Reality Check

Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat, 5763


Shattering the
50-50 Myth



By Michael Freund

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | For the second time in the past two years, Israel's voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly repudiated the Left, once again shattering the myth that the country is divided down the middle between Right and Left.

In 2001, Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Left's candidate, received just 37.61%, or barely more than a third, of the popular vote. And in the balloting, Labor and Meretz, the two main left-wing parties, were set to receive a combined total of fewer than 30 seats in the Knesset, signifying the support of less than 25% of the electorate.

Such numbers are hardly consistent with the fabled political or ideological equilibrium that is said to exist in Israel. If anything, it demonstrates just how little support the left-wing has among the public.

The results become even more significant when one considers just how vulnerable Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was as a candidate for the top job in the land.

In addition to a string of unsavory allegations about corruption, fraud and sleaze, the Likud-led government headed by Sharon presided over one of the worst 24-month periods in the country's history.

The security situation has not appeared so bleak in decades, as rockets crash into Sderot, suicide bombers target Tel Aviv, and people think twice before boarding the bus to work. In 2002, a total of 453 Israelis were killed in Palestinian terror attacks, the highest toll since the founding of the state.

The economy has also been in decline since Sharon took power, with unemployment soaring to 10.5%, leaving more than 267,500 Israelis out of work. At the end of 2000, by contrast, the rate was just 8.8%.

Inflation in 2002 increased significantly too, reaching 6.5 percent. That was double the government's target rate for the year and more than four times the 1.4% figure of 2001.

By all accounts, then, Amram Mitzna, Yossi Sarid and their compatriots on the left should have coasted to an easy victory. Amid unprecedented terror and an increasingly painful recession, the situation was ripe for portraying the Likud-led government as one that had failed in virtually every major area.

Hence, the left's inability to prevail at the ballot box, despite the situation in which the country finds itself, speaks volumes about the public's true political pulse, and clearly demonstrates that there is no 50-50 split between left and right. For, had there really been such a split, Sharon and the right would not have proven to be as successful as they did.

The leaders of the left, however, remain oblivious to this reality, refusing to believe that they have lost the support of wide swaths of the public in recent years. While campaigning this past weekend, Mitzna said that he was unable to "decipher the genetic code of the voter, whose predicament is so bad, yet he continues to vote for the Likud."

What Mitzna and his comrades do not seem to understand is that this election, like the one before it, had nothing to do with the voters' DNA, and everything to do with their rejection of the left's failed ideology. After a decade of Oslo, and the disastrous consequences it has wrought, the people of Israel are hardly in the mood to countenance the kind of far-reaching concessions that Labor continues to propose.

Mitzna's talk of dividing Jerusalem, unilateral withdrawal and forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, sounded like it was taken straight from Ehud Barak's script, which, as we all know, bombed at the box office in the February 2001 elections.

By sticking to these ideas, rather than acknowledging their obsolescence, Labor and the left have painted themselves into a political corner, one that will continue to grow smaller and lonelier with each passing year.

After Barak's downfall, the left tried to pin it on his personality, pointing to all sorts of perceived character flaws and managerial failings on his part. After yesterday's defeat, the same process is likely to repeat itself, as Mitzna's persona, rather than his policies, takes much of the blame.

But this election was not about personalities, it was about politics, and it showed just how far Israelis have come in rejecting Oslo and its proponents. Hopefully, as he puts together a new coalition in the coming weeks, Sharon will bear this important lesson in mind.

For, as much as Israelis may wish for another National Unity government to be formed, they are even more inclined to see a National Survival government, one that finally abandons the path of Oslo and puts their security first, before any other consideration.

And, quite frankly, they deserve no less.

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JWR contributor Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999. Comment by clicking here.


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