On the day after the elections, the term “Center” has vanished from public discourse. I had my doubts about the definition of the imagined “Center” from the first, and more than that, I was suspicious of its automatic connection with the Left. Why a “Center-Left bloc”? Why not a “Center-Right” one? The Center is the force that tips the scale, and thus stands by itself. Throughout the campaign, Yair Lapid was careful to keep away from the bear hug of the Israeli Left. He said “I’m not a leftist” dozens of times. But the left wing adopted him anyway, speaking of a “blocking majority” and connecting him and his friends in Yesh Atid, willy nilly, with Hanin Zoabi and Ahmed Tibi.
The party’s candidates, including members of the Left, admitted that a fairly large portion of their voters were members of the Right. Traditional and even religious people voted for Yesh Atid. It’s enough to look at the person in the party’s second slot, Rabbi Shai Piron, who studied at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the parent institution of Gush Emunim. Is he a left-winger? Instead of talking about a “blocking majority,” it would be a good idea to adopt his statement and talk about a “creating majority.” Just try it.
A two-slip campaign
Paradoxically, the elections in all the parties took place according to Arthur Finkelstein’s presidential model, i.e. the idea that the parliament and prime minister should be voted for separately. In this campaign, Netanyahu was the sole focus. Not only in terms of his own party, but also in the other parties’ campaigns. All the spotlights — positive and negative alike — were turned on him. It was a double-edged sword. Since two voting slips could not be placed in the envelope, the vote was split among parties that had not ruled out sitting in a government led by Netanyahu and did not wage a propaganda war against him and those that had ruled him out ideologically, politically or personally.
We actually watched two campaigns — one for the prime minister and one for the parties. In the elections for the premiership, Netanyahu won by a landslide because the parties chosen were those that had not ruled him out and even talked about the possibility of joining him. Those parties gained strength (the only one on the other side to do so was Meretz, and that was also because of the “presidential” campaign).
In the party elections, though, Likud lost a substantial portion of its strength in favor of smaller parties which the public used to influence the government. That could have been changed, since the Likud offered a more impressive list of candidates than other parties, but that list did not receive enough exposure amid the hullaballoo surrounding Netanyahu.
A question: Were the members of the Likud Central Committee — about 4,000 in number — put to work in the election campaign over the last three months? Did the top 40 candidates on the Likud list criss-cross the country, holding conferences and parlor meetings?
Here's a word of the wise to Likud members: Over the next few days, you will be tempted to clash swords to the glee of all your enemies. And yet a quarter of the public elected you. Much more could have been accomplished. You must not cover up your mistakes. It’s vital that you learn from them. You have an obligation to make sure that you learn from them. But there’s no obligation to break ranks and divide your strength. As a ruling party, your historical responsibility is greater than that of the others.
The agenda of the day after
Two substantial campaigns failed abysmally. The first is the agenda known as the “peace process,” a code phrase for withdrawal from parts of the country and the destruction of Jewish communities in exchange for promises on paper from our neighbors and temporary applause from the world. The only candidate who put the peace process above all else was Tzipi Livni, and her electoral results show where it got her. Neither Lapid nor Yachimovich dealt with it, and Bennett certainly did not.
The vast majority of Israelis do not believe the talk about a diplomatic agreement or lasting peace in our time. It has had enough of the amazing results of this process over the past 20 years. As far as it is concerned, the “hope” that Livni offered was the empty bottom of a political and security-related Pandora’s box that was opened when the Oslo Accords were signed.
The second campaign that failed was the smear campaign against Netanyahu.
In certain quarters of the reporters’ clique, on many virtual sites and in well-known pubs, Netanyahu is Lord Voldemort. But the vast majority of Israelis chose to read Harry Potter and trust Netanyahu. The parties that spoke of possibly joining Netanyahu were the ones that got stronger.
The campaign that succeeded was the civic agenda. Not ideological socialism, but a desire to improve our lives here in this country. Not only Lapid, but Bennett, too, was careful to talk about laying aside the old disagreement about the future of Judea and Samaria and focus on lowering the cost of living and housing prices.
Over the past decade, it seems that history has led religious Zionism to assimilate into the Right's ruling party. This completes the process of integration that has taken place over time within the senior command of the army and the defense establishment, the economy, academia and culture. Zionism has been waiting for several decades for religious Zionism to come to the fore and lead. The integration of religious Zionists into the Likud was therefore a natural process. From this perspective, Naftali Bennett’s departure from the Likud in order to revive the moribund National Religious Party was a retreat, a return to the familiar home.
Little has changed there (with the exception of Ayelet Shaked). The furniture and clothing have been updated. But the message remains the same: a return to the religious community, the religious neighborhood, the exclusive schools, and also to the religious party.
For more than a century, the religious public has defended its place as second fiddle in the Zionist leadership, the right to serve as the kashrut supervisor in the railway car rather than as the engine or at least one of the freight cars. After all, what does it mean to want to influence the Netanyahu government by way of another party if not to be the kashrut supervisor?
These elections brought home even more strongly the need for the conservative camp (the right wing, the religious and so on) to invest in ideas for the long term. It’s impossible to live from one election campaign to the next. At the same time, this camp’s intellectual elite must be nurtured. These elections demonstrate, more than ever, the vital need for intellectual rejuvenation.
As of today, the conservative camp — the Likud, Habayit Hayehudi, the Revisionists, the adherents of Rabbi Kook, even what is known as the Center — has no intellectual focal point that can actualize the Zionist, national-liberal fundamental ideas. We need to foster, expand and deepen social, economic, political, religious and philosophical issues in ways different from the ones forcibly marketed to us by the liberal Left’s many agents in Israel and abroad. There is not even a single significant parallel to the Israel Democracy Institute, for example, a home for masses of young PhDs fleeing academia, and that is only one example.
This is not a luxury. People are used to thinking about political action as the thing that counts. But what about the spiritual and intellectual engines of such action? Are we not obligated to maintain and improve them?
Such an investment over the long term is a matter of life and death for the Right. Is anybody listening?