While Israel’s Avigdor Leiberman of the Israel Beiteinu Party started off the week of January 6, 2013 with a poor attempt at political comedy (he is reported to have declared that he will break away from Likud the day after the election), a rumour continues that two Right-wing politicians--Likud Member Moshe Feiglin and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet—are engaged in a political Punch-and-Judy show.
Politics isn’t just a sport in Israel; it’s also Israel’s best entertainment.
The supposed ‘feud’ between Feiglin and Bennet appears to come from a serious question: what is best for Israel’s political Right—supporting a Left-leaning Likud (Feiglin’s Party), or strengthening the more politically pure but smaller Bayit Yehudi (Bennet’s Party)? This is an important question because it affects how many votes the Right gives to Likud in this month’s national election. If too many Right voters do not follow Feiglin--but transfer their support to Bayit Yehudi--then Rightist influence within Likud could suffer.
Would that be a problem? After all, there’s much for a Rightist not to like in Likud: after the election, a triumphant Netanyahu is not likely to lean Right. But does that mean the Right should therefore turn to a political Party (Bayit Yehudi) which Netanyahu appears to dislike—and may exclude from his post-election coalition?
The obvious answer appears to be, if you are Right, do not support Likud; vote Bayit Yehudi. But this is Israel—politics here is not so obvious.
In fact, politics here is not obvious at all. It is so opaque it’s dangerous because many here may not know how Israel politics really works. For example, you could cast that obvious vote—and if you are Right, a vote for Bayit Yehudi would certainly make you feel good. But then, ignorant about how politics works here, you could soon discover that you have used your vote to ‘cut off your nose despite your face’.
Your vote will have gained nothing.
Bayit Yehudi will not grab power this year. Netanyahu will not let that happen. The best the Right can hope for this year is influence; and the question voters should be asking themselves is, who can best bolster the Right’s influence, a Feiglin inside Likud or a Bennet outside?
The answer is Feiglin inside Likud.
The reason for this lies with how politics works in Israel.
Likud is Israel’s most powerful political Party and Moshe Feiglin heads the largest faction in that Party. Do not discount that reality. Strong Rightist support today for Likud could put Feiglin and other Likud Rightists into the Knesset, giving Feiglin enhanced power. How does Feiglin get this enhanced power? He is the one who has worked most successfully to get those Rightist names onto the Likud list. He is not exactly a king-maker; but he is the closest thing to it the Right has; and if the Right gives strong support to Likud, it is Feiglin who is strengthened the most inside Likud.
Feiglin may never stop Netanyahu. But a stronger Feiglin inside Likud will do a better job making the attempt than a Bayit Yehudi stuck on the outside.
Make no mistake. Bayit Yehudi will be on the outside. Netanyahu will see to it.
Most Right voters do not understand that Israel politics is not just about power; it’s about influence—and after this election, the Right will need all the influence it can get to defend its political ideals. The greatest ‘win’ for the Right today would be a stronger Feiglin inside Likud, not a weaker Feiglin (because voters abandon him for Bennet) and an ostracized Bayit Yehudi. If anything, this is the election to support Feiglin’s efforts in Likud, not abandon them.
You say that a strong Bayit Yehudi cannot be locked out of the next ruling coalition? Don’t be so sure about that.
If you underestimate Benjamin Netanyahu, you will lose.
Rightist voters are understandably frustrated by the Israel national elections process: voters do not vote directly for a national leader. Instead, they vote for a Political Party. If that Party wins enough of the total votes, it gets to ‘form’ a government with its leader as Prime Minister. So, given today’s power arrangement, when Rightists vote for Likud, they do not vote for Feiglin; they vote for head of Likud Benjamin Netanyahu-- whom many on the Right no longer trust.
Feiglin argues that Rightists should vote Likud, despite this liability. Why? Because the prize this year is not power. That won’t happen. The prize is, again, enhanced influence. Therefore, Feiglin argues, voters should choose Likud because that is where the Right can most effectively attract the kind of friends it will need to influence national decisions—and, later, win national leadership.
To understand this approach, consider legendary American bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980). He was supposedly once asked why he robbed banks. Because, he is reported to have replied, that’s where the money is.
This is why Feiglin wants Rightists to vote for Likud—because that’s where the power is.
Some on the Right don’t buy that. They don’t want a politician who grows his leadership potential so slowly. They want that leadership now; and for them, that leadership comes fastest by getting elected to the Knesset.
Feiglin will not bite that bait. He does not believe that a hawkish Party can win enough seats in the Knesset to leverage its way into the next ruling coalition--or, if there, be strong enough to influence that coalition. Instead, he chooses to build a broad base of support from within the country’s power-centre, Likud. He believes that you influence policy by building relationships within the political power-center, not from outside that center.
Those on the Right who want to strengthen their sector by unifying (to create Bayit Yehudi) play the same old game the Right has always played—and lost. Besides, their strategy does not bring power to all on the Right; it brings power to them.
Those who unify within their own sector do not expand their influence. They simply reshuffle the same political deck for their own advantage.
For this month’s election, Feiglin is right: the Right will not expand its influence playing sector politics; it expands influence by strengthening its position within the nation’s power-center. That’s why he believes voting Likud is so important.
If you don’t believe this you may not understand how Israel politics works.
Your vote will be wasted.