Opinion |

Don't Get Stuck in the Middle at the Ballot Box

Benny Gantz’s 'center' – the magical creature that has enchanted the average citizen – is devoid of any characteristics of its own

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon attend a news conference at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel,  August 27, 2014.
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in Jerusalem, Israel, August 27, 2014.Credit: \ NIR ELIAS/ REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

About half of all Israelis say they don’t want Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, according to the latest Haaretz poll. This should worry Netanyahu, but it should worry those who seek to oust him even more. Only half of the Israelis? Despite all the investigations of cases that appear to be leading toward an imminent indictment? Despite the arrogance, the greed, the personality cult, the trampling of values and the crushing of democracy – half of all Israelis still want this guy as prime minister?

And that’s not all. Add to this half another group that doesn’t want Netanyahu but will continue to give the right and far right the numbers it needs to keep marching the country toward the abyss.

Ostensibly, the contest is between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz; it's an election between two leading candidates who represent rival ideologies, or at least come with distinctive personality traits that set them apart. The underlying assumption is that the public has received a clear x-ray image of each candidate’s politics, and identifies Gantz as the leader of the center-left and Netanyahu as the general of the right.

>> Like Netanyahu, Gantz plays on the anxieties of his would-be voters | Analysis ■ Benny Gantz, the general coming to end the Netanyahu era

But what about the x-ray picture of the voters themselves? Do they know if Gantz plans to evacuate settlements or what map of settlement blocs he intends to adopt? What exactly does his "united Jerusalem" mean? What is the correction he promised the Druze he would make in the nation-state law? Does anyone know if Gantz would also restore Arabic’s rightful status as an official language? Will he revive the standing of the judicial system which has been knocked down and is nearly out for the count?

The polls don’t ask the public such questions, so there are no answers. It seems as if, while seemingly taking a journey without Waze – not to mention a map or a compass – "the people" is ready once again to just go wherever the person's charisma takes them, whether it's blue-haired, blue-eyed or the outcome of workouts in a gym. But such a declaration constitutes contempt for the indoctrination the public has undergone in the past decade, a disregard of the revolutions fomented by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, as well as an effort to ignore the racism that has struck deep roots among that same public here.

This time it’s not the leaders who are telling the public what to think; it’s the public that is dictating the ideology, and the same large right-center-right-far-right bloc that won’t let its candidates deviate from that ideology. This group by and large hates Arabs and foreigners, and will support “a broad military operation” in the Gaza Strip, settlement expansion, clipping the Supreme Court’s wings, and gender separation in the school system.

It is a public that has enjoyed the sweet taste of Jewish superiority, which is comfortable in the racist environment that has been carefully cultivated by the government, and whose democracy does not recognize the legitimacy of a different view.

For this public, the upcoming election will not be about new leadership, a new political language or a new set of values. It will be about selecting a CEO whose management style will ensure continuity. For even if “the people” has had its fill of Netanyahu the man, it still believes in his path.

Gantz has come to that realization, and proof of that is the fact that you need a microscope to spot any ideological differences between him and Netanyahu. Because Gantz’s “center” – the magical creature that has enchanted the average citizen – is devoid of any characteristics of its own. Its vague identity derives from the distance that separates it from the far right and from the extent of its revulsion for the Zionist left.

The Israeli “center” is faithful to American journalist James Hightower’s definition: “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.” Choosing the “center” is the refuge of the blind. Anyone who does not want to make do simply with ousting the Netanyahu family and wants to halt the slide toward a crash, cannot afford to get stuck in the middle.

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