As soon as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid finished their joint statement that they were calling new elections, a wave of nostalgia swept center-left voters. They discovered Bennett and his likability. His tired smile removed the last remnants of their anger over his past and instead they were overcome with gratitude.
Lapid, who will replace him as prime minister, also melted their hearts when he finished his remarks by briefly, almost bashfully, declaring his affection for Bennett. The friendship that they demonstrated for each other is so rare in politics that for a minute, it seemed as if Sasha Argov had composed the music for the event and Haim Gouri had written the words.
In fact, you would have to be utterly unfeeling not to be moved by this moment. Even people who are leftists “from head to toe,” to quote them, filled social media with statements of affection. They also announced that this time, they would vote for Lapid’s Yesh Atid party as a sign of their esteem for Lapid’s having stuck to his refusal to join a Netanyahu government, let Bennett be prime minister first and done everything in his power to form this government. Lapid, as we hear often recently, has grown up.
And these good people, who are leftists “from head to toe” and who scorned him just a few years ago, are now prepared to express their gratitude for one main thing – Lapid saved democracy and will save it again. Democracy is so important to them that they have managed to ignore the blatant evidence of its absence. For instance, Benjamin Netanyahu can only envy Yesh Atid’s party institutions, which include a loyal, obedient base and a cult of personality in which nobody aspires to replace the leader.
For a decade, Lapid has headed a party that runs no primaries and in which people owe their careers to him. He unsentimentally parted ways from his good friend Ofer Shelah when the latter demanded a leadership primary. And when he finally acceded to this demand, no one dared to run against him, because they weren’t hungry for a career as a basketball commentator.
The fact that the very same day the joint statement was made, their savior of democracy toppled a bill that would have mandated financial transparency for elected officials, didn’t trouble them at all. Nor did the fact that the two men opted to dissolve the Knesset and paralyze the government’s operations, including addressing burning economic issues, to save the settlement enterprise. (Bennett said he realized that if the regulations applying Israeli law to settlers expired, “Israel would descend into constitutional chaos. I couldn’t allow that.”)
In these voters’ view, this is just another example of the generosity with which both men have sacrificed themselves on the altar of the country’s welfare. Democracy is very dear to the hearts of these leftist voters – as long as it applies only to Jews.
Apartheid in the West Bank, with daily settler violence as a bonus? Economic violence and a growing gap between people whose parents can bequeath them real estate and people whose parents can only bequeath them a third generation of poverty? These voters can live with either a rightist leader like Bennett or an economically neoliberal one like Lapid.
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Lapid’s revolution has been completed, and we’re all living in the ideological universe of his friend, author Micah Goodman. Tepid waters run deep. The leftists “from head to toe” will vote for Yesh Atid en masse. They will thereby erase the small left-wing parties (Yesh Atid is the one that made them small) that actually are democratic, that elect their leaders in primaries.
And why will they do this? Because Netanyahu is threatening democracy. And let there be no misunderstanding, he is indeed dangerous. He’s a venomous campaigner, and I can identify with the desire to change the political culture that he and his family have implanted here.
But let’s at least admit that from his first day in politics, Lapid united his voters around serial hatreds. Once it was against the ultra-Orthodox, another time the Arabs, still another human rights organizations and now it’s the forces of darkness?
I’m not asking you not to do everything in your power to prevent Netanyahu’s return. But is it possible to do it with a little more integrity and a little less self-deception?