Being in the Opposition Isn't So Simple

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Shelly Yacimovich in conversation with Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) in the Knesset, May 13, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) has been taking flak all week for her statement that although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fourth government is terrible from a political perspective, it has some advantages over earlier rightist governments. Its composition – based on the ultra-Orthodox parties and the social issue-oriented Kulanu party of Moshe Kahlon – affords it the potential to achieve socioeconomic change. Consequently, her decision to remain in the opposition but to support reforms planned by Kahlon, as well as any other positive economic proposals, was slammed by Sefi Rachlevsky as being “ridiculous, dangerous and immoral.” Other commentators wondered about possible hidden motives behind her announcement: Was Yacimovich challenging her party leader, Isaac Herzog?

The interesting thing about the exchange is that her view is being highlighted and drawing angry responses, even though it is a reasonable and completely logical stance. After all, if the goal of Knesset members is to serve the public, why wouldn’t the opposition support the government when it takes the right path? The idea that everything must be done to topple Netanyahu’s government, even when it is proposing changes that would benefit the public, presupposes that a government led by Zionist Union would result in a complete upheaval and total contrast to a Likud government. This notion is baseless. There are political differences between Zionist Union from Likud, but not a chasm. In general, the political arena is not a revolutionary realm, and it requires the consideration of multiple components in order to bring about long-term change. Therefore, until the present government falls, it would be best to derive as much as possible from it.

The issue runs much deeper: what the right-wing can achieve in the social sphere is a transformation in the quality of life of those whose support the left is crying out for – the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and Jews from the middle class, and weaker segments of society. If the left wishes to attain power, it can’t afford to antagonize these sectors just for the sake of opposing the government’s policies. Thus, what Yacimovich proposes is also a bridge – utilitarian and moral at the same time – between the grassroots and the left.

This isn’t the first time Yacimovich has challenged the mental paradigm espoused by media consultants, who call on opposition politicians to define themselves through barbed criticism of the government. When she was the Labor Party’s candidate for prime minister in 2013, Yacimovich claimed her party had a long-standing commitment to the settlements – a historically accurate statement – and that peace slogans cannot be the only issue on her calling card. Many attacked her for downplaying the peace process in her platform, describing her as a right-wing politician. In fact, her words were an unusually courageous leftist statement. Zionist Union will not achieve peace as long as it remains unwilling to divide Jerusalem or compromise regarding the Temple Mount – we have yet to hear of such a bold plan.

That is why Yacimovich is right. Netanyahu’s government is bad for peace, and it was assembled carelessly. Efforts should be made to topple it, but this won’t be achieved through rhetoric. In the meantime, the association between Kulanu, Shas and United Torah Judaism allows a rare alternative that can benefit weaker segments of society. In this context, one can support them from the outside.

Such a stance doesn’t conform to the popular image of a fighting opposition, and it seems a bit outdated in its consideration of wider national interests. However, this is the only alternative. In many respects, in comparison to the prevailing discourse, this stance is the more complex one. It refrains from depicting everything solely in black and white, and provides a refreshing hint of subversion.