With the Knesset dissolved we are now ready to get into the serious business of
preparing for a general election.
The burning issues are the possible
return to politics of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former leader of
Shas Arye Deri. Additional core questions seem to be whether or not Defense
Minister Ehud Barak’s break-away Atzmaut party will actually garner enough votes
to make it back to the Knesset at all and whether or not Yair Lapid is going to
have 15 or 20 seats in the new parliament.
There are some side issues:
how many current Kadima MKs will attempt a return to the Likud; will former
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni look to return; and how long Moshe Kahlon, welfare and
social services and communications minister, will take as a time out from
Although largely irrelevant to the rest of the population, the
question of a unified national religious list and Meretz’s dwindling electoral
performance will add some color at the margins.
As you can imagine, with
all of these critical questions to be answered I have been glued to the radio,
and have been reading every column inch of the newspapers in a quest to seek the
85.54 percent of the time, the media seems to spend talking to
pundits and pollsters, making weird and wonderful combinations and then asking
0.001% of the population what they think about it.
By way of example: If
Olmert formed an alliance with Chaim Ramon and Tzipi Livni, how would you vote
if it was raining when you arrived at the polling station? Alternatively, if Rav
Amsalem (formerly of Shas, now Am Shalem) combines with Yair Lapid will Rav
Ovadia give his blessing to Arye Deri at the next brit of his great-greatgreat
grandson before blessing Eli Yishai?
ONCE ALL these complex issues have been
resolved, what will there be left to talk about? My guess is that the closest we
will get to a debate on the unimportant stuff will be whether we are going to
vote on political and security issues (Netanyahu happy) or socio-economic issues
(Shelly Yacimovich happy).
Some have called me naïve, some have called me
downright ignorant, but I am sure that there are many thinking people from
across the political and social spectrum that could think of a better way to
decide how we want the country run in the next 3.5 years (the average life-span
of the Knesset since inception) and what kind of country and society we are
seeking to build.
I work off the core assumption that all of the
politicians that have been mentioned above (and many others) really believe that
they are doing the right thing for the country, but that the constant merry-go-round of politicians jumping in and out of politics and to and from various
parties is far from relevant to ordinary people’s lives.
This is borne
out by a consistently dropping percentage participation in the general
elections. If we believe that it is important to reverse this trend, and
re-engage with larger portions of the population in the democratic process, we
must recognize that there also must be a face-lift for the political process
that we see playing out around us.
There will be those that propose a
change in the voting system, more regional representation, higher barrier to
entry and other sensible reforms. I am sure that a combination of these can
improve the logistics of how politics work in Israel, but I am equally sure
there is a more fundamental change that is required for this to
There are those that claim that we get the politicians/government
that we deserve, and that instead of complaining about our political
representative we should be asking ourselves what responsibility we take for
changing the situation.
We constantly allow national politicians to make
sweeping assumptions about our beliefs as citizens, without challenging them to
provide a rationale or evidence.
How refreshing would it be to hear the
leader of the Labor Party, Shelly Yacimovich, talk about how she plans to reform
the Electric Company and make sure the trains run on time, instead of constantly
bashing the tycoons? Her being attached at the hip to Histadrut chairman Ofer
Eini makes this somewhat unlikely.
On the other hand, it would be great
to hear Netanyahu taking a time-out on Iran to set out a realistic and
meaningful plan for the inclusion of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) into society, both
the workforce and by carrying their burden of national service. Sadly, he has
shown that he cares more about Litzman and Gafni than you and me.
citizens we continue to pay the price for their avoidance of these questions. It
is time to demand that the agenda move to the things that we decide.
have allowed all sides of the political spectrum to disenfranchise us from being
part of the process defining some of the core characteristics of our society as
a Jewish and democratic country. Due to the focus over many decades on security
issues many social and unity issues have been left behind.
It is time for
our leaders to inspire the population in general and young people in particular
to excel as citizens, irrespective what part of the society they are part of.
Instead we get same old-same old, which increases cynicism and even despair, as
people stop believing positive change can ever happen.
In order to do
this they must show us an affirmative vision for a unified Israeli society and
not define everything in the negative and in the shadow of threat.
recommendation for voters on all sides is first to ignore polls and punditry and
second to demand from their candidates a focus on issues relating to real values
that can be prioritized for the next Knesset. A non-exhaustive list might
include closing gaps within Israeli society, economic and social; reform of the
rabbinate and religious services; resolution of the dual issue of national
service and integration to the workforce for haredim; educating all citizens
towards a common vision of a Jewish and democratic country.
As always my
rejoinder is that you are either part of the solution or you are part of the
problem – make sure that during this election campaign you are part of the
The writer is the chairman of Gesher, a Jerusalem-based
organization devoted to bridging the differences between Israelis and
strengthening a shared Jewish identity.