Democratic Israel, the new party of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is the spark that seems to have ignited the second election campaign of 2019.
Aware of the public’s election fatigue, most politicians have over the past several weeks avoided launching premature campaigns that would likely only result in further voter apathy ahead of the September 17 poll.
But Barak’s noisy return to the political arena left the other party heads no choice but to respond to his harsh criticism, leveled against any and all who fail to get onboard with his agenda to dethrone Benjamin Netanyahu.
The name of Barak’s new party clearly demonstrates his desire to make the upcoming election about the future of democracy in the Jewish state. “The State of Israel is a breath away from losing its democratic nature,” he claimed, adding that Netanyahu is “no less a strategic threat than Iran.” In other words, according to Barak, the next election presents the fateful choice between a “State of Netanyahu, or the State of Israel.”
His own bumbling political record notwithstanding, Barak’s harsh rhetoric resonates with a left wing that loathes Netanyahu so much so that even his old political rival Amir Peretz has welcomed the former prime minister’s call for a left-center bloc to challenge Likud. Peretz just this month returned to the leadership of the Labor Party, a position over which he and Barak previously clashed. Their willingness to now join forces shows how motivated the left is to send Netanyahu home, if not to jail.
At the same time, Barak’s overzealous criticism of any party that doesn’t follow in his footsteps could prove counterproductive, particularly with regards to the more center-leaning “Blue and White” faction, which polls show remains the only party that poses any real challenge to Netanyahu’s Likud.
But for now, there are signs that a left-center bloc consisting of Labor, Meretz and Blue and White is beginning to emerge. And more recent polls show that this bloc is taking the lead.
Meanwhile, the right wing is mired in what its constituency sees as petty rivalry that could further split its small parties into factions that would have a hard time passing the electoral threshold.
If they could come together, a right-wing bloc would be made up of The Jewish Home (Rafi Peretz), Tkuma (Bezalel Smotrich), Otzma Yehudit (Itamar Ben-Gvir), The New Right (Naftali Bennett), and Zehut (Moshe Feiglin). According to reports, however, one of the main reasons preventing this union is the objection of Jewish Home chief Rafi Peretz to make way for popular, but secular former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who for now is remaining silent, probably as she waits to see whether or not the cards will fall in her favor.
And while the emerging left-center bloc presents the clear and simple message that “democracy under Bibi is in grave danger,” the right, whose time is consumed by conflict management, is struggling to come up with a slogan to motivate its own large constituency.
With all of that said, however, the election is still some 65 days away, enough time for things to change ten times over. So, while Barak did ignite the election campaign, the engines are still cold, and Israelis are still waiting to see what kind of cars eventually come around the bend.