When the Nation-State Law was passed in 2018 and the cannabis-growing industry was revved up less than a year ago, who would have thought that these would be key issues in the elections in April? One would have thought that the two-state issue or the security situation would have been given prominence in the debate between the two sides.
That has not happened. The discussion of overcrowded emergency rooms at all hospitals in Israel, beatings of senior citizens in state nursing homes, sneaking Jewish ritual practice and Orthodox thought into secular public schools, having highly professional teams increasing the Israel Railways and finally constructing light railways in Tel Aviv and expanding the one in Jerusalem, and how to make more housing affordable to young people are issues far from the candidates’ minds.
There are heated debates about Arabs, Druze and other minorities in Israel as second-class citizens. When Rotem Sela, a well-known model and actress, wrote on Instagram that Israel is a country of all of its citizens and Arab Israeli voters deserve to be treated with respect, Netanyahu quickly answered her on his Facebook page.
“I want to offer a correction to Rotem Sela,” the prime minister retorted. “Israel is not a country of all its citizens now that the Nation-State Law has passed. Arabs have full equal rights in Israel, but the country remains only the nation-state of the Jewish nation.”
The famous Israeli actress Gal Gadot of Wonder Woman fame offered her support for Sela, saying, “Rotem, my sister, you are an inspiration to us all.”
“Love thy neighbor as thyself,” Gadot wrote. “It’s not an issue of Right or Left, Jew or Arab, secular or religious. It’s an issue of dialogue.... of dialogue for peace, for equality, for tolerance between one another.”
She added that “the responsibility to grow hope and light for a better future for our children is upon us.”
After rockets fired from Gaza fell recently in Moshav Mishmeret and Tel Aviv, Netanyahu’s numbers in the polls started rising. Serving as both the prime minister and defense minister, when it comes to security Bibi still runs the whole show – even though he is running against the Blue and White party, which has three former chiefs of staff among its leaders – Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi.
But other issues have, unexpectedly, come up as well. The legalization of cannabis prompted a movement by many parties to jump up in favor of the freedom to use marijuana by anyone who wants it. This process of “marijuana bursting out all over” began with Moshe Feiglin in his Zehut party platform. He is now shown getting at least four seats in the next Knesset, and there are those who feel “marijuana” is what is driving up his numbers.
Netanyahu even considered having Likud make “legalization” part of the party platform. Other parties, including Meretz, Hadash, Labor and Gesher, are already on the marijuana bandwagon.
One of the significant battles of this election is which leader, Netanyahu or Gantz, can court American Jews most successfully. Netanyahu has not pleased American Jewry in the last two years by canceling his own decision to permit the Reform and Conservative Jews to have a “proper” place for services at the Western Wall. Since the ultra-Orthodox do not want this to occur, Netanyahu bowed to his partners in the coalition.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu were scheduled to address AIPAC, the leading lobby for Israel in the US, in late March, shortly before the elections on April 9, but Netanyahu cut short his trip to the US after the rocket attack on Moshav Mishmeret. The Blue and White party issued a statement on what its leader would tell the AIPAC convention.
“Gantz will use his speech to emphasize that after the election he will work to rebuild the relationship with American Jewry and ensure that Israel will once again enjoy the support of its friends across the spectrum in the United States,” it said.
“We must have unity,” Gantz declared at the conference on March 25.
Gantz was one of a host of Israeli politicians addressing the 18,000 people attending the AIPAC convention. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency makes the following point in a recent release: “Israel politicians who are feted at AIPAC hope to signal to voters back home that they are suited to preserving the critical alliance with the United States and its Jewish community.”
It is true that American Jews – who remain the largest Jewish community outside of Israel – cannot vote in Israeli elections, but they can still make themselves heard. ■