By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
At least four party groupings in the forthcoming elections in Israel would like to describe themselves as being in the political centre:
- By joining forces with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnu’a, Isaac Herzog, the leader of Labour, sees himself as occupying the centre.
- Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid has always seen itself as being centrist. When in government, it concentrated on the country’s social and economic concerns, not only its security that’s normally the obsession of the political right.
- In view of the extreme right-wing rumblings in Likud and perhaps also in order to tell us that he’s no less in the middle than his possible rival Gideon Saar (should Saar decide to run), Netanyahu is likely to claim the centre for himself. Like Lapid he’ll describe the Herzog-Livni alliance as leftist.
- The new party led by Moshe Kahlon is to be called Kulanu (all of us), a centrist term if there ever was one.
The left is being marginalized, which means that a lot of old-time Socialists/Social Democrats and many young dissenters will find themselves at a loss. It’s possible that they’ll vote for the traditionally left-wing Meretz, but more likely they’ll not vote at all. The Arab parties are normally on the left, but again though Arabs are some 20% of the country’s population, their Knesset members are less than 10% of the total. Many Arab citizens of Israel don’t vote at all.
This in turn suggests that the right wingers may get the upper hand. They include a growing part of Likud, now when it has purged itself of its old-time liberals; all of Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi; Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties, perhaps with the exception of Shas that claims to have a social conscience. The right may very well have enough votes between them to form the next government. If pre-election polls indicate this, Netanyahu will place himself as its spokesman and natural leader. His ideology is normally obscured by expediency.
That’s the bad news. The better news is that I may be entirely wrong and that the Herzog-Livni group will have more mandates than any other party and, therefore, as is the custom, the president will call upon them to try to form the government. Should that be the case, several parties will line up to join. If Netanyahu gets more mandates, no doubt most of the same parties will want to serve in his cabinet. Opportunism also obscures ideology.
A right-wing coalition may gamble on the next US president being a Republican and thus much more accommodating to the Israeli right. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hinted at that the other day when he told a group of settlers that with a Republican in the White House many more homes will be built in the territories. This would further contribute to the killing of the pretense of a two-state solution.
Though there’re too many names of people and parties in this piece I don’t know how to write it differently. My aim is to suggest a way of judging the various reports we’re likely to see before the March 17 election. Of course, I may be misjudging the situation and Isaac Herzog will be Israel’s prime minister in the next two years when, by coalition agreement, he’ll have to hand over the reins to Tzipi Livni.