| Election Special |

The Center-Left Is Back

The Center-Left managed to show that there is a real and viable anti-Netanyahu bloc


he center-left parties can congratulate themselves on the election results. They didn’t outright win this time around, but they managed to show that there is a real and viable anti-Netanyahu bloc.

In the previous election, in April, the Blue and White alliance, led by Benny Gantz, ran an aggressive “anyone but Bibi” campaign that backfired: It only managed to rile up the Likud base. This time party leaders took a different tack, running a dull campaign with vague promises.

Just a week before the polls opened, and sensing a surge to Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, Gantz and company initiated a campaign message that would take them all the way to election day: “a secular unity government.” Gantz, who has adopted a conciliatory attitude toward chareidi parties since his first day in politics, essentially capitulated to Yair Lapid by appealing to the secular, anti-chareidi base.

Blue and White achieved no small victory. Founded just six months ago, the political alliance (made up primarily of Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael and Lapid’s Yesh Atid) was plagued throughout this second campaign by poor cooperation among the party’s top brass. Gantz even hired a private security company to investigate who was responsible for the leaks that plagued the party in the first round. In the end both the existence of the investigation and its findings were leaked to the press, highlighting the party’s dysfunction.

The alliance also faced a challenge of charisma with its leader Gantz. A former army chief of staff, Gantz is not a polished public speaker, and that’s an understatement. He is verbally clumsy, a gaffe machine of Joe Biden-like proportions. In a recent interview, he managed to bungle his very first words, replying “My name is good,” to the query “Mah shlomcha (how are you)?”

And yet the Likud’s hope that Gantz’s awkward moments, as well his unpopular rotation agreement with Yair Lapid, would lead to a surge for Netanyahu at Blue and White’s expense didn’t pan out. Netanyahu seemingly enjoyed an advantage in this second set of elections: Moshe Kahlon dissolved his Kulanu party to run on the Likud list, and Bibi convinced Zehut’s Moshe Feiglin to drop out for future gains. But the strategy failed. Whereas Likud won 35 seats in April and Kahlon’s Kulanu party four, this time the Likud managed just 31 seats. Netanyahu’s goal was to win 38 to 40 seats, giving him a resounding victory and sending a message to the attorney general, who is investigating the prime minister, that the public is behind him. That didn’t materialize.

Who Needs Lieberman?

The party that gained the most in this second round was Yisrael Beitenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman. Aryeh Deri’s best chum for decades (as illustrated in the backroom deal that got Moshe Leon elected mayor of Jerusalem last year), Lieberman suddenly discovered he was anti-chareidi four months ago. The man who pledged to assassinate Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours of becoming defense minister found an easier target, the chareidim. Lieberman’s campaign yielded some ill-gotten gains at the ballot box, but this won’t necessarily translate into influence in the next government. He and Gantz alone can’t form a coalition, and if Gantz and Netanyahu form a unity government, why should they include Lieberman?

The End of Labor?

At the same time, two party lists that are relieved to have reached the threshold are Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Union (an alliance that includes left-wing Meretz and Ehud Barak). These two coalitions survived by a miracle. At the beginning of the campaign Barak and Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz warned that unless they united one of their parties could be wiped out. But Labor leader Amir Peretz, with inexplicable arrogance, decided instead to join with the electorally insignificant Orly Levy-Abekasis, making a dubious promise to win 15 seats.

The voters didn’t show up, and Peretz had to resort to pathetic gimmicks to make it over the threshold. Among other things, he shaved his mustache, which has been his trademark for 47 years, in order to tell the public: “Read my lips, I won’t sit with Netanyahu.”

In the last batch of polls, Labor was hovering around the electoral threshold. In the end, leftist activists declared on social media that they would be switching their votes in order to “rescue” Labor. It was a pathetic situation, the party of Ben-Gurion saved only by Gantz supporters who voted tactically to help the center-left bloc.

In the next election campaign, there is no justification for the existence of two separate left-wing parties, and Horowitz has already called for a merger. The story of Labor and Meretz is over. Their policy differences are negligible, and their number of seats gets smaller with every contest. The question is which will triumph: common sense and logic, or personal ego. If they run separately in the next election (which may come sooner than expected), one of them may well miss the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Who Will Go First?

Now we are headed to long weeks — lasting deep into the autumn — of a game of chicken between Netanyahu and Gantz. Neither will want to be the first to be tasked with forming a government. They will both hope to go second, after the one whose turn came first tried and failed to form a government, in order to have more leverage.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 779)

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