Israel's do-over election, to be held in three weeks, will center on one issue: Benjamin Netanyahu. Ostensibly, this is a wonderful focus, given how long Netanyahu has been in power and his growing willingness to view the country and its institutions as his private property, meant to serve his political and personal needs.
The trouble is that on most issues related to the economy or security, there is no real difference between the "Anyone-but-Bibi" camp, led by Kahol Lavan, and Netanyahu's camp.
Kahol Lavan, like Likud, has no solution for the social and security-related time-bomb of Gaza or any plan to confront Israeli politics' dependence on money and interest groups. They certainly have no plans that would upset the 0.1 percent that controls real estate, finance and monopolies. The top brass of Kahol Lavan is comprised mainly of retired millionaires from the army's top ranks and politicians from the most affluent sectors of Israeli society. Economic reform and the struggle against powerful interest groups are the last things on their minds.
The only issue on which there is an apparent, essential difference between the two parties is regarding the rule of law, protection of the courts and corruption.
For the last two years, Netanyahu has been busy weakening, dismantling and delegitimizing the country’s gatekeepers. If there was a shred of statesman-like respect for the law left in Netanyahu, it's doubtful that his son Yair would dare to tweet that "gatekeepers are a group of pathetic and petty clerks, serving the interests and agendas of extreme leftist groups, against the will of the voters. They invent lawsuits and criminally leak distorted material to their friends in the leftist media."
Even regarding corruption, the gap between Likud and Kahol Lavan is much less significant than the biting and relentless rhetoric would suggest. The day Netanyahu steps down from the public stage, we will find ourselves facing the monumental challenge of creating an alternative that is fundamentally different from the current culture of power.
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It serves to remember that Yair Lapid's first steps in politics were made with Ehud Olmert, whom he defended when he wrote his weekly column for Yedioth Ahronoth. The frequent meetings with Yedioth owner Arnon Mozes, now implicated in one of Netanyahu’s corruption cases (Case 2000, allegedly involving monetary favors for Yedioth in exchange for positive news coverage), were blacked out in Lapid’s diary.
State prosecutors decided not to charge Gaby Ashkenazi in the Harpaz affair, but the evidence gathered by the police - which recommended indicting Ashkenazi – does not point to a public figure for whom integrity is a chief concern.
Moshe Ya’alon bravely and resolutely raised a red flag in relation to possible wrongdoing in the submarines’ affair, but only after he’d been fired as Defense Minister.
Ehud Barak, the Twitter man, is not much different. He recently explained his priorities as a citizen of the state who had decided to return to politics. In an interview to TV Channel 2 news he explained his refusal to reveal the nature of the “research” he had provided to the Wexner Foundation for 10 million shekels ($2.85 million). He said divulging such information would harm his ability to give business advice after he finishes his public service.
This shows that as he approaches 80, with tens of millions of dollars in the bank, as well as enormous government pensions, his appetite for more millions and more real estate is always the supreme consideration – above any public mission. He’s either hiding something, or his system of values is completely out of whack.
So, who will fight corruption? Perhaps former-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked? Chaim Levinson’s exposure in Haaretz this week is another reminder, if anyone needed one, that Shaked’s “conservatism” is but a hollow wrapping for her sheer opportunism.
Shaked, who markets herself as the Israeli version of the Republican Party, has yet to express any principled stance regarding granting of immunity to Netanyahu. She has also failed to renounce her close association with Effi Nave, the former head of the Bar Association who is implicated in an alleged sex-for-judgeship scandal.
Even as she was denying reports that her associates offered Netanyahu a corrupt deal – a place for her on the Likud slate in exchange for arranging immunity – she refused to express any principled stance regarding Netanyahu’s alleged corruption cases. The stance she seems to prefer is the one provided by the star of case 2000: Recordings obtained by the police proved to the Israeli public that the boss of Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet does not offer free media coverage. It’s all about power and money.
Until two years ago, Meretz was the only clear voice confronting corruption in the political arena. But when Zehava Galon stepped down as leader, her replacement, Tamar Zandberg, declared a season of pragmatism in the party and that, if needed, they would even join forces with Avigdor Lieberman. Nitzan Horovitz, who replaced Zandberg, so far prefers to place his real-estate and cash-loving partner, Ehud Barak, at the forefront of the campaign.
We haven’t mentioned Shas yet. Its voters have zero interest in these matters, which is why they’ve crowned former-convict Arye Dery.
It doesn’t interest the Arab parties either, given the circumstances and their priorities, which preclude them from placing a campaign against corruption on their agenda.
The Labor Party could have picked up the gauntlet. A struggle against corruption ties in directly with the social-democracy ideology Amir Peretz wishes to bring back to public discourse.
The economic platform Peretz published last week is a first courageous attempt to offer an alternative to the agenda that has prevailed in the last decade – proposing significant growth of the welfare state through progressive taxation.
But the basis of the social democracy system, as demonstrated by Sweden and Denmark, is an effective public sector that enjoys great public trust. High taxes will only be welcomed by the public if it receives high-quality, effective and well-managed services in exchange.
Peretz and Orly Levy-Abekasis presented only one side of the social-democratic state. A detailed plan to fight corruption in the public sector, dismantle monopolies, equalize terms enjoyed by those receiving fixed pensions and holding tenured jobs to those of weaker sectors of the labor market, reduce the cost of living and close tax shelters available to the upper tenth of a percentile – all these are missing in their platform.
If you’re still not convinced that in any possible constellation the coming election will yield a Knesset that shows little interest in fighting corruption, then the attitudes of parties on all sides of the political spectrum towards Avigdor Lieberman is the clearest litmus test.
Lieberman, who to this day has never explained to the public how millions of dollars landed in his daughter’s and driver’s bank accounts, who escaped by the skin of his teeth from receiving long prison sentences due to the disappearance and silencing of witnesses, has become the natural partner of all members of the “Anyone-but-Bibi” camp.
Removing Netanyahu from the prime minister’s office is the most urgent task in the emergency operation to save the democratic foundations of this country. Netanyahu has proven that he’s willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of his political survival and protection from facing trial.
But the political system and the Israeli public of 2019 is not really troubled by corruption, lack of integrity or the quality of public services. The system is composed of gangs fighting among themselves over power, money and relevance.
This is bad news for Israel’s citizens. There is no economic policy or ideology which could provide the public with an improved quality of life without reducing the level of corruption and increasing the level of management in the public sector.
A large and corrupt government in the Italian style will channel taxes to cronies and interest groups while providing inferior public services. A small but corrupt government in the American style, which ostensibly gives markets a free hand in creating prosperity, will create rules that serve mainly the top 0.1 percent, the powerful and the well-connected.
An alternative government to the one headed by Netanyahu, if formed after the election or after an indictment, may slow the descent down the slope, but all the signs indicate that it will be composed of players who integrate well into the prevailing value system of the last decade.
It seems that a different kind of an external tremor is necessary in order to change the public’s tastes and the rules of the game.