As an optimist, elections generally inspire me to hope. As new parties and new
personalities enter into the fray I find myself anticipating the new ideas and
thinking that will enter into our political discourse and open up new horizons
for Israel. This optimism often causes me to vote for the latest new party, the
one that has not yet disappointed me. My track record hasn’t been that great,
but as an optimist I am not inclined to allow past failures to color my hope for
This election season started with great promise, and indeed
new parties and very talented individuals have emerged across the political
spectrum. The problem is that this influx hasn’t generated the expected new
It is possible that this is the consequence of an election whose
outcome is already clear, with the only issue up for grabs being the elements
that will constitute the right-wing bloc which will lead the country afterward -
whether Likud Beytenu will get 35 or 38 Knesset seats, or the Bayit Yehudi, 12
The parties aren’t campaigning to win, for who will win is already
clear. The campaign is about increasing one’s party size by one or two seats
over the latest projections and most significantly, avoiding mistakes which
might lead to a decline of one or two seats.
These elections are boring.
And they are not only challenging for an unrepentant optimist such as me, they
are dangerous for Israel and its future.
Israel and Zionism are about
ideas, about ways in which the national homeland of the Jewish people will
represent and embody aspirations for justice, decency, and intelligence within
our foreign, military, economic and social policies. They are about creating an
exemplary society, which while grounded within realpolitik, nevertheless
continually aspires to change it for the better. When Israel stops leading with
ideas, and our politicians are the great protectors of the status quo, Israel
becomes ever-more distanced from its true purpose.
One of the more
exasperating examples of the mediocre rut into which our political thinking has
descended is the debate within the Likud as to whether to include in the party
platform Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech supporting a
two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
The speech put an end
to the affiliation of the Likud Party with the dreams of a Greater Israel and
tacitly admitted that settlements in certain areas of Judea and Samaria would
have to be dismantled for the sake of peace.
The reason given by some of
the more moderate voices within the party for keeping it out of the platform is
that given Palestinian Authority President Abbas’s apparent policy to sidestep
direct negotiations with Israel, we should not “reward” him with such a prize.
There are others who today play a far more central role in the leadership of the
Likud Party, who want it out of the platform for it contradicts their ideology,
which still holds fast to the fantasy of a Greater Israel.
What both hold
in common is the belief that the status quo is sustainable and plays in Israel’s
favor. They are at home in a politics devoid of new ideas and may consider
expending effort to produce them only after they are inspired by evidence of new
thinking on the other side. This is not a path which produces a greater Israel
but rather a smaller one.
A second example of mediocrity is exemplified
by the Labor Party’s decision to avoid speaking about foreign policy in its
campaign, under the hope that a focus on economic and social justice,
disconnected from the party’s past peace platform, may “fool” one or two
mandates away from the Center- Right. This is a policy well at home in the
current election culture and may ensure Labor the accolade of being the biggest
party among those that lost. It renders, however, poor service to a party which
in theory aspires to lead, and even poorer service to the country.
democracy the opposition plays a central role as generators of ideas and as
watchdogs against stagnation. When the opposition is leading the charge down the
path of complacency the dangers to Israel’s future are multiplied.
it functions well, an election season serves to put forth noble and naive ideas,
which everyone knows need to be and inevitably will be tempered by the reality
of the day after the elections.
Cynics may argue that a campaign is about
putting forth the lies that the population wants to hear. I believe that its
purpose is to set forth the goals which give the electorate a window into the
minds and hearts of those who aspire to represent us, the goals to which they
are committed so long as reality doesn’t get in the way.
We need to
reconnect to the political discourse of hope and aspirations. Of course we have
peace plans. Let’s talk about them, debate them, and figure out which ones best
serve our values, goals, interests and concerns.
The fact that we may
have nobody to talk with has never stopped Jews from talking.
We are the
People of the Book, who have spent 3,000 years putting forth ideas and chiseling
away at the rock of reality until we penetrate it.
Let the dreaming and
talking begin. May the next month until the elections be filled with a
competition over innovation, a rivalry to discover new ways to change the status
quo and place Israel on a trajectory to a better future. The job of the
politician is to lead.
Please begin to do your job.
Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and director of the
Institute’s iENGAGE Project – iengage.org.il