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Savir's Corner: Burst the bubble!
By URI SAVIR
01/31/2013
It is time for Yair Lapid, the man who represents the move from dangerous ideologies to pragmatism and democracy, to burst the Tel Aviv bubble and create the necessary bridge between Israel and the world.
 
What a relief that the election is behind us. No more moronic political advertising where a rabbi dressed in blue curses the “Jewish Home” (Bayit Yehudi) for being the home of “goyim,” another rabbi, with some sort of striped pajamas, curses the price of bread, Shelly Yacimovich replaces chef Haim Cohen in cooking lessons, the Western Wall is seen with the almighty, jubilant Bibi in front, not to mention Brit Olam’s Ofer Lifschitz in the role of the Almighty.

No more superficial redundant sloganeering of “a strong prime minister for a strong Israel,” “Let’s make it a better place,” “We have come to change” and other reflections of in-depth political philosophy.

No more outbursts of Israeli “modesty” – “Only we can bring security, peace, social justice, a Greater Israel, legalized marijuana, etc.”

And yet the people of Israel, despite their political leaders, took the democratic process seriously.

Some wanted a Greater Israel, some a smaller but more moral one, some a democracy, some a theocracy, some peace, some confrontation, some social justice, some raw capitalism.

In the end we have a party political system of all of the above, a reflection of different “states” within one Israel.

• The State of Tel Aviv was won by the election surprise Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid with 20.7 percent of the vote and the Center-Left with a 60% majority. The Tel Aviv bubble is indeed, for most of its parts, Lapidland.

The more bohemian, cosmopolitan, hi-tech side of Israel, with liberal values in regard to our democratic system and institutions, freedom of speech and rights of minorities.

An economic outlook influenced by the middle-class Rothschild Boulevard protests, combining the free market with social justice, equal opportunity and a fairer share of duties and burdens, mainly regarding the need for military or civil service for all as well as participation in the workforce. A view of a changing world to which we have to belong. A position on peace with the Palestinians based on the pragmatic necessity to secure a Jewish majority rather than an ideological peace agenda.

• The State of Jerusalem, where United Torah Judaism and Likud Beytenu won, each with a little over 20% of the vote, and the Right gaining the support of 70% of our capital’s residents. Indeed, Jerusalem is the bastion of the religious Right where the ultra-Orthodox have close to 40% support. A Jerusalem with a belief in the supremacy of religious law and rabbis, where the High Court of Justice is located, but not respected, and religious nationalism prevails over liberal values. A worldview centered on ourselves, our superiority and on being “a light unto the nations” rather than part of the family of nations.

• The Periphery State in the South and the North, which was won by Likud Beytenu with a third of the votes, and by the Right with three-quarters.

What was previously called the “second Israel” – those who came after the creation of the state, from the Moroccan to the Russian emigrations, as exemplified by the 20% vote for Shas. In many of the development towns there is a strong sense of deprivation, without equal services or opportunity. A rather nationalistic view of Israel in the region with a total mistrust of Arabs and Arab neighbors.

• The State of the Settlers, with a clear victory for the Jewish Home of Naftali Bennett with 28% of the vote and the Right with 85% of the vote.

Small in numbers but big in influence – Bennett-land. A view reflecting the ideology of a Greater Israel from the Sea to the River in which Arabs are second-class citizens at best, if not candidates to be transferred from their land. A worldview which more often than not reflects a sort of Jewish racism, with its “price tag” movement, believing in violence and threatening it in case of a political settlement with the Palestinians. Led and guided by fanatic rabbis who preach against the law of the state, against compromise and against compliance with military orders. A bitter pill somewhat sweetened by the charming smile of Naftali Bennett, the articulate, hi-tech leader, yet more authentically expressed by his colleague Orit Struck, the racist lady of Hebron.

• The State of the Kibbutzim, where Labor won with 35.7% of the vote and the Center-Left with over 80%. What was once the symbol of a reborn Israel is now a despairing part of the country, without a single representative in the Knesset. A view of a social-democratic Israel with a strong belief in the centrality of the worker, with greater social empathy and equity and a disdain for the wealthy oligarchs. Also with a strong support for democratic institutions and for peace with our neighbors.

The two centers of Israel are indeed Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – 60 minutes and worlds apart, between Mea She’arim and Sheinkin streets.

In this election the “State of Tel Aviv” won. The outcome in Tel Aviv, with Lapid ahead, was duplicated in the whole Dan district (over 40% of Israel’s population) in cities like Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Herzliya, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba etc. The “State of Jerusalem,” strengthened by its supporters in the West Bank settlements and the country’s periphery, has been weakened in this election as the governing Likud Beytenu lost a quarter of its power. The Likud party is down to only 20 mandates.

