The Likud has done it again. Just when I was starting to like them – OK, I wasn’t actually starting to like them, but I did have a moment or two when I felt vaguely sympathetic towards their plight – they come out with this warning: “Kadima is a left-wing party that will form a leftist coalition with Meretz and the Arabs.”
Now, we’re all used to a bit of more-or-less subtle racism in Israeli political campaigns; but this statement, coming from a party with aspirations to national leadership, is a bit over-the-top. Not only is it rather offensive; it’s also wildly unlikely to be correct, unless every poll taken so far in this campaign is completely inaccurate.
Not once in Israel’s history has an Arab political party been part of a governing coalition. Considering the Israeli Arabs make up a considerable portion of our population, I consider this a crying shame and something of a mark of dishonor for our society. I am not saying, mind you, that the marginalization of the Arab parties is entirely the fault of the Jewish/Zionist parties or their voters; the Arab parties themselves, by remaining staunchly anti-Zionist, have made themselves pretty much untouchable as potential coalition partners.
Is there any reason to think that the next Israeli government will be the first one with an Arab party in the governing coalition? None that I can think of. According to recent polls, Kadima plus Labor should garner anything from 56 to 63 Knesset seats – either just shy of the required 61-seat majority required to form a government, or just over the threshold. Shas, a party that hates being in opposition and is likely to wind up with around ten MK’s, is making conciliatory noises about territorial compromise; clearly they’re positioning themselves as a coalition partner, and their economics would fit in reasonably well with Labor’s socialism and Kadima’s vagueness. While it’s obviously too early to determine the exact makeup of a Kadima-Labor coalition, there is no reason to think that a comfortably large Knesset majority couldn’t be assembled while effectively shunning Meretz, the non-Shas religious parties, and especially the Arab parties. Surely the “Likud spokesman” who tried to frighten us with the prospect of an ultra-leftist coalition knows all this as well as I do.
So why the scare tactics?
Part of the problem, I think, is with Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. I can’t recall any campaign he has run which didn’t rely on scaring the voters; a deeply insecure man himself, he doesn’t seem to know any way to sell himself other than to try to make everyone else feel as frightened as he does. So instead of campaigning based on positive images of a Likud-led future, Bibi’s party is reduced to trying to convince us that the future under Kadima would be even worse than another Netanyahu administration.
Another problem for the Likud is that except for Netanyahu’s economic policies (which I suspect aren’t too popular even in his own party, although I rather like them) the party doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda, other than doing nothing and blaming the rest of the world for Israel’s being stuck in a rut. OK, they won’t negotiate with Hamas. But neither will Kadima. Neither will Labor. As long as Azmi Bishara doesn’t become Prime Minister, every Israeli politician is going to be “tough against Hamas”. (OK, I’m giving Yossi Beilin a break here; but c’mon, folks, cut the poor guy a little slack!) So once we’ve decided that none of the major parties want to invite Khaled Mashaal over for tea, the only advantage Bibi has is that nine-year-old photographs of him may be slightly more frightening than photographs of Ehud Olmert.
From what I’ve seen so far, the Likud seems like a party struggling unsuccessfully to stave off complete despair. If this trend continues, we can look forward to nearly six more weeks of increasingly lurid threats. By the Ides of March, I fully expect to hear the Ehud Olmert plans to invite al-Qaeda and Hamas into a Kadima coalition!
(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)