Anti-social Stars

Over the past year, long before the national elections were moved up, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu held several discreet meetings with social activists.

"We spoke about society, the economy, and I for one had no doubt that he had made mistakes as finance minister," said attorney Yuval Elbashan, deputy director general of the non-profit organization Yedid. Elbashan spent several hours with Netanyahu, but ultimately decided to remain loyal to his current party, Labor.

Netanyahu also met with activists from several Jerusalem neighborhoods, but did not bring in even a single public figure identified with social action.

None of his recruits to Likud have an activist past: not the former politicians including Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Yossi Peled or Miri Regev, nor former IDF chief-of-staff Moshe Ya'alon or one-time Maccabi Tel Aviv hoopster Tal Brody.

While the current Likud list includes several MKs with respectable social records, social issues seem far from the party's agenda. For years, the Likud has branded itself as the party of the working-class and the periphery, while ideologically it has always espoused free-market principles.

The party's natural link to those communities was cut only in the most recent elections, when voters punished it for the financial hit they took over Silvan Shalom's and Netanyahu's policies at the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu now seems to be turning to a new electorate, more middle class. Once the Likud needed David Levy, Meir Sheetrit and Moshe Katsav to appeal to voters on the ground. Now the intermediaries between party and voter are strategists, spin doctors and, of course, the media.

If, in the end, Likud decides it needs an activist on its side, it can always count on Shas serving as its social wing.