28.04.2019 analysis by Yonatan Levi

Israelis are not all rightwing. But our leftist parties have lost faith in themselves

Centrism will not win elections. The Israeli left must find the courage to fight for its vision – voters will respond

To read the entire op-ed, click here

Last week the Israeli Labour party suffered a nearly complete electoral annihilation. It lost three-quarters of its seats in the Israeli parliament, leaving it with just six out of the 120 in the chamber. Even Ed Miliband’s 2015 result in the UK elections, labelled Labour’s "most stunning defeat since 1983", only saw him lose 10% of the seats held by Gordon Brown. Some in the international press have drawn comfort from the meteoric rise of Benny Gantz, a former Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief whose newly founded centrist party won 35 seats – exactly the same as sitting prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s party. But what many commentators have hailed as a serious challenge to Netanyahu was in fact a sign that a left-leaning administration in Jerusalem – and, consequently, the two-state solution – has never been further out of reach.

This electoral tie became Netanyahu’s fourth victory in a decade because of the way the Israeli political system works. In Israel, every prime minister is required to form a multi-party coalition to rule. And while Netanyahu could count on his “natural allies” – the ultra-orthodox and the settler parties – Gantz found himself a general without an army. With the Jewish left wiped out, and any cooperation with Arab parties ruled out in advance, his chance of forming a government – let alone a government not dominated by the far right – was doomed from the start. Consequently, Netanyahu’s new administration, to be appointed within a few weeks, will be the most rightwing in Israel’s history. It will include politicians who hold proudly racist views, of the kind who have yet to occupy key positions in government. 

Gantz is only the latest in a series of centrist rising stars who brighten the dark skies of Israeli politics for a split second before crashing to the ground. Their strategy is always the same: call yourself a centrist, distance yourself from the left, pretend to be vaguely rightwing and hope for the best. But the past four elections prove just how misguided this game plan is. Israeli centrists hardly attract any votes from the right; all they do is cannibalise the left. And by avoiding saying anything substantial about the country’s future, they also create a vacuum that allows Netanyahu and his allies to keep shifting the entire political system rightwards.

To read the entire op-ed, click here

Originally published on The Guardian, April 24, 2019

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