This is my first election in Israel since making aliyah and I am excited to be eligible to vote in Israeli elections. I have always followed Israeli politics and paid close attention to the fascinating Israeli election season. This seems like an especially exciting election season with big changes looming for the country.
For the first time in 10 years it seems possible that there will someone other than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu running the country. Current polls have Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s newly-formed Blue and White party at around 36 seats with Netanyahu around 30. So, is the possibility of former chief of staff Benny Gantz becoming prime minister a sign of major change in the Israeli electorate?
No. Not at all.
Some see the idea of Prime Minister Gantz as the demise of the right, a sign of Israel’s leftward turn, or at least to the centre, but if there is a turn, then it is to the right. This election campaign has been dirty, with many low blows, but what’s overlooked is how the election is mostly about nothing. Nothing but Netanyahu that is.
Israelis have come to accept Likud and the right’s rule over the country, and most Israelis will continue to vote for right-wing parties, with similar policies to the current government. The rise of Gantz isn’t a sign of a change of hearts in Israelis, they haven’t gone left and demanded a dovish government. Instead, Gantz has been riding the tide of Netanyahu’s corruption charges, and proclaimed himself the new leader who will take over now that his time is done.
It’s hard to say if Gantz wants policy change because we can only know as much as he says, and he doesn’t say a lot. His party’s policies remain a mystery. In Israel the major indicator between left and right is support for the two state solution. Members of Blue and White have voiced policies in favour and against withdrawal from parts of the West Bank for a two state solution. On one side Lapid, has long advocated a separation and “divorce”from the Palestinians to create two states. On the other side is Moshe Ya’alon, another retired chief of staff and a former defence minister as a Likud member under Netanyahu. Ya’alon has long supported building more settlements and is a known hardliner when it comes to security.
The threat to take down Netanyahu comes from three former army chiefs of staff, and a former minister in Netanyahu’s government. Bibi’s campaign slogan thus far has been “Gantz: weak left. Netanyahu: strong right.” Gantz’s response has been to neither confirm nor deny that he may be left and has insisted on instead campaigning “there is no right or left, Israel first.” But most Israelis don’t agree with Gantz, and insist that only a right-wing Israel will do.
The current coalition of right-wing parties plus the Haredi parties is still polling between 61-64 seats. Gantz’s party has not been taking seats away from the right, but rather from parties more to his left. Tzipi Livni is out of politics, and Meretz and Labor are worried about crossing the electoral threshold. Israelis left of centre have been throwing their support behind Gantz. This is a victory and a sign of Netanyahu’s success in portraying ‘the right’ as the right path. The challenge to Netanyahu now comes from the military establishment insisting that they will largely continue to run the country in the same way.
If Gantz is elected, the big change will only be the face of the prime minister. Although the rise of a new leadership in Israel could be a sign of change in the country, for now Gantz’s success is a sign of the success of the Israeli right, not its demise. The left has failed to inspire Israelis to vote for change of policies and taking down Bibi requires a party which can hardly be described as left of centre. Netanyahu has had such an effect on Israeli politics, that the left has come running to the right proclaiming Gantz as their messiah just for the chance to finally unseat King Bibi.