The Israeli voter as the responsible adult - opinion

The sharp political polarization and hatred between the different camps in Israel reaches the last line of the election campaign, and they are expressed in all media channels.

 Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli elections, at the central elections committee warehouse in Shoham, before they are shipped to polling stations, October 12, 2022 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Workers prepare ballot boxes for the upcoming Israeli elections, at the central elections committee warehouse in Shoham, before they are shipped to polling stations, October 12, 2022
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The manifestations of hatred on social networks are a symptom of a deep sickness in Israeli society, which suffers from political polarization that extends to the social and personal spheres. The time has come to break the vicious circle of polarization and chronic instability by making a clear decision that will not alienate large public sections and allow governance and handling of the fundamental issues that will shape Israel's future for generations.

The sharp political polarization and hatred between the camps reach the last line of the election campaign. They are expressed on all levels and in all channels - the television channels, over the pages of the written press, and on social networks, where the real town square is today. Tempers are flaring and are on the verge of a dangerous explosion.

Political polarization is not a subjective feeling. A survey conducted last May by the Institute for Freedom and Responsibility at Reichman University revealed that a large majority of the public, no less than 80%, believes that the political polarization between right and left in Israel has increased over the past three years. Another finding revealed that there is much hostility between rightists and leftists in Israel, which is greater than in previous surveys, held in September and November of 2021.

Dr. Esther Luzzato (Credit: Michal Luzzato)Dr. Esther Luzzato (Credit: Michal Luzzato)

Other studies conducted in recent years confirm this. Their findings show that alongside the political polarization - and perhaps also because of it - there has been another weakening of the cohesion of Israeli society. It is characterized by widening socio-economic gaps between rich and poor and center and periphery. Indeed, in the National Security Index of the Institute for Security Studies, it was found that 70% of respondents agree with the statement that "There is a decrease in the sense of solidarity in Israeli society."

Applying political manipulations exacerbates polarization 

The two main political blocs are responsible for the continuation and intensification of polarization when all discourse is directed to the eternal question: "Yes Bibi, no Bibi." Each side pulls in its own direction, and there is no meeting between the ends.

But while it is clear to everyone in Israeli-Jewish society that there is a majority for right-wing positions (it is possible to debate its size, but it is a considerable majority), any parliamentary action designed to emasculate this majority, while using predatory measures – legally doubtful and certainly non-normative, such as preventing the opposition from obtaining adequate representation in committees, the sloppiness of Norwegian law and the inflation of the government - is devastating.

One of the reasons that created and built this dangerous reality is that a large part of the representatives of the parties in the center-left bloc in the Knesset is not elected by the party members (primaries) but by the head of the party, the "Supreme Ruler." This creates a situation in which Knesset representatives are not elected by the electorate of that party and are not obligated to them and the general public.

Exercising political manipulations and relying on the parliamentary conjuncture results in the non-reflection of the voter's will and the non-representation of the majority in the centers of power and influence. Worse than that - it strengthens the feeling among voters that democracy does not work for them and undermines trust in the political system. The road from here to anarchy is short and accelerated by the gatekeepers and the media, who actively participate in politics. In practice, when the members of the Knesset on behalf of the parties of the "overlords" have no parliamentary power as the people's representatives, and there is no genuine democratic expression in the Knesset, all they have left is to submissively obey the party head, praise him in the TV studios and believe that the people are stupid and blind. I assume that the public, both on the right and left, is disappointed by this superficial approach.

Political polarization permeates the social fabric

Political polarization also permeates the social fabric when the lines of division - which partially overlap other lines of division: ethnic, economic, geographical and cultural - mean that each group deepens its differentiation against the opposite group, fortifies its position and deepens the gulf designed to prevent dialogue with the other side.

One could even say that political polarization is a kind of carrier wave, which causes the polar discourse to not remain within the political boundaries but to expand towards social and personal areas - a catalyst that accelerates hatred in other areas because of the heated emotions that characterize the political discourse, combined with stigmas, myths, and fixed beliefs. It is a self-sustaining process, and in this sense, it is destructive to Israeli society as it is entirely regressive. In the end, hatred not only poisons but also prevents dealing with the really important things.

As political discord declines, social tensions rise  

Interestingly, this development takes place precisely at a time when the historical differences of opinion between the right and the left regarding the political issue actually narrowed. Today, most of the public is in the political center, and the controversy surrounding foreign affairs and security is minor. By the way, the survey I mentioned shows that the hostility towards the center on the part of the political camps is low compared to the animosity between the camps.

How, then, can one explain such a clear political polarization? For years, the political dividing lines have blurred or drowned out other critical issues, such as inequality and social gaps. Now, from less polarizing policy issues in Israeli society, the whispering embers of disputes on social issues rise and emerge against a background of inequality that continues to characterize Israeli society.

When the members of the third and fourth generations in the social and geographic periphery still suffer from severe disparities in education, health, and employment, they have a justified reason to be angry. When their access to higher education, better living conditions, and social mobility are highly hindered, they have good reason to be frustrated.

Thus, the social hardships in the developing cities and neighborhoods and the lack of empathy of the receiving establishment towards the new immigrants of the 50s and 60s of the last century rise and float to the surface. And so, not only does the political polarization feed the social divide but the social divide also feeds the political polarization. A vicious circle that binds Israeli society together.

