For Whom to Vote?

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What a strange, eerie silence!

Fifteen times have Israelis voted for the Knesset, and every time has the campaign been stormy, raucous, even violent. No one could escape it, even if he or she wanted to. Every wall called out: vote for me!

This time the voting public is in a state of deep depression. A kind of silent despair: the situation is awful, but there is nothing we can do about it. There is no solution. There is no hope. So what can be done? Nothing. One has to be resigned.

Not one single party is able to send volunteers out into the streets and man the road-crossings, as in the old days. The slogans are bland, the posters meaningless, even the jingles are pitiful.

For a person who cannot cope with his situation, one way out is to escape into an imagined world. Another is to cut himself off and deal only with trivial things, denying the frightening reality.

Reality is the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every day has its victims, Israeli and Palestinian. Every day has its atrocities, there and here. All the other troubles are caused by it: the economy sliding into an abyss, the widening social fissures, the cultural void. The despairing public tries to ignore all this.

# For that reason, the Shinui party has become the hit of this campaign. Shinui is an orgy of escapism, a dance party on the deck of the Titanic. True, it has put on the agenda two disturbing problems: the growing power of the orthodox establishment and the plight of the middle class. But their solution é even if possible – will not avert the approaching disaster. Its trademark is escape from reality, and its result will be a weakening of the left and a strengthening of the right, as happened in 1977, when its predecessor, the Dash party, gained a surprising victory. For a voter seeking peace, Shinui is out.

# The big dilemma of these elections concerns the Labor party. When Amram Mitzna appeared on the scene, I wrote that only a miracle can bring him victory. It seems that this was a precise forecast.

Elections are like matriculation examinations. The examination shows what the pupil has learned during the preceding years. If he has learned nothing, he cannot do this in the examination room.

When these elections broke out, the Labor party was practically naked. For two years it served as the court whore of Sharon, justifying his acts, sharing responsibility for all his atrocities and defaults. During all this time, the party has completely neglected the general public, and especially to the young people, the “Russians” and the Oriental Jews in the co-called “development towns”.

At the very last moment, the party crowned Amram Mitzna as its leader, a man who has not taken part in the orgy of irresponsibility, carrying a message that was diametrically opposed to everything the party has done for two years.

He needed a miracle, and also the unstinting support of his party colleagues. The miracle did not happen, and the party colleagues have obstructed his campaign at every turn. If no miracle happens in the next three days, the party will loose. It will need a period of rehabilitation. It must go into opposition, in order to cleanse itself of its recent past, adopt a consistent message of peace and social justice and allow Mitzna to gain the public’s trust. If, on the contrary, it will become again Sharon’s concubine, it will deteriorate even more and become an insignificant and despised political outcast.

The voters can prevent the return of the party to the National Unity government: if the party will suffer a big defeat, Mitzna will be kicked out and his party rivals will run back to Sharon. But if the party will achieve at least a respectable result, in spite of the difficult circumstances, this will strengthen Mitzna and enable him to carry his party into opposition.

Either way, the fate of the Labor party is the central issue of these elections. If it will seem that Mitzna, the man of peace, has brought disaster upon his party, there will be no chance for Labor to play a role in the struggle for peace for a long, long time.

On the face of it, this is a good motive for voting Labor. But there is a hitch: if Sharon’s collaborateurs in the Labor party will crawl back into his government after all, the vote of the peaceniks will serve Ben-Eliezer & Co., and indirectly Sharon.

Each voter must square this circle for himself.

# If the voter thinks that the risk is too great, he can find a safe haven in the neighboring party: Meretz.

The argument for voting Meretz is simple: it is fairly certain that it will not join the Sharon government. That is worth a lot. Many of its messages, and most of its candidates, are attractive. One can vote for it without suffering too much.

Yet the question is: is this enough? During the last two years, Meretz has not done an outstanding job, and that is an understatement. Its political message was opaque. Yossi Sarid joined the general chorus of hatred towards Arafat. He repeated the fatal and mendacious mantra of “there is nobody to talk with”, that served as a fig-leaf for Sharon and served him well. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of the “separation wall”, in the sense of “get out of our eyesight”.

The problem of Meretz is that it is a one-man party. Sarid obviously enjoyed the official title of “Chief of the Opposition” and is good at sharp one-sentence sound-bites. But in the Knesset and the public arena, no political opposition was noticeable. That is one of the reasons for the present state of public depression. (Effective opposition does not depend on the size of the party. My own Haolam Hazeh é New Force movement has shown, at its time, that even a one-man parliamentary party can put up a stiff opposition fight.)

However, by way of elimination, many in the peace camp will consider Meretz as a possible address this time.

# Another option is Hadash, a coalition formed around the Communist party.

In the last years, this party has succeeded in rehabilitating itself. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the factors that have attracted much hatred to the party during the Stalinist years have been gradually forgotten. The fruitful parliamentary activity of MK Tamar Gojanski has earned it legitimacy and sympathy.

Among all the parties, Hadash is closest to the central message of the peace camp. For 30 years, it has consistently supported the principle of “two states for two peoples”. It has stuck to the conviction that the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat is the address for negotiations. Even though the overwhelming majority of its voters are Arab, it has upheld the principle and practice of Jewish-Arab cooperation.

Now a doubt has arisen. If Hadash wins three seats, as the polls forecast, it will have only Arab Knesset member. That will allow the Jewish public and the “Jewish” parties to ignore its existence in the Knesset and pretend that there are only 110 MKs. This may be an argument for voting for it, in order to ensure that the forth candidate, Dov Hanin, an honest and intelligent person and a Jew, will be elected.

# Lately, another option is widely discussed: Balad. In radical peace-camp circles, this has become even a kind of fad.

Undoubtedly, the intellectual capacities of Dr. Azmi Bishara overshadow those of most MKs, both Jewish and Arab. The second candidate. the charismatic Dr. Jamal Zahalka, with his smiling aggressiveness, will also raise the level of Knesset debates. Balad merits praise for raising basic questions about the status of the Arab citizens in Israel.

The problem is that the messages of Balad are far from being clear-cut. It speaks about turning Israel into a “state of all its citizens” in the framework of a two-state solution, but only as a practical solution. Bishara and other members of his party obviously prefer the creation of a single bi-national state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan as a long-term aim. They take pride in the fact that they have objected to the Oslo agreement, as well as to the leadership of Arafat and the convening of the Camp David conference. Balad’s ability of exerting any influence for peace on Jewish public opinion is slim, if not non-existent.

A vote for it is an extreme form of protest against the Israeli-Jewish establishment. In the peace camp, that will attract some voters and deter others.

This, then, is the choice facing the peace camp: Labor, Meretz, Hadash and Balad. Every voter must pick for himself or herself the party he or she prefers. Together, they constitute the “preventive bloc” against Sharon.

How shall I vote myself? Well – – – – .

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