Is the coming Israeli election about peace and security for the Jewish state? Or is it about what the prime minister and his wife do with their empty bottles?
Is it about standing up to Iran and radical Islam? Or is it about standing up to U.S. President Barack Obama, who continues to insist that barbarous terrorist acts by Islamist fundamentalists have nothing to do with religion, and who clings to the naïve belief that Iran can be trusted to play nice with its nukes?
If you answered, “All of the above,” you’re probably right. But, if you’re hoping that Israel’s bizarre and increasingly dysfunctional electoral system could make a difference in the lives of ordinary Israelis on March 17, prepare for disappointment.
In my last column, I had some fun with a Likud TV ad that portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the only reliable babysitter (Bibi-Sitter) for Israel. The ad dismissed his main rivals in the Zionist Union coalition as ready to give away the country (Labor leader Isaac Herzog) or devoid of any ideology other than the desire to gain power (Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni).
These are indeed key issues. Although I disagree with many of his policies, my sense is that Herzog has more integrity than most of his political rivals. But he is squandering this integrity by allying with Livni, whose shape-shifting political career has been defined by trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, then setting sail accordingly.
Livni and her former Kadima partner-in-misrule, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, consistently put themselves and their quest for power above the needs of the country. Livni jumped the Likud ship to join Kadima, which prided itself on having no ideology. When Kadima’s ship was sinking fast, she started Hatnuah (The Movement).
The movement for what? It has few concrete plans beyond unseating Netanyahu and magically making peace with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas partners.
While the big guns are attacking each other in the media, who claims to be looking after the interests of the ordinary Israeli? First in line to claim that role appears to be former Likud minister of communications Moshe Kahlon, whose centrist Kulanu (All of Us) Party focuses on economic and cost-of-living issues.
His new party – which includes star candidate Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. – is expected to win five to eight seats, which could be the tipping point for a ruling coalition.
Veteran Israeli journalist Caroline Glick argues that the real struggle is not between Likud and its rivals, but between Netanyahu and Obama.
“As the White House sees it, if Herzog/Livni form the next government, then Jerusalem will dance to Obama’s tune,” she wrote in the Jerusalem Post. http://tinyurl.com/o3j2vw7
“If Netanyahu is re-elected, then the entire edifice of Obama’s Middle East policy may topple and fall.”
Glick believes the Obama administration desperately wants Herzog and Livni to win because they’ll be easier to push around, and are more likely to accede to the U.S. desire for a peace deal at any cost.
She says the White House worries the hardline Netanyahu – perhaps the most vocal and articulate critic of Obama’s policy of appeasement towards Iran – will continue to expose the dangers of the Obama administration’s kid glove treatment of Iran and the Islamic world.
Obama, meanwhile, continues to insist that Islamist terrorism – including the murders of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic State terrorists – has nothing to do with Islam.
Dealing with the U.S. Battling radical Islam. Making peace with the Palestinians. Bolstering the economy.
Big election issues, to be sure. But this is Israel, so the real issues may pale in comparison to “Bottlegate,” the latest scandal about the expensive habits of Bibi and Sara Netanyahu, including the burning question of who pocketed $1,000 in refunds from recycling the bottles used in the official residence.
In fact, there are no written laws about spending limits for official residences. And the state comptroller’s report that sparked the media frenzy actually found that the PM’s expenses were dwarfed by those of former president Shimon Peres.
But, in this election, the “Anybody but Bibi” movement may eclipse any meaningful debate about Israel’s future.
Netanyahu is a flawed leader. But, if he is going to be defeated, let it be at the hands of leaders with concrete and achievable plans to protect the only democracy in the Middle East.
I’m still waiting for them to show up.