My relative from the north called me last night to discuss politics, knowing that I was itching for his input about the elections. “So what did you think?” he asked me, without beating around the bush. I laid out the scene in Tel Aviv for him: a sea of depressed faces wandering the streets the day after the results were finalized. Intense anger and resentment at those who voted ‘against their own interests’ as some of the left have sneered.
I was in shock; how could we have been so wrong? How could the pollsters, the media, et al., be so off in their predictions? How could they be so smug? After listening to me complain (and after weeks of denial), he finally revealed to me who he had decided to vote for. Hint: it wasn’t Bibi, but it did unfortunately turn out to be someone on the right. I was disappointed but not surprised. A dyed-in-the-wool Likudnik doesn’t change his spots so easily.
“I know you don’t want to hear this,” I told him, “but this doesn’t bode well for Israel on the international level”. He agreed: “with Bibi back in power, it’s likely that things are going to be quite difficult for Israel in that arena in the next couple of years”. His response was casual, matter of fact, as though this what was to be expected; there’s nothing to be done, really. I admit that in the last few years, I have jumped, perhaps unnecessarily, at every statement made by Lieberman, and every anti-democratic law proposed by a member of Likud. But sometimes I feel as though my over-reactions are simply a way of compensating for familial apathy. Of course it’ll be more difficult for Israel. We’ll just have to deal with it, quietly.
“But what about the next government? It’s going to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history; there will be no checks on any of these parties when they try and pass anti-democratic legislation”, I replied, trying not sound hysterical (I think, successfully). Here, he was incredulous. “These laws are nonsense. Nothing’s going to happen. Bennett knows that he has limits…Bibi will keep him in line”. On this, I’m not in total disagreement. Both Bennett’s Jewish Home and Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytanu were severely weakened in the elections: remember, lest anyone think that a real right-wing shift occurred in the electorate, most of the mandates that Likud stole were from the right itself. As I mentioned in a prior post, Moshe Kahlon of the newly formed Kulanu party is also needed to form a Bibi-led government without the center-left or left. Behind-the-scenes discussions reveal that Kachlon may make his joining of the coalition dependent on being able to veto any anti-democratic measures brought before the Knesset. This is all speculation of course, but at times of such despondency, that’s all we have to go on.
He then made clear what I had hoped he wouldn’t, the ugly truth of what he was really thinking: “Listen, you know how much I despise Bibi. I’d never vote for him again. But if I had to choose between him and Buji, than he’s still the better choice. That’s why I decided that it was better to strengthen the right. There isn’t going to be any peace process, any disengagement, at the moment. It’s just too dangerous”. Even after six years of increased international isolation, mounting racism, and a drop in the standard of living, Netanyahu was still the ideal choice to lead the country for many, despite his overall lack of popularity. Desperate times, and all that.
There are two revelations here, both uncomfortable truths for the left. The first has to do with the sort of campaign that the Zionist Union ran in its attempt to unseat Netanyahu, which focused more on drumming up opposition to the Prime Minister, rather than presenting a stronger alternative; in essence, a campaign based primarily on negativity. While there is no doubt that Buji Herzog made a credible choice for Prime Minister, it has been years since the center-left has presented the public with a candidate of Yitzhak Rabin’s stature. Furthermore, as made evident by my relative’s reaction, the party made the same mistake that it had made in the 2013 elections under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership: a complete negligence of security and diplomatic issues.
The second problem is far more deep-seated, and harder to remedy. My colleague Maya Haber has already pointed out the shocking display of hatred directed at the periphery and poorer sectors of society for voting Bibi back into office. This stereotype of the typical Likud voter, almost always portrayed as a poor, uneducated, Mizrahi Jew living in a development town, has existed for years, and is deeply embedded in the psyche of many on the left. It’s high time for those who wish to seek a change in government confront these ugly generalizations, and stop dismissing every concern of right-wing voters as contemptible.
But my relative is none of these things; he comes from a staunchly middle class Ashkenazi family, living in a well-to-do-town in the north. He has been active in politics for years, having held positions of power within the Likud at a local and regional level. He is educated, with a Masters Degree, and has traveled extensively through North America and Europe. He cannot be condescendingly dismissed as some sort of provincial country bumpkin who scares easily. The boogieman of security that the left stubbornly ignores is both real and imagined: as long as it’s dismissed, it will be exploited by the right, time and time again.
When I first started writing about the elections, my first post dealt with these very same issues concerning the left’s condescending attitude, and its inability to confront the right on its own terms. How unfortunate, then, to come full circle and see how these warnings went unheeded.