Analysis

Not a Disaster, a Sign of Hope: Israel Needs This Third Election

Yair Lapid giving up his spot as potential PM shows the Kahol Lavan leadership has learned, and might finally bring about Bibi's downfall

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Yair Lapid leaves a meeting with Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem, December 2, 2019
Yair Lapid leaves a meeting with Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem, December 2, 2019Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Tel Aviv's Rabin Square may have hosted one of its most bizarre demonstrations on Tuesday night — and Israel's epicenter of contestation has known many a weird event. It was slated as a youth protest against a third election being held inside a year; but there was no protest, and there were no young people. 

An eclectic group of children and teenagers did cluster around some people who identified themselves as the few who care. The event speakers, Shani Bibi, who told me she became an activist because she is the child of deaf parents, and On Rifman of Hashomer Hachadash, an organization that was set up to protect Jewish farms, thanked the hundreds who came – or rather failed to.

Speakers at a protest against a third election in Rabin Square, December 10, 2019
Speakers at a protest against a third election in Rabin Square, December 10, 2019Credit: Ofer Vaknin

I still don’t know what the guiding interest behind this muddled event had been. But if we take at face value that this was meant to voice the pain of those who are sick of elections, a cry on their behalf wasn't really made.

Maybe behind the vapid clichés (“the hospitals are collapsing and they’re holding another election!”) that people burble just to avoid any genuine interaction, or worse, any complex contemplation, Israelis have come to terms in their heart of hearts with the fact that a third election is necessary.

They feel a war over culture and values has erupted between two peoples that should only be one, and that Benjamin Netanyahu, whose leadership has been the primary reason for this drawn-out and multi-pronged election contest, has become the symbol of that conflict. He is the chimney through which the smoke streams; he is also the one responsible for the wedge – that has expanded to become an irreparable rift - between the two camps.

It is true that another election could have dreadful results. We could get an immunity coalition, we could have Bezalel Smotrich leading Israel into a pretty depressing future. That is on the table; that is the democratic game. Dangers abound. But there are also reasons for optimism. The Kahol Lavan task force, the not-Bibi party, has fulfilled that mission well so far (with crucial assistance from Avigdor Lieberman and his thug-fight with Netanyahu). Despite internal divisions, differences of opinion and complaints, this task force will be embarking on the third election united, and is expected to gain in strength.

Kahol Lavan's quadripartite leadership has been called “the cockpit.” It is a pretty silly, childish term, but this cockpit has experienced the steepest political learning curve in Israel lately, and that is what Kahol Lavan owes its success to. Yair Lapid has made great strides forward on the Israeli political map. Since joining forces with Benny Gantz, he has reacted to the political reality the best way possible, demonstrating consistent and substantive self-awareness and judgment. This is not commonplace for people with his kind of ego and ambitions.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Makor Rishon conference, December 8, 2019
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Makor Rishon conference, December 8, 2019Credit: Emil Salman

Lapid realized he wouldn’t be prime minister, stopped disguising himself as right-wing, and stopped sucking up to the religious; he realized that the best thing for himself, for his supporters and for the State of Israel would be for him to harness his talents and the organizational abilities of his obedient cult to the camp he really belongs to: The secular liberal camp (note that both camps disavow the Arabs; the difference lies in how they express it, and style).

Lapid’s firm stand against joining a government with Netanyahu, and his acquiescence to forgo the imaginary rotation with Gantz – which significantly deflates Likud propaganda – are effective and powerful opposition moves against the Netanyahu rule. If not for them, Kahol Lavan might well have fallen victim to some Netanyahu trick and come to the third election bereft of clout, or even of a reason to exist. Barring disaster and Netanyahu’s return from the island of the politically defunct, Israel’s next prime ministers – Benny Gantz and somebody from Likud to share the prime ministerial seat by rotation — will owe their jobs to Lapid. The State of Israel may well owe him even more.

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