In order to create a coalition that will be approved by the Knesset, it’s not enough to perform a round of musical chairs inside the bloc. There’s also a need to transfer some Knesset seats (the precise number is debatable) from the right side of the political map to the central-left side.
The assumption of all left-wing contenders, since 1977, has been that their voters have no real option of voting outside the leftist-centrist bloc and are therefore “in their pocket.” The second assumption has been that at least some right-wing voters would be willing to change their vote if they are convinced that the supposedly centrist party is lined with defense officials and former rightists, and is less left-wing and more right-wing than they thought.
Those eyeing the Prime Minister’s Office will therefore attempt to lure those few voters who might move from bloc to bloc with right-wing statements. These statements will annoy the members of their own camp, but when the times comes they’ll still vote for the party (or, at the most, move a little to the left inside the bloc and vote for Meretz instead of for the Zionist Union, for example).
The only risk the tacticians and their advisors are taking into account is the possibility that their voters would be so disgusted by their leadership that they would choose to stay home, but they assume there’s a very small chance of that happening. At the moment of truth, they believe, the “just not Bibi” consideration will do the trick.
This tactic, which didn’t really work in the last election campaigns, has strategic aspects too, which the advisors aren’t really taking into account. A camp led for years by leaders who dedicate most of their time to attract voters located beyond the fence, who are careful—for tactical reasons—not to say anything that would irritate a right-wing person who might consider voting Labor, loses its moral backbone and the willingness to enlist. Because it is perceived as a pool of “safe” votes and nothing more, it would be very hard to get this camp to do anything beyond voting, while holding its nose, on Election Day.
The oh-so-sophisticated “eyes right!” move has been repeating itself for years. It doesn’t take a great expert to see it. Nevertheless, Labor leader Avi Gabbay’s recent statements crossed a certain line—if not a red line, then a green line. Somehow, Gabbay’s shift to the right seems kind of sincere and a bit too resolved.
It began with a declaration that he would not sit in the same coalition with the Joint Arab List. The actual declaration isn’t unreasonable, especially considering the opinions of some of the Joint List’s members. But Gabbay wasn’t quick to clarify what he didn’t mean. In an interview he gave immediately after making that comment, he refused to make it clear that he does not reject Arab voters and does not rule out any form of cooperation with their representatives who would be willing to reach agreement with the coalition bloc he hopes to lead.
This refusal to clarify, even in light of criticism that accused him of excluding Israel’s Arab citizens, is problematic.
We didn’t even get the chance to wonder what it actually mean, and Gabbay had already provided another controversial comment, this time on the settlements. And again, it looked less like a “wink” at right-wing voters and more like a loving embrace.
Asked if he would evacuate the communities of Eli and Ofra, which are located outside the “settlement blocs,” Gabby didn’t answer like a leftist (“of course”) and didn’t try to dodge the question (“time will tell”). He added in fluent “right-wing” language: "If you make peace, why should you evacuate? I think the dynamic or terminology we have become accustomed to here, where 'if you make peace—you evacuate,' is not necessarily true."
I’d like to hope Gabbay isn’t a rightist. I’d like to hope he understands that you can’t rise to power by ideologically destroying your own camp. We’ll wait and see.