Shelly and Yair, I’m in a bind, so I’m writing to ask for your help. As our kids
were growing up, I explained my two principles about voting in Israel. First,
you simply must vote. You can take as much Dramamine as you need, but you have
to vote. And second, no voting for small parties. Small parties are the plague
of the Israeli political system, so you pick one reasonably sized party, down
the pills, and cast your ballot.
They’re grown up now, those kids, but
still, they’re asking me whom I’m going to vote for. Which is where you come in
– maybe you can give me a good reason to vote for you, so I’ll have something to
say to those kids that won’t sound ridiculous.
Obviously, Bibi isn’t an
option (which is why I’m not sending this letter to him). Even if I wanted to
ignore his apparent addiction to making it harder for many American Jews to
stomach Israel, even if I wanted to ignore his sticking his thumb in Obama’s eye
with E1 right after Obama gave Israel plenty of support during Pillar of Defense
(though I grant you that Bibi probably never had any intention of actually
building there for now), even if I wanted to ignore the fact that while there’s
obviously no deal to be made with the Palestinians, we ought to at least take
the high road and keep pressing them to come to the table so a few scattered
souls around the world would see that we’re not the obstructionists… and I could
go on… even if I wanted to ignore all of that, the problem is Moshe
You see, the Likud is becoming a caricature of itself. Kind of
what the Republicans did to themselves this past season in the US, only here,
the Likud’s going to win handily. But the Likud got rid of Bennie Begin, a
softspoken, decent, honest public servant.
They tossed Dan Meridor,
another level-headed, honest guy.
Whom does the Likud offer us instead?
Danny Danon, for example.
(See Commentary magazine’s December review of
his book to get a sense of what a gift Danon is.) And Moshe
Moshe Feiglin, who’s recently said that “we will build the
Temple and fulfill our purpose in this land”; who’s said that “Arabs don’t live
in the desert, they create it”; who’s been banned from entering the UK; and who,
on the subject of homosexuality, has said, “Tel Aviv has become a city that has
erased masculinity and where being a man is considered a
Seriously? So what about Tzipi, you’re asking, and that new
party of hers, “The Movement”? Beyond the instructive fact that she picked a
party name that communicates absolutely no content, she’s a non-starter because
we all know she’d blow it again. Last time around, when she both won and lost,
she could have taken the high road, allowed Bibi to become prime minister
(because there was no way she was going to build a coalition), all while
insisting on electoral reform as the condition for her joining the
Bibi, Ehud and Avigdor were all in favor. She could have
forced the issue and made Israeli history.
But even more than she
believed in electoral reform, Tzipi believed in Tzipi. And as head of the
opposition, well, she gave new meaning to “ineffective.”
And now, she’s
surrounding herself mostly with people who have lost major elections. Mitzna
(good guy, but lost big), Peretz (not such a good guy, and also lost big). Nope,
Tzipi’s not an option this time, either.
WHICH IS where you come in. You
know you’re not going to win. Some 81 percent of Israelis believe that Bibi’s
going to waltz back into office, and they’re probably right. The question is
whether you deserve a significant place in the opposition. And that depends, at
least for me, on whether you have anything important to say.
neither of you is promising us peace (or the tooth fairy, for that matter).
You’re too smart for that.
You’re promising some talks with the
Palestinians, which would be good for our image, and you’re promising us some
social justice. So far, so good.
But here’s the rub. Are you saying
anything about your vision for this country that you couldn’t say if you were
running for office in France, or Sweden or Denmark? Anything at all about the
Jewish nature of this country? If you did, I might just vote for you. So I’m
going to help you out a bit.
Here are some things you could talk
Take social justice. Are you just more mature versions of Daphni
Leef, who back in the heyday of her summer protests had not a grain of anything
Jewish to say about what this country should look like? What Jewish vision
animates your social goals for Israel? If you’ve got nothing to say about that,
why should any of us vote for you? Israel’s got to be more than France with
humous. How’s it supposed to be different from Scandinavia? We’re
Or how about education? I don’t just mean our sliding place in
multiple international rankings, which is bad enough. But what about educating a
young generation of Israelis who know that they will not live to see peace, that
both they and their children will have to go to war to defend this country, and
yet who are not consumed by hate? Can Israel educate toward that goal? If we
can’t, we’re sunk, aren’t we? And if you think we can do that, how? Why have
neither of you said anything interesting about that? Do you have a plan for the
haredi time bomb that accords them the right to live their lives the way they
wish, without my having to fund their lifestyle? They’re not going to the army,
that’s pretty clear. And it may be good. Do we really want to give M-16s to
thousands of young men whose allegiance is to their rabbi and not to the
country? But what, instead, do you have in mind for them? Some kind of national
service? Do you have a plan for getting it passed? Or if that’s too touchy, how
about the irony that Muslims and Christians in this country have far more
religious freedom than non-Orthodox Jews? Do you have a vision for this country
with a robust Jewish conversation at its core, in which the marketplace of
religious and moral ideas (and not government- granted power) determines who
wins the loyalties of Israelis? SO FAR, of course, we’ve heard virtually nothing
from you on any of this.
But it’s Hanukka, that season when we pause to
reflect on the question of why the Egyptians, Persians and Greeks of old are all
gone, and we’re still here.
How did that happen? It happened because we
stood for something, because we had something to say, both to ourselves and to
What about you? Do you have anything to say that a Norwegian
couldn’t say for us? If you do, tell us, quickly. Because soon our kids are
going to ask again, “Who’re you voting for?” And we need to have something to
say other than offering them another box of our Dramamine.
The writer is
senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center in
Jerusalem. His most recent book is The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly
Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength (Wiley 2012).