Israel’s malaise

THE KNESSET building: Englargement in the offing? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THE KNESSET building: Englargement in the offing?
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
While the candidates for the parties running for the Knesset in next week’s elections are falling over one another in these last few critical campaign days, issuing dire warnings that a vote for X means a victory for Y, the electoral mass out there is responding with a big yawn.
Never before – well, at least since the last fiasco in April – has an Israeli election elicited such indifference and apathy from potential voters. With polls predicting a repeat performance of that previous exercise in democracy – either ending in another stalemate in which neither the Likud nor Blue and White is able to form a coalition, or possibly a very narrow right-wing majority – many voters are deciding that their opinions just do not really matter and are going to stay away from the polls.
Data published last week by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), showed that 39% of Israelis were less interested in the upcoming election than they were in the April one, 36% were following it to the same extent, and only 17% were more interested in the upcoming vote.
Senior researcher at IDI, Gideon Rahat told The Jerusalem Post’s Jeremy Sharon that part of the malaise is due to the emergence of pop-up parties driven by personality politics that have no real grassroots support and no large pool of members – and are often transient, meaning that they never develop a loyal base of supporters and voters.
Veteran political analyst Mitchell Barak agreed that voters are reacting to the seeming jumping-bean maneuverings of politicians who merge, change parties and form alliances, all based on expedience.
“There has been a seismic change in loyalty. People see politics more as politicians maneuvering in order to get jobs. There’s no ideology anymore, and this has done long-term damage to people’s interest in politics,” says Barak. “The Israeli public sees all this as a lack of integrity.”
That perceived lack of integrity has crossed over to instill a general malaise among many Israelis regarding their country and its future prospects. Apartments are impossible to buy, salaries are low and the cost of living is high. There doesn’t seem to be any long-term peace on the horizon on Israel’s borders with Lebanon or Gaza and, to the contrary, the specter of war is always present. The Palestinian issue is stultifying, with nobody having any confidence in US President Donald Trump to provide a solution, let alone the Israeli or Palestinian leadership to step up and attempt to resolve the situation.
Jimmy Carter shocked Americans in 1979 and very likely lost the 1980 US presidential election when he gave a speech proclaiming that America was suffering a “crisis in confidence” which struck “at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.” It came to be known as the “malaise” speech, even though he never used that word in his address.
Israelis, too, seem to be suffering from a crisis in confidence which is affecting our national will and our spirit – and that’s what the parties vying for the next Knesset should be addressing. How are they going to keep young Israelis in Israel, and how are they going to inspire the populace to get involved and feel like they have a say and a stake in building the kind of country they can be proud of, and not merely exist and survive in?
Campaigning to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power as a goal just isn’t good enough. In a recent op-ed in the New York Post about the differences between Israelis and American Jews, Shalem College’s Daniel Gordis noted that whether or not Netanyahu wins the election and forms the next government, Israel’s policies are not going to drastically change.
That means that change has to come from the ground up. Following next week’s election, with a turnout predicted to be at an alarming low, the effort to dig out from under the malaise and to restore Israelis’ optimism and enthusiasm will be incumbent not only upon the newly elected leadership but on every citizen. The future of the country depends on it.