(Meanwhile, I've usually been reading only Soccer Dad and Hirhurim. Before I continue: Make sure to learn some Nach Yomi for my friend Avraham Norin, may he get well soon.)
I'm still not sure who I'll vote for. Though I'm firmly on the Israeli right, the multiplicity of right-wing parties makes me a floating voter in general elections. Since making aliyah, I voted for the National Union in '99 and the National Religious Party in '03, and there were three or four other parties I considered along the way.
Still, my choice is usually final by a month or two ahead of Election Day. This time, I'm even less sure than usual.
For starters, none of Israel's political parties agrees (at least officially) with my fundamental analysis of our situation: That there are no feasible solutions to our conflict with our Arab neighbors.
- Kadima (to start with the biggest fish) admits that Israel has no apparent negotiating partner among the Palestinian Arabs. So far so good. But they conclude from this that we should give the Arabs 95% of their perennial demands on us, gratis. Not only will this not solve anything (as even honest leftists agree!), it will only entrench the Arab view that there is no point in talking to us, since we'll ultimately give in if they wait long enough. Does anyone doubt that Sharon's "disengagement" was substantially responsible for the political success of Hamas?
- There's not much point in discussing Labor and parties to its left. My political and economic sympathies are firmly on the right: I'm pro-settlement, skeptical of territorial compromise, and believe the only prospects for peace are in the very long term, through persistent Israeli military and economic strength and national steadfastness. Need I say more?
- Likud has some points in its favor. Most of the pro-disengagement gang disengaged to Kadima, leaving the Likud mostly anti. "Mostly", though, still includes a good number of disengagistas. And the "antis" themselves didn't come through in the crunch. Self-declared opponents like Netanyahu, Livnat and Shalom actually voted for the disengagement bill in the Knesset, and backed down on their threat to collectively resign from the government over it. So why should I trust them in the future?
At least Netanyahu can take some of the credit for Israel's economic recovery; I support his general outlook and most of his specific reforms. But his overall record as a leader of Israel has been mixed.
- Taking another step to the right, we have the merged National Religious Party / National Union. On the surface, they are close to my position on diplomatic issues, though they don't quite come out and say that there are no real solutions. They are also my natural sectoral home as a nationalist-religious voter. And their candidates are generally decent, well-meaning people, untainted by scandal.
Unfortunately, they haven't exactly been very successful at promoting their platform in government. They waste inordinate amounts of energy on ideological infighting - aside from the NRP and Moledet, the current merged list includes two separate factions which broke away from the NRP over recent years. They failed to stop or even slow down the disengagement, or even to force a referendum on it.
Their economic program reeks of Labor socialism - not even a mention of tax cuts. And on one of their flagship issues - the Jewish character of the state - their voice has rarely been heard. Where were they when Shabbat shopping became the rage? The Likud has introduced more Jewish content into the secular schools than the NRP ever dreamed of. And where were they when the Ministry of Religion was dismantled, leaving thousands of mashgichim and burial workers emptyhanded, without anyone clearly responsible for paying their salaries? Oh, yeah - they were in the government, participating in the process.
For this I should vote NRP/NU?
- Is Yisrael Beiteinu still a right-wing party? Lieberman these days talks mostly about crime, and rarely mentions his controversial diplomatic statements. He's clearly positioning himself to be a junior coalition partner of Kadima, endorsing whatever diplomatic plan Olmert proposes. And he's adopted a secularist platform to boot. No thanks.
- Shas and Yahadut Hatorah are purely sectoral parties for the Sephardi and Ashkenazi haredi communities. While I have sympathy for some of their goals, they won't stand up for what I believe in. That's just the way it is.
- Which leaves only the perennial cranks and assorted misfits who insist on founding parties that can't possibly make it into the Knesset. They can't even manage to join forces! The only attraction of such parties is that they afford a protest vote to those who can't bring themselves to support any of the mainstream parties, and who would otherwise stay home. But I'm not interested in wasting my vote - I'd rather help the pragmatic right wing than vote for a hopeless cause.
Incidentally, I think you'll find that neither of these parties agrees with my no-solution analysis. Both claim to propose solutions to the Israel-Arab conflict. Both are hallucinating. I won't feel comfortable until my leaders are willing to speak the obvious truth. We can't solve our problems by expelling the Arabs, or by negotiating with them, or by supporting a Palestinian state (which won't be established anyway), or by unilaterally redrawing our borders, or by any other practical moves. Not until they change their attitudes towards us. And that's out of our hands.
So, who am I voting for?
My current inclination is towards the Likud. Not because I expect any great results from them. But I'm broadly in agreement with Netanyahu's free-market economic program (I know not all of the Likud supports it); I'm broadly sympathetic with their no-unilateral-concessions platform (I know they might not stick to it); I'm satisfied that they're the only major secular party which is sympathetic to Jewish tradition.
More important, though: The Likud is the only party which can conceivably lead a center-right governing coalition. If the Likud collapses, the political center-right will be leaderless. Kadima is (realistically speaking) center-left; Labor is clearly on the left. No religious party will be forming Israel's government for the foreseeable future. The Likud must be supported if we are ever to expect the right to return to power.
True, Kadima may collapse over the next four years. But I'm not willing to bet the country on that prospect. We need a strong Likud. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am.
You're welcome to try to persuade me otherwise.
Update (23 March): My friend Evie Gordon also makes the case for voting Likud, even more strongly than I do.