Middle East In Focus
One month away from national elections in Israel, and with corruption charges hanging over the embattled prime minister, anti-Netanyahu voters are beginning to coalesce around the new Israel Resilience (Hosen Le'Yisrael) and Yesh Atid alliance, known popularly as the “Blue and White.” The political alliance, which is led by three high-profile ex-military leaders and a journalist, pledges to sweep Netanyahu’s Likud party from office. Indeed, aside from boilerplate campaign promises, what seems to unite the four men and their supporters is their deep dislike for the current prime minister. Netanyahu, for his part, has decided to cast his lot with the extreme right in an effort to shore up his parliamentary coalition. But that gambit has invited the displeasure of various segments of Israeli and diaspora Jews who see the fringe parties as racist and deplorable — even provoking a rare rebuke from the usually Likud-friendly American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The overrepresentation of military leaders in Israeli politics has raised some eyebrows in local media. As Yaron London points out in an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, “In addition to the three army commanders, 30 of the leading candidates on their list include a number of others who have served in senior positions in the security forces: generals, two police dep. inspectors and the deputy head of the Mossad. If so, no less than half of the leading candidates of the Blue and White Party are ‘security experts,’ but do we need so many?... What does their political success say about Israeli society? The intuitive association is of Latin America. Since their liberation from European rulers, generals and admirals have controlled most of the countries of the continent, and even when they did not openly rule, they have strongly influenced the government.... The similarity is that the military establishment is much too important a player in the political system.”
According to Yuval Karni, writing for Ynet, the anti-Netanyahu camp has been careful not to alienate voters on matters like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, steering clear of strong pronouncements and sticking mostly to economic and social issues: “Israel Resilience's party platform, set to be released Tuesday, does deal with economic and social issues, but the main issue will be diplomatic — and it is clear that an effort is being made not to drive away right-wing voters.... The two-state solution is not mentioned, nor is the term ‘Palestinian state’ for that matter. Sources on the party's Knesset list claim there was a dispute between the right-wing and left-wing factions within Blue and White, and ultimately they decided to say that there would be an effort to realize the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, but that the phrase ‘Palestinian state’ would not be included.... [T]he terms ‘two-state solution’ and ‘Palestinian state’ are replaced by a plan for a regional conference to promote Israel's separation from the Palestinians.”
But, Globes’s Amiram Barkat suspects that even on those issues where the “Blue and White” list have outlined specific policy proposals, there are serious questions about feasibility: “Over the next two weeks, the heads of the Israel Resilience (Hosen Le'Yisrael) and Yesh Atid parties will be busy formulating a platform for their joint ‘Blue and White’ list in the forthcoming Knesset election. Bridging the gaps between the two parties on social and economic policy is not expected to be especially difficult. The promises scattered about by Israel Resilience leaders in the past few days appear in Yesh Atid's platform along with many more, while, despite critical statements on the civil service and other bodies, Yesh Atid's platform contains not a single proposal that might lead to ideological confrontation....The toughest test of the new party will be implementation: so far, no representative of Blue and White has put forward any serious suggestion how even a fraction of the welter of promises can be financed without busting the budget framework.”
The Israeli prime minister, meanwhile, has tried to provide some depth to his own coalition. But these alliance efforts, as this Debka report notes, may have caused more political harm than they were worth: “Early electioneering finds Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thrown back by setbacks and fierce assaults by critics and opponents in his fight for re-election on April 9 at the head of a Likud-led right-wing religious bloc…. Netanyahu is still nursing the wounds from the punch delivered by the pro-Israeli Washington lobby AIPAC, who denigrated his support for an alliance between Jewish Home and the far-right Otzma Yehudit parties.... It was the first time that an American Jewish organization had intervened in an Israeli election. How this was achieved, despite Likud and its leader’s many friends in the organization, may see the light of day in the future. But the damage is meanwhile substantial; boosting the opposing Blue-White leaders’ confident stance as the coming heads of government.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s has been roundly criticized at home and abroad for his proposed alliance with theocratic-leaning religious parties, with Jerusalem Post’s Douglas Bloomfield characterizing it as a “danger” to Israel: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dealt a devastating blow to the longtime partnership between American Jews and Israel when he engineered a scheme to bring the disciples of racist Rabbi Meir Kahane into the Knesset and ministries in the next Israeli government.... Netanyahu’s new partners oppose Palestinian statehood, as he does, plus they want to annex the West Bank and Gaza, expel the Arabs and other non-Jews, take over the Temple Mount, ban Jewish intermarriage and replace Israel’s democracy with a form of theocracy.... Netanyahu’s alliances with religious extremists, ultra-nationalists, settlers, racists and his policies toward Palestinians have opened a widening schism between Israel and American Jewry. It is time for responsible American Jewish leaders to do the right thing and let Netanyahu know he is sacrificing the future of US-Israel relations on the altar of his own political expediency, and it will not be tolerated.”
Netanyahu is not without allies, however, and given his political resilience over the years, few would consider his loss in the upcoming elections a foregone conclusion. In fact, his supporters, including Arutz Sheva’s Martin Sherman, continue to rally behind him, accusing the opposition of constituting a threat to Israeli democracy: “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that real danger to Israel’s democracy is not in the alleged malfeasance by Netanyahu.... rather than the beleaguered Prime Minister comprising a dire threat to Israeli democracy, it is his implacable political adversaries across the gamut of Israeli civil society elites that do so—driven by their inability to reconcile themselves to the verdict of vox populi—as expressed, freely and fairly, at the ballot box. It is their incessant endeavor to remove and replace an elected leader by the abuse of their unelected positions of power that erodes the very foundations of democratic governance.”