Encountering Peace: How low can we go?

Elections are supposed to be a celebration of democracy and the ability of citizens to weigh in on the issues, to take positions, to debate in public.

Elections 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Elections 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS)
So far, as a concerned citizen, this is the most uninteresting and shallow election season that I have experienced in my 40 years in Israel.
In fact, it is completely boring, despite the intrigues that the media focuses on with the breakup of political parties, the establishment of new ones, the announcements of veteran politicians leaving the race and the addition of news ones to the field. The inundation of surveys, which are completely irrelevant, and the constant pestering of surveyors, almost always anonymous, in our email and through Whatsapp, have contributed to the decline of the essence of what elections are supposed to be about.
Elections are supposed to be a celebration of democracy and the ability of citizens to weigh in on the issues, to take positions, to debate in public, to advocate policies and to determine our shared future. Elections are supposed to be about hope. They are supposed to be about believing that our voice matters and that people who wish to represent us want to know what we think. It is about debating and determining public policy priorities. Elections should be about the issues that determine who we are and the differences between political parties and politicians should be clear and focused.
In Israel, in these times, the elections must also focus on the integrity and honesty of the politicians and their respect for the law and for the rule of law. We have never before faced elections with a prime minister under such intense criminal investigation and who, by all signs, seems very likely to be indicted on charges of corruption. It does not seem very relevant if the indictment is before or after the elections, or if there is a hearing before or after the elections. Netanyahu has had ample time to make his case to the public and what we have heard so far is very far from convincing.
This has distracted us all from the real issues that need to be discussed and weighed and decided on. The personality cult that has developed around Netanyahu and his choir of submissive and parrotlike cohorts has brought us to a new low point in our already challenged democracy. The Likud party of law and order and respect for democracy does not exist anymore. For the sake of Israel, why don’t we hear voices from within the prime minister’s own camp telling him that he needs to step down and focus on defending himself instead of dragging the country down into the circus that these elections are becoming? Netanyahu is not the only person in this country who has the ability to be prime minister. He has already led the country for many years. It is time for change and it is time for us to return to ourselves and to allow us to get back to focusing on the real issues.
Our elections now seem to be focused more than ever on the face of the leader of each party instead of the issues. And Israel has serious issues to face – first and foremost being, as always, issues of peace and issues of security. The Israeli army has never been stronger and more technologically advanced. We saw another amazing achievement this week with the successful testing of the Arrow-3 anti-missile system. Israel has built its military deterrence – but where is it building a peace strategy?
Israel, even after 70 years, has no permanent border on its east. Seventy years of being a state with a provisional border seems impossible to imagine. Israel must make decisions about its control over the Palestinian people and the Palestinian lands. We must have a chance to re-evaluate our national priorities.
What are our priorities? Where should our financial resources be invested? Do we continue to build settlements in the occupied territories and invest in infrastructure to serve the needs of half a million Israeli settlers, or do we focus our priorities on Israel’s economic and social peripheries? Do we continue to invest in infrastructure of private vehicles or do we seek to help people to rid themselves of cars in favor of fast and efficient public transportation? Can we wrestle better with questions of religion and state?
Let’s put the issue of public transportation on Shabbat on the debate agenda. Let’s focus on the tremendous inequalities that continue to exist in our society, such as discrimination against women in their paychecks, or the obvious discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens in every field of life in this country. Let’s discuss in public how Israelis of Ethiopian descent can and must be equal citizens and if we should bring their remaining relatives in Ethiopia to Israel. Let’s argue and decide about granting asylum to the 30,000-40,000 asylum-seekers or let us return to the UN plan that Netanyahu accepted and then rejected overnight.
How about dealing seriously with our collapsing public health system? Shouldn’t we be concerned about political parties that exist in our democracy but lack democracy within their own ranks? Shouldn’t the fact that there are political parties that ban women from their ranks of leaders be an issue that we confront head on? Or what about our very problematic public education system? With the genius and innovation that exists in Israel, the country should be leading the world in education and health. Instead we hold the lowest ranks in the OECD. Doesn’t that bother us? Shouldn’t these be the issues that we are dealing with in these elections?
Instead, our elections, early on, are focused on the “look” of the leader, his smile, his slogan in a competition over who will say less. We, the citizens, have to demand more. Political parties that don’t say what they stand for should not be supported. They are insulting our intelligence and taking us for granted.
Elections are an opportunity for us to make course corrections or course changes. There are deep divisions in our society, disparate points of views and value systems. Elections are divisive, no doubt, but if we are going to argue and we are going to point out our differences, shouldn’t this process actually be about real issues? We, the citizens, have to raise the level of what the politicians are dishing out to us. We, the citizens, must demand better.
The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.