Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay is paving his way to the hearts of centrist and moderate right-wing voters on a campaign of identity. Gabbay himself is a former moderate right-winger who grew up in a traditional home, and when he talks about the need to return Jewish values to the nexus of the discourse, he looks and sounds more authentic than most elected officials from the Right. This is not only the move of a leader, it’s also a tactical, logical gambit that is paying off in polls.
But it won’t be enough in the race to become prime minister.
Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid have already appealed to the middle class with the “Where’s the Money?” campaign, which called for an equal sharing of social burden, but which did not make either of them prime minister.
None of the leaders from the middle of the political spectrum will rise up and go into power if they do not respond to the basic need of centrist and right-wing voters for a prime minister who puts security ahead of every other consideration: social, economic, or moral. No candidate can win an election in Israel without providing answers to the security-defense question. But the leaders of the centrist parties still neglect the issue of security entirely. Only the extreme Right and the extreme Left talk about political solutions, while the political center is silent on the subject that matters most to Israeli voters.
Journalists are busy filling in the “defense guy” squares for the various parties, as if choosing a former chief of staff or defense minister is a substitute for a clear diplomatic-security strategy. Only a clear platform that provides real answers to the Israeli public’s deepest fears can create an alternative to “managing the conflict” in the best case, or “annexing Judea and Samaria” in the worst case, as the Right is suggesting.
When it comes to defense and security, if you are not leading the conversation, you lose. The leaders of the centrist parties can serve as alternatives only if they raise the diplomatic-security flag of separation from the Palestinians. The leader who proves that the safest thing Israel can do is detach itself from the Palestinians, build a border between them and us, and take action to create a flourishing democratic Palestinian political entity on the other side of the border, will set the tone for Israeli security.
The extreme Right is currently proposing the annexation of 2.5 million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, and the political center has no one who will push back against this dangerous idea. What moderate Israeli would think that connecting Israel to Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron is an idea that promotes the Zionist enterprise or preserves Israel as a Jewish, democratic state?
Nevertheless, the centrist leaders are silent, as if someone else is supposed to take responsibility for the most critical issue to the future of the state. The identity campaign may be giving Gabbay a boost in the polls, but if his people do not start working on a clear diplomatic-security plan that will lead to a separation between Israel and the Palestinians and save Israel from a demographic disaster and the loss of its Jewish majority, Gabbay will hit a security ceiling that will keep him from the ultimate achievement.
It is not too late for Lapid, either, to find the courage to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sole issue on which he won, and show us what an alternative government looks like.