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Moshe Kahlon for prime minister of Israel

I’m planning to vote for Meretz, but if Kahlon has a chance on election day of beating Netanyahu, I’ll vote for him.

I was talking a couple of days ago about the upcoming elections with a friend from work, a middle-class, American-born Ashkenazi immigrant with a Ph. D. in political science. He told me he was voting for the left-wing, largely Arab Hadash party. I asked who he would vote for if, on election day, which is tentatively set for March 17, the “wild card” in the race, ex-Likudnik Moshe Kahlon, had a chance to become the next prime minister. “Then I’d vote for Kahlon,” he said. Myself, I’m planning to vote for Meretz, the left-wing Zionist party, but if Kahlon has a chance on election day of beating Netanyahu, whom the polls now rate the favorite, then I’ll vote for Kahlon, too.

Moshe Kahlon. (photo: Activestills.org)

Moshe Kahlon. (photo: Activestills.org)

This is meant as an illustration of Kahlon’s potential; Hadash and Meretz voters are the last people who would seem likely to vote for a politician whose role model is Menachem Begin. Polls now give Kahlon about 10 Knesset seats (out of 120); he’ll need double that to lead the next government. But I think he can do it. The latest poll, conducted for The Jerusalem Post and Ma’ariv and released Thursday, finds him the single most popular candidate for prime minister, outpolling Netanyahu, 46% to 36%.

Bibi can be beaten. He’s been around too long, he hasn’t delivered much, the atmosphere in the country is extremely unpleasant, and people are tired of his mouth and face. They blame him for these unwanted early elections that are going to cost $500 million. They see the government as a mess with him sitting atop it. They want somebody new, but Netanyahu’s only rivals until now, Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, are too far right for the mainstream.

Kahlon is not. Alone among Israeli politicians, he can win support from the sane right, the center, and even – if it’s between him, Netanyahu and Bennett on election day – the left. He has exclusive ownership of the No. 1 campaign issue – economic hardship, especially the high cost of living – from having broken the cell phone monopoly and dramatically slashed cell phone prices as communications minister in 2012,  a move that instantly made him the wonder boy of Israeli politics. As the only Mizrahi in the race, he can attract a lot of Mizrahi votes from Likud and the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, yet is likable and educated enough (with degrees in political science and law) to neutralize Ashkenazi prejudice inside the ballot box. His absence from politics for nearly two years has spared him from the public’s rising disgust with politicians, which just went up several more notches on account of the new election. He’s not a hater, not an Arab basher, not a Likud fascist, which also carries a lot of appeal with the mainstream. In that way he’s a breath of fresh air, like President Reuven Rivlin.

If Kahlon’s party – which doesn’t even have a name or a list of candidates yet – is the largest vote-getter and he becomes prime minister, he will not end the occupation, certainly not in a first term. He’s not a peacenik; he’s never shown any inclination to take down settlements or agree to a Palestinian state. (Though at a campaign stop in a Tel Aviv pub on Friday, he reportedly described himself as “center and slightly right-leaning,’ and said, “I will not hesitate to concede territory for real peace. I will not miss an opportunity for peace.”) And even if he were to move left in office, he would not have a government behind him; the right-wing parties are too popular to form a ruling coalition without at least one of them, and none would sit still for any peace agreement that the Palestinians could be party to.

But if Kahlon became Israel’s next leader, at the very least he would not seek to humiliate Arabs at every turn; he would not pick fights with them like Netanyahu and his allies constantly do. Also, he would make it acceptable again to talk about helping the poor, not just the middle class. He told Yedioth Ahronoth in April, as reported in Times of Israel:

Likud for me was really the Likud of Menachem Begin, who also represented a social vision: reducing disparities between rich and poor, neighborhood renewal, social rehabilitation, and education reform. It was a pragmatic Likud that knew how to make peace when needed. That is Likud for me. But that Likud no longer exists today, and I struggle to accept some of the things taking place within the party.

Likud is a way of life, Likud is social awareness, Likud is compassion and carrying for the weak… But Likud is no longer there, it has strayed from the path. In recent years Likud’s social banner has been dismantled… for the sake of political-security gains.

