Last week, many Israelis could hardly believe their eyes at the victory party of
the new Likud Knesset list, with the fanfare, pomp and chants of Beitar crowds –
and the big leader (and brother) encircled by the new heroes of the governing
party: Mr. Moshe “Racism” Feiglin, Madam Tzipi “Settlements” Hotovely, Mr. Yariv
“Anti-High Court” Levin and Mr. Ze’ev “All of the Above” Elkin – and in the
background were pictures of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin.
forefront, there was no Bennie Begin, who was ousted together with Dan Meridor
for excessive liberalism and moderation. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave
a rousing speech about a renewed, reborn Israel, claiming that this new list
represents the new Israel. If it does, and in some ways indeed it represents
important strata of our citizenry, then Israel’s democracy is in deep trouble,
actually in real danger.
Democracy was from the very outset – indeed,
from our Declaration of Independence – a moral, social and political pillar of
our existence as an independent, thriving Jewish state. Democracy primarily
means total equality for all, including minorities as well as gender equality.
It means that basic freedoms are upheld – freedom of speech, of faith, of
belief. It means equal opportunity for all with regard to education, health
services and employment.
It means a separation of powers between the
executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Most importantly, it means
a strong, independent judicial system. It means being part of the family of
nations, and part of the West, as non-democratic states are not
It means preserving our Jewish character, as we cannot, as a
Jewish democracy, oppress another people. It means being the object of hope and
pride for the Diaspora.
The new Likud-Beytenu list, and its even more
rightwing allies, stand against all of these values and beliefs.
Likud list is a reflection not only of the Israeli public moving to the right,
but of a deteriorating reality, brought about by a gradual historical process,
amplified by the outgoing government and the nonexistent opposition.
all socio-cultural processes, it is expressed by a change in language and common
concept. It has become politically correct to acquire big wealth; we “run for
the million” and have no empathy for the needy in the periphery.
reflected by Netanyahu, a staunch believer in ultra-capitalism, who therefore
blamed the middle class protest movement as a left-wing conspiracy. This is a
prescription for fundamental inequality, not for democracy.
Israelis believe that Israeli Arabs do not deserve equal rights and many believe
that their votes count less than Jewish votes – a prescription for racism, not
The occupation of four million Palestinians – controlling
every part of their daily lives, curtailing their freedom of movement and
abusing their dignity – is a prescription for apartheid, not for
It has in recent years become politically correct to attack
the High Court of Justice for judicial activism and for being leftist. This
undercuts the very foundation of democracy. The right-wing onslaught on the
media is not less dangerous.
The print press is dominated by an
ultra-conservative American billionaire, the bosom buddy of Bibi and Mitt
Romney, Sheldon Adelson, and the radical settler publisher Shlomo Ben-Zvi.
Channel 10 is being threatened with closure, not unrelated to its investigative
reports on the prime minister. This is a prescription for Pravda-like press, not
for freedom of speech or democracy.
These and other processes have
weakened our democratic foundations to the brink of the abyss. We are now in
need of a liberal-leaning leadership, with the pedagogic impact of a David
Ben-Gurion, to steer us back to our basic democratic values and way of life. And
instead we have a governing party that sees in Ariel Sharon a left-wing traitor
who withdrew from Gaza, in Bennie Begin an all-too-moderate liberal and in
Avigdor Liberman, who seeks to destroy the Palestinian Authority, a pragmatic
In the opposition, Shelly Yacimovich is riding the wave
of the social protest with great validity and effectiveness, now also with Stav
Shaffir and Merav Michaeli in the Labor leadership group, yet is backing
Netanyahu at every turn – mute on peace and winking to the
Rabin or Peres she is not. Yair Lapid, Mr. Consensus, has
yet to take a courageous position on any issue. Tzipi Livni, in a political
comeback, is the only one who says that peace with the Palestinians is key to
remaining a Jewish democracy.
Yet all three contending parties are split,
expressing more criticism at each other than at the Likud Beytenu.
these circumstances, it is very likely that the new Right will win the elections
as they have also successfully found and defined scapegoats for every single
deterioration in our situation and for Israel – an Israeli version of
Just imagine a cabinet with Liberman orchestrating – as
foreign minister – the relations with the Obama administration, with Moshe
Ya’alon – the great friend of the settlers – in charge of defense and the West
Bank, and with senior cabinet posts for Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin,
Tzipi Hotovely, etc, inspired by Moshe Feiglin – the champion of transfer –
together with the even more right-wing party of Naftali Bennett and the
What a brotherhood! For any Israeli who believes
in the absolute necessity for us to remain a Western Jewish democracy and part
of the family of nations, this is a prescription for doomsday. The Right is
extreme and endangers basic values with its ideological worldview and
The Left and the Center somehow reflect a continuum of the
values of our founding fathers and are adhering to more pragmatic and inclusive
policies, but lack the unity, energy and even courage of the Right.
reorganization of the Center-Left forces is therefore a matter of necessity.
This is not merely about creating a more effective and bigger coalition of
parties; it is about uniting social democracy with secular liberalism, putting
citizen rights and freedoms as well as our very democracy
It is, therefore, proposed that, either before or in the
immediate aftermath of the election, an Israeli democratic party be founded as
opposed to the “Tea Party” unity of the Right. It should be founded by the
leading parties of the Center-Left – Labor, The Tzipi Livni Party and Yesh
It should combine the values and policies of its components – the
social justice of Labor, the necessity for a peace compromise leading to a
realistic two-state solution of Livni and the defense of our civil rights and
legal system of Yesh Atid.
The leadership question in such a case will be
all important to these relevant party leaders. Yacimovich is probably the most
popular, yet Livni is the best suited, in terms of her political background, to
be a valid contender for prime minister. The political platform of an Israeli
democratic party is more important and should be clear and unambiguous: • The
need for a constitution guaranteeing equality, civil rights, separation of state
and religion, basic freedoms, protection of minorities and a strong judicial
power to protect constitutional law.
• Reform of the electoral system,
moving toward regional and not only proportional representation, with a
5-percent election threshold to lower the number of parties in the
quasi-anarchic Knesset and a checks and balance system with greater powers for
• Firm anti-racism legislation outlawing the verbal
expression or inciting of racism. Racism and Judaism should not be allowed to go
hand-in-hand and people like Feiglin and Itamar Ben-Gvir should be
• Social justice together with economic growth, which can only
come with a cut in the defense budget. This would create empathy; support the
periphery, the young middle class and the Israeli Arabs; and lead to a free
market with a competitive private sector, both internally and internationally,
and a thriving hi-tech industry.
• Peace with the (non-UN member) State
of Palestine on the basis of the visions of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both
staunch allies of Israel.
Peace is key to our security, as wars in the
ballistic and terrorism age have become virtually unwinnable (see the Gaza
campaign). Peace is also key to a more egalitarian society as well as to social
justice, as war tends to ruin and bankrupt economies.
• Israel as part of
the family of nations. No country today, not even the United States, can act in
isolation in the globalized world. Foreign policy and diplomacy is about
international coalition-building, first and foremost for us together with our
number one strategic ally, the United States, during a second Obama term. The
world, as proven by the November 29 UN vote, wants a twostate solution and we
should be partners to a collective effort in favor of Palestinian and regional
peace, as well as preventing Iran from becoming nuclear. Our relationship with
the United States is also dependent on a commonality of democratic and liberal
A new Israeli democratic party, with such clear policy positions
and a united Center-Left front, can become a home for the many progressive
forces in the country, including from the moderate Right, in order to sustain
our all-important democracy.
The writer is president of the Peres Center
for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.