By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
26 (!) political parties have submitted lists of candidates for the next Knesset to be elected on March 17. Even though at least half of them aren’t likely to pass the 3.25% threshold to get seats and, therefore, needn’t be taken seriously, the election could still be very serious if the real problems of the country would be on the agenda. They should include, for example at least these three:
- Not only how to continue to defend ourselves, but also how to relate to the Palestinians and their desire to have a state in the light of the very unstable, indeed dangerous situation in the whole region fuelled by the evil forces of Iran and ISIS.
- Not only how to keep the economy going, but also how to reduce the economic and social inequality between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens.
- Not only how to plan for economic growth and the success of start-ups but also how to address the growing inequality between rich and poor in Israel.
- Not only how to ensure that Israel remains a democratic state, but also how to address the perennial thorny issue of religion and state.
To date, however, the Israeli public has heard little about any of these issues other than the prime minister’s rhetoric about the Iranian threat. Instead, the two major topics of discussion so far have been:
- Did the prime minister’s wife illegally pocket some 4000 shekels worth of empty bottles of liquor used in the residence? Some have already named it Bottlegate.
Tzipi Livni has calculated that the monthly alcohol consumption in that home is roughly equivalent to the monthly minimum wage. The Netanyahu camp has retorted that on average only (!) one bottle per day is consumed in the household. The matter has another dimension: former members of Mrs. Netanyahu’s staff are reported to have said that she’s particularly belligerent toward her employees when she has consumed alcohol.
- Is the campaign on “the left,” i.e., that of Herzog and Livni being financed by foreigners? If that’s the case, this would be against Israeli law. Herzog has reflected on these allegations by stating that Netanyahu and his party are in a state of fear of losing the election and have resorted to panic mongering instead of policies.
At present there’s no evidence made public of either of the above allegations, but it doesn’t seem to matter. As long as the opposing side has to defend itself, the attackers’ objectives have been achieved, and both sides will have lost.
In situations such as these, a new party may attract voters not because it has anything important to tell them but because it’s different from the others. It’s the electors’ way of saying to the traditional contenders, “A plague on both your houses!” That’s how new parties with little or no platform have been successful in the past. Most have vanished by the next election or the one thereafter, when another group of the same ilk would have emerged.
The candidate this time for such “success” is Kulanu, led by Moshe Kahlon, at one point a member of Likud and a cabinet minister. We may not know what the party stands for, but it’s different and that may be good enough for a lot of voters.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that the main parties will debate the real issues to help us decide. In view of the start of the campaign, that possibility is remote.