When I wake up on March 18, who do I want as Prime Minister? Who do I trust to form the next government?
Framed this way, the answer is clear. In spite of differences voters may have with the Zionist Camp, a critical mass of votes for the Zionist Union can rid us of the rightwing on March 17; on March 18, the country will be on a more optimistic, honest path.
For some that will be a natural, comfortable vote. For others it will be a change of affiliation, understanding the need to form a large bloc to rid us of right wing rule. Non-voters who can be persuaded that it is irresponsible to say “why bother,” “nothing will ever change,” “there is no-one to vote for”, can tip the balance by enlarging the voting pie and changing the direction of the country.
After years of complaining about the government and bemoaning the dangerous slide away from a democratic and Jewish Israel, each of us can vote to support the Zionist Union, a party whose candidates believe that fairness is a fundamental element of a Jewish and democratic state, and that civil, respectful, trustful international relations are a fundamental element of our security.
There is much to celebrate in the Zionist Union. This is my thinking:
• LEADERSHIP: Herzog and Livni are smart, tough leaders, known and widely respected as world-class diplomats. Palestinian negotiators say that Livni is the toughest negotiator they ever faced, tougher than any man. On Day 1, Herzog and Livni will free us from the embarrassing and self-destructive international humiliation and isolation brought to us by Team Netanyahu, Bennett, Yaalon, and Liberman. Livni and Herzog will jump-start trust and respect, beginning with the United States. World leaders will cheer and give a sigh of relief. We are not intended to be a pariah state.
• SECURITY: The Zionist Union list, including military heroes Amos Yadlin and Omar Bar-Lev, understands that true security is a strong and intelligent military alongside internal security which includes high quality education for the People of the Book, affordable housing, superior health care, economic growth and well-paying jobs, a healthy environment, cultural diversity without manipulating the Israel Prize, freedom from religious coercion, freedom of speech without intimidation and violence, and human rights for all. Bibi has led us into the deepest insecurity, without friends, without strategy, without hope.
• AN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PLATFORM: Manuel Trachtenberg, a serious, world-renowned economist, has proposed an intelligent, realistic, innovative socio-economic platform to stimulate growth, restructure money-draining monopolies, manage the cost of living, grow the middle class, and reduce gaps between rich and poor. He emphasizes fairness throughout, showing respect for the intelligence of voters. This is in marked contrast to Netanyahu.
• FOLLOW THE MONEY: Energetic, persistent Zionist Union Knesset members aggressively ‘follow the money’ instead of just talking about it. They commit to shining a light on, and ending corrupt, wasteful secretive transfers of taxpayer funds to outlying settlements and to Yeshivas enrolling non-students in order to pocket subsidies. They insist that tycoons will pay their fair share of taxes so the burden does not fall on the rest of us. Again, fairness and transparency.
• RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: An increasing number of Israelis are marrying outside the Chief Rabbinate, even going overseas. Ultra-Orthodoxy disparages democracy. With nearly 10% of Jewish Israelis defining themselves as Masorti (Conservative) or Reformi, the Zionist Union recognizes the irony that Israel is the only modern country where Jews cannot practice Judaism freely.
• ZIONISM: The term has been hi-jacked and distorted by the right wing which is associated with the most dangerous elements of Israeli society – oppression, violence, discrimination, racism, alienation. Authentic Zionism is a Jewish and democratic State with the joyful promise of the 1948 Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights of all its inhabitants irrespective of religion…it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…”
Zionism is investing in the Galill and the Negev, in people, and in compassionate care of those who need our help. It is being a Light unto the Nations instead of a pariah.
It is the magic of being Jewish in a land with secure borders and a clear Jewish majority with full rights and respect for all. It is the responsibility of pursuing peace, even in a tough neighborhood, with strength and determination, even when prospects seem dim.
On March 18, no party can form a coalition without partners. Concessions are inevitable. But I will feel more confident if they are managed by the Zionist Union which I see as more, but not completely, compatible with my values and my hopes. I do want to see the back of those who brought Israel insecurity, made us a laughing-stock in the world, favored the rich at the expense of the rest of us, tolerated – even promoted – racism, discrimination and violence, and brought Israel to a very dark place.
On March 18, I desperately want the Zionist Union to give us back the Israel we love. I do not demand perfection but just the opportunity to exorcize the demons and nightmares that have become the stuff of everyday Israeli life.
If not now, when???