And while the assumption should be that he wouldn’t end the occupation in his first term, it’s not an impossibility for all time, like it is with Netanyahu and Bennett. Kahlon is guaranteed to have sincere advocates of a two-state solution high on his party list; among his potential running mates are ex-Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, former Mossad head Meir Dagan and economist Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. Plus, if elected, he would very likely take Isaac Herzog’s Labor, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and/or Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid into the government with him. He could turn serious about a peace deal, and if he were prime minister, there would be tremendous pressure from various quarters for him to do so. New elections and new governments come along remarkably often in Israel; a second Kahlon government could look very different from a first one.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman thank their supporters at the Likud-Israel Beitenu headquarter, January 23 2013 (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman thank their supporters at the Likud-Israel Beitenu headquarter, January 23 2013 (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

We have to get rid of Netanyahu. The rotting of this country and the dying of hope must be stopped and reversed. With the right wing so powerful in Israel today, the only candidate who at this point has a chance to pull it off is Kahlon.

He could flop in the campaign, or he could do well but not well enough to challenge Netanyahu and Bennett for the leadership. In that case, I’ll vote Meretz and my friend from work will vote Hadash. But if Kahlon is in contention for the prime ministership on election day, I think there will be a massive shift of voters to his party. Israelis want change, they don’t want Netanyahu anymore, they don’t want the coldness, hostility and stagnation they now associate with him. Kahlon has the most winning smile in Israeli politics, he’s not arrogant, and his image is of a doer, not a demagogue. The left-center-Arab parties can’t win the election, but he can, and if he does, it will be a huge improvement over the horror show we’ve got. As for the chance of him ending the occupation, I’ll quote from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.

Related:
Israel’s elections: A referendum on Netanyahu
Top 10 reasons Israel should be going to early elections

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    COMMENTS

    1. “We have to get rid of Netanyahu. The rotting of this country and the dying of hope must be stopped, and reversed. With the right wing so powerful in Israel today, the only candidate who at this point has a chance to pull it off is Kahlon.”

      Yes please, as soon as possible. Mr. Derfner, would Moshe Kahlon be good for AIPAC (sarcasm)?

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        AIPAC is bi-partisan Annie

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          You say that, and that is the standard party line, but I’ll leave readers of this informative article

          http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/friends-israel

          to decide if that is really true; and if the Americans who read this are happy with the role of AIPAC in the American government. One needs to read the article in full to get a real sense of the effect of AIPAC on the American government; and on the Israeli government for that matter–AIPAC actually worked to sabotage the ISRAELI government’s wishes in order to undermine Oslo.

          A few quotes from it:

          US Congressman Brian Baird of Washington: “When key votes are cast, the question on the House floor, troublingly, is often not ‘What is the right thing to do for the United States of America?’ but ‘How is AIPAC going to score this?’ ”

          US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky: “Increasingly, Israel has become a wedge issue, something to be used [by AIPAC] against the President by the Republicans, and it can be very unhelpful.”

          US Senator Dianne Feinstein: “We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war.”

          Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman: “If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so.”

          US Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky: “I think there is a growing sense among members that things are done just to placate AIPAC, and that AIPAC is not really working to advance what is in the interest of the United States. We all took an oath of office. And AIPAC, in many instances, is asking us to ignore it.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Sluggo

            Thanks Brian.
            Your emotional hysteria did not,address my comment because you did not understand it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Not a credible reply. Your comment did not address my comment, because you did understand it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sluggo

            You are such a fool. I am satisfied that you represent the typical quality of Israel detractors.
            You don’t even know what bipartisan means.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Oh, please, do actually read the article by Connie Bruck. “Bipartisan” is well covered. “Fool…emotional hysteria…” You sound kind of histrionic, Sluggo. Is that the Barbara in you?

            Reply to Comment
          • GilGamesh

            Actually anyone who reads the article in full will see the point article makes is that AIPAC’s influence has been diminishing and indeed it never had the power the anti-Zionists claimed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Not so fast. The article demonstrates that AIPAC indeed has had the power its detractors claim but that that power is probably now starting to diminish as the older generation gives way to the younger generation:

            ‘Today, a growing number of American Jews, though still devoted to Israel, struggle with the lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians. Many feel that AIPAC does not speak for them. The Pew Center’s survey found that only thirty-eight per cent of American Jews believe that the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace; forty-four per cent believe that the construction of new settlements damages Israel’s national security. In a Gallup poll in late July, only a quarter of Americans under the age of thirty thought that Israel’s actions in Gaza were justified. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of the left-leaning T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, told me, “Many people I know in their twenties and thirties say, I have a perfectly good Jewish life here—why do I need to worry about this country in the Middle East where they’re not representing who I am as a Jew? I’m not proud of what’s happening there. I’m certainly not going to send money.”’

