The Israeli election is fast approaching and the Israeli nationalists, often referred to as the Zionists, come in two types, religious and secularist. Usually these two groups tend to vote for political parties which are tailored and tooled to fit their exacting preferences. This election is apparently going to be somewhat different and, if the polls are accurate, there may be a fairly significant number of crossover votes and these two groups are ending up vying for many of the same voters. Part of this phenomenon is due to the persona of the new head of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) Naftali Bennett on one side and some dissatisfaction and mistrust of Likud leader, the current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Then there are the usual new parties which are usually driven by one of two items, personality or hot button issue. There are three such new parties with two driven by their founders’ belief that they are the answer for all of Israel’s problems. One was started by former leader of Kadima, Tzipi Livni, who left Kadima after she lost the election to Saul Mofaz in the party’s primary. Another was started by ex-newscaster Yair Lapid who appears to be following in the same tracks that his father traveled from journalist become politician whose party achieved initial success making it into the Knesset for one election and failed thereafter. Time will tell if the younger Lapid will exactly mirror his father’s feats. The final one is Otzma Leyisrael which is headed by current MKs Michael Ben-Ari and Aryeh Eldad who split from their party after their faction lost the leadership positions.
There will be the usual contest between the two main sides as in every previous election pitting the liberal left socialists against those who have been attempting to remove the government from its heavy investment in the economy. The main subject that is separating these groups in this election is not actually economics but nationalism and those purporting the end of the Oslo Accords versus those who still hold out that peace is just the right offer away and that Mahmoud Abbas is an honest broker and the Oslo Accords are still relevant. It is this debate that has driven much of the election campaigning with secondary subjects being the place of women in the religious sector of society, whether to replace the deferment for religious males who are devoting their lives to the study of Torah and related writings, choosing a Prime Minister who would be capable of developing a more friendly and agreeable relations with United States President Obama avoiding the antagonism apparent between Netanyahu and Obama, and all the rest of the subjects that have been the center of recent Israeli elections. But my real curiosity tends towards the interesting and sometimes troubling history of current Prime Minister Netanyahu and the surprise of the election, Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home Party, who has watched over the rise of the party which seemingly simply grew stronger the more criticisms they received from the rest of the other parties in the election.
The question that will be on the mind of what appears to be a relatively significant sector of the Zionist nationalist will be choosing between the known package of Likud and the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu or taking a chance on an unknown with Jewish Home Party leader, Naftali Bennett. Other than the diehard, leftist, post-Zionist, mostly secular voters who could never vote for anyone other than the Labor Party, the Arabists and pro-Palestinians who will support the Arabist parties, the Haredi who are religiously locked to vote for Shas, and the really hardcore leftist who will support Meretz, the majority will be deciding the election between Netanyahu and Bennett. What makes this even more interesting is that Netanyahu could have easily avoided the entire drama by simply making an offer to Naftali Bennett to publically state that their respective parties would form the core of a coalition of pre-Zionist nationalist government. Instead, Likud, most likely under the directions of Netanyahu, attacked Bennett directly as well as the Jewish Home Party. This has likely been one of the main motivating factors in driving some voters from supporting Likud to support Jewish Home. But what has been even more interesting is that there also appears to have been voters leaving Tzipi Livni’s party and Yair Lapid’s party as well as the most surprising, defections from the Labor Party who have also gone over to Jewish Home. Another oddity which has sent some looking for an alternative to Likud and Netanyahu in Bennett has been announcements even by members of the Likud Party that Bibi Netanyahu will seek to form a coalition, any coalition, as long as it does not include Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home Party. Along with these statements have been others, some even by Netanyahu, which have declared that he is seeking to form a balanced coalition, or even a unity coalition, with as many parties from all views so he will have room to make decisions which would be seen as unfavorable to the nationalists in order to reach the goals he feels are achievable. This has made a number of nationalists nervous about whether or not Netanyahu can be trusted or are the suspicions that he might be ready to execute another disengagement similar to what happened when Prime Minister Sharon left Likud and formed Kadima in order to disengage from Gaza, this time in Judea and Samaria, possible valid. If this is what Prime Minister Netanyahu does after winning the election, it may be a very long time before anybody trusts Likud again and they will simply become another post-Zionist party. The fears that this is the Likud plan could push a change in votes that will be far more drastic than the polls have shown and could lead to Jewish Home and Bennett forming the next government. Such an eventuality is highly unlikely but still has a remote chance. Everything could turn simply by Prime Minister Netanyahu making one misstep and removing all doubt by stating he is ready to make painful sacrifices in order to reach a peace with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians. So, all we can do now is make our choices, vote on Tuesday, and wait to see the results.
Beyond the Cusp