The international campaign to defeat PM Netanyahu in this week’s elections is remarkable if only for underscoring the world’s obsession with Israel, a country with half the population of the Netherlands and a quarter that of Peru. Will all the problems in the world – even just the Middle East – be resolved if Israel is more pliant, surrenders more land and compromises its security? Will Israel’s disappearance – Heaven forefend! – slake the thirst of this generation’s Almohades who wish to impose their violent world view on everyone? The answer, of course, is not in the least, which then leaves the world’s obsession with Israel as attributable to simple Jew hatred and a fundamental irreconcilability with the existence of the Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people.
Thus, money is pouring into the coffers of the leftist parties – or at least promoting their views – by the millions of dollars from Europe, from America and even from the US State Department, which shamelessly is providing US tax dollars for a get-out-the-(leftist only)-vote in Israel under the guise of an organization called V-15.
It is nothing less that eerie that the tactics in Israel’s elections so parallel those in the United States and that is not complimentary. Consider: Israel’s left, led by MK Buji Herzog, is enjoying the services of some of President Obama’s campaign staffers. Herzog himself said on Israel television last week that “Yisrael rotzeh shinui. Yisrael rotzeh tikvah.” Or, in a familiar language, “Israel wants change. Israel wants hope.” It was hard to believe. There it was, “change and hope,” those tired clichés of the two Obama elections. (At least Herzog was creative enough to switch the order.) Will Israelis fall for that? Their electorate has always been fickle, flitting left to right to left to right to left to right in election cycles for almost forty years.
Consider: The campaign against Netanyahu uses as its slogan “Anyone but Bibi” (“Rak lo Bibi.”). Indeed, that is the slogan of the V-15 campaign, which claims to be “bi-partisan,” but how bi-partisan is blatant support for the left? The shallowness is staggering but the point is to bombard the news media with negativity about Netanyahu, blaming him for sundry and all (lack of affordable housing, lack of peace, Iran’s bombs, even the price of chocolate desserts, etc.) It is insane, but it seeks to accomplish the goal that Obama achieved in his two campaigns: so besmirch the opponent that the voter that would ordinarily lean his way and might vote instead stays home and sits out the election. If you make your opponent seem like such a scoundrel that any reasonable person would be embarrassed to vote for him, you have gained a strategic advantage. But moral people do not conduct themselves like that.
Hence the silliness of the investigations and accusations against the Prime Minister and his wife – and others disfavored by the media – all candidates from the right: Russians from Yisrael Beitenu, right-wingers like Baruch Marzel, and others find themselves suddenly under investigation, details leaked to the media. It is very similar to the fate of NJ’s Senator Bob Menendez whose courageous opposition to Obama’s surrender to Iran has found him under investigation for corruption on old and previously-investigated charges. It is a shameful use of the judicial system in both countries but why have to defeat an opponent at the polls if you can silence him through threats of indictment? It must be right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook.
And that over-the-top abuse compares quite unfavorably with the Herzog scandal of 2000 in which he avoided prosecution in an illegal campaign funding case by pleading Israel’s version of the Fifth Amendment, what is today, unsurprisingly, a non-story in Israel. But Herzog is construed as part of Israel’s royalty – father was president, grandfather was Chief Rabbi, uncle was FM Abba Eban, and so on.
Consider as well the media going all out to defeat Netanyahu. What is stunning is the difference between the way Netanyahu’s speech before Congress was depicted here and in Israel. Here, numerous commentators compared him to Churchill, and several have noted how both Congress and the public have become more engaged in the debate since. In Israel, it was largely depicted as a catastrophe, as “shattering” the special relationship between the US and Israel, and as leaving Israel alone in the world and abandoned to its bitter fate. What a distortion of reality! Israel’s esteem with much of the American public grew measurably after the speech, Netanyahu’s approval ratings here are higher than Obama’s (there was even a “Netanyahu for President” bumper sticker marketed), and the public is duly alerted to the Iranian threat. Israelis should know that, according to a poll last week, an astounding 84% of Americans thinking the pending deal with Iran is a “bad” one (65% favor using force to stop Iran.) The speech was deemed here to be one of the greatest examples of statesmanship in modern times. You wouldn’t know from watching the news on Israel TV, whose leftist commentators mostly displayed uncontrollable grief and pain – probably because they feared it would give Netanyahu an election boost. It didn’t, perhaps because of them, and perhaps because of another reason.
As always, Israel’s right-wing is fragmented into several different parties. It is not that they are all identical in their thinking, but rather that the differences between them do not justify the existence of so many parties seeking votes from the same sector of the population. In truth, the Likud has never been a stable right-wing party, and as is sadly known, has surrendered more of the land of Israel to the Arabs than the left-wing parties have. Indeed, “Labor proposes and Likud disposes” has been a reality for almost four decades. Part of the right-wing fragmentation is the “Mi Barosh” syndrome – who will be the leader, the top dog, the number one? That is why so much of the discord is personal – especially among the religious parties – and so little based on ideology.
