“Anyone but Bibi?” So what next?

The editorial of Haaretz on June 21 set the tone. “And again, anyone but Bibi!” The article continued: Regardless of what we think of the Lapid-Bennett government and the reasons for its failure, we remain goal-oriented; the task of the Israeli people is to prevent Bibi from returning to power. The key word here is undoubtedly “again”, with voters going to the polls for the fifth time under the slogan “anyone but Bibi.” The goal is to thwart Netanyahu’s attempts to reach the coveted 61 seats, which will push members of the Likud and the right-wing bloc to show him the exit door.

Therefore, this election campaign, like its four predecessors, will be cruel, full of hatred and incitement, and leave behind scorched earth. The Lapid – Bennett bloc will call on its camp to stand behind the flag with the well-known anti-fascist slogan “no pasaran” against Bibi, Ben Gvir and Smotrich. On the other hand, the national camp will call on its voters to defend the flag, the Jewish people and prevent “supporters of terrorism” from taking over the national agenda.

The question, therefore, is what price left-wing parties and liberals will have to pay in their war against Bibi. The price the Likud is paying is obvious – providing legitimacy to Kahanism in the form of Ben Gvir and Zionist Messianism in the form of Smotrich – but this is not a fatal blow to the basic Likud agenda. The Left, on the other hand, pays a great deal more. It must give up all its principles, provide legitimacy to the nationalist conservatism of the right-wing parties: Yemina, New Hope, Yisrael Beiteinu and even Blue and White. Adherence to “anyone but Bibi” entails a relinquishment of the basic values of a liberal society, such as opposition to the occupation, opposition to discrimination against Arab citizens (as expressed in the Nation State and Citizenship laws, which place state Judaism above basic human and civil rights). And the highest price of all: adoption of the premise that there is no solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, and that all that can be done is to manage it.

Over time, the frogs that the Left is swallowing become the daily food of us all. Yielding to the Right has been transformed from a one-time event into routine. The failure of the “government of change” stems from the fact that those frogs popped up every morning in Knesset votes, until they caused severe indigestion. The coalition’s premise that ideological debates can be set aside has proved false. In a situation of ongoing national conflict, and despite the good will of the coalition members, the Palestinian question and Jewish-Arab relations have re-emerged in full, dictating the agenda and unravelling cohesion. It turns out that the hatred for Bibi is not strong enough to overcome basic questions.

The teachers ‘strike, the bus drivers’ protest, the tent protests asking for affordable housing, the state of the hospitals, the endless traffic jams, the violence in Arab society, the huge social gaps and the rising cost of living—all go to show that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the only concern of Israelis, Jews and Arabs but also the struggles of everyday life, which are rapidly becoming unbearable. Even amid these existential questions, the Israeli Left surrenders without a fight to the Right. For an entire year, the coalition has proved that on socioeconomic issues, it is even to the right of the Likud. Neoliberal policies, which have caused tremendous social gaps, are viewed like natural law by both Right and Left. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz did nothing to heal the health care system. In particular, despite talk of reform, nothing was done to improve the miserable job conditions of medical interns. Meretz Environmental Minister Tamar Zandberg presented a plan to reduce emissions by 2030, but no trace of it remains after the intervention of the representatives of the Ministry of Finance, who prefer gas. Transport Minister Merav Michaeli raised public transportation prices so as not to break the budget given to her by finance officials. The policy of budget reduction and privatization continues just as in the days of Netanyahu, while Israel sits on a barrel of social dynamite.

The failure of the Bennett government raises the question: if not Bibi, then what? Will it be possible to restore the coalition of the eight parties, reconnecting the settler Right with the Left and the Islamists? If the answer is no, what is the alternative to Netanyahu? The only possible answer is a government led by the Likud without him, on the model of past governments that connected the Likud and Labor, as well as Yesh Atid and the ultra-Orthodox, while Meretz, the Arab parties and the Jewish Home Party remain outside.

But that coveted government, the same vehicle that is supposed to restore sanity and normalcy to our lives, would be running a country that is completely abnormal. Apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza is abnormal, extreme social gaps are abnormal, global warming is abnormal, the state of violence—both in schools and in Arab society—is abnormal, the situation of teachers, doctors and the elderly is abnormal, not to mention the state of the roads. It is a country living in anomaly, whose very existence is based on the eternal conflict with the Palestinians and the constant need to cultivate an external enemy, presently in the form of Iran. Imagine how much could have been improved with the huge budget set aside for the army and security apparatus!

When the basic question is “anyone but Bibi,” these existential issues have no place in the public sphere. Israel in 2022 is completely dried up on new ideas, is gradually disengaging from the democracies of the world, is connecting to dark regimes like Putin’s Russia and Muhammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia, and denies in practice the climate crisis. It lacks a social vision, blindly relies on market forces that have distorted the economy and left most people far behind. Most importantly, it deceives itself that it can be Jewish, democratic, and an occupier all at once. This is a country that has no place for progressives who strive for an egalitarian society and refuse to hate Arabs.

The Da’am party sees this election as an opportunity to expand discourse on a program that will present an alternative to the Right. Unfortunately, the existing parties, both Right and Left, are not partners for a new political discourse. Those who support Putin, Assad and Abu Mazen cannot engage in democratic discourse. Extremist Islamic ideologues cannot be political partners. Those who are willing to give up their principles to join the fundamentalist Right can hardly be expected to join a discussion on a fundamental change in direction.

Possible partners for such a discourse are people who are willing to oppose apartheid, who prefer partnership over nationalist separation, who support an egalitarian economy, who are willing to sacrifice to save the planet, and whose hearts belong to the global democratic camp. This camp supports Ukraine in its fight against Putin, and it supports the US Democratic Party against the dark proclivities of Donald Trump.

About Yacov Ben Efrat