Dear Arik –
So you’ve finally done it – split off from the Likud and formed a new political party. Congratulations! This was a move that a lot of us have eagerly awaited. You’re no doubt getting a lot of professional advice already, but I’d like to contribute a few suggestions of my own. As someone who has never run for political office, I am perhaps not the best-qualified to offer you advice; but I’m not charging for it, so at least you’re getting your money’s worth.
What’s in a name? I’ve heard two different possible names for your new party: National Responsibility and Kadima (“Forwards”, or perhaps “Advance”). Both are acceptable, but of the two, I much prefer “National Responsibility”. It has a nice ring to it, promoting the idea of competent, patriotic, pragmatic leadership without committing you to any specific policy path. “Kadima” sounds a little too gimmicky, and is too easily parodied (as in “Retreat”, for example). Whatever you decide, though, make the decision and stick to it. Changing the name around will make it look like you’re focusing on trivialities and marketing at the expense of issues and policies.
Be for real. Many voters are reluctant to invest their votes in a “disposable” party that exists only to serve the short-term interests of a few politicians. At the same time, there has long been a huge gap in the center of Israeli politics; we voters have had to choose between politicians blinded by right-wing ideology, other politicians equally blinded by left-wing ideology, or sectarian parties that wouldn’t know the national interest if it bit them in the butt. If you can convince us that National Responsibility is a real party with a real and distinct philosophy, a party that will exist long after your own retirement, then we’ll believe that voting for you is more than just a tactical move; we will feel that we are helping to create a new and important force in Israeli politics. So don’t let the new party consist only of ministers, Knesset members, and other VIP’s. Start recruiting ordinary members as soon as possible. There won’t be time to create a full set of “grass roots” before the next elections, but you should at least begin the process of making National Responsibility into a genuine political movement.
Soft-pedal economics. Nobody particularly thinks of you as an economic genius, and as such nobody is expecting you to come up with any exciting, doctrinaire plans for Israel’s economy. In any case, the marketplace for economic panaceas is already crowded, with Bibi Netanyahu apparently poised to assume leadership of the Likud and Amir Peretz at the helm of Labor. Let the two of them fight it out; and if anyone asks, say reassuring things about tempering Netanyahu’s Thatcherite economics with a greater social concern without going overboard into radical Peretzian union-dominated socialism. Your goal here is to be moderate and reassuring, and let both Netanyahu and Peretz scare voters into voting “Responsibly”.
Don’t be shy about your accomplishments. At this moment, you are Mister Disengagement – the man who got us out of Gaza after we bled there for 38 years. Your voters think that getting out of the Gaza Strip was a good thing, and most of them, I believe, would also like to get Israel out of substantial parts of the West Bank. There is no point in declaring that there will be no further unilateral withdrawals under a National Responsibility government; nobody will believe you even if you believe yourself, and your voters actually like the idea of unilateralism. Your voters want you to do what’s best for Israel, and if negotiating with the Palestinians won’t get us there, that’s the Palestinians’ problem. Oh, yes, one other thing: Get started on clearing out the illegal outposts now, if possible. The people living there weren’t going to vote for you anyway.
Go for the secular vote. Shinui’s success in the last Knesset election shows how many voters despise the status quo on religious issues. Both Labor and Likud have a long record of making deals with the religious parties at the expense of the general public, and an awful lot of voters feel hugely frustrated by the extent to which our lives are controlled by an extremist minority of the electorate. By all means let Shinui take the radical anti-religious positions (and let Shinui take the flak for them); but you should promote a quieter, less strident version of the same ideas. Come out strongly in favor of civil marriage and the abolition of exemption from the draft for yeshiva students. You’ll gain at least some votes, and (as long as you don’t overdo it) the only people you’ll alienate despise you already.
Be yourself. Let’s face it: you’re not running as Mister Clean. Your voters know that, and we’re willing to ignore a few scandals as long as you get the job done. Your opponents are going to make a lot of noise about corruption; ignore them as much as possible. Defending yourself won’t accomplish anything; nobody is voting for or against you because of your ethics or lack thereof. Oh, by all means do a few low-key things to clean up (or at least maintain) your image; for example, if Omri is actually in prison at the time of the elections, you might want to move him a few positions down on the party’s Knesset candidates’ list. But avoid making any really dramatic gestures on the ethics front; they’ll just look hypocritical and possibly even desperate.
There’s a lot more unsolicited advice where this came from, of course; but let’s keep it short and simple for now. Good luck, Arik!