There is an interesting debate going on in right-wing circles as to which party should win the votes of their natural constituency. These calculations have been broadened to include other dynamics. Thus, we read regularly (I’ll use letters instead of party names), that if you vote for A, you will really help B. But B says if you vote for A, you will help C. D and E say they will not sit in a coalition together with F or G, and C says it hopes to entice both D and F into the coalition, or perhaps E and G. Meanwhile, H just wants to get enough votes to qualify, but it will not sit with D, E, F or G. J does not think K should even have the right to sit in the Knesset. You need a doctorate in mathematics to figure it out, and even if the numbers then make sense, the ideological odd fellows expected to coexist make no sense at all. And the big surprise of the election might turn out to be the Arab vote, which, if their turnout increases, might gain them 15 seats in the Knesset.
The real problem is that Israel remains hopelessly divided in its politics, and no coalition can expect to have any longevity or stability.
All the complaints about “income inequality” (how painfully familiar is that?) and the housing shortage and lingering poverty in certain sectors are all meant to obscure the fact that Israel is one of the economic success stories of last decade, averting the economic collapse that afflicted the US and many European countries. There are literally dozens of measures enacted by the government in the last two years that molded Israel’s prosperity and helped the working poor as well. But the desire in Israel remains strong to have small, sectoral, narrowly-focused parties just interested in bringing home the bagels for their voters, and that negatively affects the sensibilities of the voters.
That being said, if I could vote (shame on me!), I would vote for “the Jewish Home.” It had many accomplishments in its two years in government, especially Naftali Bennett, successfully overhauling many troublesome parts of the economy and in the Religious Affairs bureaucracy. The contention that voting for Bennett hurts Netanyahu and could deprive him of the ability to form a coalition is not implausible, but nor is it entirely persuasive. On balance he has done a fine job as Prime Minister, considering all the challenges, some of them insoluble, and all the demands, most of which cannot be satisfied. But he has also shown a tendency to veer left (two-state solution, settlement freeze, release of terrorist prisoners, etc.) and the suspicion lingers that a smaller Bayit Yehudi and a larger Likud will lead Likud right into a National Unity government with the left that excludes the right-wing parties, including Bayit Yehudi. In essence, a split of Likud 21 and Bayit Yehudi 15 is a much better breakdown than Likud 24 and Bayit Yehudi 12, because in such a scenario, Bayit Yehudi remains a factor instead of being a non-factor.
More to the point, I always think it wiser to vote one’s dreams and ideals rather than one’s fears. Certainly, Israel is better off with Netanyahu as prime minister rather than Herzog, but Israel in the past has suffered under both Likud and Labor governments, despite the fact that the Likud rhetoric is always more pleasing. The question then becomes: whose vision of the Jewish state is more profound and substantive? The answer is the Jewish Home, because it is the party that wishes to implement the Torah system in a modern state. To have that voice silenced or muted would be a tragedy, and therefore it is the natural home for supporters of the Religious Zionist ethos. (I write this with full understanding that there are fine Religious Zionists on the Likud and Yachad lists, and the support of esteemed Rabbanim for Jewish Home and for Yachad.)
Yet, with all the machinations, analyses, and multiplicity of parties, the winner is likely to be stalemate. Moshiach, where are you?
On a related issue: Nothing seems to rile President Obama more than people doing to him exactly what he does to others. One case in point stands out this week. Forty-seven Senators, all Republicans (surprise!) sent a letter to Iran that any agreement worked out between the US and Iran that is not approved by US Congress and is merely an agreement with Obama will not necessarily be honored by the next President or a future Congress.
That sent Obama into a tizzy, comparing those Senators to the “hard-liners in Iran” who also do not want a deal. (Keep an eye on combat veteran and freshmen Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas, who retorted, cutting through the diplomatic gobbledygook and wishful thinking, “everyone in Iran is a hard-liner.”
And yet, among the first acts of President Obama, through his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was to nullify the intent and commitments made in a letter sent by President George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon. Sharon had spelled out his plan to expel Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria and completely withdraw Israeli forces. In exchange for which, Bush committed that the US would recognize the legality of settlements and cease insisting on a withdrawal to the 1967 lines, Here, in pertinent part, is the paragraph in question in the letter from Bush to Sharon:
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”
That is an American commitment. Well, PM Netanyahu was told soon after taking office in 20009 that as far as Obama and Clinton was concerned, that was merely a private letter from Bush and did not bind them at all. This has enabled Obama to force Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 armistice lines, again. Certainly, Sharon did not perceive it in that vein, and who knows if absent that commitment he would have surrendered Gaza?
Iran –be forewarned. This administration believes that the word of prior presidents need not be kept. Perhaps the next president will feel the same.