Opinion

Leftists, Don't Jump Ship

Despite the deep desire of all those who hate Benjamin Netanyahu to finally see him ousted after so many difficult years, abandoning the left in this election to vote strategically would be a crime against conscience

Avi Gabbay, chairman of Israel's Labour Party, arrives to deliver a speech during a party conference in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 10, 2019.
AFP

After the ecstatic celebrations over Benny Gantz’s successful speech, and even more, the poor man’s joy over the hysteria he provoked among Likud party members, it’s time to take a look at those who are facing a real dilemma, much bigger than that of the ruling party. The polls that show Gantz doing phenomenally well, and even better if he runs on a joint ticket with Yair Lapid, have simply erased the left from the Knesset.

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One of the charges leveled by Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg against her predecessor, Zahava Gal-On, was that the latter regularly waged an “oy vey” campaign, including last-ditch pleas to the voters. But in this election, Zandberg will be forced to do exactly the same thing.

The Labor Party is a tragic story. The party that built the state, absorbed massive waves of immigrants and was the traditional alternative to Likud during its long years in power now faces disaster, and it hasn’t stopped bleeding Knesset seats.

Despite the deep desire of all those who hate Benjamin Netanyahu to finally see him ousted after so many difficult years, abandoning the left in this election would be a crime against conscience. First, strategic voting generally results in embarrassing failure. I’m still walking around with a narcissistic fear that I’m the one who promoted the political careers of former MKs Dalia Itzik, Eli Aflalo and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich when I voted for the now-defunct Kadima party in 2009 in order to “block Bibi.”

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Second, strategic voting causes deep ideological damage, which greatly exceeds the possible benefits of playing a “sophisticated game” according to the rules of realpolitik.

In the war for centrist voters – those masses too lazy to stop for a moment and think about what their positions are on burning issues that affect our existence here – everyone is fleeing from being identified with the left. Consequently, the imaginary point where that amorphous center is located keeps drifting further and further rightward.

If the collapse of the Zionist left had served some noble goal, like forging a true ideological partnership between Jews and Arabs, it would be possible to discern some blessing amid the ruins, a sign of better things to come. But the only result of the destruction of the Zionist left, to anyone with a broad view of Israeli society that goes beyond a few Tel Aviv bars, is its own dismantling, nothing else.

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Against this backdrop, in the best case, opportunistic deceivers like Lapid and Orli Levi-Abekasis will flourish, and in the worst case, rightists like Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked will settle smack in the heart of the Israeli consensus. The thousands of votes that intellectuals and creative artists cast for right-wing Arab nationalist parties like Balad and the southern branch of the Islamic Movement don’t hasten the arrival of any kind of equality, only an even more destructive right-wing government, in which MK Bezalel Smotrich will be a senior cabinet minister.

Leftists have endless criticism of their leaders. This is basically a good thing, since criticism is always preferable to a herd mentality. But it’s also their biggest drawback when facing the iron fist of the right, which rallies protectively ‘round its leader.

Even if the criticism of Zandberg and Labor chairman Avi Gabbay is justified, and sometimes it is, it shouldn’t sentence them to death. There are far worse people on our political map who are doing much better in the polls.

But in any case, the issue at stake here is much bigger than the personal one. If Gantz replaces Netanyahu, it will happen only in circumstances that seem almost hallucinatory: a merger with Lapid, which requires resolving the question of who will lead the joint ticket – a question to which no answer is currently visible – plus a failure by some right-wing parties to cross the electoral threshold.

Labor and Meretz will recommend Gantz for prime minister in any case. His job is to bring votes from the right, and that’s what he has done until now, in what has so far been a fairly successful masked ball. The job of the few leftists who remain here is to vote for the left.