Now that the fourth election in two years is over the doomsayers are out.
Analysts and commentators and columnists have bemoaned the results just like they did the previous three elections.
Never bemoan elections. Never, ever, bemoan democracy. The ability to vote and through that process, to have your voice heard is a privilege not granted to all. Having your voice heard by selecting political leadership is a great responsibility. These freedoms should not be bemoaned, they should never be downplayed and never degraded or taken for granted.
So, yes. Israelis went to the polls for the fourth time in two years. And for many, this need to repeat the process so many times over is interpreted to be indicative of the fractured nature of Israeli politics, the fractured nature of Israel’s voters. It is seen as a negative. And that’s, in great part, because this election, like the previous three, failed to bring about the emergence of an easy 61-seat-plus coalition.
The critique is overwhelming. And it goes like this: This election was the same as the past. Israel has not changed. Israel is divided.
Just as overwhelming are the calls for unity and for dramatic change in Israel in order to bring people closer together.
The critique is incorrect. Change would be a massive mistake.
Unity, my friends, is overrated.
Unity is a myth – especially when applying the notion to a nation. And unity, most importantly, is not a useful political tool.
The reasons should be clear. The last four elections serve only to, once again, hammer home the point. Israel cannot unite because there is very little that Israelis agree upon. The differences are not new and should not be surprising. For the past seven decades the same issues have plagued Israeli society. Religious versus secular. Rich versus poor. Immigrants versus veterans. European cultures versus Middle Eastern cultures.
Differences within a country are good for a country. Differences in the make-up of a country create a national fabric that is alive and always changing – never stagnant, not complacent. In this way, Israel is blessed many times over. Those blessings should be counted, not criticized.
Israel is a country of immigrants, it always has been. The nation is composed of people from all over the world, people with various backgrounds, languages, cultures, dress, food, education, traditions. They come from around the world. It is their differences that make Israel a more interesting and better nation. And it is their differences in politics and voting choices that make Israel a living and breathing democracy.
Opposite sides of the spectrum will never agree upon certain issues. Ardent secularists can continue to push and cajole and even threaten, religious parties will not agree to change the status quo on the religious nature of the state. Supporters of the settler movement will never agree with their detractors that their actions are a deterrent to peace. National service, whether army or volunteer, will always be a point of contention.
But despite the many the divisions among Israelis – several of which are highlighted by the political process, those issues are dwarfed by the bonds that unite Israelis. And those bonds have nothing to do with politics. Almost every man, woman and child in Israel is united on issues concerning defense and security. Regardless of political party.
Theodor Herzl, whose vision turned into the realization that is the Jewish state that still exists today, said it all over a hundred years ago: “The Jewish people is a nation, our enemies have made us one.” For many, antisemitism is the fulcrum that unites the Jewish people. When there are threats against Israel, politics dissolve. When there are threats against Israel, it makes no difference which party is in power, the country comes together.
But that is a false sense of unity. Obviously when there are crises and attacks from the outside, people on the inside band together to fight for survival. That happens in every culture and in most countries. But still, insiders do not agree with one another.
Unity is overrated – and it is also unattainable.
There is an alternative. Advance the idea that, despite disagreement, civilized discussions and discourse about those differences and those differences of opinions be conducted.
Rather than aspiring for unity, a better objective might be to strive for mutual respect.
The author is a columnist and a social and political commentator.