We have already lost the elections. Whoever wins, whichever party of government emerges, the face of Israel which has appeared in these last weeks has been ugly.
It's not the impossible craziness I mind. It's true that the record number of political lists on offer this year have maintained our tradition for eccentricity. Some of the party platforms are not only hallucinatory in nature, but even as a matter of policy.
It's not the fact that we are now told that one of the leading candidates for prime minister may have been eating prime rib at a restaurant on the Sabbath - but thank heaven he eschewed the dairy dessert as proof of his piety.
It's not even the broadcast in which an endorsement was based on the indisputable fact that a popular mystic's father had appeared to him in a dream and told him how we should all vote. (If only his father had warned Jewish philanthropists away from Bernard Madoff in a dream, things would have been better. But apparently the sainted sage specializes in party political dreamcasts. Financial advice is on a different channel.)
THE SURREAL LUNACY of our elections is nothing new, and it carries a certain charm. Indeed, some more idiosyncrasy would have gone down well. There is usually a cheerful humor attached to the various contenders. This year, none of us has been in the mood for jokes.
We have already lost the elections, because this year in debates at high schools attended by candidates, students shouted "Death to Arabs!" Few protested, and some of the would-be parliamentarians were happy that the true wisdom of their insights were penetrating to the younger generation. Just imagine what you would make of such a rallying cry if it were directed against you. Any politician who refuses to condemn this kind of hate-mongering is complicit with it, and has lost my vote.
We have already lost the elections, because the issues have been lost in a barrage of self-righteousness, bluster, fear and fog. Take our environment, for example - a victim of years of systematic neglect. The only ecological gesture in this campaign has been the widespread recycling of candidates and clichÃ©s. Take poverty. Or health. Or education. Or peace. None of these issues has been mentioned by any of the main candidates for more than a nanosecond.
So if the elections are already lost, why bother voting? Because however grim these elections have been, there is still a great deal at stake. And because our votes can bring some excellent people to the Knesset.
AS A NON-ORTHODOX rabbi, I don't have a constituency waiting for instructions. If my grandmother took the trouble to appear to me in a dream, she'd probably just tell me I have been looking a little thinner recently. I don't want to tell you how to vote, but I do want to suggest three criteria which might guide you as you stand in line at the polling booth.
First, does the list I am considering contain people who have a proven record of effecting positive change in the Knesset and in the country, or are they just contributing to global warming by producing hot air mixed with poison? Secondly, is the party dedicated to the good of all sections of our population or just its own? And thirdly, do the people I support represent the best of what Israel might be, or just the best of a bad lot?
I continue to believe that the only hope we have of surviving and thriving in this region and this economy is by educating for skills and values which move us forward. Testosterone-drenched slogans of tribal loyalty won't do it - we need a country based on principles of social solidarity and educational excellence, of cultural innovation and with a strong green dimension.
We've lost the election. Let's not lose the country.
The writer is dean of the Jerusalem school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He writes regularly for the JPost.com's Reform Reflections blog