Opinion |

A Fascinating, if Unimportant Election

It's become official in this campaign: There is no left-wing alternative running against the right-wing bloc, rather only more moderate variations of Likud’s positions

Avi Shilon
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Illustration by Eran Wolkowski
Illustration by Eran WolkowskiCredit: Eran Wolkowski
Avi Shilon

Contrary to what the politicians will tell us, the upcoming election campaign is not significant – and for exactly that reason it will be one of the most interesting ever.

Since the start of the millennium we have been analyzing the decline of the left, but in this election the decline will actually become official: There is no left-wing alternative running against the right-wing bloc, rather only more moderate variations, at least in terms of rhetoric, of Likud’s political positions. Thus, even if Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon or Yair Lapid succeed in cobbling together a coalition, Israel's diplomatic situation is not expected to change radically.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 11

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As opposed to the tendency to blame this situation on Benjamin Netanyahu – the left-wing opposition suffered a mortal blow already between 2001 and 2006, due to suicide attacks in the second intifada, on the one hand, and the realization that the Israel Defense Forces is not capable of beating Hezbollah, on the other.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which only caused the enclave to become more threatening – sealed the fate of the left for the foreseeable future. We can of course also point to Israel's responsibility for these developments, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have caused a majority of the public to conclude that we have no choice but to rely on our sword.

The fact that the left is waning is sad, but it is also what will enable groups that for the most part were pushed aside in favor of political discourse, to express themselves in this election. Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett's new party, for example, reflects the fascinating idea of a merger between religious and secular Jews, which may prove that a broad range of shared traditionalist viewpoints – and this is what they are in effect proposing – could neutralize most disputes relating to the subject of religion.

The center is also splitting into interesting groups: Alongside the "white center" of Yair Lapid, the so-called Mizrahi option – i.e., the more socially oriented party of Orli Levi-Abekasis, and the more capitalist option of Moshe Kahlon – will gain prominence. Sociologist Nissim Leon has defined this updated Mizrahiness as “gray.” Present, but subtle. It does express a Mizrahi ideology, but reflects that experience in a natural way.

Even Gantz’s silence is more intriguing than just another attempt to blur political views. His silence is attractive because most Israelis are aware that ideology is no longer significant. Anyone who opts for Gantz will prefer to vote for the right person – on the assumption that in any case the Middle Eastern reality won’t change much.

Without the traditional battle between left and right there will also be room for interesting marginal groups: Ale Yarok (which favors legalizing marijuana) intends to return to the political arena in the wake of the wave of legalization around the world.

We can also reasonably assume that Eldad Yaniv’s party will also attract attention. Although Yaniv is convinced that rudeness and hatred are the recipe for eliminating corruption, he symbolizes an anti-establishment stance that has become popular in Israel as well as in the rest of the world.

The interest aroused by this insignificant election also derives from the status of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The irony is that, politically speaking, his situation resembles that of the left: He is like a dead man, whose date and manner of burial are not yet known. This adds the dimension of Israel’s political culture to the election. And that will be the day when we will also decide how we want one of Israel's most important prime ministers to end his career.

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