A Danger to Democracy

Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid of the Blue and White party,
February 21. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The citizens of Israel like to think that they take their elections seriously. This isn’t Denmark, they say, which faces no existential threat and can afford to make a mistake at the ballot box. Israel is surrounded by enemies that seek its destruction.

Having said that, it’s difficult to understand how “Blue and White,” the new party formed last Thursday as the deadline for submitting Knesset lists for the upcoming election drew to a close, won a whopping 35-36 seats in the polls, compared to 30 for the Likud.

The party, a merger of three smaller ones — Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Benny Gantz’s Chosen L’Yisrael and Moshe Yaalon’s Telem — lacks a platform, as of this writing. Benny Gantz, the star of this election season, has consistently refused to say where he stands on the issues. His political advisers believe that silence is golden in that it allows him to be all things to all people.

Lapid, a charismatic former newsman, is a failed finance minister who ruthlessly cut assistance to chareidi families and institutions and promises more of the same should he be reelected.

Yaalon has more experience than the other two, but only in the area of defense. How he’ll fare with the economy or international relations or the political juggling that is vital for any prime minister who wants to stay in office is anyone’s guess.

When it comes to the questions of the day, the new three-headed party has no answers. Is it for or against the two-state solution? Will it change the Jewish Nation-State Law declaring that Israel is a Jewish state? Where does it stand on the issue of a free-market economy? On the one hand, it features on its Knesset list Avi Nissenkorn, head of the socialist Histadrut labor federation; on the other, it has Zvi Hauser, a former Cabinet secretary for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and an avowed free-market capitalist.

While most of the candidates on Blue and White’s Knesset list are hesitant to talk to the media, for fear of being out of step with the three leaders whose views aren’t yet known, one of them slipped.

Miki Haimovich, another former journalist, is an environmentalist who pushed “Meatless Monday” as her contribution to saving the world. She also believes that Israel should leave its vast natural gas resources buried under the sea, since that would be better for the environment.

Does she reflect the views of the three-headed party? Who knows? But there’s no doubt that the majority of Israelis would oppose a government that voted to forgo natural gas royalties which this year brought in nearly NIS 900 million and which is expected to net the country NIS 22 billion in royalties in the coming decades, according to the Accountant General.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had to battle hard in the Knesset and in the Supreme Court to reach agreements to mine this national resource. And the No. 7 on the Blue and White list would reverse his gains if given the opportunity (she sees herself as the next environment minister).

The only issue the new party has spoken out on clearly is religion, and the results, to put it mildly, are not encouraging.

“Gantz began his campaign with declarations that he would support civil marriages and public transportation on Shabbos, and he has joined with Lapid, who has based his political image on hatred for chareidim,” said Shas leader Rabbi Aryeh Deri. “We will do everything we can to prevent them from forming a government.”

MK Rabbi Uri Maklev, of United Torah Judaism, said: “Lapid has been a failure from all perspectives, including his efforts to decimate the Torah world and strip Israel of its Jewish character. Any connection with him increases the danger to Judaism and to the chareidi public… Gantz has taken a giant step backward if he had hoped to include the chareidi parties in his government. He has weakened his chances of forming a government.”

It isn’t enough for Blue and White to defeat the Likud on election day. It’s not a head-to-head race between Netanyahu and Gantz-Lapid-Yaalon (and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi). It’s a battle between the blocs, the right and the left, that are needed to form a coalition.

And since Shas and United Torah Judaism have been joined by Moshe Kachlon’s Kulanu, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beyteynu, the New Right and the Union of Right Wing Parties (Bayit Yehudi, Otzma, Ichud Haleumi) in stating that they won’t join a Blue and White government, Gantz-Lapid-Yaalon will be out in the cold.

Nonetheless, it is extremely disconcerting that not only has ideology disappeared from the Israeli political arena, but so has a minimal sense of responsibility to know who and what you’re voting for. That millions of Israelis could express support for a party without knowing whether it is left, right or center politically and economically is worrisome.

Such shallowness poses a serious danger to democracy.