The real battle in Israel is not between parties but between blocs. Can the left (or "center-left," as they like to call themselves nowadays) reach the magic number of 61?
In practice, Netanyahu has no real competitor at this moment. Not only is there no other leader around who looks even remotely electable, but the present government coalition is composed of forces that will most likely continue to command a majority in the foreseeable future. They are the Likud, all the Orthodox and other religious parties, the settlers and various assorted fascists.
With the enormous birthrate of the Orthodox Jews, this majority will inevitably grow. True, the Muslim Arab birthrate could preserve the demographic balance, but the Arab voters don't count. They are hardly mentioned in the polls, and not at all in any speculation about future coalitions. Their chronic inability to unite and form a viable political force plays a part in this abject picture.
However, the Arab Members can play an important role in denying Netanyahu a majority, in the unlikely event of the forces being equal.
SO HOW about the leftist bloc?
At the moment, they present a sorry sight. Until now, they came together at least once a year, when the large memorial rally for Yitzhak Rabin was held at the place where he was assassinated, now called Rabin Square.
This year, there are two separate memorial demonstrations at the same place, a week apart.
One of them is the traditional rally. Generally, a hundred thousand people come together to mourn for Rabin and peace. The meeting is strictly "non-political" and non-party, speeches are wishy-washy, "extremist" talk is frowned upon, the murderers and their supporters are mentioned with caution, there is a lot of talking (and singing) about Peace, without much substance. Social affairs are not mentioned at all.
The other planned rally is held by unofficial supporters of the Labor Party, now headed by Shelly Yachimovich. They will talk a lot about social injustice and "swinish capitalism," but talk about the occupation and the settlers is banned. Peace will be mentioned, if at all, as an empty slogan.
Yachimovich, a 52-year old former radio journalist, has seen her party grow under her stewardship, from a pitiful remnant to a respectable 20 seats according to the polls. She has achieved this by studiously avoiding any talk about peace, since peace has become a four-letter word (in Hebrew). She has expressed sympathy for the settlers and the Orthodox, accepting the occupation as a fact of life. Under pressure, she has paid lip-service to the Two-State Solution, making it clear that utopian things like that do not really interest her.
Her sole aim is to fight for social justice. Her enemies are the tycoons, her flag is social-democratic. She does not mention the fact that the immense sums needed for any meaningful social change are squandered on the huge military budget, the settlements and the Orthodox parasites who do not work.
In the past, the Israeli Left used to boast that they carried two flags: Peace and Social Justice. Now we are left with two Lefts: one which carries the flag of Peace without Social Justice, and one which carries the flag of Social Justice without Peace.
I don't like Yachimovich's strategy, but at least she has one. It can be defended on sheer pragmatic grounds. If, by concentrating solely on social affairs and ignoring the occupation, she could garner votes from the rightist bloc and enlarge the leftist one, it could be a justifiable ploy.
But is it a tactic? Or does it reflect her real convictions? There can be no doubt that she is sincere in her single-minded devotion to social justice, her activities in the Knesset vouch for that. Can the same be said about her devotion to peace, which she expresses only under pressure?
YACHIMOVICH IS hardly the only pretender to the leftist throne. Everybody can see that there is a huge black hole on the left side of the political map, and many are eager to fill it.
Ehud Olmert, just convicted on a minor charge and still under several indictments for corruption, hints that he is itching to come back. So does Aryeh Deri, who has already served his prison term for corruption and wants to supplant the racist Eli Yishai. Tzipi Livni, the inept former Kadima leader, also wants back. Ya'ir Lapid, the handsome TV star, who has the enviable knack of sounding convincing without saying anything, has founded a new party, called "There is a Future," and sees a rosy future -- for himself. Daphni Leef, last year's hero of the social rebellion, speaks about a new extra-parliamentary uprising, but may perhaps be convinced to become parliamentary after all. And so forth.