Who said the Israeli left is dead? As of Tuesday night, with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s announcing the launch of his Hayisraelim party, there are no less than six parties competing for the votes of centrist and left-wing Israelis.
There’s something there for everyone. Vague centrists can stick with Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, or if they can’t forgive him joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition eight months ago, they can vote for Gantz’s former partner Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Traditionalists still have Labor, the party that founded a state, and those slightly further to the left can always vote for good old dependable Meretz. For the young at heart and restless, forever in search of a new option, there’s either Ofer Shelah’s Independents, barely a week old, or Huldai’s newborn Hayisraelim. And for the radicals, there’s the Joint List of communists, Islamists and Arab nationalists – assuming, of course, that they remain joined.
Forty-five percent of Israelis voted for centrist or left-wing parties in the last election, not that long ago, in March: not so bad for a political camp that has been repeatedly pronounced dead. Of course, most of those votes were for Kahol Lavan, which can’t be called left in any real meaning of the word – but then, most of the Israeli “left” was always in inverted commas. And the right wing is no larger, without its ultra-Orthodox allies.
But with the exception of the Joint List and its overwhelmingly Arab constituency, there is very little right now distinguishing the six center-left parties from one another. Huldai’s speech was a case in point. He launched a long, angry diatribe on how Israelis shouldn’t get used to the raw deal they’ve been receiving for so long from the Netanyahu government. But aside from his own record as an undoubtedly successful mayor of Tel Aviv, he offered voters no new program or innovative platform.
His message was as bland as that of Shelah, who launched his party last week. In fact, it was no more detailed than the one with which Gantz entered national politics two years ago. And we’ve all seen how that turned out.
Six parties are vying for the Jewish-secular-center-left vote, which constitutes at least a third of the electorate. And none of them stand out in particular. They’re all promising to bring down Netanyahu, though most of them have served with him in government at some point. They all claim to stand for “values,” but can’t specify what they are. They warn wavering centrists not to be tempted in to voting for Gideon Sa’ar, the new right-winger challenger to Netanyahu, but none of them have Sa’ar’s killer instinct or experience of the political dark arts. So why not vote for Sa’ar, if the most important thing is ending Netanyahu’s reign?
The Israeli center-left doesn’t lack for voters. It certainly doesn’t lack for parties and would-be leaders. But as Huldai proved once again in his launch last night, they have no vision, no plans and no compelling reason for anyone to vote for them.