KNOWING the final election result, I think that this campaign reminds us of two things about Israeli society writ-large, neither of which are new or likely to change soon.
First, Israelis seem to have internalized that that there are no magical solutions to Israel’s big challenges in the diplomatic, security, economic and societal realms.
All the serious surveys show that Israelis believe the government has stickhandled the challenges in these fields relatively well over the past decade, and that politicians who swear they could do much better are “selling lokshen” (soggy noodles).
It may or may not be time for a new prime minister, but few believe that if Gantz replaces Netanyahu, he can or should yank Israel off its current policy moorings. This explains, I guess, why Blue-White has failed to promulgate a platform that differs substantially from Likud’s; something that reflects both realism and inadequacy in Gantz’s campaign.
Second, the sociological-political divides in Israel remain quite constant, and are mainly explained by a combined income-ideological gap; Israel’s version of identity politics.
Haredi and Arab parties represent sectors of society that stand ideologically apart and at the bottom of the income ladder.
Likud and right-religious parties reflect middle class and nationalist-centrist preferences, and are sizably the majority force in Israel.
Left and centrist-left parties (which includes, in recent decades, Labor, Kadima, Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, Meretz, and now Blue-White) represent the upper-income echelons of society (top 20% decile), and are a shrinking minority. Which raises the question whether the center-left can ever win back Israel’s middle class and form a stable government.
At first Gantz seemed to understand the challenge of broadening his base to the nationalist middle class, which is why he sought to partner with Orly Levy’s Gesher and Kahlon’s Kulanu parties. His ultimate failure to do so may cost him the election.
LOOKING BEYOND NEXT week’s vote, we should allow ourselves to dream a bit about good government in which Likud, Blue White and other factions combine forces to drive Israel forward and upward.
This is my suggested line-up of 20 ministerial postings, making the best use of individual skills:
- Alona Barkat (New Right) – Social Welfare, so that she can replicate the revolutionary communal work she has done in the Negev.
- Nir Barkat (Likud) – Finance, where he can apply his management experience.
- Naftali Bennett (New Right) – Housing, so that he can build in strategic areas of Area C and Jerusalem.
- Avi Dichter (Likud) – Defense, where he will reinvigorate the IDF, especially versus Hamas.
- Zeev Elkin (Likud) – Energy, where this wise statesman will ensure that Israel’s gas riches bring about strategic windfall.
- Gilad Erdan (Likud) – Culture, where his success at battling BDS can be applied to battling post-Zionist trends at home.
- Benny Gantz (Blue-White) – Internal Security, which is a very significant and challenging post that will test this first-time MK’s mettle.
- Sharren Haskel (Likud) – Diaspora, where she will be a bridging and unifying figure.
- Zvika Hauser (Blue White) – Science, because this post needs a very smart manager.
- Yoaz Hendel (Blue White) – Communications, and although this post is a minefield, he is shrewd enough to survive.
- Yair Lapid (Blue White) – Transportation, since throughout this election he declared he could fix Israel’s insane traffic jams.
- Yariv Levin (Likud) – Tourism, where he should continue to do excellent work.
- Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (New Right) – Religion, because it’s time that the state religious bureaucracy be shaken-up, and this smart, deeply-religious woman can do so with sensitivity and strength.
- Amir Ohana (Likud) – Immigration, where he can manage the migrant issue like he successfully managed passage of the Nation State law.
- Rafi Peretz (Union of Right-Wing Parties) – Environment, which requires upstanding leadership.
- Gideon Saar (Likud) – Interior, since he was the best interior ministers in recent decades and much more needs to be done.
- Ayelet Shaked (New Right) – Justice, because her revolutionary judicial reforms indeed need to continue.
- Bezalel Smotrich (Union of Right-Wing Parties) – Agriculture, to intensify the important battles he led through “Regavim” against Arab and Palestinian land seizures in Galilee, Judea and the Negev.
- Yuval Steinitz (Likud) – Foreign Affairs, where he will be a strong and articulate chief diplomat.
- Moshe Yaalon (Blue-White) – Education, because his Zionist passion and broad worldview will drive the school system in the correct directions.
Finally, I re-nominate Yuli Edelstein for Speaker of the Knesset, where he once again will do yeoman’s work in preserving some dignity and decorum in Israel’s fractious parliament.