Opinion |

To Defeat Netanyahu, Last-minute Unity Must Be Foisted on Surly Center-left Leaders

Only outside intervention can still compel them to discard petty arrogance for the sake of the Israel that they vowed to protect, as in the proposed list below

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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From left to right: Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Democratic Israel head Ehud Barak.
From left to right: Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Democratic Israel head Ehud Barak. Credit: Jim Watson / AFP, Reuven Kapuchinsky, AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

On the eve of September elections deemed crucial for the future of Israel, the leaders of the center-left bloc are acting like spoiled, annoying children in kindergarten. Historians will be hard-pressed to explain their behavior.

Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder against Benjamin Netanyahu, they are fracturing themselves to oblivion. Rather than keeping their pledge of allegiance to the state, they are allowing arrogance, ego, pettiness, vindictiveness and expedience to dictate their moves, all the way to certain defeat.

Democratic Israel leader Ehud Barak is stubbornly killing his once-promising run by refusing to divulge details of his business ties to convicted sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein. Labor’s Amir Peretz is battling his own base, veering sharply to the right and casting doubt on his loyalties. Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz seems to have evaporated into thin air. His sidekick Yair Lapid insists on upholding his misconceived “rotation” agreement with Gantz, despite its negative reception by the public.

>> Read more: On eve of existential election, Israel's center-left is no the verge of implosion | Analysis ■ 13 years, 128 days and counting: Netanyahu surpasses Ben-Gurion. But what's his legacy?

And then there’s Meretz, for which no one is ever ideologically pure enough, and the leaders of the Arab minority, who have run into a brick wall in their efforts to re-form their widely supported joint list because of irreconcilable differences over who will get the 12th (!) slot on their Knesset list. Author Muhammad Ali Taha, who headed the committee charged with settling the disputes among the four parties that would make up the joint list, hit it on the nose in saying “ego has vanquished hope.”

His observation is valid for center-left Jews as well. Now there are only about ten days left before the August 1 deadline for submitting the parties’ lists of candidates for the Knesset. Those who believe in miracles are praying that they will prove to be ten days that shook the world (or at least Israel). In this idyllic scenario, center-left leaders will come to their senses and unite under their shared banner of unseating Netanyahu.

If they don’t, one of the parties that are considered natural allies of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan – Peretz Labor, Barak’s Democratic Israel or Meretz – could fall below the 3.25% threshold, bringing the center-left to its knees and delivering Israel into the hands of Netanyahu and the most retrograde and hyper-nationalist government in the country’s history.

Nonetheless, it’s not too late to put the center-left back on course with the help of outside intervention, as is often needed for groups that seem to have gone off the rails. The ideal solution would be to hold open primaries for a united center-left list and its leader, but time is short, the task is formidable and the potential candidates would probably shun the process. Desperate times, however, call for desperate measures, which in this case means the establishment of an appointments committee that would dictate the makeup of a unified list.

Imagine that such a committee is established tomorrow morning. It could include, say, five well-respected personas perceived as beyond reproach.

They would sit day and night until white smoke emerges. The committee would decide whether Gantz continues to lead the pack, by virtue of heading the largest party in the bloc, or is replaced by another, possibly more vibrant candidate. Forty-eight hours before the deadline, the committee would throw its Hail Mary, publish its proposed joint list and compel center-left leaders to decide whether they are for us or against us.

Here is one such possible list, out of many, which would be relatively well-rounded, attractive for center-left voters and as representative as possible (though it excludes Arab candidates as well as Peretz’s controversial recruit, Orli Levi-Abekasis).

1. Benny Gantz (Kahol Lavan) 2. Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) 3. Yair Lapid (Kahol Lavan/Yesh Atid) 4. Amir Peretz (Labor) 5. Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) 6. IDF General (res.) Orna Barbivai 7. Ehud Barak (Democratic Israel) 8. Gabi Ashkenazi (Kahol Lavan) 9. Moshe Yaalon (Kahol Lavan) 10. Former Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich 11. Former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan (Democratic Israel) 12. Stav Shaffir (Labor) 13. Ofer Shelah (Kahol Lavan) 14. Former television anchor Miki Haimovich (Kahol Lavan) 15. Itzik Shmuli (Labor) 16. Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) 17. Former deputy Mossad head Ram Ben-Barak (Kahol Lavan) 18. Yifat Biton (Democratic Israel) 19. Former police investigator Moshe Mizrahi (Labor) and 20. Former Meretz leader Zehava Galon.

Such a list – dream team may be a bit of a stretch – would reflect the enormity of the hour that center-left leaders incessantly describe. Setting their outstanding differences aside, the joint list could focus on an emergency plan to save Israeli democracy, fortify the rule of law and quell the rising tide of ugly racism. It would enthuse the center-left’s base, maximize its electoral potential and, who knows, possibly achieve the long-awaited victory – on the assumption, contradicted by their behavior, that the leaders of the center-left are at all interested.

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