            Reply to Comment
          • GilGamesh

            The article also gave many examples going back to the the Bush Sr administration of AIPAC being unsuccessful getting what it wanted from the gov’t and supporting candidates that lost.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Apparently Gilgamesh is having problems understanding the meaning of the word “powerful”, because he appears to believe that it means “omnipotent”.

            The US Army lost the battle of Kasserine Pass, and the Allies got a bloody nose in the battle for Arnhem.

            Hard to argue, though, that those two setbacks must mean that the “power” of the “Allied Powers” was illusionary. A figment of anti-German propaganda, no more.

            No, they were plenty “powerful” indeed. They just weren’t “omnipotent”.

            Reply to Comment
          • GilGamesh

            no used the word “omnipotent” but you. I made my point. Your only challenge was to create a straw man argument.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Gilgamesh, please reread what was said and what you said. No one said you USED “omnipotent,”–only that you appeared to believe that “powerful” MEANS “omnipotent.” Please review that distinction in the context provided and it ought to become much clearer. Surely this is not THAT difficult to grasp?

            Reply to Comment
          • GilGamesh

            It only appears that way to you and the other guy who’s name you post under.

            Reply to Comment
    2. richard wityy

      Keep working for the principles and vision that inspire you and/or are intrinsic and enduring.

      And also pragmatically make relative change.

      Thank you for this demonstration of what moving forward can mean.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Sarah

      His tremendous achievements include: bringing down the price of cellular phones – being known as “Mr. Nice Guy” and voting against every proposed law that would improve the lives of the poor and actually he is much better that Netanyahu. There are serious politicians out there and I willnot vote for Mr. Nice Guy but for someone who is will not be part of the right wing government that will be formed.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Philos

      Larry, don’t drink from the Khalon kool-aid. He’s a rightist who isn’t going to do jack about the occupation, and will no doubt join a Netanyahu government just like the other “great white hopes” of Liberal Zionism: Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Tommy Lapid, and Yair Lapid. They’re all frauds. Just vote for Meretz. Or Hadash. Or Balad. Or spoil your ballot. Or don’t vote. Your conscience will be clear then.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Agree 100%. Leftists will never learn that a vote for a “centrist” party is at best a vote for a fig leaf for a rightist-led government. Nothing more.

        Larry and other sane Israelis should just vote for the REAL left: Meretz or Hadash. Even Labor will crawl to Netanyahu’s government if given the chance.

        Don’t waste your vote on opportunistic parties like Kahlon or Livni.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Is there a more empty, soulless careerist than Tzippy-dippy? She’s even worse than Lapid. And that’s saying a lot.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Sluggo

      Larry, I appreciate the transparency you,provided into your thought process. It will be interesting to,see if Kahlon can position himself to be more Likud than Likud.
      It’s interesting to see that Sa’ar is not trying to team up with Kahlon or anything else,outside of Likud but to vie for leadership of the party. Any insights into this?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bob H

      It’s a turnout election. It comes down to the Arab and greater Tel Aviv vote that can shift 5 seats to the center left. 68-70% turnout and it’s a different ball game. To increase turnout you need to talk hope for change. Don’t agree with Derfner but the tone of his message is correct – as are the Messaging coming from buji and tzipi.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Pedro X

      If Kahlon tries to form a centrist left of center block, he will need the support of Liberman to make a difference. Lieberman will be king maker and may demand he be made king.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        He would want defense ministry to make it worth his while. Which the coalition leader typically keeps for itself. We shall see

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          I think Liberman would demand a joint share of the Prime Minister portfolio. How is that likely to go over with Livni and Herzog?

          Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Zakkai

      I’m generally suspicious of tactical voting. I would say, if Meretz’ policies suit your conscience better than those of any other party, then vote Meretz, and by all means vote! Our major problem is not Netanyahu, it’s a public so misguided and demoralized that they’ll vote for him. Kahlon probably wouldn’t be much better, and if leftists vote for him they’ll hurt better parties by reducing both their actual strength and the public’s estimate of their potential strength. I think there is potentially a visionary and intelligent left-center platform that could attract the votes of an electoral majority; it just hasn’t been articulated by any party or politician out there.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Ben, your point is well taken, in sync with Danny, that a vote for Kahlon might “hurt better parties by reducing both their actual strength and the public’s estimate of their potential strength,” but in defense of Larry’s strategy, he did say IF: “if Kahlon is in contention for the prime ministership on election day, I think there will be a massive shift of voters to his party.” I could understand if there actually WERE a credible, active opposition that sat in the Knesset. But since there is none, why have a repeat of Netanyahu plus a milquetoast nothing of an opposition? Time to shake things up to say the least. No?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          Beats me. (Oh and I agree with you wholeheartedly about the total uselessness of Livni, why some people still admire her is beyond me). I can’t be sure that Larry is wrong. I’m just tired of “center” parties that go along with the right for the sake of power and try to put a pretty face on fascism. Since Cast Lead my view has been, OK, if that’s what the public wants, then let the fascists take charge and make an awful mess of things as quickly and completely as possible, until we get to the breaking point and absolutely have to change course — and so far the folks in charge have been living down to my expectations. So let Netanyahu win another term, let him continue to fuck the middle class and the poor, let him continue to monger war with Palestinians and the Arab world, let him continue to alienate Europe and the US as he tales a giant shit in their living room, and wait for the crash to come — although it won’t be pretty. Israel is like your cousin the abusive alcoholic, she’s got to hit bottom before she can get better.

          Reply to Comment
          • The comparison to a drug addict/alcoholic is a depressingly good fit. Tough love is required.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai, I used to go along with the “things have to get worse before they can get better idea,” but I see how bad they got during the Gaza war and didn’t get better afterward, and I also have to acknowledge that things won’t get worse for me, just for Arabs, and so I’ve put that idea aside, and decided that a little better is better than worse. Assuming that worse will lead to better is a dangerous assumption.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai

            I hear you Larry, and I respect you willingness to alter views and strategy as circumstances change, so we’ll just hang on and see what this election offers us.

            Reply to Comment
    9. Because the right are apparently more committed to ideology.

      I am surprised by this post, thought it’s a satire at first. Elections make left wing Israelis throw ideology out of the window, and even Larry is not immune…

      Reply to Comment
    10. Victor Arajs

      You should vote for whoemever is most likely to dismantle zionism. It would help us all if it were done internally rather than externally

      Reply to Comment
    11. Brian

      Kobi Niv in Haaretz:

      “…until the “Zionist left” realizes that it has to build up the Arabs not just as a force to obstruct the other side, but really join with them as full partners, in a single political bloc – until then, things will stay as they are, and the next government and the ones that come after it will be just like their predecessors and even worse, until one of them realizes its goal and destroys the country.

      So please, let even one of the leaders of the “bloc that pursues equality and peace” get up and announce that he will welcome the Arab parties in the coalition that he forms – just like Bougie, the leader of the “left” in the next government, ha ha, got up and announced that he would not disqualify Bibi from serving in his government.

      Can’t do it, can you? Not capable of it, are you? So what, exactly, is the difference between the “right-wing bloc” and the “left-wing bloc” – that they are benighted racists and you are enlightened racists? A yawning gulf indeed. So you just rush off to the polls now.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Benjie Seligman

        Brian: I agree that the current politic in Israel needs a massive overhaul and new leadership. But your comment does not add any value; just a self-serving rant. Either advocate for a constructive cause, or kindly go away.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Barbie…Sluggo…Benjie…Sluggoman…I mean Seligman! — it does have a certain rythym. Seligman calls to mind Woody Allen’s “Zelig.” ==>

          “Allen plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Sluggo

            Brian, I understand you are a power bottom. What is the largest item you have been able to accept?

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            We will just let that comment stand for all time as proof of the kind of individual you are. No further proof will ever be needed. Quod erat demonstrandum.

            Reply to Comment
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