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The Surprising, Crucial Element in Israel’s Next Elections

timesofisrael.com

To better understand what’s at stake in this election round, what change it might bring—if any at all—and especially what that new, surprising (even crucial) element is, we better analyze first where we are with these elections, and what to expect.

Not much, indeed, by way of a change. Let’s say a rich uncle has suddenly materialized in my life and is handing me a hundred dollars (a thousand, a million, all the same) to bet on the elections. Right away, I will put 50 bucks on the result of ‘no change.’ Things will stay the same, with no one being able to form a government (but hang on, as such result is important to that surprising element I promised you at the top). In other words, no side—either Netanyahu’s Likud and his rightwing block, neither the center-left block—will be able to form a sustained coalition. A stalemate, in short, will ensue.

How come? Well, essentially, nothing much has changed in the makeup of the Israeli public and electorate since the first election in this cycle took place, some two years ago. In this, the fourth round, the Knesset will be divided just as much, if not exactly right vs left but with Netanyahu’s block against the rest. No one will be able to secure a majority and therefore the impasse will remain; Netanyahu will continue to rule as a Prime Minister in transition, until another round of useless election is called and commence.

So next, I will put thirty dollars of my uncle’s money on Netanyahu succeeding after all to form a governing coalition. I’m betting here on his ability to pull another rabbit out of the hat, mainly due to him taking full credit for the vaccination success in Israel, beating down the coronavirus pandemic, and the normalization of relations with several Arab and African countries. Also, his appeal to the Israeli Arab population (his sworn enemy in the last three elections) on the one hand, and the racist Kahanist party on the other. Right now the Israeli polls indicate a slight improvement in the possibility of such an outcome, and these polls, it must be said here upfront, were pretty accurate the last two rounds.

Now to the twenty dollars left for me to bet on. I’ll put them on the opposing, anti-Netanyahu forces being able somehow to form a government. The chances are not good, but I have twenty bucks left (and it’s not my money, to boot). In fact, as I write this post, some polls do predict a slight advantage to this camp. So why only twenty dollars on them? Because this camp, while united in its disdain for Netanyahu, is so fragmented on all other issues facing the country that it will not be able to come to an agreement. Not on who will lead them, and not on what to do once they are in power. Furthermore, even in the unlikeliest scenario that they will be able to form a governing coalition, it will collapse soon thereafter and bring a new election round.
This brings me to the surprising element I promised you at the top, and to the dark horse of these elections. His name is Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, and currently the Defense Minister, the acting Justice Minister, and the government Prime Minister in reserve. He is the one who actually won the second election round but was unable to form a coalition, though he had a slight majority. He is the one who promised to never join Netanyahu’s government—but did just that anyway.

He decided, in the dead of night of the coronavirus pandemic outburst to end the debacle, hold his fingers to his nose and join the coalition. In a blogpost on April 26, 2020, titled: The Lesser of Two Evils, I supported his move. It was the right move for Israel and Israelis, I thought, but the wrong, disastrous move for him politically. I was in the minority then, supporting him, and I now find myself in the single-digit minority still thinking he did the right thing.

He prevented the annexation of the West Bank by Netanyahu; he protected the integrity and independence of the judicial system (and Netanyahu’s trial going forward); he helped to muster the resources to fight the pandemic; he served as a gatekeeper for Israel’s democracy, against Netanyahu’s attempts of destroying it. And indeed, as predicted by all, Netanyahu negated to go ahead with the agreement to rotate the premiership, and use the one loophole available for him not to pass a budget. Hence the elections. And hence the collapse of Gantz’s Blue and white party. A party all the polls are indicating is teetering on the edge of not even making it to the next Knesset. Of not passing the electoral threshold.

But guess what: If he does get into the next Knesset, and if as seems most likely the stalemate continues following this election, and the next one too, he would become the next Prime Minister on November 17! Yes, you read me right. By a basic law that the Knesset had enacted under this coalition, he would assume power—if he is still a Knesset member—November 17. No joke!

Now, to be sure, there are so many ‘ifs’ for such a scenario to become reality, that’s it’s almost unthinkable. Hence no money is put on it as a bet. But one fact remains intact: Despite all opinions, predictions and popularity contests showing otherwise, he might still be the best option to replace Netanyahu in power. So I say to all Israelis (I am one, too, but I cannot vote unless I fly back home for the elections): Vote for benny Gantz and Blue and White.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

Paradise Lost — The Ashkenazi-Mizrachi Fault Line

Kibbutz Heftzibah, circa 1970

My childhood village is so far away these days, yet I never really left it. I’ve been aware of this notion, this conundrum for a long time, yet the stories about ‘The Battle Over the Hassi Stream’ between the residents of the city of Beit She’an and the members of kibbutz Nir David—and the beautiful pictures from the ‘Valley of the Springs’ that are decorated these stories—keep driving this point home again and again. This new battle, as if on purpose, seems determined to reopen old wounds and make them fresh once more.

