Israel is in a ground breaking situation- March’s elections can offer a real possibility of change in the political sphere, with the new Israeli generation slowly raising their political voice, what can truly cause a change. In addition, the 26 mandates provided for the joint list of Labour parties (Avoda) and HaTnua- the “Zionist Union”, cause a feeling that Israel is experiencing a period of change. Following the public debate, it seems that we are facing an ideological struggle between the “National block” from the right and the “Zionist Block” from the left, as if the two were diametrically opposed.
Among the Israeli parties there is a dispute over the definition of the terms of the March elections. Naftali Bennett, party leader of Habait Hayehudi (the “Jewish home”) says that the voter will have to decide between “those who apologize” and “those who are proud”. Moshe Kahlon, founder of the new party Kulanu says that elections are not defined by “left” and “right”, but on “those who support a social welfare policy” and “those who act only by self-interest”. Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, leaders of the Zionist Union, call for an election between “Zionists” and “extremists”. Aryeh Deri, Sephardic Shas party leader, argues that society is facing “policies that value the humble layers” or “projects for middle and upper-middle class”. Avigdor Liberman, leader of Israel Beiteinu, tries to convince the Israeli voters that the other options are “pragmatism” or “disconnected from reality”. Finally, Benjamin Netanyahu, in turn, holds that the focus is on national security and that candidates for the Israeli government are divided between “experienced” and “amateurs”.
Like in any political campaign, candidates from all parties are trying to increase their popularity between the voters, and gain their trust by using propaganda campaigns, humor and slogans. The video clips that were released in the last weeks, from all the parties, are a source for satire and jokes which are ruling the internet and the social media.
In this election, it seems that the main wrangling scene is YouTube. The clips that are posted there are sometimes so hilarious, that one can almost forget what the main purpose was to begin with. Particularly visible is the “fight” about whom out of the candidates is a real Zionist, and what does it even mean to be Zionist, as can be seen in the Zionist Union’s campaign. The leftist Meretz party, decided to put its entire list to dance in an awkward video- especially notable in it is Zehava Galon, the party’s leader. The Likud also chose to use humor as a strategy, and directed a short video starring Benjamin Netanyahu in the role of a kindergarten teacher who is babysitting the leaders of the Zionist Union- a metaphor that aims to show the weaknesses of Tzipi Livni and Buji Herzog, and the difficulties of governing with the Zionist Union as the coalition.
Apparently, another great actor in these elections is the leader of the religious right party The Jewish Home, Naftali Benet, who chose to address the Israeli Palestinian conflict as an incurable disease, and that he is the only doctor who can cure it. Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a party that represents the secular middle class, chose to be more serious and with a lot less humor and address the voters in videos explaining how public money is being misspend. The list goes on, and includes Shas (the Sephardic religious party), Israel Beiteinu, and others.
So what will be the outcome of these elections?
In a parliamentary system such as the Israeli one, usually what happens is that the largest party is in a better bargaining condition to negotiate its position as party leader of the government. Research shows a strengthening of the Zionist Union, but the right block is still extremely strong. Even if they win the elections, the Zionist Union will have great difficulties to create a strong coalition. To be honest, I am not very optimistic about these coming elections. Even though there is a wind of change in the air, I am not sure change can be so easily made.
Why? I believe that this time, what’s in stake in the upcoming elections seems to be beyond the common Israeli debates about right and left, or about “national security” and “welfare state”. It’s about preserving the current status quo, or making a real change in the Israeli political-social atmosphere and sphere.