"childen "vote" in Jerusalem's Municipal Elections, October 30, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
We don’t know exactly when the next national elections will take place but they will be held by law sometime in 2019. Once the current Knesset votes itself out and a new date for elections is declared, the political arena will open up and new parties, coalitions, and political constellations will emerge.
The current playing field as we know it now at the beginning of November 2018 is decidedly slanted in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu as the clear front runner for prime minister. In Israel, we don’t vote for prime minister, we vote for a political party, and no political party in the history of Israel as ever received more than 50% of the votes. So Israeli governments are always formed by coalitions that essentially represent a majority of the voters combined.
Even though we vote for a political party and not a specific candidate, elections in Israel are largely focused on the personality and image of the leaders of the political parties, and the votes they get are often interpreted as a personal mandate from the people. In recent years, the personality cult of Prime Minister Netanyahu has reached all-time highs, and Netanyahu has succeeded in bringing about an equation of dissent against him with being against the country.
Translated into anachronistic political jargon in Israel today, if you are on the Left you are anti-Israel, post Zionist, anti-Zionist or a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel. And if you are on the Right you are pro-Israel, a nationalist and a patriot. This is an enormous distortion of reality – one that Netanyahu has directly had a guiding hand in creating and directing.
Overall, all Israelis want Israel to be strong, stable, democratic and at peace with its neighbors. This is true for those on the Left and those on the Right. All Israelis desire a sense of unity and social solidarity with all other Israelis. There are major differences among Israelis on the issue of relations between the state and the place and role of religion. There are major differences among Israelis on the issue of relations between the state and the Palestinian Arab minority in the country.
There are also major differences regarding the balance between Israel’s founding values and pillars: the democratic nature of the state opposed to the Jewishness of the State. And there are major differences between Israelis on the question of the rights of the Palestinian people and the final borders of the state. The differences are not about Israel’s right to defend itself, the need for a strong Israeli Army, or the continued threats that Israel faces from terrorism and from external enemies such as Iran and Hezbollah.
In my assessment the Israeli voting public does not see a major difference of vision or strategy between the major political parties: Likud, the Zionist Union and Yesh Atid. The main differences are the perceived effectiveness of the heads of the parties, their charisma, their integrity and their personalities. There are clear definitive differences of vision and strategies between the real Right represented by Bayit Yehudi and the real Left represented by Meretz.
IN A CATEGORY of its own, increasingly seen as not legitimate by a majority of Jewish Israelis, are the Joint Arab List and the Arab voters in Israel. But the parties in the middle are more similar in their lack of vision than they are different. As a result of that Netanyahu comes out on top, both from the position of being the incumbent, to the general sense of security that he has managed to convince the public that he has provided. But even Netanyahu has said in the past that the length of holding office should be limited (a voice which he no longer sounds).
I believe that Israel is heading off course and our undefined future leaves us in a continued condition of being a state without permanent borders, with at least 50% of the people under its control being Palestinians, most of whom live under Israeli military control. This clearly jeopardizes Israel’s future and we need new leadership to take us in a new direction.
As a rule it is not my preference when military officers move from the military to politics. The military, however, in Israel is one of the few places where there actually is strategic thinking and planning. Having been an officer, even a very senior officer is not always an indication of qualifications to be a successful leader. Ehud Barak was a terrible prime minister. But everyone can learn from their mistakes. Yitzhak Rabin was a much better prime minister his second time around.
Barak is the one person who actually presents a coherent strategic alternative to Netanyahu, however, I doubt if he has the public clout to beat Netanyahu. But if two other former chiefs of staff and several other senior security personnel joined the ranks – such as Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet – were to come together in one new party, I believe that they could take the elections and lead Israel into a new and better future.
Could these former generals combined with other leading figures in Israel from academia, social justice and political struggles join together and work together to lead Israel? That is the “64 million dollar question.”
Personal egos usually get in the way and prevent cooperation, especially for people who have such huge egos to begin with. But the decisions that must be made regarding Israel’s future are too critical to continue to be left in the hands of Netanyahu.
The political arena in Israel is messy and nasty. And the abuse of social media in today’s world can destroy people’s lives and incite to violence, hatred and divisions in society, as we see so much in Israel and in other countries today. That is another reason why we need people who have already given so much of themselves to the country to stand up again and take direct responsibility for our future.
None of these people are my dream leaders, but Israel stands today in front of existential decisions and I fear that they may be the only people who have the ability to change our course for the better, and it must be done by those people working together.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace with her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.
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