If one had to summarize the overarching goal of Kachol Lavan, the leading opposition alliance led by Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi, it would be to deny Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies a majority in the Knesset. Now that Avigdor Lieberman is a free agent and a chief antagonist of the prime minister rather than an ally, this is an achievable task. Netanyahu’s “natural partners,” sans Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, did not win a majority in April’s vote and are not projected to do so next month, either.

Yet Kachol Lavan seems intent on heading into the September 17th vote with the weakest hand possible. Sure, they’re going after Netanyahu, but three of their four leaders – Gantz, Ya’alon, and Ashkenazi – are under the mistaken impression that Netanyahu’s natural partners are moveable. Worse, they are making this mistaken assumption about the least moveable of those partners, the ultra-Orthodox or Haredi parties, and leaving a wide field of opportunity open for the unpredictable Lieberman. 

One of the alliance’s leaders, Lapid, does seem to get it. But the other figureheads of Kachol Lavan are unwisely trying to silence him. It’s already led to one missed opportunity and will only further contribute to the perception of a tired and sclerotic opposition. 

Last week, Lapid tweeted out a satirical video depicting a WhatsApp group message between several figures on the political-religious right. In it, the leaders of United Torah Judaism and Shas are seen extorting “trillions of shekels” from the government in exchange for their support. The scope of the extortion in Lapid’s video is obviously an exaggeration, but the basic premise is not. Would anyone seriously suggest that the Israeli government is funding the official Haredi educational pipeline, in which tens of thousands of students do not receive adequate instruction in math and science (if any at all) because it is in the objective national interest to do so? Much has already been written about the future crisis Israel faces as a result of enabling the socioeconomic isolation of the ultra-Orthodox. It is clear the immediate political concerns trump the long-term economic ones for governments of all parties.

In response to the video, Lapid faced the predictable but still no less obscene and defamatory charge of anti-Semitism from both Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties. This sort of shamelessness was not a surprise, but the equally harsh reaction from Lapid’s co-leaders in Kachol Lavan illustrated a dangerous myopia. In addition to accentuating the already obvious cracks at the top of the list, it betrayed an unwillingness to target Bibi and his partners where it hurts the most: public corruption and good governance. 

And what a time to abandon the field. Last week also saw the police recommend that Ya’akov Litzman, the leader of UTJ, be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The Health Minister is accused of interfering in psychiatric evaluations of Malka Leifer, an Australian educator who fled to Israel to escape charges of child molestation. Litzman allegedly intervened on her behalf to secure evaluations that wrongly concluded she was not competent to stand trial

Instead of making hay from this tawdry affair, Gantz and Ya’alon are terrified of alienating the ultra-Orthodox parties. They’ve kept a muzzle on Lapid since the video episode, which helps explain why he has said next to nothing about the police recommendations. Lieberman, for his part, never cared much about corruption. His fight with the ultra-Orthodox parties involves the encroachment of religious laws and values into the lives of secular Israelis. Taken together, this means both the main opposition party and the political figure now most associated with opposition to ultra-Orthodox priorities are glaringly silent about what should be a major scandal involving the most powerful Haredi politician. 

This is an unforced error on the part of Kachol Lavan, one that should be reversed as soon as possible. It may have once been the case that the ultra-Orthodox parties were comfortable sitting with both right-wing and center-left governments, but this stopped being true long ago and their clear preference for right-wing coalitions is apparent. Even when Netanyahu acceded to demands to keep those parties out of his 2013-2015 coalition, which was the ultimate snub, relations were maintained and there was never a question of them backing  Netanyahu as prime minister after the 2015 elections. 

After several years in politics, it seems Lapid finally gets it (he, too, tried to make peace with those parties – to no avail). The Haredi parties are on the right of the political map and they will not support an alternative coalition unless they are forced to. Instead of grasping desperately at the possibility of some of Netanyahu’s most loyal partners abandoning him, Kachol Lavan would do well to try to win over the two-thirds of Israeli voters who would prefer not to see these parties in the coalition at all.