It should have been an emotional and symbolic moment for me – so why, when I cast my first vote as an Israeli citizen did I feel empty and depressed? The choice that faced me was between one politician over another, and another or another. What I wanted was to be able to choose someone who I felt; no, someone that I knew held the future of the State of Israel as the sole and guiding principal by which they worked.
I searched an online dictionary for the definition of the word ‘politician’. The result was ‘a seeker of public office who is more concerned about winning favour or retaining power than about maintaining principles.’ Next, I typed the word ‘statesman’ into the search box and read the following phrase, ‘a political leader whose wisdom and integrity earn him great respect.’ While I feel that the first description is somewhat cynical and does not express the genuine desire to serve the public that most politicians have, there is a clear difference between the two definitions. And in Israel, the difference could not be clearer.
Call me naïve, but when I remember the names of the founding fathers of the country, I think of people who fit this description. Ben Gurion, Weizman, Eban, Begin, Rabin, Peres, Shamir and so on. Naturally, they held different views on how to achieve the goal, but they were all united in holding this goal as paramount to anything else. It is simple enough, with this understanding, to see how unity governments could be formed and how the Right and the Left were able to sit together in coalition. Though they followed different paths, their journey’s end was the same.
Can you honestly see the leaders of today’s two largest political parties sitting together? The insults and dirty campaigning that filled the months leading up to the election went beyond the pale. It was truly personal. We heard too much of Sara’s living expenses than solving the housing crisis. We were too interested in comparing images of ‘Bougie’ as a little boy to those of him tanned and sporting a 5 o’clock shadow than how the next government was going to restore the tattered relationship with our most important ally.
As I cast my vote, I was reminded of the movie ‘Brewster’s Millions’ where the main character campaigned for people to vote for ‘none of the above’. Alas, we were not given this choice. Not voting was inconceivable to me, but I cannot say that there was a single leader of any political party that gave me the inspiration I was seeking to vote for them. What I was looking for was someone who was more focussed in finding solutions to the issues than afraid of losing an election. I didn’t find them.
Israel shares the same needs and concerns of any modern day democracy; the state of the economy, social welfare and education et al. But to me, at least, and so many others in Israel and around the world, Israel is not the same as other democratic western countries. It is judged by other standards. It should be a light unto the nations. However much we fight against it, and I have done my share, the world will always see Israel differently. Now, maybe more than ever, we need statesmen who are able to rise above the scramble of daily politics. It is no secret that the key elements of a peace agreement with the Palestinians are on the table. Nor is it a secret that any agreement with the Palestinians is rife with dangers and will, for sure, be painful both emotionally and physically. But unless there will be a leader who will take the step over the abyss of mistrust, then Israel’s problems will only get worse. We can all bury our heads in the sand and pretend that our relationship with the US is safe and secure. We can complain that the world judges Israel more harshly than it does other countries. We can dismiss the BDS campaign as a few annoying voices that have little real effect. We can continue to believe that come what may, Israel’s future is secure.
But this is not true. Slowly but surely, circumstance is chipping away at Israel’s legitimacy in the eye of the world and all efforts, of which there are many great ones, to stem the flow will come to nothing unless they are tied to leaders who are willing and able to enact what is necessary to achieve the impossible. Begin saw peace with Egypt as crucial for the future of the State and was prepared to risk Israel’s short-term safety in order to achieve its long-term security. Rabin’s famous handshake on the White House Lawn was one that gave hope for the future in the belief that maybe there was an agreement to be found.
I don’t have the answers. I am not volunteering suggested names of potential leaders. I am sure that others can point to people who fit the job description. I hope so. But what I do know is that stories of secret meetings where Israel’s leaders worked away from the public glare in order to achieve peace with its neighbours were the stuff of legend. Meetings that eventually led to peace deals and agreements. They don’t seem to happen anymore. Now, more than ever before, they need to.