It's time to make Israeli elections great again - editor's notes

After what seems like the ugliest election campaign in this country’s recent history, it is time to say: enough!

An Israeli flag [Ilustrative] (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An Israeli flag [Ilustrative]
Here are a few political developments that are almost definitely going to happen next week: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to warn the public that he might lose the election, and that if right-wing voters don’t vote Likud, a left-wing government will take over the country.
At the same time, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will warn that if Netanyahu wins a fifth term, Israel will turn into a Turkey-like dictatorship and will continue to rot at its core.
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked will warn that if voters don’t vote for the New Right on Tuesday, not only will Shaked not be able to continue her judicial reforms, she might not even make it into the Knesset.
Each party and their “I’m about to lose” campaign – or as it is referred to in Israel: the “gevald,” a Yiddish expression of alarm.
In 2015, Netanyahu launched his gevald in the final days of the campaign, and stirred controversy when, on election day, he warned that Arabs were coming out in droves to vote. Even though he later apologized for the racist remark, it had the desired effect – Netanyahu pulled ahead of the Zionist Union and won the election.
This will all happen. What might not happen is the country finding a way to heal itself on April 10, the day after the elections.
No matter who wins on Tuesday, there is already a feeling that the country has lost. Yes, we can be proud that we are still the only genuine democracy in the Middle East (not a small feat), but the way these election campaigns were run is a stain on us all.
From the beginning, it was not even clear what these elections were about. It seemed that when they were called in December, it was part of an attempt by Netanyahu to prevent his indictment in the multiple police investigations against him.
And while there was an expectation that at some point the election might turn into a debate about policy – there is no shortage in Israel on what that could be – it never happened. Instead, the election remained focused on two questions: are you for Netanyahu or are you against him? Do you want him to stay on as prime minister or not?
THIS HAS led to what many believe has been the ugliest election campaign in Israeli history. Mudslinging started in the beginning and hasn’t taken a break since. The Right attacks and the Left attacks. Every party is part of the vicious cycle, and there are almost no limits. Former chiefs of staff are referred to as criminals while they call the prime minister a traitor. The justice minister makes a movie about fascism and the former defense minister ridicules the haredim and their study of Torah. Everyone and everything is fair game.
When it is all over however, the country on Wednesday morning will need to find a way to come back together. The political parties will need to find a way to move beyond the virulent culture that has overtaken these elections and see if they can work together. Considering the challenges this country faces, it is important that they succeed.
How will this happen? Politicians will say that what happened during the elections was just politics, and now that they are after the elections they will be able to put it all behind them and move on. They can somehow magically differentiate between the dirt thrown at them during the campaign and the day after, when they need to suddenly sit and work in the cabinet with the same people who threw the dirt to begin with.
THE MOST classic case is Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu. The prime minister slams and attacks Bennett without pause – including his late father and wife – but the education minister still says that he supports Netanyahu as prime minister and will recommend that he be tasked with forming the government once again. The personal attacks, Bennett explains, are one thing. Sitting in the same cabinet and running the country is another.
That might be the same excuse we hear from Gantz, if and when he decides to join Netanyahu after the election if Likud forms the coalition. We can already imagine the news conference where Gantz says: “Elections were one thing: now, we need to come together to advance the country.”
But with the mudslinging so personal, if it difficult to understand how that’s even possible. During the day, they slam each other, and then, we are supposed to believe, they enter the cabinet room to discuss a covert strike on Syria or ways to defeat Hamas – and all the bad blood suddenly goes away? I’m sorry but I find it hard to believe.
MAYBE THE lesson from all of this is that elections should be more cordial, less offensive and more about the issues. Of course, the public needs to know as much as possible about the people it is voting for. But it should also know more about the issues that are at the top of the nation’s agenda.
Sadly, we don’t. In the interviews that Gantz gave last week as the Gaza front was heating up, it was impossible to discern the difference between his policy and that of Netanyahu. He was repeatedly asked what he would do differently and instead of spelling it out, he beat around the bush.
But why? If he has a different plan, he should tell the public. And if he doesn’t have a different plan, then he should say that too. But to just attack one another without explaining substantively why, might be good for the campaign, but it does a disservice to the public.
Is this Israel? Maybe. Maybe, this is the country today. Maybe, Israel has gone from being a country of values to a country of smear campaigns. And it might be too late. It is possible that the clock cannot be turned back and that the political rift is too wide to be bridged.
WHAT GIVES me hope is what I saw happen on Wednesday, when the country heard the amazing news of the return of Zacharia Baumel’s remains to Israel. From when he went missing in 1982, Baumel’s story has captivated the nation. Almost all Israelis (at least those over the age of 30 remember his father, Yona, campaigning for his missing son and fighting that he should not be forgotten.
We learned on Wednesday that Yona won – Israel did not give up. It took up Yona’s fight, and even after 37 years, the Jewish state brought his son home. It showed that when Israelis stand together and understand that this is their true character, they can achieve almost anything.
Negative campaigns cannot be allowed to be our story. We deserve better. After what seems like the ugliest election campaign in this country’s recent history, it is time to say: enough!
Truth is, it’s time to shout it.