The hope and disappointment of the Israeli voter
iENGAGE: The most powerful voice, the most outspoken and blunt, the ones that promise change, quickly, dramatically, painlessly, are the ones that enjoy the spotlight. They tell us what we want to hear.
Counting ballots of soldiers and absentees, January 24, 2013. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
The voter has spoken. According to most commentators, Israelis sent a clear
message that resolving our domestic challenges must dominate the political
agenda. We want our political leaders to finally solve problems such as “burden
sharing,” housing and the high cost of living.
Other issues can
Even if this is the correct interpretation of the election results,
it may not be that simple. For one thing, I am not sure the Iranians got the
They may not believe that the 19 seats for Yesh Atid require that
the centrifuges stop spinning.
Similarly, the Palestinians may not
believe their interests are well served by facilitating the status quo so that
Israel can get its economic house in order. We may hope to fill our inbox
exclusively with domestic issues that have been too long neglected, but the
region may have other ideas.
Even on the pressing domestic issues, it is
not as if the solutions are sitting on the shelf waiting to be implemented.
There are structural and systemic reasons why dramatic decisions in domestic
policy are difficult.
One is that Israel is a society of many
Decisions that shift the power balance between these tribes too
drastically or suddenly risk alienating key segments of the population, and
tearing the connective tissue that holds us together.
While some Israelis
are reveling in the election results, others nurse their resentment waiting for
the day when their candidates will take center stage and shift the pendulum back
in their direction.
Push too hard one way, and your opponents are
empowered to rally. Yesh Atid won 19 seats, but the ultra-Orthodox parties
together won 18. Ground-breaking decisions where one tribe trumps the other can
be a dangerous gamble in a society where power is diffused and the equilibrium
Election season tends to obscure these kinds of complexities.
It is governed by the two great commandments of modern political discourse:
Simplify and Exaggerate. The loudest voices, the most far-reaching promises, are
the ones that are usually heard. We are drawn to those who speak with conviction
and confidence that they have the answer. We suspend our appreciation for the
complexities and are swept up in the compelling appeal of the forthright
message, or the magnetic personality of its deliverer.
But then the
elections pass, and the business of governing begins. And so often, the
realities of governance turn hope into disappointment. We place our faith in a
new figure who emerges on the political firmament, promising to bring genuine
change, to make revolutionary decisions.
But how often is that promise
realized? How often are we disappointed by the compromises made, by the
difficulty and deadlock of the decision- making process, by what we come to
think of the leader we once so admired.
Our reaction at these moments of
frustration is telling. Many of us believe that the problem was not in our lofty
hopes for radical change, but in the individual with whom our hopes were
invested. The hero of the moment is Yair Lapid.
But if he disappoints,
like other political stars before him, another hero will emerge to take his
place and we will transfer our hopes, like a torch, from one leader to
But perhaps part of the problem here lies with the hopes
themselves – with the collective act of self-delusion that we engage in at every
election cycle. In a society as tribal and as beset by challenges as Israel, we
may need a quieter, more nuanced view of how change takes place. We may need to
develop the skill of being able to hear and value softer voices, those who don’t
make grand promises, who are less certain they have the answer, but have the
human qualities that help navigate lasting change in a fragmented
These figures are, almost by definition, less adept at
campaigning. They cannot free themselves from the complexity of the issues, or
the legitimacy of views different from their own.
They shy away from
battle cries, and noisy promises, because they know that change is usually more
evolution than revolution. They know that after change takes place in Israeli
society – as it must – we have to live together here and respect one another. We
need to cultivate and value more leaders like this – who are as skilled at
listening as at oratory, and who know both how to be agents of change and how to
bring it about while ensuring that the fabric of our society is not irreparably
Israel’s greatest leader, Moses, was a profoundly modest man with a
speech impediment. He would have made a lousy political candidate.
our tradition tells us that G-d’s own voice can be heard as a “kol dmama daka” –
the thin sound of silence. The most powerful voice, the most outspoken and
blunt, the ones that promise change, quickly, dramatically, painlessly, are the
ones that enjoy the spotlight. They attract our hopes. They tell us what we want
But the softer, less strident voices in our society may be no
less deserving of our attention. Sometimes, they tell us what we need to hear,
and they may be no less capable of bringing the lasting change we
Dr. Tal Becker is a senior fellow of the iEngage Project at the
Shalom Hartman Institute. Learn more about iENGAGE at iengage.org.il