Anywhere from 60-70 percent of an Israeli election is decided by habitual voters so there is very little switching between left and right. On this round, I have decided to extract myself from the left – right equation and for the first time to vote not in accordance with “what should be done” but rather to choose based on “who we are.”
Israel defines itself as a democratic and Jewish state. It is therefore necessary that the political-moral discourse of the majority – as well as their political decisions – rely not only on a-priori moral principles but also on the question of which standards of Jewish values we aspire to. Israeli-Jewish society must tackle this critical question in order to shape a shared discourse that defines us a people, and creates an agreed set of standards by which we judge ourselves and wish to be judged by others.
Over the years and particularly in the current election campaign, we have become polarized to an extent that endangers the “democratic and Jewish” consensus on which Israel was founded. The arguments of those on the right, whether secular, religious or orthodox, rely on archetypal patterns derived from Jewish tradition and collective memory, ignoring Jewish traditions that demand human solidarity. On the other hand, the left-wing camp speaks the language of universalism, with terms such as humanism, human rights and democracy, deliberately detaching itself from any Jewish historical context. So, initially there is no common ground for any dialogue between left and right because the debate originates in differences between Jewish culture and abstract universal culture. That is why the question of how to combine western legal norms and the norms drawn from Jewish tradition is of crucial importance for the future of the state of Israel.
Unlike the Jewish Home party, whose political manifesto is narrowed down to a more friendly version of the saying “The land of Israel to the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel,” Rabbi Haim Amsalem, the leader of the Am Shalem party, represents leadership that overcomes incoherence between religion and morality. He embraces the concept that Jewish-national tradition, including the Halakha religious law, not only does not contradict universal norms, but some of its elements may imbue these norms with greater meaning and stability. Halakha that is connected to general human morality may provide Israeli society with normative moral arguments concerning social justice, equality, mutual responsibility, and no less – in questions of war and peace.
Amsalem represents a political culture based on the assumption that this combination is as possible today as it was in the past. He symbolizes a return to Utopian Zionism, aspiring to merge the national with the universal. He argues that the justice demanded by the Torah cannot be divided: it must be applied internally in our attitude to the deprived and weak regardless of nationality and religion, and outwardly, in our attitude to the ‘other’ sitting on the same ground.
My vote for Amsalem and his Am Shalem party is a choice summoned by history.