After the elections: a time of healing, or a time of hearings?

All the election campaigns here in recent memory have been negative. What makes this one stand out, however, was its sheer lack of issues and ideology.

By
September 18, 2019 00:42
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Thank God, it’s almost over.

The re-do election that nobody wanted – except maybe Avigdor Liberman – is mercifully coming to an end. And not too soon.

It’s coming to an end before we start to believe the doomsday electioneering about how bad things are, or about how miserable they are about to become. It’s coming to an end before the politicians succeed in driving deeper the wedges between the different segments of the population; before there is more time to castigate entire demographics: haredim, the Left, Arabs, religious Zionists.

Israel is at its best when its solidarity is in full view. Sadly, this generally only happens when the country is under attack: either from Gaza, or Lebanon, or terrorists on the streets. It is at its worst at times when those divisions are highlighted and magnified.

That is what election campaigns do – they magnify those divisions. And this campaign did that in overdrive. Robust, democratic societies can handle that about every two, three or four years. But twice in 10 months’ time is pushing it, and is unhealthy for the communal psyche. Since last December, when the Knesset dissolved itself and new elections were called for April, the country has been fed a steady diet of the corrosive and the negative.

All of the election campaigns here in recent memory have been negative. What makes this one stand out, however, was its sheer lack of issues and ideology. This campaign was not about being for anything, only about what you are against.

Vote Likud: not because you want Likud and the revisionist ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, but because you don’t want “the Left.” Or, as the Likud slogan put it, “A big Likud will prevent a Left-wing government.”

Vote Blue and White: not because you want Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, but because you don’t want Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi must go,” the party’s leaders declared over and over and over again.

Vote Liberman because you don’t want the haredim, and vote for the haredim because you don’t want Liberman and Lapid. Vote Democratic Union because you don’t want the “messianists” and vote Yamina because you don’t want the anti-messianists.

Israel flourishes best when its disparate parts work together.

The IDF is a perfect example of this. The army works well with people from all different backgrounds – because it does not highlight those differences, but rather the common goals. Elections do the exact opposite: they magnify the differences, and downplay common goals. Elections are obviously one of democracy’s critical ingredients – like flour in a cake. But who wants too much flour in their cake?

Israel is a state of different tribes – the secular tribe, the Arab tribe, the haredi tribe, the settler tribe, the Russian-speaking tribe – and the bad news is that the elections highlight that, and pit one tribe against the others. The good news is that the campaign is not necessarily a reflection of reality. In the campaign it’s each tribe against the other – on the street, however, there is more harmony. Much more harmony.

Listen to the politicians, watch the media, and the impression one can take away is that pure hatred is everywhere. Walk the streets, however, talk to the people, and a different reality emerges. No, we don’t live in Disneyland. But we’re also not living in a country on the verge of a civil war.

Yet that’s the impression the campaign gives. Which is the problem with the election. It creates its own reality. Charges are hurled, promises are made, and actions are taken with only one thing in mind – the election. Truth, honesty and civility are the casualties. Every action is gauged within the context of whether it was done for election purposes. All motives are suspect, all the time.

Which is why it is a relief that this campaign is over.

There are serious matters out there – life and death matters – that need to be attended to. The world does not sit patiently at our borders as we endlessly fiddle with ourselves. The country needs leaders who can make decisions without there always being immediate electoral considerations on their minds. The country needs to try and put their internal divisions in the attic – not out front in the living room – and deal with the real challenges threatening the home.

The hope is that once this election is over, all the divisiveness and hostility can be put behind us, and the country can begin to heal.

But don’t count on it. Because on October 2, just two weeks after the voting, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is scheduled to hold his pre-indictment hearing for Benjamin Netanyahu. And no matter what he decides –  in Netanyahu’s favor or against him – the divisions and rancor that we experienced over the last number of weeks will once again burst out into the open.


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