Now that the dust has settled and emotions have cooled, we’ve got a better perspective on the challenges that await us in the future. Assumptions aside, Bibi Netanyahu is not going to have an easy time putting together a government. Despite the availability of a “natural” coalition with other right-leaning parties, plenty of evidence indicates that he understands that one without a left-leaning “fig leaf” will quickly bring the world’s wrath down upon him. Consequently, it appears that he’s quietly pressuring Bujie Herzog and the Zionist Union to join up. As we wait for future developments, and as I prepare to head back to the US in a few days, I’ve come up with a number of “lessons learned” for the left that might be of service in the future:
- Stop Condescending: Following the elections, ugly recriminations were made by some on the left against weaker segments of Israeli society, bringing to light divisions between the center and periphery. Always eager for a juicy story, newspapers were filled with articles detailing a supposed “Ashkenazi-Mizrachi” divide tearing the country apart. There is unfortunately some truth to the way in which those more affluent sectors of society tend to dismiss anyone that does not vote for a center-left or left-wing party as some sort of backwater yokel. This isn’t exclusive to Israel, of course; I’ve seen my share of such behavior in the US as well. (As a Hebrew teacher a number of years ago, I’ll never forget when a mother of one my students uttered the words “Middle America”, which was greeted by derisive laughter by a number of other parents.) If we are ever going to convince traditional Likud supporters and other right-leaning voters that our way leads to a better future, it must be on their terms; it will not happen by callously dismissing matters of security, or viewing a decision to vote for right-wing parties as a sign of boorishness. Even a dyed-in-the-wool peacenik the likes of Amos Oz understands this.
- Stop Running Away From Security: Speaking of security, the left did itself no favors by going out of its way to ignore any and all discussions regarding the subject. True, it was well known that Bibi’s Achilles Heel was the economy, which explains his constant attempts to shift the discussion away from this issue. For all the blabber about security concerns being of secondary importance in these elections, however, the results have proven otherwise. Like the 2013 elections in which then Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich eschewed the diplomatic and security sphere, so too did Buji Herzog make eerily similar mistakes. If the left believes that the right will always have the advantage when discussing these issues and thus ignores them, it it is merely delaying the inevitable; voters who care about these issues cannot be fooled into shifting focus. There’s also no doubt that Buji’s lack of security credentials did harm his image, especially when compared to the way in which Bibi has flaunted his history in the Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, an elite force in the IDF) over the years. That does not mean that the center-left needs to field a hawkish, overly-militant candidate that “eats Arabs for breakfast”; it means that it needs someone with the right balance of military expertise and political savvy to assure a worried public that they are strong enough and wise enough to deliver a peace deal with teeth. Rabin, of course, comes to mind. Yes, this is easier said than done, but one cannot underestimate the effect that a strong candidate can have on voters.
- Help Bring the Joint List Into the Political Mainstream: FM Lieberman’s spearheading of the raising of the electoral threshold last term seems to have been a blessing in disguise. While ostensibly linked to attempts to reduce the number of parties in the Knesset leading to better management, many on the left (rightly) suspected it to be a scheme by Lieberman and his cohorts to keep Arab parties out of the government. We now know that these plans backfired: the Joint List made up of Hadash and three Arab parties is now the third largest in the Knesset. In what must be deemed an act of poetic justice, Lieberman barely scrapped by the threshold, with a meager 6 seats. The center-left bloc must now do its utmost to integrate the Joint List into its camp, or at least those parties who are willing to cooperate and sit in a coalition. They’ve spent the entirety of Israeli history relegated to the backbenches of the opposition, with little influence on mainstream politics. With 13 mandates, they now have the opportunity to do so, one that should not be squandered.
As I said to other participants on a trip that PPI took to Israel a number of months ago, despair is simply not a luxury we can afford at the moment. The Israeli center-left and its supporters in the US and worldwide cannot wait another four years before attempting another political “revolution”. Given the short notice of the elections, it was somewhat understandable to not have all of one’s “ducks in a row”, so to speak. But now is the time to begin the process of replacing the right. In any case, the likelihood of a Bibi-led government made up of his “natural” partners lasting its full 4-year term is unlikely.
I’d just like to thank all of PPI’s supporters that had been following and reading my posts during this period. Despite my disappointment at the results, I’m more galvanized than ever to try to bring about change. As a friend of mine told me last night: “After a week and a half, I realize that the situation isn’t nearly as bad as I’ve made it out to be. We definitely have a fighting chance in the future”.