Opinion

Israel's New Political Star Is Still Clean

Orli Levi-Abekasis manages to protect her reputation even when she’s deep in the muck. But would she join a center-left government or a right-wing nationalist one?

Israeli lawmaker Orli Levi-Abekasis in 2015.
Tomer Appelbaum

Eight Knesset seats. That, according to the latest poll by the Israel Television News Company, is what a party headed by independent MK Orli Levi-Abekasis would win if an election were held today. In Haaretz’s political cartoon Thursday, Amos Biederman depicted a relay race in which Rafael Eitan, the founder of the defunct Tzomet party, is straggling behind and Rafi Eitan, the leader of the Pensioners Party who concocted one of Israel’s most failed political efforts ever, hands the baton off to Levi-Abekasis.

To really understand Israel and the Knesset - subscribe to Haaretz

The hint is clear. Amid all the necessary reservations about the transience of opinion polls and their limited relevance so long before an election, the enthusiasm for ad hoc parties is the other side of the coin when it comes to the people’s despair over the veteran parties and their leaders. And it only ends in bitter disappointment.

On the other hand, Levi-Abekasis has chalked up a decent number of accomplishments, and MKs who have seen her in action can testify to her pugnacity. When she tackles a subject she doesn’t relent until she gets what she wants. That’s always a valuable quality, but when a female backbencher shows such determination to advance a range of socioeconomic issues for the benefit of the poor, she deserves every credit.

Some people also mention her brother, Deputy Housing Minister Jackie Levy, as an asset that she draws on. She’s always equipped with data that others don’t have and inside information that helps her accomplish her goals, particularly when they relate to public housing. She also has other links to power centers, and the fact that her brother-in-law is bureau chief for Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman certainly hasn’t hurt either.

In fact, very few things have hurt her. At the moment, her new party is drawing support from both political camps. That can be attributed to another of her qualities. She has managed to stay clean even when she’s deep in the muck. Her past affiliation with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party and its identification with the anti-Arab slogan “no loyalty – no citizenship” hasn’t hurt her in the least. Allegations of corruption in the party haven’t tainted her, nor has the party’s commitment to the death penalty for terrorists or one of its former MKs, the oddest of all time, Sharon Gal.

None of this has detracted from her efforts as chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child or her opposition to the elimination of the presumption that young children of divorced parents should be in their mothers’ custody. Also forgotten is that she quit her party when she lost a political post.

Let’s acknowledge that the political center is an invention of the chronically dissatisfied left. Levi-Abekasis has managed to elicit empathy among every group – Mizrahim, feminists, leftists, Likudniks, social activists. All of them say “she’s one of us.” That’s a rare accomplishment, but actually as a result, she should already be asked to provide answers to a few questions now. The first is which coalition government would she join – a center-left government or a right-wing nationalist one?

Of course she would have no interest in responding to such a question. It’s electoral suicide to commit to a clear position when everybody thinks she represents them. She’d prefer to remain attractive to left-wing Meretz voters and right-wing Likud supporters, as well as to Zionist Union and Kulanu closer to the center. Our role, however, is to be an irritant until she answers.

Will a vote that she siphons from Meretz help form a coalition government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the subject of suspicions of criminal wrongdoing? From now until the next election, whenever it takes place, Levi-Abekasis can’t be let off the hook. She owes her voters more than the weak and convoluted response that she has so far provided.