I have been trying to write this piece for two weeks. I cannot comprehend why this article has been so challenging to compose. Why has it been so hard to get excited about the elections scheduled here for the end of January? I should be engaged. I should care. I am absorbed in the American elections. I am what you call “a political junkie”. I hold an MA in Political science. Furthermore, the man who (literally) wrote the book on Israeli politics, the late Asher Arian, was one of my PhD advisors. So, I sit and wonder, what is it about the upcoming Israeli election that fails to excite me?
One straightforward answer could be the seeming inevitability of a Netanyahu victory. A horse race where the winner is known in advance is simply not exciting. However, I believe the true answer is much more deep. The problem with the upcoming Israeli election is the fact that it seems unlikely any of the vital issues facing this country will be addressed.
Do we actually have any idea what the candidates think about the myriad of issues facing our country? Let’s start with the Prime Minister. Netanyahu will no doubt succeed in being re-elected without once giving a press conference. Pre-election debates are unheard of here. However, would it be too much to ask to hear a real policy speech before the election? What is Netanyahu’s vision for relations between religious and secular Israelis over the course of the next 5…10… or 20 years? What will be the true impact of the Arab Spring on Israel? What do we do about the demographic threat we face from the growing Arab populations in the West Bank and Gaza? These are but a few of the important questions on which we will not gain any insight into our Prime Minister’s views during this election cycle. And… sadly, he is not alone.
What about the presumptive leader of the opposition, Shelly Yachimovich? She is running on a platform of social justice. Though what does that actually mean? How do we promote a more equal society, while at the same time maintaining our hi-tech edge? How do we convince our best and brightest to stay in Israel and open the next generation of high-tech firms here, instead of doing it in San Jose, or anywhere else on earth? What can be done to bring down the cost of living in this country, (as food prices are much higher here than the United States– despite the fact that a “medium income” salary here is half of what it is in the US.) Furthermore, the same questions I asked about Netanyahu’s views need to be answered by the leader of Labor: What do you think the changes in the Arab world mean to us? And what do you think we need to do regarding the Palestinians? Can we afford devoting the next four years to our socio-economic problems and ignore our demographic and long-term security problems? Finally, what would you do about the charedim?
Of course, I could continue to ask these questions of each of the other candidates, such as Yair Lapid. While Lapid seems to have a few very good ideas, I fear he would be hard pressed to answer these other policy questions. Finally, for my favorite politician, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, I ask, how do you appear before your Russian immigrant constituents and promise to work on their behalf on the issues they genuinely care about, (e.g. civil marriage, conversions, and everything else related to personal religious status in this country,) and with the same breath state in advance that your goal is to join a Netanyahu government… A government that will undoubtedly include the Shas party, and thus preclude any meaningful changes in this area. There is certainly a long list of questions to ask the new apparent leader of Shas, Aryeh Deri. However, the very idea that a convicted felon could head a major party is so repugnant that I am sorry that whatever he thinks even matters.
I could go on… As the problems are likely even a little deeper than not knowing what are politicians believe. I question if our current politician have any vision at all. This is a nation built on dreams. Sadly, our current candidates do not seem to be able to provide the goods. What sort of country are we trying to build? What makes up the fabric of the society we want for are children or grandchildren? It is possible the candidates have answered these questions for themselves, but they have certainly failed to share their vision with us, the voters.
We will be going through a complete election campaign cycle without answering any of the key questions that face our nation. People used to say that the American elections were “a beauty contest” that only evaluated the popularity of various candidates. This year the differences between the policies advocated by the candidates in the US is quite clear. Here, on the other hand, the Israeli electorate will remain– at the best, blissfully unaware of the views of those for whom they will vote– and at worst, voting for parties whose interests may be antithetical to their own self-interests. It’s time to bring about a real change. Alas, maybe a change will come about in the next election– since this time it seems we are unlikely to obtain any real answers.