Boycott Next Week's Likud Primary? Really?

Sometimes Israel seems like Alice in Wonderland, but the suggestion to boycott the Likud primary, says this writer, is acting like the Mad Hatter. After all, in Israel, losers also win.

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Dr. Philip Brodie

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Like the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Israeli politics gets curiouser and curiouser: in a political arena where an election loser almost always acquires influence and power depending on the percentage of votes he has received, along comes Natan Engelsman (reported to be ‘one of the heads of the Likud’s Judea and Samaria branch’) with a proposal: forget about the Right in Likud losing seats at the table as a result of a Netanyahu win; here’s a plan to completely disenfranchise the Right!

Engelsman, supposedly a Rightist in Likud, calls for a boycott of the January 31 primary. He wants to protest Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-Likud policies. He also wants time for more contenders to surface. His reasons are straight from Lewis Carroll

Like Lewis Carroll, he says two opposites at the same time. He argues that if fifty per cent of Likud members boycott the primary, the election won’t be regarded as legitimate; new elections would have to be held. Then, he is is quoted as saying that Netanyahu will get elected in any case. A boycott would simply send him a message and influence future policies.

Really? Which do you believe when neither makes sense? Given the way Israeli political elections work, this plan comes straight from  Alice in Wonderland.

The boycott organizers are apparently concerned that Netanyahu will use the primary to create a mandate for himself to betray everything Likud. espouses. News reports have already quoted Netanyahu as telling his organizers that they must see to it that Feiglin does not get twenty per cent of the vote as he did last time around. The thinking is that if Feiglin cannot muster that twenty per cent, Netanyahu will feel he has a mandate to do forget Feiglin.

That’s what the boycotters say they want to avoid.

But a boycott in Israel is political suicide. Israel’s election process is not normally a winner-take-all deal. Here, losers also win. Take Likud itself: it lost the last national election, gaining one less seat than Kadima; and yet, because of the way Israel’s political system works, Likud got the national leadership. 

If Feiglin loses the primary, he can still win because if he gets thirty per cent of the vote, he acquires influence and power. Engelsman knows this. Feiglin knows it. He is an experienced politician who knows the ropes. With enough votes, he will know what to do—and he could acquire the ability to deny Netanyahu his desired mandate (or constrain him). That’s how power—and losing an election—can work in Israel.

Engelsman rejects voting for Feiglin as a way to protest Netanyahu’s policies. Feiglin isn’t good enough. A boycott, he says, is better.   Of course, if the boycott doesn’t get enough Likud members to participate, the election result will bring complete disenfranchisement. His proposal is an unnecessary all-or-nothing gamble: instead of securing some power from an Israeli election, boycotters get nothing:  when they choose not to vote, they’ll get zero per cent of the vote; and zero per cent of the vote means zero per cent of the power.

The boycott’s numbers don’t even work. In order to be a success, the boycott needs over fifty per cent participation. But for Feiglin to deny Netanyahu his mandate, he needs twenty-to-thirty per cent. This is a much easier number to achieve, especially  in light of a recent poll that suggests that an anti-Netanyahu protest vote for Feiglin would give Feiglin thirty-five per cent of the vote--and that was last week,  without any concerted effort to get out a  protest vote for Feiglin.

The boycott’s timing doesn’t work. Engelsman wants to call a rally for Monday, January 30—one day before the primary-- to drum up support for a fifty per cent boycott? He doesn’t have the time to work the field to get his numbers. He’d do better to promote Feiglin as his ‘protest’, and use his rally to drive Feiglin’s numbers from last week’s thirty-five per cent to forty per cent or better on primary day. Indeed, that kind of showing for Feiglin sends a most powerful message to Netanyahu—that he has no mandate to betray Likud.  Netanyahu knows this, which is why he had exhorted his organizers to keep Feiglin’s results under twenty per cent.

A boycott would absolutely guarantee victory to Netanyahu by siphoning off anti-Netanyahu votes to the side-line. It also changes this election from  ‘power will be split’  to  ‘winner-takes-all’; because if Netanyahu does win, that’s exactly how he’s going to see it: if the Right refused to vote and got no votes, it gets no power. 

A boycott does not make sense. It would only make sense as a ploy by Netanyahu supporters to entice anti-Netanyahu members to sit out the vote.

Even Lewis Caroll cannot imagine that.



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