Israel's Opposition Can't Win Any Election

Unable to challenge the faltering government for president, the opposition parties look unready for the next Knesset elections.

Olivier Fitoussi

If Israel's dramatic presidential election constitutes a preview of the real thing, that is, the Knesset election that will follow the 2015 budget war or an escalation of the battle between the annexation gangs and the whitewashing center — the situation of the opposition is as horrible as ever.

Instead of storming the vacuum created by the Likud party’s bloody internal war and uniting behind a non-far-right-wing candidate whose ideology at the very least does not contradict to the worldviews and values of the peace camp, the opposition spread out like a flock of fatigued sheep. In the end, it helped lift two right-wing candidates, each in his own way opposed to the principles of the left, to the runoff stage of the election.

Shelly Yacimovich happily cozied up to President-elect Reuven Rivlin, the truly jolly liberal who believes that Israel’s borders should be set somewhere in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. The Arabs gave their vote to MK Meir Sheetrit (Likud), who the evening before voted for a bill to force-feed hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners and who in the past sponsored the defamation and biometric database bills, both of which are anti-democratic. The ultra-Orthodox were free to vote their conscience, and split their support between Dalia Itzik and Rivlin. Only Meretz, save for Ilan Gilon stood behind Dalia Dorner, whose positions, at least as indicated by her rulings as Supreme Court justice, are closest to leftist ideology.

The opposition's failure — and the resulting runoff between Rivlin, a supporter of the right-wing Beitar Movement, and Sheetrit, a politician who pushes laws that leftist ideology cannot contain — could be blamed on the Benjamin Ben-Eliezer fiasco that transpired days before the election and shook up the Labor party. But hitches are part of every candidacy. Without getting into the string of suspicions for which he is being investigated, was MK Ben-Eliezer (Likud) really the best candidate the Labor party could field in the name of the peace camp?

The opposition's presidential flop is just the latest instance of limp leadership by Labor chairman Isaac Herzog. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is imploding. It is just waiting for a finger to come along and yank the thin thread holding it together. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and now Finance Minister Yair Lapid too are waiting expectantly for a sufficiently determined trailblazer bridge the Rubicon for them, and thus justify their political careers.

The Haredim are annoyed to no end at Netanyahu for agreeing to draft their young men into the army. Their dismay and anger could be heard in the voice of Rabbi Eichler, who explained the tragedy that Rivlin embodies in their eyes: He is a wonderful man but a political partner to “anti-Jewish” rulings.

And most important of all: the anti-democratic legislation emerging from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and the Knesset plenum. Hatnuah and Yesh Atid routinely object to this legislation, signaling an active opposition within the government.

What is Herzog waiting for?

Rivlin won, and rightfully so. He is beloved by the people and the Knesset. Let us hope that he will lead according to the liberal values attributed to him and contribute to fortifying Israeli democracy against his comrade’s attempts to weaken it. The fact that he is like a bone in Netanyahu’s throat certainly adds to the joy of the prime minister's rivals, but it’s small comfort to a defeated and disorganized underdog political camp.

For the left to transform from a small minority, just only in its own eyes, to a force that has any kind of influence on reality in Israel, it has to first believe in itself and its ability to carry out initiatives and political maneuvers. The presidential election did not show that it has any faith at all. Let us hope the opposition changes gear before the real thing — the Knesset election.