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.

By TAL BECKER
January 31, 2013 22:01
4 minute read.
Counting ballots of soldiers and absentees, January 24, 2013.

Counting ballots 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user uxperience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew, Ivrit
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Repor
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

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 wait.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


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 memo.

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 tribes.



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 is fragile.

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 another.

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 society.

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 torn.

Israel’s greatest leader, Moses, was a profoundly modest man with a speech impediment. He would have made a lousy political candidate.

And 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 to hear.

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 seek.

Dr. Tal Becker is a senior fellow of the iEngage Project at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Learn more about iENGAGE at iengage.org.il

Related Content

July 16, 2018
Erdogan’s victory and Israel’s natural gas exports

By ODED ERAN, ELAI RETTIG