By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
An early election poster on behalf of the Zionist Union had a picture of its two leaders, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, over the caption: “It’s us or him!” The voters were to be given the option of either more of the same or a very different, better government.
The mood seems to have changed. The poster has been replaced by others and critics are beginning to read the captions as “Us with him!” There’re signs that Livni and Herzog have realized that they won’t be able to form a government, even if they get more Knesset seats than Netanyahu, because his right-wing block is likely to be stronger. Therefore, they may have settled for being strong enough to join a Netanyahu government, even if they won’t be strong enough to form a Herzog-Livni government.
A Herzog-Livni government would have to depend on the left which includes the Arab block. But voting in the central election committee to bar Haneen Zoabi, the radical Arab Member of Knesset, to run in the election will no doubt have alienated the Arabs. (An ultra-reactionary, Baruch Marzel was also barred, albeit with a smaller majority; the Supreme Court may overturn the decision and reinstate both).
The vote against Zoabi will have disappointed Arab Knesset members that would have supported Livni-Herzog. The left-wing Meretz may now also wish to distance itself.
Amos Oz, the distinguished Israeli writer and Meretz supporter, criticized the Zionist Union for its name. It suggests, he said, that they’re afraid that the electorate only recognizes the right-wing block as authentic Zionists – Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman – while Herzog and Livni are trying to say defensively that they’re also Zionists.
The criticism from people like Oz and others implies that the right-wing has hijacked Zionism and is turning it into a semi-fascist movement, which Zionism has never been. The Revisionist minority (Netanyahu’s forbears, including his later father) had been held at bay for this reason. Now you only have to look at the way this government has bolstered settlement expansion to recognize the ominous trend.
I understand Oz’s criticism to be saying that, instead of defensively telling us that the centre is also Zionist, it should be exposing the right for what it is in order to alert voters as to the danger of another Netanyahu government both economically – social injustice and corruption – and politically – no peace with the Palestinians.
Needless to say, the Netanyahu camp has another take on the situation. It sees itself – i.e., his Likud, Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu plus the newcomer breakaway from Shas under its former leader Eli Yishai – as the authentic custodians of Zionism and views those on the left as dangerous imposters, lefties in the service of hostile foreign governments.
This kind of reasoning seems to have been extended to the Israel Prize, the annual prestigious award given to writers, artists, film makers, journalists and others in different categories. The prime minister’s office has interfered and dismissed some judges that prompted others to resign and prominent candidates for the 2015 prizes to withdraw.
The majority of the electorate may side with Netanyahu & Co as the country is continuing to veer to the right. Israelis feel beleaguered by ISIS, Iran and other forces of evil in the Muslim world. Even optimists don’t seem to predict that things will be very different when Israelis go to the polls next month.