The main winner of the debate last night was us, the people. It gave me a glimmer of hope and if, once elected, political maneuverings do not get in the way of actually doing some good for the nation, we might even have a chance at four good years ahead of us. Was this televised debate a start at giving regular citizens credit for being able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff? This was an intelligent television “reality show” that did not speak to the lowest common denominator, did not try to sensationalize or to provide light entertainment, and did not let participants descend into mutually accusatory shouting matches, as happens too often in politically oriented programmes.
Our ability to separate wheat from chaff begins with where we choose to focus our attention regarding all that was said last night. We decry Liberman’s blatant racism and horrid disrespect for Ayman Odeh; we can give a pass to Deri’s emotional outbursts while trying unsuccessfully to call out Bennett and Lapid for discriminating against Sephardim; we can make an effort to overlook Kahlon’s egocentric call for votes in order to make him Finance Minister. The main point to take away from the debate was that everyone (except Liberman) agreed that the main issue of concern for now is how Israelis, how ALL of us, religious and secular, Jewish and Arab, rightist and leftist, need help achieving financial security to get through the day and raise our families with dignity (I know nobody used that word, but I am applying poetic license here).
Only Galon and Kahlon tied personal financial security to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. We heard Deri talk about overcoming political differences and setting aside, for now, the issue of a peace settlement with the Palestinian Arabs in order to work together on resolving the cost-of-living and housing problems faced by all Israelis. We heard Odeh ask Deri if they could work together on combatting Jewish and Arab poverty. Even though these voices did not receive a resounding hear! hear! from the leaders of the other parties, it is a request that registered over the sound waves. This is what gave me some hope – the speaking aloud of the possibility that if issues common to all sectors of our society, and that are in fact in the consciousness of all political parties, can receive the attention they deserve, it may be possible to tackle them with an expectation of success.
Even if their intentions were more lily-livered than altruistic, Bibi and Herzog-Livni should be praised for stepping aside and not stealing center stage last night. They let the nation hear the beginnings of serious talk from across the entire political spectrum. I suspect that if they had participated in the debate it would not have reached the level of candor we saw, nor would it have comprised the first step toward achieving a level of serious discussion we watched open up before us on the screen last night. That doesn’t say much for the level of leadership offered up by those who are contending for the spot of Prime Minister, and I can only hope that the kind of discussion we saw last night will increase the public’s expectations from them.
Our elected officials are not held accountable to voters in the way they would have been had our electoral system been based on regional representation rather than party lists. It is possible, therefore, that televised discussions with formats such as this one may be a good way to keep our politicians on track during the term and not just allow them a speaking platform before elections. If they know that they will periodically appear before us to discuss how their activities compare with their promises, we may see a change in how this country is run. (I know that is a bombastically naïve suggestion, but I can dream, can’t I?)