Israel elections: Politicians spew hatred, but people want peace and love

That the vitriol of this campaign has not poisoned everyday interactions between people on the street speaks well of the country – proof, yet again, that the people are better than the politicians.

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, greets a child after giving a statement to the media in Ramat Gan, Israel March 1, 2020 (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, greets a child after giving a statement to the media in Ramat Gan, Israel March 1, 2020
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)
In his third pre-election Shabbat sermon in the last 11 months, the rabbi of a synagogue outside of Jerusalem asked his congregants on Saturday a rhetorical question: What do you do when the choice is between one man, who may not be the paragon of virtue, but who completely reflects your worldview, and another man – who may be a tzadik [righteous] – but represents the opposite world view.
The rabbi, who briefly and unsuccessfully delved into the classic Jewish texts looking for guidance on the matter, mentioned no names, nor did he draw any conclusions.
Not wanting to be perceived as telling his congregants for whom to cast their ballots, he concluded by wishing them “happy voting.”
Few Israelis, however, will happily be going to the polls on Monday. On the contrary, most will limp to the ballot boxes with a sense of disgust – both at the need to do this yet again, and at the overall ugliness of this campaign.
That Israel has now weathered three nasty back-to-back campaigns that highlight only the negative, but is still – for the most party – carrying on its merry way without people on the street at each other's throats, is a testament both to the country's solidarity and its resilience.
It is also a testament that the hatred being spewed at the top by the politicians has not (yet) infected the country at large. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his confidant Natan Eshel, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, his second in command Yair Lapid, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman and others may be trying to pit tribe against tribe, but the tribes do not seem to be taking the bait. Or, if they are, it is not being manifest on the street.
That the vitriol of this campaign, and the two that came before, has not poisoned everyday interactions between people on the street, at work, and in the army speaks well of the country – proof, yet again, that the people are better than the politicians they have selected to lead them.
Which is not to say that Israel is the Kumbaya Nation. It definitely is not. But the people are more sophisticated, it seems, than the crafters of the major parties campaigns take them to be.
No, the nation does not buy that Gantz -- a former chief-of-staff -- is mentally unstable and someone who could easily be extorted by Iran. And, no, the nation doesn't really believe that Netanyahu – who has led the country to extraordinary achievements – is akin to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and someone who will lead the country down a garden path toward authoritarian rule.
Some in the media may peddle those lines, the politicians may repeat them from every microphone, but that does not mean the people are buying the message
Yet some hard questions need to be asked, regardless of the outcome of the elections. What does it say if much of the country really does not care that a man they might elect prime minister will stand trial in two weeks on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
What it says is that much of the country has little faith in the legal system, and believes it is unfairly stacked. And that is is something that could have long-reaching consequences.
And what does it say if large part of the country is voting for a party they hardly know not because they necessarily like – or even – understand what it represents or has to offer, but only because it is anything but Netanyahu.
What that says is that in the present political climate personalities are all that is important, and that ideas – ideology – are all but dead.
It is not as if Likud and Blue and White could not have ran an issues-oriented campaign this time. They very well could have, but decided not to.
US President Donald Trump gifted the country with a peace plan that very well could have been the focus of the campaign. Should Israel accept it, or not? What are the merits of extending sovereignty to the settlements? Should a demilitarized Palestinian state be established? Is it wise to annex the Jordan Valley?
They could have debated in a meaningful and thoughtful way policy towards Gaza, not just exchange barbs and blame one another for the mess in the south. They could have presented plans for fixing the country's health system. They could have discussed ways to improve Israel's position in America’s Democratic party.
But these were not the issues of the campaign. Rather, the only issue was Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has dominated the country's political scene now for more than two decades in a way no other leader except for David Ben-Gurion has done, is also dominating the campaign. As if nothing else matters, as if he sucks all the other air right out of the room.
Tuesday’s election, like the one in September and before that in April, is simply a referendum on Netanyahu. Nothing more, nothing less. And this promises to be the situation as long as he remains on the political stage.


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