An open letter to progressive Jews

As the Israeli election results began coming out, it seemed that my friends in America began by expressing complete shock and ended up in venting their deep disappointment and loss of all hope. The Israeli public has re-elected Netanyahu in a landslide vote and many of my American Jewish friends are talking about ending their relationship with Israel. “There is no hope,” I was told, “The Israeli public is not interested in peace”. As an Israeli lefty who comes from a long lineage of Likud voters, I think that this election was a real breakthrough for Israel and here is my analysis. Please read before you decide to disengage from Israel, during a time when it needs you most.

These elections were never about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather on social and economic issues. True, the Israeli public gave a mandate to Netanyahu to continue his policy of “Managing the Conflict” rather than ending it, but it also flagged that this mandate has limits. The limit being the survival of the Israeli periphery: the internal issues of public housing, the rising cost of living and job security. The success of Kulanu, Kahlon’s party is proof of that.

Israeli color-bias: as a generalization, while the Israeli center (Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Hod HaSharon etc.) is Ashkenazi and middle class, the Israeli periphery is lower class Mizrahim. While middle class issues occupy the center of Israel, the periphery is struggling with unemployment and homelessness. It is not surprising the left lost votes in Karmiel, Shlomi, Ramle, Or Yehuda and other peripheral cities, as right wing parties were the only ones there. It escapes me why Israeli left parties, who openly campaigned for social issues, were absent in the periphery. One cannot speak for the poor and never go see them. The left never left its comfort zone in Tel Aviv and lost the elections in Ashkelon. In the few cities that left parties were present, they attacked every single value that is important to the peripheral prototype, mainly Judaism and tradition. Yair Garbuz’s speech in the left wing demonstration in Tel Aviv, in which he called right wing voters “Mezuza kissers,” certainly did the job of alienating Mizrahi voters.

The elections were never about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you see. It is true that the Israeli public aligned with the right, but the feelings of despair within some American Jews are not justified. If you view these election results in light of the peace process, you only get good news. The public’s drift to the right stopped: right extremists such as Baruch Marzel failed to pass the threshold; And parties to the right of Likud, such as the Jewish Home (Bennett) and Israel Beytenu (Liberman) decreased in power. The rise of Kulanu also exemplifies this — Kulanu is a moderate right wing party, which has a vibrant socio-economic agenda with a Mizrahi hue to it.

If Netanyahu makes Kahlon Minister of Finance, it will signal his understanding of the limits of his public mandate. Like an unfaithful wife, I stand before my American friends and say: it’s not what you think! Don’t quit on Israel now, just when it most needs you. The rightward drift has stopped, the Israeli public voted on race issues and not security. This is a novelty and a real breakthrough. Israelis chose Kahlon and not Liberman; Netanyahu and not Marzel. Israelis understand that it is not the Iranian bomb that most threatens Israeli existence but rather poverty.

And where does hope fit in this picture?

Hope, I believe, lies in the NGOs and social organizations in the Israeli periphery. When the left failed to visit the periphery and the right brought it only unemployment, it was the third sector that brought hope. Social organizations are vibrant, alive and very much kicking in Arad, Kiryat Ata, Shlomi and Jerusalem. They bring a message of democracy, human rights, coexistence, equality and hope to people whom politicians forgot. Them, and organizations such as the one I lead, are the providers of hope to this country. Don’t disengage from Israel. If you wish to show your discontent with the election results, choose an NGO to support. Change is closer than ever.

About the Author
Elinor Sidi is the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH), a leading LGBT organization based in Jerusalem.
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