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Not Just Ron Huldai: More Israeli Political Upstarts Will Fade

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai,who launched a party for the March 2021 election.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai,who launched a party for the March 2021 election. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

About a month ago Ron Huldai launched his new party with a decent acquisition – Avi Nissenkorn, the justice minister who separated himself from Kahol Lavan’s failures and remained popular due to his reasonably tough approach to Benjamin Netanyahu. The polls gave the party eight or nine Knesset seats.

Huldai then wondered what would happen when push came to shove. As one whose main motive to enter national politics after many years of hesitating was to oust Netanyahu, the question was whether to join up with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, when and on what terms. Huldai apparently didn’t imagine that within a month the question would be whether he’d be willing to be the No. 2 of new Labor Party chief Merav Michaeli.

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Michaeli is now the hottest name on the center-left stock exchange, though it’s a bit heartbreaking that “a hot name” in Labor means winning just enough votes for the party to make it into the Knesset. Michaeli kept her oppositional spirit while her party cohorts Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli entered the cabinet. When she was elected Labor leader she demanded that they leave the government and made Peretz quit the party.

Putting a feminist at the helm infuses the party with a sense of new life. After the primary for the Knesset slate and a possible decent acquisition by Labor, too, Michaeli could well extend her days of glory and maybe even expand the party to five or six Knesset seats. But Huldai’s case can provide more than a hint of what’s in store.

How did Huldai’s party deteriorate within a month from a leading player in the anti-Netanyahu camp to a spot below the 3.25-percent electoral threshold? How did Tel Aviv’s successful mayor not only fail to expand beyond the Yarkon River but have to see some of his supporters choose an option that appears “more genuinely liberal”?

What happened to Huldai wasn’t entirely his doing. It didn’t depend on the quality of his interviews, the women he didn’t add to his ticket or his failure to resign from his mayoral post – rational reasons that are being cited to explain his party’s crisis. What happened to Huldai is what happened to some extent to Naftali Bennett and what will probably happen to Gideon Sa’ar and Michaeli – each in their own time and dimension.

Naftali Bennett (L) and Gideon Sa'ar at the funeral of Staff Sergeant Amit Ben Yigal, an IDF soldier who was hit by a stone in a West Bank village, December 5, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Many people complain about the politicians’ low standard, nonexistent credibility and the culture of falsehood they spread. Nobody complains about the voters, who are addicted to party launches but get bored once they see the next new toy.

The Sharon family’s Big Bang with Kadima in 2005 reinforced this phenomenon. It created a new standard in Israeli politics, of parties associated with one person who determines the ticket with the help of advisers. Anyone who believes he or she is somebody – with or without any connection to reality – founds a party and sweeps in whoever, only to discover that getting voters to the ballot box is much harder.

The polls predict shifting sands. Today they’re here, tomorrow they’re somewhere else – it depends where the new show is taking place. What then is the meaning of a strong opening in the polls when reality proves that the magic will fade like a thought in the head of someone with attention deficit disorder?

This is an important lesson for anyone now at the top of the Ferris wheel. Before you set off on a wild ride of self-adulation and overconfidence of being the election’s game changer, you better wait a week or two and check if that moment wasn’t as fragile as the cotton candy down on the ground.

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