By Shmuel Katz
It seems like we have spent the majority of the past few years in elections. Local elections. National elections. Even the U.S. elections (we cast absentee ballots). Enough already.
Five weeks left to go, and I am already disgusted by the politicians and the politics. The last week or so has seen a real intensification of the negative campaigning on all sides. Even the Obama administration got involved—and how well did it go for them the last time they tried to influence Israeli elections? Accusations, reminders of past mistakes, innuendo—the attacks will be nonstop through the elections.
It has been open season on Bibi Netanyahu for a few weeks: attacking his leadership, debating if he should or shouldn’t speak, and even stooping to personal attacks on his family. And his team is now fighting back. With all the back-and-forth, the election, as expected, has been framed as: “Do you want Bibi or do you want someone else?” as well as “Our party is the only one that will cater to your special interests and deliver money to your institutions and programs.”
For the record, I do want Bibi. I trust none of them, Bibi included; yet, as I have said before, he may be a snake, but he is my snake. And I would rather have my snake than one from the left/center parties.
As I understand it, the politicking is actually focused on the left/center voters. In the past few elections, the rightist voters (which I consider myself) and the far-left voters show up to vote. We are quite passionate about our politics and believe in showing up and making ourselves heard.
Those who are less passionate about their politics tend to be indifferent about voting. So a big voter turnout means that more liberal voters are casting votes, leading to results like in the last election, where Yesh Atid, for example, pulled in 6 more seats (at 19) than they had been expected to get in the various polls.
This is probably why the attacks will be so strong. The best way to get those voters is to present your candidate as an effective agent of change. The appeal of finding a party that finally “gets you” and speaks to your issues is strong here. Each one of the centrist/left parties is vying to get those voters in an absolute panic for seats. And each one has different objectives.
The Labor/Livni camp wants to lead. The Yesh Atid camp seems to want to be the kingmakers and focus on keeping control of the finance ministry and their agenda of forcing the chareidim into serving in the military and getting a vocation outside of the beitmidrash. There are new players (Kahalon) and old players in new places (Eli Yishai’s party, among others). And they are all attacking one another in a seeming frenzy of courting their special-interest voters.
The only positive change I can see in the process this time around is that they raised the threshold of qualification to the Knesset. So the smaller parties that used to get three or four seats had to combine or be eliminated. Thus there will be fewer parties qualifying and fewer individual coalition negotiations to put together the necessary majority needed to govern.
While that change might make it easier to settle a coalition, it does have some negative implications. It seems that the Arab parties may add a seat to the total they had in the last Knesset. But they will sit in the opposition no matter what, so the extra odd seat is less meaningful, unless a coalition is impossible—forcing a national unity government.
The worst part is that we have five more weeks of this interminable bickering and backstabbing and feeding-frenzy until it is over. Or at least this part of it is will be over. We will still have to endure the weeks of coalition-building, rumors, and negotiations. And then comes the inevitable unwinding of whatever the new government decides they don’t like and the making of new plans and programs that will only last until the next time around.
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.