The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania, who related how he learned from a child about the short way that is long, and the long way that is short. The lesson, of course, is that sometimes what appears to be a shortcut may, in the final analysis, turn out to be the costliest route, and that what seems to be the most difficult path may end up yielding the greatest benefit. Or, to quote the late American opera singer Beverly Sills: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
Israelis who still consider themselves leftist might do well to write that sentence on their hand before their memory betrays them, as it generally does, when they step into the voting booth on March 23. In recent years many of them, in a desperate attempt to oust Benjamin Netanyahu, have drifted further and further to the right – holding their noses as they do so, or not; and making credible justifications, or not. In the long run, their nearsighted ideological shortcut strengthens the opposing side. In other words, they are shooting themselves in the left foot.
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This voting pattern, call it tactical or strategic, ignores the principles that the prime minister’s would-be replacements offer – or, in the case of Kahol Lavan, don’t even make a pretense of offering. Gideon Sa’ar, Yair Lapid and even Avigdor Lieberman: All is fair in the fight to supplant Netanyahu. Not to lump the three of them together, but the bottom line is that none of them represents the left by any stretch of the imagination.
It’s a giant chicken-and-egg loop. Israelis are ostensibly becoming more right-wing, and in consequence, the “left” must attract votes from the center-right in order to break the tie between the left and the right. For the past few years all of the center-left candidates have focused on, um, how not to seem too far left, heaven forbid. Lapid specialized in this long before the rest, even taking care in interviews to say, “I am not a leftist” – because everyone knows nothing could be more despicable.
The long-term result of this tactical voting is to legitimize the ideologies of the right, entrenching them for generations to come and allowing the right to set the boundaries of the conversation. On the day after Netanyahu – and that day will come – it won’t be easy to undo all this.
We should have learned this lesson from the story of Benny Gantz. A person for whom center-leftists voted for the sole purpose of replacing Netanyahu, even though in terms of policy there are no fundamental differences between them. The only thing separating them are three specific things, or the lack thereof: three criminal counts. That, and a bit of talk about “unity.”
I don’t discount this. These are also important considerations. But Sa’ar, Lapid and Lieberman cannot possibly be the path to the sustainable recovery of the left in the wider picture.
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Leftists who care about the guiding principles of the party they are voting for currently have three options: the Labor Party, Meretz and the Joint List. It is obvious that none of their leaders has any chance of becoming prime minister. But is it right to throw these parties under the bus in favor of right-wing candidates? Furthermore, a vote for the left is a vote for the left. With whom do the tactical voters think Lapid will form his government? Assuming that the chance of an upset is still a slim one and we’re more likely to end up in deadlock territory again, wouldn’t it be better to work on building a bloc for the long haul? That would be a long way that is short.