Israeli Elections: Live Armadillos in the Middle of the Road

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a news conference in Tel Aviv on Monday.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The upcoming election is easier than usual. It’s clear to each person whom not to vote for. Secular people won’t vote for the ultra-Orthodox parties, and vice versa. Now the Arabs also have someone to not vote for: Mansour Abbas won’t vote for the Joint List, and Joint List supporters won’t vote for him.

Now that we’ve gotten past that hurdle, the polls are saying that most leftists won’t vote for Meretz, and some are also reluctant to vote Labor because of Ibtisam Mara’ana. Not because she’s an Arab – Meretz actually likes to decorate itself with Arabs – but because she didn’t rise for the siren on Memorial Day for those who fell in Israel’s wars. “Mara’ana is an anti-Zionist, a Holocaust denier. She drew the line at the siren and we won’t forgive her, ever,” ruled the national Sanhedrin, talk-show hosts Ofira and Berkovich.

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Very few will cast a ballot for Yaron Zelekha’s party and yes, there’s also bounce-back clown Benny Gantz, who will vote for himself, or maybe not. The bloc that opposes Benjamin Netanyahu won’t put a ballot for Likud in the envelope, while Netanyahu’s “base” won’t vote for Gideon Sa’ar, and even Naftali Bennett isn’t sweeping “Zionist Judaism” off its feet. A small part of that group, which takes shelter under the prayer shawl of the “young settlements” that go wild on the hilltops, has other leaders. In short, the ineligible have become the majority.

The fastidiousness of the Israeli voter throws him onto a futile path leading to “the center,” which promises him a political death by anesthetic.

“There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos,” said the American activist and journalist Jim Hightower. But in Israeli politics, armadillos actually come back to life right in the middle of the road. Yair Lapid, Sa’ar, Bennett, and Merav Michaeli are now our center. They are carefully walking along the dividing line in the middle of the road, as if that was the safest place to be. How did Lapid put it this week in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition? “We are presenting moderate, balanced, pretty cautious positions. Perhaps we won’t start any great adventures, but it seems to me that the state right now doesn’t need more disturbances. Sending Benjamin Netanyahu home will supply enough drama.” Lapid, in his greatness, is even prepared to yield on his personal ambitions.

But what kind of personal ambitions could sprout from someone who is coming from a position of moderation, balance and caution, like a flatlining monitor in the ICU? After all, this was exactly the tune Gantz was singing when he decided to break his silence during the election campaign that took place in ancient times. He also meant what he said. And we once believed him, too.

In the past it was possible and even necessary to criticize choosing the center. It’s a fearful, herdlike, conciliatory choice, one that cannot bring change, rebuild the ruins, conduct a decisive policy and restore a worthy hierarchy of values. Especially when the Israeli center is made up of scraps of parties and politicians, like spare parts that don’t fit together.

But we now find ourselves in a bad place, in which getting rid of Netanyahu is a value in and of itself, and not only that – it’s a supreme value. That’s because a society that seeks to ever come back to itself cannot once again choose a prime minister who is the epitome of corruption and arrogance, a guided missile targeting democracy and the public good. Even if Netanyahu weren’t on trial, 12 years in power is enough. A society that isn’t capable for replacing its government every so often is a society that has become accustomed to authoritarianism, has fallen in love with it and is bequeathing it to future generations.

In the next election – assuming it takes place in three or four years – there will be young voters who will never have known another prime minister and won’t know what a properly run government looks like. They will be convinced that this is what democracy is. And there is no vaccine against that. This is a time when a vote for the center is a frightfully bitter pill, but it’s necessary to cure the body of the plague.

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