Opinion

It’s Gantz or Smotrich

File photo: Billboard bearing portraits of Kahol Lavan leaders alongside another billboard showing Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by extreme right politicians is seen in Ramat Gan, Israel, March 17, 2019.
Jack Guez/AFP

We’re in the home stretch. Is there still any chance of persuading people to change their minds, or is it already set in stone – who’s in favor of toppling the corrupt, hypocritical, inflammatory inciter, and who’s in favor of defending the poor victim of the legal system and the media, which are closing in on him from every side?

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With regard to attitudes toward Benjamin Netanyahu himself, people seem to have already made up their minds. Even if eye-opening new facts about the submarines case come to light, Netanyahu will claim he’s being smeared with a new lie. Those who don’t believe a word he says won’t believe him this time either, while those who see him as a victim will continue to support him.

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Nevertheless, the polls reveal some astounding responses by a majority of respondents. In a country where traditional Jews are steadily growing more numerous and increasingly shaping voting patterns, the polls show that ideological cooperation between secular and traditional Jews is possible in many areas.

For instance, a large majority of the public supports limited public transportation on Shabbat, favors civil marriage and thinks the Nation-State Law should be amended to give expression to the principle of civic equality. Thus at first glance, there seems to be a contradiction between people’s views and the way they actually vote.

This contradiction may indicate that Netanyahu isn’t the weakest link in the right-wing government. So what is this link, and is it possible to use it to undermine the right’s position by Election Day?

Netanyahu understands that he has to link his rival Benny Gantz to what some Jewish voters see as the ultimate evil. That’s how the slogan “Bibi or Tibi,” referring to Arab MK Ahmad Tibi, was born.

But the rival campaign never mustered the courage to immediately declare, “It’s Gantz or Smotrich” (referring to far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich) or “It’s us or Ben-Gvir” (referring to far-right candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir). Slogans of this sort rest on the assumption that most Israelis don’t want to live in a state where the ultra-Orthodox and the Kahanists can drag Netanyahu’s Likud party wherever they please.

A campaign based on slogans like “Smotrich and Ben-Gvir – is that the Israel you want?” or “When Netanyahu disappears, you’ll be left with a country run by Regev, Litzman, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir” (referring to Culture Minister Miri Regev and ultra-Orthodox politician Yaakov Litzman) wouldn’t be sophisticated. But it would have clear messages.

I’m not presuming to suggest an entire campaign, but only to challenge the instinctive responses of campaign strategists for the Kahol Lavan, Labor and Meretz parties. The effort to sink Netanyahu’s ship requires creative thinking, not banality.

What’s necessary is to exploit the gap between the fact that most voters loathe most of the extreme right and the fact that the extreme right is what guarantees Netanyahu’s hold on power. The aggressive, dirty, divisive and inflammatory campaign Netanyahu is waging doesn’t stem from a desire to convince the undecided, but from a desire to retain his loyal supporters.

Therefore, the proper way to respond to this campaign isn’t by responding to his despicable talking points, but by diverting it in a direction Netanyahu fears. His allies aren’t well-liked, and they’re having trouble scraping up votes. Even Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is surviving not thanks to her “achievements,” but thanks to her new perfume, whose rotten stench has penetrated worldwide. This must be exploited.

The word “leftist” has become a curse word, so everyone is rushing to justify themselves by making it clear that they aren’t leftists. We need to balance this equation by warning that religious nationalists and Kahanists will take over the education system, and perhaps even the defense establishment, because Netanyahu has made them his partners. These are partners whom most of the public loathes.

Is this the Israel you want to live in? The answer will become clear on April 9.