Netanyahu and Liberman, with their extreme-right-wing list of candidates, had hoped to continue their nationalistic policies against those who were defined as the “enemies” on the Left – the judicial system, the press, civil society, the Arab minority, all targeted by dangerous rhetoric and legislation – and also against enemies abroad, from Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), their “non-partner,” to Barack Obama, whose defeat they had hoped for.

While Netanyahu gained a third term as prime minister, these trends, which are dangerous to our very democracy, have, in all probability, been stopped by the Israeli electorate.

Lapid has not been elected king, but rather kingmaker. The move from 0 to 19 mandates is unprecedented and is transforming the political landscape. It happened as a result of a series of factors:

• The social protest of 2011 that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets of Israel, mainly in Tel Aviv, was translated into a political protest in favor of Lapid and Labor.

• The center of our business community feared the growing international isolation brought about by the outgoing government. Obama’s words about an isolated Israel were very much listened to by those Israelis who still have much to lose.

• Most of the Israeli young care less about Right or Left and more about a pragmatic “live and let live” attitude. The most important outcome of the election is that the ongoing trend to the Right has been stopped.

• Israelis are discouraged by old politics and by politicians with an old mindset, hence the support for Lapid and Bennett – the “new Israelis.”

• The election results also reflect a new dichotomy in the Israeli attitude toward a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Emotionally, most Israelis deeply mistrust the Arabs and don’t view them as equals with equal rights – a result of the ongoing conflict and occupation – and hence believe that there is no peace partner.

At the same time, Israelis have moved to the Center-Left – 60% favor a two-state solution based on the ’67 borders in return for real peace and security. The result is greater pragmatism in views, somewhere between Netanyahu and Lapid, and a far cry from the real ideological peace camp of Meretz but with a parallel distancing from the hard-core settlers’ belief in Greater Israel.

What then should be the nature of the next coalition? Government has to reflect the people’s will – a move to the Center, toward greater social empathy and equity, a stronger democracy and a more pragmatic attitude toward peace negotiations and relations with the United States. Translated into parties, that would mean a Likud-led government with Netanyahu as prime minister, with Yesh Atid and Yair Lapid as a main coalition partner (one hopes with Lapid as foreign minister) together with Shas (if one wants to change policies on the military and civil service, it is better to attempt a compromise with Arye Deri and Co.); with Tzipi Livni and Hatnua with a role in the peace process and Kadima of Shaul Mofaz with a role in security.

This would leave us with an ideological opposition of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home on one side and Meretz on the other, together with Agudah/UTJ and the Arab parties. It was wrong for the prime minister not to invite the Arab parties for talks on a future government, although there is no chance of them joining. They are a legitimate part of our political system and the higher voter turnout of the Israeli-Arabs was one of the most important democratic outcomes of the election.

There are many difficult issues on the next government’s agenda, beginning with the pressing need to present a state budget with NIS 15 billion in cuts, to balance the share of social opportunities and duties more fairly, to enact electoral reform, to face the Iranian nuclear threat and regional instability and to restart the Israeli- Palestinian peace process in coordination with the new US administration.

Above all, the next government has to bring a dark period in our modern history to an end. In the past four years Israel has, to a growing degree, become a pariah state.

Not only were we strongly criticized by all of our friends in the world for the self-defeating settlement expansion policies that brought the peace process to a halt, we also endangered the very foundations of our critical relationship with the West – the common values of democracy and respect for human rights. The extremist, religious, right-wing onslaught of our democratic institutions – on the High Court of Justice, the free press and civil society, the attempts at racist legislation against Arabs – have begun to place us outside of the Western family of respected nations. That in itself is not only a moral weakening, but is threatening our very nature as a Jewish, democratic state and also risks putting our national security in danger. Furthermore, the lack of a peace policy and process also put in question our role as a strategic partner to the West. These policies were defeated by the Israeli electorate.

It is now up to the liberal forces in the next government, primarily Lapid’s Yesh Atid, to bring about a reversal of these attitudes and policies.

It is also the responsibility of the prime minister. Lapid, the man of the “Tel Aviv bubble,” is now the authentic representative of liberal, pragmatic Israel and, as such, must take on a serious leadership responsibility to reverse the deterioration in our democratic values and institutions.

He must set this as the main, if not sole, condition for joining the government.

Yair Lapid, as well as the rest of the next government, has to understand that Israel lives in a changing, interconnected and interdependent world, in which security, diplomacy and economy are progressing through collective policies and measures led by the Obama administration.

We can prosper only if we belong and share common values, without giving up on our unique characteristics as a Jewish state. It is therefore time for Yair Lapid, the man who represents the move from dangerous ideologies to pragmatism and democracy, to burst the Tel Aviv bubble and create the necessary bridge between Israel and the world.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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