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Let the Israeli Left Choose Their Own Leaders. Only Then Will They Replace Netanyahu

Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir
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Illustration. Credit: Leo Altman
Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir

A forecast for the election season: In the coming weeks, the media will be replete with headlines quoting a “senior left-wing lawmaker,” “associates” and other mysterious sources who will give briefings assailing one another, blaming each other for worshiping generals or for the thousandth time remembering the need to form a Jewish-Arab alliance. Ultimately, if voters enable it, these politicians will prefer to retain their safe positions over making changes, and we will yet again pay the price.

There is another option: the establishment of a democratic Israeli party that will unite all the relevant forces and declare the holding of open primaries for the party’s leadership. Only this way will it be possible to rehabilitate voter confidence, recruit a new and fresh leadership and attain a Jewish-Arab partnership. Such moves cannot be engineered by politicians who worry about their seats. These moves have to be determined by the public, with utmost transparency.

Why Israel’s anti-Bibi left is so lost – and chasing yet another general as its Messiah. LISTENCredit: Haaretz

For now, opinion polls show that the left has no chance of defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lawmakers Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli, by crawling into his government, have turned the Labor Party into a historical relic. Both Labor and Meretz have forgone primaries, leaving power in the hands of their leaders. There is no democracy in the parties of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid either. This leaves Likud, embarrassingly, as the only democratic party.

The public supporting the center-left camp cannot resign itself to a continuation of this situation. Internal quarrels have broken any restraints. You can’t even call it friendly fire, since there is no cohesive unit. Only one side on the battlefield is putting up a fight: the right. One can only cringe as the opposite side is witness to lawmaker Orli Levi-Abekasis hurling accusations at lawmakers Merav Michaeli and Tamar Zandberg, as if they were demanding secure Knesset seats for themselves and their partners. The responsibility for securing her own seat, even though she refused to join the Democratic Union, lies not just with Amir Peretz, but with his partners.

Talk of an Arab-Jewish partnership at Meretz doesn’t evoke much confidence. After all, in the last election Nitzan Horowitz and Zandberg vehemently objected when I proposed moving lawmaker Esawi Freige up to the second slot in the Democratic Union, at the expense of my own slot.

I’ll believe that Meretz is truly interested in a Jewish-Arab alliance when I see its members showing some willingness to make personal sacrifices for its benefit. Establishing a democratic party will provide them with such an opportunity. This party can recruit Jewish and Arab candidates, and hold regional elections to ensure the integration of the latter. Civilians and generals seeking the trust of the public will need to go through the trial of appealing to the public in a primary election.

Primaries could also foment ideological debates. People participating in current protests are suggesting using technology to give the public direct access to elected representatives. They are right. A leadership that has not managed to generate change up to now must seek the public’s help in building the future.

The public is uninterested in internal politics and in games revolving around the allocation of positions. People are busy with making a living and contending with the current coronavirus crisis. A democratic party could offer hope, suggesting creative solutions that have not yet been discussed in depth. These include a universal wage, a comprehensive reform in health and education, transferring power to local authorities and a green New Deal.

The current political situation is not normal. This is a battle over democracy, waged against a man with no restraints who’s willing to demolish it. Joining his government is not an option. One must fight him with unexpected vision and alliances. Unlike the adherents of Bibi-ism, the left does not adulate a leader. It seeks a story and ideas that will unite it. Now, after years of defeat, we have to allow it to prove that its leaders have the combative spirit required for this task.

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