There is much discussion in the media today about the current crisis in Israel. Looking at the Jewish-Israeli population in Israel as the state’s skeletal structure, the centrist Zionist “camp” is its backbone.
Mainstream Jewish Zionism represents about 80% of Jews in Israel – and this has been consistent throughout each of Israel’s elections. Although there have been some fluctuations to the Left and Right within that camp over the years, an average of 75 to 80 of the 120 Knesset seats have historically represented the mainstream Zionist-Jewish parties, including the Likud party.
The shared values of the mainstream Zionist camp are the worldview of democracy, free market, social welfare and values-based pluralism.
So, why is Israeli society torn apart, and how and why did we get here?
In the current Knesset, the central Zionist camp has 78 seats, 32 of which are Likud. The other parties in the mainstream Zionist camp (Yesh Atid, National Unity, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor) have 46 seats in the current Knesset. However, refusing to sit in a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing his pending corruption trial, among other reasons, those parties are not part of the current government coalition.
The current government consists of a coalition of three partners: Likud, with 32 seats in the current Knesset; ultra-Orthodox parties, which together have 18 seats; and the Religious Zionist parties, whose political power base is the pro-settler movement, which hold 14 seats.
The legislation and policy of the current government promote the agenda, priorities, and values of the ultra-Orthodox and the extremist religious Zionists more than it promotes the agenda, priorities, and values of the 80% majority of Israeli Jews. In fact, its legislation and policy are contradictory – and unacceptable – to the mainstream central Zionist camp, including Likud supporters.
The government’s agenda and legislation, combined with its aggressive pursuit of judicial reform, has resulted in a significant backlash and increasing resistance within the mainstream Zionist camp. The result is the profound political crisis Israel faces in the spring of 2023.
THIS CRISIS began before the formation of the current government. It stems from a growing sense of chaos among many Israelis, emanating from a combination of several factors: the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the growing tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel, the rise in crime and the weakening of the rule of law, friction between different sectors of Jewish-Israeli society, the vulgarization and polarization of discourse on social media, and crises experienced by various democracies around the world. A sense of chaos has created a feeling of loss of control and order among many Israelis.
Understanding Israel’s current turmoil in that broader context is important for two reasons:
The Likud and the Religious Zionist parties, currently in power, ran on a platform of returning order and stability. That call and narrative responded to a clear emotional need of many people, with differing views and ideologies, who have been longing for law and order.
At the same time, understanding how and why we got here can also be a compass for Israel’s path to the future.
In the short time that has passed since the establishment of the current government, it has become clear that rhetoric and dogmatism do not provide solutions to the many, and complex, challenges facing Israel. This internalization has brought with it a rapid feeling of disappointment, disillusionment and disenfranchisement. Polls taken at this writing indicate a considerable decline in support for Likud and the religious Zionist camp, and an increase in support for the other parties in the central Zionist camp.
The acute crisis Israel is experiencing is also a distinct and vital opportunity.
The challenges that fuel the sense of a loss of control and order still need to be addressed. Additionally, significant developments in the Middle East present Israel with both serious challenges and threats, as well as fundamental and historical opportunities.
There is public dissatisfaction with a dogmatic approach to addressing a multidimensional, complex reality. But it can be a collective learning experience that can empower us as a society to pursue and implement pragmatic solutions shaped by values-based pluralism. Most Jewish Israelis support this course of action for one simple, but crucial, reason: it is who we are. And we have no other home.
We are living in a supremely pivotal moment in history in which we can recommit our national identity consistent with the values and contours of the State of Israel, the home of the Jewish people: An advanced, innovative state with technological, military, economic and scientific power; a pluralist democracy in which there is a system of checks and balances between the authorities, equality before the law, protection of minorities and the disenfranchised, with a continued emphasis on human and civil rights; and conceptual and moral pluralism.
These core values are what Israel’s flag represents. We all raise that flag with love, pride and patriotism. These fundamental principles are the linchpin of the true democracy upon which Israel was established and upon which she has thrived.
The State of Israel is a young country of an ancient nation – the Jews. The DNA of this nation and this country consists of a sense of a mission for humanity, a belief in a shared destiny, mutual responsibility and guarantees, and the knowledge that we have no other home. This DNA is Israel’s eternal compass, a source of its power, wondrous achievements, and survival. Preserving the heart and soul of our identity is indispensable for Israel’s continued existence and prosperity.
The writer served first as deputy and then as senior Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert. He is the author of Inside the Middle East: Entering A New Era, and is a former Israeli intelligence official. His latest project, a documentary series on Jerusalem, The Seam Line, is scheduled to be released in May.■