At first glance, this election seems chaotic like none before. Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Lieberman find themselves in the same bloc as Merav Michaeli and Ayman Odeh; Itamar Ben-Gvir and Mansour Abbas are swimming together on the other side of the beach. Woe to a country gripped in the warped vise of preoccupation with its leader and nothing else, as if it were some primitive Third World country.
Leftists’ argument for preferring people far to Benjamin Netanyahu’s right, like Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett, is that they at least respect the rules of the democratic game. Therefore, when the time comes, they can be beaten with the accepted tools of politics – tools that Netanyahu has been destroying ever since his criminal cases began.
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But with all due respect to this rationale, which isn’t completely unreasonable, the left won’t find salvation in rightists. By voting for Sa’ar or Lieberman, it will simply negate itself to the point of crowning Netanyahu once again.
Netanyahu is indeed a revolutionary – an agent of change who is burning the old elites’ homes down around them. He was like that even before the state prosecution and the attorney general started persecuting him, as he puts it, and that’s why he is admired by many Likud voters. No matter how long Likud has been the ruling party, its supporters will always see a vote for it as a protest vote.
As often happens, the circumstances – Netanyahu’s criminal cases – have been assembled into a pattern, a pathology, a complete system. But if these cases weren’t driving Netanyahu to destroy the rule of law as we know it, overturn the existing order and create governmental chaos, other motives would have arisen. With Netanyahu, we would have reached this point either way.
What seems like an exaggerated, repulsive personality cult on both sides is actually a distillation of the schism between the two blocs seeking to determine Israel’s character. This schism has found its ultimate expression in Netanyahu.
But perhaps there’s nevertheless order to this chaos. Arab conservatives and religious people find themselves together with their Jewish counterparts, all supporting a government with fragile, deficient democratic norms – to the extent that they can be called that at all – like those in Turkey and Hungary.
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And perhaps it’s logical that liberals from both blocs are fighting for a set of values of which one of the most important is protecting minorities. This is largely because they themselves are a minority in a country where the majority is conservative and pro-religion, and moreover, the majority feels that this minority is imposing its values on them (and thereby hindering them from riding roughshod over it, like tyrannical majorities always want to do).
A political consultant once told me that rightists are driven by fear and leftists by anger. I don’t know if that’s still true in today’s crazy Israel; indeed, in this election, I think the opposite is true.
Leftists have very good reason to be afraid. Meretz is in real danger; without an exceptional mobilization by its voters, it won’t cross the electoral threshold. Labor, despite gaining impressive momentum thanks to Michaeli, isn’t far enough above this threshold.
In contrast, Netanyahu’s voters have returned even though some got fed up with him during the coronavirus crisis. They did so because they were angrier at the anti-Netanyahu protesters than they were at him, viewing the demonstrators as pampered ingrates who were making a lot of noise at a time of illness and suffering. Likud will likely do even better on Election Day; as in 2015, the pollsters have caught only the start of this trend.
Center-left voters must therefore respond by getting Meretz into the Knesset and boosting Labor significantly.