The worsening of polarization is dangerous for Israeli society 

Social and ideological polarization has always characterized Jewish society, and our history is riddled with disputes and divisions - from the days of the First and Second Temples through the Diaspora to the Jewish settlement, which was characterized by sharp controversy on questions such as resistance to the British mandate and the armed rebellion. The Jewish street in the Diaspora was full of disputes and conflicts. Between opponents and followers, Zionists and non-Zionists, bourgeois and revolutionaries, orthodox and non-orthodox, everyone is convinced that they hold the key to Jewish redemption.

Even from the day of its foundation, Zionism was the scene of difficult and sharp disputes - between revisionists and workers, between the followers of political Zionism and the supporters of practical Zionism, and more. So, polarization is not new to us, but contemporary polarization already has a different character - it is multidimensional, it is inclusive, and it is explosive. Unlike in the past, when the process of building the nation demanded forces and resources that dulled the disputes (construction, settlement, immigration), today, the situation is entirely different, and all attention and energy is directed to internal conflict.

The worsening of polarization is dangerous for Israeli society and has profound consequences. It is relatively easy to unite in the face of security problems; in the face of political polarization and social divisions, it is much more challenging. Furthermore, the political and social polarization intersect with Israel's chronic problems and therefore threaten the very survival of the country - the ongoing political instability, the lack of governance in all parts of the country, the lack of personal security, the nationalistic differentiation of Arab society, the strengthening of the economic oligarchy, and more.

The intra-bloc struggles create systemic paralysis 

The political instability created a governmental vacuum into which powerful but unelected forces in Israeli society gladly entered - the senior officials, the bureaucracy, the legal system, the media, the large interest groups and the economic elite. Everyone observes the governmental instability, the weakness of the elected echelon and the rapid turnover of ministers and builds for themselves a powerful and stable governing force that survives, lives and is active over time and currently prevails over the elected government.

The senior clerkship is very prominent in this. Sometimes you feel that this is a sect of mandarins that is convinced of its righteousness, rises above the elected echelon, and is confident in its ability to make the decisions usually left to the elected. The senior officialdom is rarely replaced during the change of government; it is more stable and tends to duplicate itself so that senior positions are handed over from hand to hand, as in a relay race brought together by a closed sect of officials and even between family members. They come from the same families, study at the same institutions (for example, graduates of the Wexner Foundation) and share a common experience. They are not bothered that they are unelected, but on the contrary - they feel their "intellectual superiority " over the ignorant crowd and justify their conduct by posing as the state's gatekeepers.

Due to the circumstances and the toxic political atmosphere, any reform designed to restore the balance between the elected and the unelected bureaucratic level has failed. As a result of the power struggles between the elected political elite and the unelected elite, which grows stronger and paralyzes the elected echelon, often creates systemic paralysis.

Worse than that - the connection between the non-democratic parties of "one man" and the unelected rank creates a covert alliance designed to strengthen both parties, who suffer from a numerical and electoral disadvantage and are aware of their weakness. The amalgamation of the centers of power and influence in one direction not only results in the preservation of power and strength in the hands of a few in an undemocratic manner but also in the politicization of society and the economy.

All these have one meaning - internal polarization deepens internal problems, endangers social cohesion, and threatens the country's fate. This is undoubtedly true when considerable external threats are taken into account.

Demand from the leadership a discussion of the core issues of Israeli society

Israeli society is at a historic crossroads where it must decide its future and continue its path in a turbulent world. But what is the cure for the ongoing illness of Israeli society? The key to getting out of the strait depends greatly on the electorate.

In the face of political chaos and social polarization, it must behave like a responsible adult. It must make a firm claim to the political leadership and demand that you stop dealing with "Yes Bibi, not Bibi" and get back to dealing with the critical issues. It must demand that political leaders present their worldviews in various topics and fields. It must force the elected officials to address the serious problems. It must demand a serious discussion of the core issues of Israeli society beyond the superficial and populist debate that is only intended to pass the screen - a discourse on the crucial things that will contribute to the construction and design of Israeli society for generations.

But in the end, you also have to choose. In my opinion, the time has come to break the vicious cycle of polarization and chronic instability by making a clear decision that will not alienate large sections of the public and allow governance and handling of the significant matters that will shape Israel's destiny for generations to come.

The choice should be of the same leader who can balance the external and internal constraints, mobilize Israeli society to realize long-term goals and create a broad common denominator, such as addressing the core problems of our community in the fields of education, health, personal security, housing and more. This is in the spirit of the words of American President Abraham Lincoln in his second seven-day speech - which Menachem Begin quoted in his victory speech on May 17, 1977: "Without malice towards anyone and out of charity for all, with confidence in the justice of God who allows us to see the truth, let us continue forward and finish the work we started, we will heal the nation's wounds, we will take care of those who bore the battle, his widow and orphans, we will do everything necessary to achieve a just peace within us and with all the nations."

May we begin rebuilding a healthy, just and democratic society. It is in our hands, all the citizens of the State of Israel, and despite the cliché - it is for our children, grandchildren and future generations. Our nation's history has repeatedly proven to us that we have the potential for self-destruction, especially for leaders. The people, the responsible adult, can make it happen otherwise. We also knew glorious resurrections that belong to the people in their entirety; I am a great believer in the wisdom of the masses of the people that I am proud to be a part of.

The author is the CEO of The Luzzatto Group and the chairman of the "Israel Association for the Negev."