It so happened that in 2012 I published a short story titled, ‘The Kibbutz is Burning’—originally titled ‘The Battle Over the Dining Room’—in which young people from Beit She’an invade my kibbutz, set it on fire, and engage in a life-and-death battle with kibbutz members over the kibbutz’s dining room. And while the protagonist of the story (see under: ‘The Kibbutz is Burning’ on my literary website) is my late father, David—a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, a salt-of-the-earth kind of a person who escaped three labor camps during that war, and a veteran member of that kibbutz—the heart of the story is pounding on the fault line dividing the haves and the have-nots, and the deep yearning to go back to the old ‘values’ that had built the kibbutz.

A kibbutz modeled on the one where I was born and grew up, Hephzibah, which in the glorious pictures of Nir David, with the aquamarine stream running through it, you can actually see on the other side of Gan Hashlosha—or the ‘Sachne’ as we called it back then—nestled under Mount Gilboa. Growing up we didn’t know it belonged to kibbutz Nir David. It belonged to us, all of us, courtesy of mother nature. As kids, we used to walk there barefooted. Swim there day or night, without a care in the world. Only later came gates, fences, guards, paved roads, showers, and restrooms. The magic was gone. Or almost gone.

Which brings me to the current situation in kibbutz Nir David, and the battle over access to the Hassi Stream. I have no idea how to resolve this intractable situation, this clash of wills, though one solution that was suggested in 2015— “to set aside a section of the stream for public use”—seems to me to be taking the right approach needed for a reasonable, decent compromise. However, as reported in The Times Of Israel, it “is still stuck in the planning system.” Wouldn’t you know that?

Strangely, it reminds me of a different kind of clash, here in America, between President Trump and the renowned journalist Bob Woodward. In his latest book, ‘Rage,’ and in an interview Woodward gave recently to ‘CBS 60 Minutes,’ he said he asked the president, “… do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave, to a certain extent, as it put me – and I think lots of White, privileged people… we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain, particularly, Black people feel in this country?”

President Trump—again, wouldn’t you know that?—responded mockingly, “You, you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you, wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”

That, indeed, is the problem with some privileged, have-it-all people. For them, it’s my way or the highway. Not only do they lack the capacity to understand the other side, but they also don’t seem to care to understand it at all. It may be—in America as in Israel—that it’s not exactly, or simply ‘justice’ that the under-privileged, the have-nots are asking for but ‘understanding.’ After all, in the case of the citizens of Beit She’an—or the larger population of what used to be called the ‘second-Israel’—what does ‘justice’ really mean?

Certainly not the dislodging, the uprooting of the kibbutz and its members away from the beautiful place they have worked so hard to build and give it to them instead; or as is the case with the Sachne, make a national park out of the kibbutz. Just as in the case of the African-American population of America, what would ‘justice’ be for them? Returning to Africa (as few now do)? Reversing the turning of the wheel-of-history? Give reparations—how much, really?—for descendants of those who died many years ago? (In Germany’s case, reparations are for surviving Jews who were directly affected by the Holocaust.) Take the white people’s money and places away and hand it to them?

No. That’s not justice. That’s more like injustice. What they are looking for, I believe—both in Israel and in America—is understanding. Inclusion. Sharing. Collaborating. Acknowledgment of past grave mistakes. This can be achieved, you see, but not with a president who has no clue as to what hunger—both for food and recognition—is. Not with kibbutz members from the ‘first-Israel’ who may still think that that beautiful stream was given to them by God (not that they are believers)? They were Chalutzim once, pioneers of the ‘Tower and Stockade’ settlements, who received the land—spring-fed warm pool and narrow stream included, a la ‘Garden of Eden’—from the ‘Jewish National Fund.’ The Arabs certainly lived there before them.

Which reminds me of something else, too. The last time I jumped headfirst and swam in that beautiful, paradisical pool, was in the winter three years ago. I visited Israel on the occasion of my mother, also a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, 90th birthday. It was cloudy and cold that January day my brother drove me to the Sachne. I told him I won’t leave the old country without swimming again in my ‘fountain-of-youth.’ We were almost by ourselves there. Us and nature. Like old times. But we had fun galore. And then we sat on a wooden bench and my brother brought his Finjan, his coffee kit, and made us strong cups of black coffee to warm our shivering bones. And as we sipped the coffee and talked, looking at the argentine, peaceful waters while guarded by the rocky Mount Gilboa, paradise—if for a fleeting moment—was found again.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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