This is a guest post by Emanuel Miller
Is Likud perfect? No. Forging a recording of Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon promising to support Netanyahu, and then autodialling hundreds of potential voters is a gross deception, utterly criminal, and the party should have been fined considerably more than a mere 20,000 shekels.
Is Netanyahu perfect? No. He is clearly not an easy person to work with, is absolutely focused on certain issues (Iran being the most obvious), to the point of doing almost whatever it takes to stay in power. His borderline racist comment yesterday was insensitive, stupid and poorly thought out.
However, in opposition to the myriad other bloggers and similarly opinionated, exuberant political writers of the internet, I’d rather not co-opt the facts and make them fit a particular theory of Netanyahu. Yes, Netanyahu retracted his support for a Palestinian state a few days ago. But let’s not forget that he made history by being the first Likud premier to publicly embrace the idea. Over the last few years, Netanyahu has overseen the release of hundreds upon hundreds of security prisoners and the consequent return of Gilad Schalit. He undertook to agree to an unprecedented building freeze in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) which lasted nine months, at the behest of President Obama. And, whether you think he’s exaggerating or not, the Iranian regime is undoubtedly hell-bent on attaining nuclear power and denying the IAEA access to key weapons development complexes. Interpret these assorted facts as you please, but it takes a considerable amount of courage to stand up to one’s own electorate, to the President of the US, and to risk one’s own office.
Netanyahu strikes me as a deeply complex character. As I see it, he’s either the most reckless, paranoid, egomaniac of a PM Israel’s ever had, or he’s a man with a deep sense of history and the courage of his convictions. I do not have access to the information he has, and so find myself forced to reserve judgment. My gut feeling, however, is fed by the fact that Jews have repeatedly been persecuted around the world, and the pattern has not ceased. Israel is utterly outnumbered in the Middle East, and repeatedly effectively shouted down at the UN. Time after time, thousands of Jews have been murdered for no good reason. So, on the one hand, we must be careful to distinguish perceived threats from genuine ones. What if Netanyahu is being too alarmist and effectively fear-mongering? Then again, it is not unreasonable to err on the side of caution. My conclusion? Ultimately, those saying that Netanyahu is fear-mongering need to prove it. Otherwise, I prefer get it wrong and trust him to protect us from an imagined threat rather than get it wrong by trusting a Zionist Union government which will not protect us from a genuine nuclear threat.
By extension, the left has repeatedly claimed that Netanyahu has used the Iran issue to distract the people from its unwillingness to work in the public interest. Here too I am trying to look at the facts first. There is no denying that housing prices have gone up in Israel. There is no denying that food prices are significantly higher than they were even just a few years ago. And it is true that the 2011 social protests were largely ignored, and the findings of the Trajtenberg report buried, for the most part. But when I discover that onions in this country are taxed 298%, meat by 190%, and that the price of car indicator lights, for example, can be inflated by 800% compared to prices abroad, it’s clear that the problems stem at least partially from socialism’s habit of over-taxing the people and limiting competition.
Rather than reproaching Likud ministers, we need to address the over-involvement of the government in the market – the legacy of poorly planned liberal policies. By trying to please workers, consumers are paying over the odds. The only problem is that workers and consumers are the same people and we are all suffering as a result. If we take the handbrake off, the market will pick up speed and we’ll find a greatly improved standard of living. Now wouldn’t that be a revolution?
For my friends on the left. The left need not despair. The wheel keeps turning. But there is reason to despair when the Zionist Union’s campaign was so utterly negative and dismal. “Just not Bibi” offers no vision of an alternative, it doesn’t focus on any issue, it doesn’t highlight anything other than a deep-seated loathing for the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel. Left wing friends – you have seen your camp crumble. Last night, numerous figureheads expressed dismay at Israelis’ stupidity, gullibility, callousness, even racism. Yair Lapid told Aryeh Deri that he will rehabilitate him. This Haaretz opinion article essentially labels Israel’s entire electorate as stupid. Perhaps next time don’t condescend to the public, don’t look down on Likud voters, and don’t attack the Prime Minister and his family. Between a moderate right-winger and you (and all of Facebook), there’s a lot the right can gain from listening to the left. But it’s hard to engage in a serious conversation when one side is so disdainful of its interlocutors. Credit where it’s due, though: A few hours ago, Meretz leader Zehava Galon resigned and had the grace and integrity to pass her seat up following her party’s underwhelming performance and hand it to rising star Tamar Zandberg, a promising and intelligent young politician who may be a future Meretz leader.
A note on the nature of coalition politics. Building a coalition in Israel’s fragmented political system is notoriously hard. When it comes down to it, most people prefer either a left wing government or a right wing government. What nobody wants to see is a government they support hampered by the conflicting demands of four, five, six or even seven other parties. Each party will want control of at least one ministry and one Knesset forum. Each will demand support for certain government motions. Much better for there to be two strong main parties, one to the left and one to the right. This way, whoever wins is not dictated to by parties significantly smaller than the one leading the government. For this reason alone it made sense to support Likud. Better a Likud that has the resilience to withstand Haredi and socialist pressuring than a Likud that tries to keep everyone happy and leaves everyone disappointed.
Finally, when crunching the numbers, it seems like not a lot has changed from the last elections in terms of the right, left and centre breakdown. The Haredi parties have dropped and the Arab parties have risen compared to 2011. But that’s not the whole story. One story is how Shas, despite a tumultuous two years, kept its place while Eli Yishai did not. It is difficult to overstate this fact. Beyond that, the real story of the elections is how the Likud were under the cosh for the last month or so, always with less seats predicted than the Zionist Union’s number. But on election day, a big swing occurred. What happened? I’d like to propose two theories. One, Kulanu and, to a lesser extent, HaBayit HaYehudi were predicted to take seats off Likud. Many of those thinking about voting for these parties were not opposed to Likud leadership, but rather wanted to influence the flavour of the coalition. When voters realised that Likud might not be in power at all (something Netanyahu traditionally pushes very late in the game), voters returned to Likud in their droves. Consequently, it appears that many of those thinking seriously about voting Kulanu and HaBayit HaYehudi were not sure of their decisions, and their primary concern was always that there should be a Likud-led government. The moment this appeared to be under threat, they made their presence felt. Secondly, the personal nature of the left’s campaign may have alienated more moderate right wingers who were considering voting for Kahlon and even Yesh Atid. As a dear friend of mine wrote recently, “[t]he more you campaign on how awful the other candidate is, the more likely I am to vote for him/her/them. That’s just how I am . . . Tell me what you have to offer – what your values are, what experience you have, what issues are important to you, what your ideal Israel looks like.” It appears that, when it came down to it, thousands of other Israelis were deterred by the anti-Netanyahu campaign.
N.B. A religious/Zionist addendum. There are those who celebrated voting yesterday. It is indeed a wonderful thing for a Jew to be able to vote in his homeland after 2,000 years of exile. Many of my friends see something remarkable in the survival of the Jewish people and its rejuvenation in the land of Israel. I share those beliefs. But yesterday was a sad day. These elections should never have happened. They were the result of the deep fractures afflicting our nation, a broken political system and ego-driven politicians who could not find a way to work with each other. It’s hard to celebrate Jewish sovereignty in these circumstances.