An Israeli Ballot With No Good Options

Bibi Hasn't Earned Reelection and Opponents Yet To Win Trust

ari bronstein

By Hillel Halkin

Published January 10, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Israel doesn’t need to hold elections. It only needs to ask for whom I’d vote, because I’ve never voted for anyone but winners. I was for Golda in 1974, for Begin in 1977, for Rabin in 1992, for Netanyahu in ’96, for Barak in ’98, for the Sharon of the Likud in 2000 and the Sharon of Kadima in 2005, for Ehud Olmert in 2006, for Netanyahu again in 2009. You can’t be more infallible than that.

Who’ll be the winner January 22? Nobody, it would seem, because for the first time in 43 years of living in Israel, I don’t intend to vote.

Certainly not for Netanyahu. How often can you reward the same man for disappointing you?

Not that he deserves all the abuse that’s been heaped on him. He’s performed well on Iran, his silly appearance at the United Nations last autumn notwithstanding. He deserves credit for standing firm on the West Bank and Jerusalem. True, he hasn’t wanted to negotiate with the Palestinians, but neither have they wanted to negotiate with him. Both have good reasons, because negotiations right now can lead nowhere.

He’s been right to go on building in the settlements. There’s no greater cliché than the one that keeps insisting that the settlements are a major obstacle to peace. They may have been that once, when they were few and sparsely populated enough to be removed. Now that they’ve long passed that point, any peace agreement will have to make room for their existence. A hundred thousand Jews, more or less, in them will make no difference.

But Netanyahu has lacked the courage of his convictions on too many other things. He’s missed golden opportunities to carry out the economic reforms he knows are needed, to make Israel a more affordable place for its young people, and to spur the integration of its Haredi community into its army and society, all because he’s been hesitant to challenge vested interests.

His fear of being outflanked on the right has caused him to open the Likud wide to extremists and merge it with a party headed by a political ruffian like Avigdor Lieberman. He hasn’t shown an iota of leadership. A country can put up with a lot if it agrees with where it’s going; Netanyahu hasn’t given Israelis a clue where that might be.

Who else, then, might a centrist like me, who sometimes veers a little to the left, sometimes a little to the right, and is equally allergic to the platitudes of progressivism, the pieties of religion and the nastiness of hyper-nationalism — vote for?

Kadima? It’s a sinking ship that’s already below the water line. In the first place, it was just a jerry-built tub for Sharon to leave the Likud on, and it was doomed to capsize sooner or later without him.

Tzipi Livni, who jumped overboard after losing the battle for Kadima to Shaul Mofaz? She’s run a single-issue campaign, which is that she alone can negotiate peace with the Palestinians. Considering that she couldn’t accomplish this as foreign minister under Olmert, who made the Palestinians an offer that only they could have refused, how is she going to manage it under Netanyahu, who will be prime minister again even without my vote?

A television personality like Yair Lapid? He’s gone Livni one better by running a no-issue campaign. His platform is that if middle-class Israelis vote for him, he’ll do something good for the middle class. Right now he can’t remember what that is, but he’s sure he will by the time he’s sworn in as a minister in Netanyahu’s Cabinet.

That leaves Labor and Shelly Yachimovich. To tell the truth, I was planning to vote for them. Labor is a real party, with roots. It has some attractively fresh young faces on its Knesset list, and I’ve liked Yachimovich’s attempt to nudge it back toward the political center, where it traditionally stood until it drifted leftward. She stood no chance of winning the election, of course, but I had hoped that if she did well, she would give Netanyahu the option of moving centerward himself and escaping the clutches of the Zealots by taking her into his coalition in their place.

So what does Yachimovich do? Less than three weeks before the election she announces that if she can’t win, she’ll join the opposition rather than consort with Netanyahu. She’ll do Israel as much good in the opposition as Chuck Hagel will do in the Defense Department.

It looks like I’ll be staying home on January 22. And since as I go, so goes the nation, a lot of other Israelis will be, too.

Hillel Halkin is an author and translator who has written widely on Israeli politics and culture and was the Forward’s Israel correspondent from 1993 to 1996.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.