Opinion |

The Israeli Center-left Must Open Its Eyes

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on after lighting a Hanukkah candle at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, December 22, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on after lighting a Hanukkah candle at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem, December 22, 2019.Credit: AFP
Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak

Open your eyes. The election that is ahead of us will be critical in determining Israel’s character and its future. The fact that it will be the third within a year shows that the political order is at risk of a painful collapse. And both sides of the aisle, including the one to which I belong, are blind. Two to three weeks remain to combine forces, and nine weeks until the election. Sobriety, vigilance and willingness to act are the order of the day.

Those of you in the center left must open your eyes. The election will determine the size of the bloc, not the size of the party. The center left’s unwillingness to take decisive action to build a winning bloc, in total contrast to the right, constitutes inexplicable blindness on the part of its leaders. If even one of the small leftist parties fails to meet the electoral threshold, it could guarantee the establishment of a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, which would be a disaster.

Three conclusions must be drawn: Democratic Union must maintain its unity and the composition of its electoral slate; Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz is right to call for an alliance of the left. Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz must overcome all the pitfalls and move forthwith to join Democratic Union. Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, who has demonstrated impressive political skills, must recognize the he has a responsibility to put together a winning bloc, whose size will enable it to establish a government that will return the state to the Zionism of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Only a winning bloc under his leadership can negotiate from a position of strength with the ultra-Orthodox parties and forces on the right about joining his government.

This responsibility requires Gantz to focus on persuading the parties to his left to unite. He must present them with a plan envisioning joint action. Without these measures, there will be no unification of forces, and without that, the blindness of the leadership is liable to lead to a defeat that will be laid at his doorstep.

The opposite is happening on the right. The leader, who has been indicted for bribery, is hysterically yet soberly and determinedly pulling out all the stops to save himself from having to face justice. In so doing, he continues endlessly to incite, to divide, to threaten to take credit for others’ achievements and to lie. He and his family are prepared to burn down the house, and with it the norms of public life in Israel. A century ago, the Irish poet W. B. Yeats bewailed the blindness of leaders who brought on the apocalypse of World War I:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Sounds familiar?

On the Israeli right, some of those being led – most of them good people in and of themselves – suffer from blindness: They follow a leader whose time has passed, a “magician” who was exposed by his disgrace and his deceit, a leader who behaves criminally. A man, some of whose alleged crimes have yet even to be investigated, among them possible insider trading linked to a cousin of his and misreporting to the state comptroller, not to mention the ships affair, the most serious of affairs, in the Holy of Holies of national security.

I know thousands of Likud members and am convinced that many of them are pained about the contradiction between their expectations of leadership and what happens in the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. What Matanyahu Englman in the State Comptroller’s Office and Amir Ohana in the Justice Ministry are destroying is just a taste of what we can expect down the line.

And I am calling on you all, too. Open your eyes. What’s happening on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street is not the Israel of which we dreamed and for which we fought. The power to change is in our hands – to be more precise, in your hands. The day after we are rid of this evil, and with it the criminal neglect of health, education, transportation, civil rights, environmental quality and security, we will all breathe more easily. Yes, I am convinced that you all will as well. Simply open your eyes and dare to act.

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