My Word: Moving beyond splits and votes

More importantly, each member of the public can choose individually how to respond to the election result, whether it was what they wanted or not.

Exit poles used by Channel 13 showing the number of seats won by Likud and Blue and White September 17  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Exit poles used by Channel 13 showing the number of seats won by Likud and Blue and White September 17
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
‘You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.
Let’s call the whole thing off...’
I apologize in advance for putting this song in your head, but it’s a lot better than the election jingles that we’ve been hearing in Israel lately. I’d rather listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong play-fighting over the pronunciation of “either” and “neither” than many of the slogans and mudslinging between politicians that’s been going on here.
It’s too early to predict who will ultimately form the next government after the general election that was held this week. But one thing’s certain: There are too many issues of strategic importance on the agenda for the party leaders not to find some common ground. As this paper’s parliamentary reporter during the years of the Oslo agreements, the wave of terrorism that followed and the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, I saw that despite the tensions, MKs from different parties and opposing sides often worked together. If they could do it then, they can do it now.
More importantly, each member of the public can choose individually how to respond to the election result, whether it was what they wanted or not. Democracy did not die and there is no reason to kill civility.
The knee-jerk responses that make people react automatically according to what camp or sector they belong is not healthy. Try standing on one leg alone – be it the right leg or the left – and you’ll soon find how hard it is not to fall down. You need the balance.
In an age of social media, people are often stuck in their own “echo chambers.” These platforms, which promote themselves as bringing people together, too often become divisive, even vicious. They encourage a tendency to see everything in terms of black and white, Left and Right, true and fake news: Either you’re with us or you’re the enemy.
The result is internal contortions and twisted thinking. How, for example, can organizations that claim to be pro-Israel take a stand opposing moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem? The answer, of course, is because it was US President Donald Trump who finally acted on the relocation decision. How many voters of Blue and White, a party led by four men – three of them former chiefs of staff – would in other circumstances have decried such a list as too macho? How many of those who placed a ballot for the Likud led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu oppose his ostentatious lifestyle?
Our lives are becoming agenda-driven but it’s a dangerous road to drive on. This phenomenon is seen everywhere – the divide between Republicans and Democrats has widened noticeably over the last two years. Whether this is because of the deliberate divisiveness of Trump himself or the hysterical reaction of his opponents depends on the camp of the person you’re asking.
I’m proud to have friends I don’t agree with. It makes life richer and more interesting.
As Lilac Sigan wrote recently in an opinion piece in Maariv, “When you insist on sticking to Left-Right labels, which have become distorted over the years, you discover that it’s not principles that are leading the argument but the rivalry. The main thing is to prove that the other side is wrong, even at the price of a string of claims that completely contradict themselves.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman – who was largely responsible for kicking off this second round of elections – is again expected to be “kingmaker.” He’s a man of contradictions. While he now insists that he absolutely can’t sit in a government with the ultra-Orthodox, voters at my local polling station in Jerusalem recalled that last year he worked very hard alongside “haredi” parties to advance the election of Moshe Lion as mayor, defeating secular candidate Ofer Berkovitch.
Just ahead of the election this week, Netanyahu tried to legislate for cameras to be placed in polling stations to avoid voter fraud. All of a sudden, the champions of transparency like MK Stav Shaffir were against the placement of cameras. This was because it was seen as likely to deter voters in the Arab sector. Had the emphasis been on avoiding electoral fraud in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, members of Shaffir’s far-left Democratic Union would have no doubt supported the move. (I favor placing them in all polling stations – and not waiting to the last-minute to hastily prepare the necessary legislation and logistics.)
The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon wrote on the eve of the election that it’s a relief the campaigning has come to an end “before we start to believe the doomsday electioneering about how bad things are, or about how miserable they are about to become... before the politicians succeed in driving deeper the wedges between the different segments of the population; before there is more time to castigate entire demographics: haredim, the Left, Arabs, religious Zionists.
“Israel is at its best when its solidarity is in full view. Sadly, this generally only happens when the country is under attack: either from Gaza, or Lebanon, or terrorists on the streets. It is at its worst at times when those divisions are highlighted and magnified.
“That is what election campaigns do – they magnify those divisions.”
THIS ELECTION was more negative than usual. A matter of practice not making perfect. As Keinon noted, there were no real platforms and clear ideologies; it wasn’t about what you were for, but about what – or whom – you were against.
Netanyahu’s constant playing on the fears that the Arab voters would sway the polls had exactly the reverse affect from what he had hoped. The “Arab” parties united, despite their huge differences, and ran together – reaching a larger number of seats, according to the preliminary results, than when they ran as three lists.
It would have been better for the prime minister – and the country – had Netanyahu stressed that the Arab voters are citizens like all others and that they are being let down by the MKs who are meant to represent them. He should have offered them a political home in his own party, rather than creating the impression that they are not wanted.
Similarly, the haredim aren’t the enemy. Many incredible philanthropic organizations have been established and run by ultra-Orthodox Jews for whom the concept of charity is a central part of a life. It’s hard today, for instance, to imagine a time before Yad Sarah was created to loan medical equipment from crutches to oxygen tanks to those in need. Would ZAKA, the organization that retrieves bodies and body parts for identification and burial, have been founded by someone secular?
Israelis of all types rely on such organizations. And these organizations have also provided models that benefit other countries. Instead of insisting on the military draft, it would be beneficial to broaden the framework of civilian national service in such organizations for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs.
Election Day is over. The politicians have to figure out how to sit together and deal with the real threats, the security situation on the northern and southern borders; the ever-present problem of terrorism; Iran’s intentions; the economy, the health system; and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Many are calling for a national-unity government. It might not be feasible when so many parties are barely united within themselves. As I have said following previous elections, having a strong government and a responsible, firm opposition serving as a shadow cabinet should also be considered.
Elections are good, but the latest round was an example of having too much of a good thing. We cannot afford, financially or socially, to have a third round.
But all is not lost. It was heartening to see the election night special of the satire show Eretz Nehederet, “A Wonderful Country.” It made fun of all the major parties and laughed at and with people of all political persuasions. Having free elections and satire programs are not to be taken for granted, especially in this particular neighborhood of the global village.
And to answer the original question: I don’t care if you say “tomato” or “tomahto” – as long as you don’t blindly throw the rotten ones around.
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