(February 4, 2019 / JNS)
The late Rabbi Moshe Levinger was a great man. In the 1970s and 1980s, he became known for his contribution to the renewal of Jewish life in the historic land of Israel, particularly Hebron—the city of the Patriarchs. But from 1992 until his death in 2015, Levinger stayed out of public life. One reason for that was the part he played in the national camp losing the 1992 election.
That year, no fewer than six parties were vying for right-wing votes, both religious and secular: Rafael Eitan’s Tzomet; Tehiya, led by Yuval Neeman; Moledet under Rehavam Ze’evi; the National Religious Party; and the parties of Rabbis Eliezer Mizrahi (Geulat Yisrael) and Levinger (Torah Ve’eretz Yisrael), who planned to take votes from the NRP.
At the time, some warned that votes would be wasted and Knesset seats lost, but the party leaders didn’t heed their warnings. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir wasn’t good enough for them, and they started splitting ideological hairs. Certain that the right would win, the parties stayed in the election until the end, which led to disastrous results. Tehiya, Mizrahi, and Levinger failed to reach the minimum electoral threshold, which cost the right precious seats and led to the establishment of a left-wing government and, two years later, the return of PLO founder Yasser Arafat.
It’s been 27 years, and it looks as if the national camp, particularly the wing that is more to the right than the Likud, is on the same path. In 2019, we’re also seeing six parties jockeying for position in the small sector to the right of the mother party: Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s New Right; Habayit Hayehudi under Rafi Peretz; the National Union under MK Bezalel Smotrich; Zehut and Otzma Yehudit, led by far-right activists Moshe Feiglin and Baruch Marzel, respectively; and former Shas leader Eli Yishai’s Yachad Party. Every one of these party leaders is convinced that he can draw enough support to make it into the even though the minimum electoral threshold (3.25 percent) is higher now than it used to be, and it takes about 150,000 votes to reach it.
This situation will undoubtedly lead to a loss of votes on the right. Even if some of these parties were to merge, it wouldn’t be enough, because too many players are crowded onto too small a field. In the 2015 election, Yishai and Marzel ran together but didn’t make it over the minimum threshold, which led to the right losing at least four seats. This time, with more parties competing in the exact same sector, it will be even more complicated to arrange a joint ticket.
And we haven’t even discussed Shas itself under the leadership of Aryeh Deri, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party and Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis’ Gesher—all three of which will also take votes from the national camp and are also hovering around the minimum threshold. This is the first time since the 1999 election that we’ve seen this happen and like it did then, the left is hammering a wedge into the right by putting up a candidate with security credentials and who has the support of the media.
Given that, anyone who sees himself as a public leader and is running for the Knesset must demonstrate responsibility to the values he represents and to the voters who support him. They expect him not to waste their votes, and mainly not to turn their ballots into a card with which to beat their political rivals.
So even it entails concessions and compromises, any leader of a right-wing party must think about the big picture and not just his personal aspirations, however important they might be. If the left wins, anyone who doesn’t do that will be permanently tainted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing the right thing by attempted to unite the right. However, his public attack on Likud member Gideon Sa’ar doesn’t quite square with the message of unity he is espousing.
Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.