During the last Israeli election a friend of mine who was visiting from the States asked me where she could find an election party.
“A what?” I asked.
“You know, like we have back home. We invite people over, eat, drink and watch the votes come in.”
I laughed. “This is not America. Elections are not exciting or joyous occasions in this country.”
And I think that’s largely the unfortunate reality in Israel. Election time in America is usually a period of powerful optimism for hope and change amongst voters. In Israel, however, people vote not out of hope but out of fear.
In the last election, both sides of the political divide ran a platform that was largely focused on inciting fear and tried convincing people to vote with lines like “Anyone but Bibi!” or “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls!”
Ultimately, Bibi won the election simply because he managed to scare more people into voting than the left did.
The conflict between hope and fear in Israeli politics goes far beyond the statistics of voting turnout. Take, for instance, the debate surrounding the Iran deal. Generally speaking, those who advocate the deal run under the banner of hope – putting faith in diplomacy while optimistically believing they can stall Iran’s nuclear development. The dissenting camp reacts largely out of fear – untrusting and unwilling to make deals with a country that supports international terrorism and calls for the annihilation of both America and Israel.
Both of these opinions are understandable and even justifiable but it’s worth noting how they have less to do with the assessment of reality (just another case of “he said, she said”) and more to do with the perception of reality.
Israel’s split reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis is another example of this dichotomy. Are we hopeful that we have the ability to make a difference in the lives of those fleeing a war torn country where their own government has used chemical weapons against them, or are we fearful that an influx of these refugees will be an unbearable toll on our own tiny country, desperately trying to retain a Jewish identity and demographic?
While it is always wise to try to consider both sides of the coin, more often than not we’re guided by either one or the other.
Fear is incredibly effective and, at times, necessary for survival. But it can also be paralyzing. It makes complete sense that Israel is so often fearful. After thousands of years of persecution, this nation still has to deal with a very real existential threat and in many ways doesn’t have the luxury of the American hope. But what has kept the Jewish nation alive over the course of a three thousand year diaspora was not cautious fear but the enduring hope of eventual redemption.
Hope can be naive and misguided and there is obviously an important role for fear as a cautionary tool in life and politics, but it seems as though fear has become the default setting of our entire country that is complacent with the status quo and resistant to the very notion of political or cultural change. To abandon the hope that is literally the anthem of this stubborn nation would be a mistake of catastrophic proportions.
So during the next election I’m looking forward to hosting a party at my house. We’ll eat, drink, watch the votes come in and hope.