A Pair of Poor Options

Nu? What will be?”

That question was posed to me the other day by an acquaintance as I was sipping my after-Shacharis cup of coffee. For a long moment I weighed various possibilities and tried to decipher what he was referring to and finally decided to ask him directly.

“The Israeli elections,” he told me. “Herzog is teaming up with Livni, and who knows, the two of them may even beat Likud and get enough other parties to support him in forming a coalition,” he added worriedly.

“And if they do?” I asked him. “Why would that be so terrible?”

He looked at me in wonderment.

“You are telling me that you would vote for the Labor party?” he angrily demanded.

I quickly assured him that as an American citizen, I am not eligible to vote in an Israeli election. In addition, unlike American citizens living abroad who can vote in U.S. elections via absentee ballots, unless one is a diplomat, sailor in the Israeli navy, or works for the Jewish agency, one can only vote within Israel. Finally, and most importantly, even if I would vote in an Israeli election, I would follow the rulings of the Gedolim, and neither Likud nor Labor would be an option.

“The question isn’t who is better,” I told my acquaintance, “but who is worse — Herzog or Netanyahu. Both options are dreadful.”

“But if Labor wins, they will give everything away,” my acquaintance sputtered.

“For one thing,” I told him, “between Sinai and Gaza, far more land was given away under right-wing governments than left-wing governments.

“Secondly, though some choose to forget this, while some Gedolim expressed vehement opposition to withdrawing from parts of Yehudah, Shomron and the Golan, many others did not object to the concept at all.”

The fact that my acquaintance was mortified at the thought of a Labor victory is something I can readily understand. There is absolutely nothing even remotely Jewish about the principles espoused by this party, which under various incarnations controlled the government for the first three decades of the State. Their platform is a mix of left-wing secular Zionism, socialism, and pacifism, with a considerable amount of delusion thrown into the mix.

But what baffled me is why he assumes that a Likud victory would be any better for anyone.

While Menachem Begin’s views on many issues were inconsistent with Torah hashkafah, Begin had a Jewish heart, and exhibited genuine respect for Torah values. But the Likud of today is a far cry from that of the days of Begin. As the government that just collapsed has so vividly and tragically illustrated, there is nothing remotely Jewish about Likud nowadays.

Years ago, a different Likud politician was running for mayor of a city in Eretz Yisrael where I was learning at the time. There weren’t any religious candidates on the ballot, and the man he was running against was extremely hostile to chareidim. The choice seemed obvious, yet some Israeli friends of mine approached our Rosh Yeshivah, a greatly beloved and wise spiritual leader, and asked him whether they should indeed vote for this particular Likud candidate.

“I know him personally,” the Rosh Yeshivah answered. “For $100 he would sell his own mother. But in this case, he is still better than the other one, so vote for him.”

Netanyahu, a cunning and arrogant politician with an enormous thirst for power, didn’t hesitate to sell out his “natural partners” for less than $100 when he formed his coalition two years ago. He showed no compunction about going where the left never dared to go, and wrecked much of the fragile “status quo” that had lasted more than six decades. By many accounts, the Likud-led government that just collapsed was the most hostile to Torah values in the history of the state.

History has shown that it is the Palestinians who have repeatedly rejected extraordinarily generous offers by both right-wing and left-wing Israeli governments. It is unlikely that Herzog will be more successful than his predecessors in making peace with the Palestinians. He is likely to be more successful in reestablishing positive relations with Washington and European capitals, which have been badly damaged by Netanyahu’s arrogance.

Let us face the facts: Netanyahu’s regime has been an abject failure in every area. Despite his loud statements to the contrary, he has badly bungled the security situation, and Israel’s foreign policy is all but nonexistent. His governing style is defensive and reactive, responding only to criticism and reacting to situations created by others, rather than taking viable initiatives on his own.

Ultimately, it will be the Gedolim who will decide whether the chareidim should help Netanyahu or Herzog form a coalition, and only time will tell what those instructions will be. But one thing is certain: both options are far from ideal.