The election is finally over and for the purpose of this editorial, the results do not matter.
Any campaign for Knesset is a marathon, but to have gone through two grueling political battles in the span of nine months leaves everyone panting for breath. Hopefully the politicians will work to avoid a third round of voting as much as the people don’t want it.
What did we have during this campaign? One party – Likud – attacked Arab citizens of the State of Israel, and Yisrael Beytenu went after the ultra-Orthodox with fire and fury. On Monday we heard from a hassidic rabbi who compared Blue and White’s co-leader Yair Lapid to Adolf Hitler.
Once upon a time it was a privilege to be able to vote and to participate in a democratic election. Turnout was a matter of national pride. Everyone, for example, knows about the first vote in 1949, when 86.9% of 506,000 eligible voters showed up. But that was an exception. That was 2,000 years of Jewish Diaspora history going to the polls, the answer to having not had control over Jewish destiny since the destruction of the Second Temple.
After two elections in the span of five months though, it is understandable that people will feel that their opinion doesn’t really matter. They are fed up with candidates who sling schmutz at one another instead of talking about how they are going to improve the lives of their constituents.
That’s what the parties about to start negotiating their entry to the coalition should be addressing: what can they do to restore Israelis’ optimism and enthusiasm? How can they inspire citizens to get involved and help run their own lives? In the end, as former US speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” Make it so. Make citizens feel like they have a say and a stake in building the kind of country they can be prouder of.
Whether Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz ends up forming the next coalition is immaterial. What is important is to realize that it’s time for the country to come together, and for our politicians to understand their place in history. They are not here just for the power and influence that comes with their roles, but to work on behalf of us, the people. They are supposed to work to improve our quality of life, to ensure that we are safe, and that the gap between those who have and those who do not closes and doesn’t widen.
A 61-member coalition should never be the goal. A razor-thin majority is never good for a country. Instead, the ideal should be 70 or 80, where fewer parties have the ability to pull out and bring down the government. This is not hard to achieve. Everyone has to compromise a little bit, and everyone can. Just think how many times it has been done over the 34 governments of Israel’s history. Can Israel’s politicians find a way to work together?
Putting aside the results, Israelis have to move forward today and pick up the pieces. First, our political leaders must ensure that there is not another stalemate, and that the country does not again go to an unnecessary third election. The country must come first, even it means that some parties will be forced to go back on some of their campaign promises of “I won’t sit with him” or “I won’t countenance them.”
It’s time for the parties to put the betterment of the country ahead of their own narrow interests.
And it’s time for the nation to heal. After two dirty elections during which entire sectors of society – the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs to name two – were delegitimized by candidates and political parties, we need to try to find a way to come back together, to stand on common ground and build a future that ensures no Israeli feels disenfranchised. That is the work that the next government must set out for itself. Failure is unacceptable.