After growing up in America and moving to Israel I have heard many critiques and justifications of Israel’s politics from various perspectives, not a difficult feat in American Jewish communities nor Israeli society. Both communities worry about and value Israel’s position in the world but they view the situation through very different lenses.
Americans frequently identify Israel’s most imminent danger to be her diplomatic troubles: the inability to make peace with the Palestinians, or at the very least, end the occupation and give proper treatment to the Palestinian people. Without solving this problem Israel cannot truly join the community of liberal democracies, those that provide the necessary and natural freedoms to their inhabitants. This situation may lead to future international sanctions if the status quo remains.
To Israelis, the most imminent danger is the security threat, be it from Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon; or an Iranian nuclear bomb. Israel must defend herself against these threats and if the Western world does not appreciate the necessity, then she must take care of herself. These security concerns are real and are frequently overlooked by the Western countries who cannot understand the threats that Israel faces on each border and from the entire region.
It’s important to add, the “American,” or “Leftist,” criticism of Israel’s passive attitude towards the Palestinians is legitimate even without the threat of crippling sanctions. As an enlightened nation Israel must provide as much freedom and rights to all people living under its governance.
But Israelis will correctly respond that those freedoms cannot come at the expense of Israel’s security; whether it is from threats from as far as Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah pose to Israeli towns near and far from the border, or the threat of a bus bomb or kidnapping from any Palestinian that resents Israel’s treatment of his people. These dangers are concrete and while Israel must take steps to improve the living conditions for Palestinians, it cannot sacrifice these security concerns, a fact often overlooked by critics from the left.
But there exists a third, unspoken threat, one that menaces Israeli society no matter who is in power in Israel or in America. That threat is the preference to defend or promote a party’s political agenda over a greater national ideal.
When deciding who to vote for in the recent Israeli elections, I wanted a candidate or a party who would improve conditions for the Palestinians while maintaining Israel’s security. I wanted a candidate with a strong security background but also a diplomat. Someone with a scholarly background in international relations who has continued to put Israel’s security at the forefront of his politics–someone like Bibi Netanyahu.
Yet I was also confident in the Zionist Union’s pick for Defense Minister, Amos Yadlin, who as a fighter pilot in the IDF bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq. Yadlin has continued to devote himself to Israel’s security in the army and then in leading the Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. At the same time, he sees improving Palestinian conditions as a necessary component to maintain Israel’s security in addition to cooperating with foreign powers to improve the current situation. In Meretz, I found Zehava Galon’s dedication to social justice to be unwavering and clear.
These are the policies that the ideal, new Israeli government must pursue, but they come from different parties and naturally I take issue with other policies that each party supports. Like me, the Israeli populace is divided between what direction they want and who they want to guide the country. As a result, many Israelis half-heartedly submitted their votes, because of a similar dilemma to the one I just explained. The simple solution would be a unity government where these different parties would work together to find the best and broadest solutions to the issues that Israel faces. However, both of the top parties show an unwillingness to enter a unity government, an attitude that places party politics above the common ideals shared by all of the political parties and the Israeli public.
Each party’s self-advancing agendas, placed before the pursuit of the Zionist ideal, pose the greatest danger to Israeli society. It will lead to lackluster solutions to very real dangers, both diplomatic and security and likely perpetuate failed governments and repetitive elections cycle. Israel must learn to find the common ground between the different parties and work together to provide the best future for all members of Israeli society. So that Israel may celebrate social and political achievements and not mourn national tragedies we must work hard and find our balance.