Editorial |

Unite and Rule

The absence of an alternative has dealt a mortal injury to Israeli democracy. Netanyahu sets the tone, everyone toes his line and the public is not exposed to other ideas

Haaretz Editorial
MK Tzipi Livni, who has just been named the new opposition head.
MK Tzipi Livni, who has just been named the new opposition head.Credit: Chandler West for IRL Production
Haaretz Editorial

“We are taking an important step today in building an alternative to the current government, a camp that can constitute a new hope for the people of Israel,” Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay said Monday after announcing the selection of Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni as the head of the opposition. “In exchange” for Livni’s appointment, Hatnuah and the Labor Party will run together in the next general election as the Zionist Union, as they did in 2015.

Livni reiterated Gabbay’s message: “Today we are presenting an alternative.” It seems they both recognize that Israeli voters yearn for an opposition that offers a real alternative to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For years the common wisdom has been that there is no alternative to Netanyahu, and for that reason his challengers blur their ideological differences with him. Instead of presenting a different worldview and defending it — whatever the electoral cost may be — the opposition parties have toed the line with Netanyahu on almost every issue, for fear their patriotism will be questioned. This is a cowardly and pointless strategy: Those who identify with Netanyahu’s perspective won’t vote for a cheap imitation of him, and those who are disgusted by Netanyahu cannot connect electorally to his imitators.

The absence of an alternative has dealt a mortal injury to Israeli democracy. Netanyahu sets the tone, everyone toes his line and the public is not exposed to other ideas. The parliamentary unanimity on security affairs is dangerous. The public must be exposed to a different and unified worldview regarding Israel’s actions in Syria and the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

An alternative is needed too in regard to the conflict with the Palestinians: What is the real difference between Netanyahu’s “Palestinian state-minus” and Gabbay’s “demilitarized” state?

The right has been sketching out a vision of annexation for years. This may of course be an insane vision, but at least it challenges Netanyahu, so the political dialogue today is between Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. The left does not present a challenge to the government and does not threaten it.

The opposition headed by Livni and Gabbay must participate in the political debate. There are numerous and varied centers of opposition to Netanyahu’s rule, including the battles against corruption and religious coercion; the battles of the Mizrahim, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, the refugees and of course the struggle against the occupation. The opposition must provide a political home for all these fights, to bind them together with the threads of interests and solidarity and to explain to the public what all these struggles have in common.

The Netanyahu government is leading an attack on minorities, the rule of law, the media and democracy, and it is being fueled by incitement and racism. Netanyahu governs by “divide and rule.” The opposition must take the opposite approach: Unite and rule.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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