The center-left of Israeli politics had has a little color restored to its cheeks, after it had seemed that the stage had been entirely abandoned to the four parties of the right, which in recent polls, without the haredi parties, have taken almost 60 out of 120 Knesset seats. The center-left camp's main hope has been supplied by Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who in 1996 was in 38th place on the labor Party list, and who now seeks to replace Benny Gantz in the role of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nemesis.
Huldai, who is considered a successful mayor, managed at this initial stage to present at his side only Avi Nissenkorn, who as minister of justice won widespread praise, at least from one side of the political divide, for the way he stood up to Netanyahu and the attacks on the justice system, but who will not be forgiven in the Blue & White party for scuppering the discussions with Likud on keeping the unity government going, and giving Netanyahu the excuse to dismantle it.
Huldai enters the election race on the back of the disappointment felt by many Blue & White voters at the fact that the party entered a coalition with Netanyahu in the first place. Its achievements in blocking changes to the justice system were mainly attributed to Nissenkorn. He was also responsible from Blue & White's side for the fact that the party would not accept a compromise with Netanyahu, although Netanyahu himself bears the main responsibility, after demanding changes in the terms for rotation of the premiership.
So Huldai took the person who represented the main barrier to Netanyahu in Blue & White, and acquired him for his new party, as though to say, "I'll really fight Netanyahu, and I have the knight in shining armor who has already done battle."
That didn't stop Gantz from declaring that Nissenkorn only executed the policy that he, Gantz, outlined. Nissenkorn was the more experienced politician in Blue & White, and that was clear, but still, he is not exactly a vote magnet, and he will not bring Huldai and the "The Israelis" party he has set up to a leading position in the close battle to head the center-left camp, and the "Just Not Bibi" camp. Huldai will have to present a high-quality list, and not an anonymous bunch such as were most of Blue & White's candidates. He will try to form an upgraded Blue & White, with a more credible image.
Gantz, who in his speech yesterday tried to broadcast assertiveness to cover up for the crumbling of his party, pointed to the moves taking shape in the anti-Netanyahu camp: a bunch of parties that in the end, after the election, will unite as a coalition to depose Netanyahu. Huldai and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid will apparently compete for leadership of the center-left grouping, in the hope that together with Gideon Sa'ar and Avigdor Liberman, and perhaps pulling to their side the haredi parties or Yamina, they will succeed in forming a coalition without Netanyahu and Likud.
What of unity on that side of the map before the election? That will be very difficult. Yair Lapid has been burned once with Gantz, and he will not be prepared to forego his dream of becoming prime minister. Nevertheless, the polite congratulations that he conveyed to Huldai and Nissenkorn via Twitter show that there is some chance of less mudslinging in that quarter. A more likely merger is between Huldai and Labor, which does not look capable of passing the minimum vote threshold by itself, but which has political assets in the shape of a party machine, branches, and experience, which could all help Huldai - a Labor Party member in the past. He has already received messengers who practically implored him not to let the historic party be wiped out.
And after yesterday evening's events, the impression grows stronger that this election will once more not be about ideology, or achievements, or policy, or failures, but about Benjamin Netanyahu and his fitness to serve as prime minister despite the indictment against him.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 30, 2020
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