David Newman
Views on the Borderline
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Anything you (Britain) can do, we (Israel) can do better

At least the UK has a government following its third election; what are the odds that Israel will follow suit?
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street, on December 13, 2019. Johnson's Conservative Party won a solid majority of seats in Britain's Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the UK out of the European Union next month. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street, on December 13, 2019. Johnson's Conservative Party won a solid majority of seats in Britain's Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the UK out of the European Union next month. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

When Britain went to the polls last Thursday, the British press were full of the fact that this was the third time in five years that Britain had held elections. In a country where the first past the post constituency system has traditionally resulted in one party governments, elections have traditionally been held every 4-5 years, unlike the situation in recent years where the gap between the two major parties – the Labour and the Conservative – were such that neither had an absolute majority.

This appears now to have been rectified. The Conservative Party of Boris Johnson has returned to power with one of its largest majorities in history. It will have no problem sitting out a full five year tenure and, given the nature of the majority, It would take a disaster of monumental proportions – even greater than the self inflicted disaster engineered by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – for them to lose the next election some time in 2024, meaning that the Conservatives will be in power for the next decade. Given that David Cameron replaced Gordon brown as Prime Minister back in May 2010, this will mean 15 years of uninterrupted Conservative government – at the least.

But, I hear you saying. Three elections in five years? That’s nothing. Here in Israel, we can do much better than that. The evening before the British elections were held, the Knesset voted for elections at the beginning of March, the third time in less than one year. Beat that if you can!!! Indeed, the Knesset had no choice. The maximum time allowed under the law for forming a new government had completely run its course – first Netanyahu, then Ganz, and followed by the Knesset itself, none of them were able to break the deadlock imposed upon it by Avigdor Lieberman’s demand for national unity (but without the Haredim or the Arabs), Netanyahu’s refusal to stand down (despite the indictments), Lapid’s refusal to release a rotation agreement — and the country had no choice but to have a third round, regardless of the fact that as things stand we will once again have a deadlock and, who knows …. maybe a fourth and fifth election to follow.

At least in Britain, things seem to have returned to normal. A country which has always been prepared to sacrifice any form of proportionality in favor of stable government, now has one party government enabling decisions to be made and implemented, even if over half of the country (Labour, Liberal democrats, Scottish National party and a few Independents) all voted against them. As was clear from the last three years, Britain doesn’t do coalition or minority governments very well, and there is a collective sigh of relief that the new government will be able to move ahead, “put Brexit behind them” and deal with the many other affairs of State.

It is remarkable that in the three days which have passed since the election, Jeremy Corbyn is still there, not having resigned immediately rather than at some future, as yet, undetermined date. He, along with his close party affiliates who are equally responsible for the defeat, have been quick to blame just about everyone except for themselves. Corbyn even had the audacity to write in yesterday’s Guardian that the country had accepted his message of radical social and economic change, only they hadn’t been successful in translating this into votes. It was all the fault of Brexit (partly true), the “lack of understanding on the part of the working class” (who the Labour Party are meant to understand and represent), the media support for the Conservatives and their continuous attacks on Corbyn and the left (In the UK the media are all accused of being controlled by, and serving the right, while in Israel the continue to be accused of serving the left), and, of course, more than a few hints that it was all the fault of the Jews and their highlighting the issue of anti-Semitism (despite the fact that 98 percent of the British voting public had no interest in this topic and it certainly didn’t impact upon their vote in any way other than in a few constituencies in North West London and Manchester).

The fact that it was an abysmal failure of leadership on the part of Corbyn, as defeated Labour party candidates heard time after time throughout the election campaign, or that the party has been taken over by a vocal group of radicals, the type who you hear in the Social Science and Humanities faculties of the universities (yes, I hear them every day with their politically correct mantras and jargon) but who have almost no connection with the grass roots realities – as far as Corbyn is concerned this is part of the “true” message which must continue to find its way into the hearts of the British working class until the revolution is finally achieved.

To that end, Corbyn has called for a period of “re-evaluation”, during which time he will retain the leadership of the party until a new leader – preferably with similar views – is elected some time next year. It is hard to believe that the remainder of his party, those of the social democratic center who have remained (sic) and not yet left the party, will allow him to get away with this.

And here in Israel, we will go to a third election in under a year with the same leaders, the same personalities, who have failed to demonstrate any sort of national responsibility, and continue to fight to be first in line for the position of prime minister. It is quite amazing that the call to restructure and reform our entire election system has not been heard this time round. Such change will only take place if there is mass civilian opposition to what is happening – and by mass, I mean literally hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, citizens from across the party system who demand change.

But just as the Brits don’t do coalition governments very well, we in Israel don’t do mass democratic reforms very well. Despite the occasional Saturday evening mass rallies in Kikar Rabin – Israel doesn’t do revolutions, beyond the false reporting of numbers of attendees. We are happy to hear speeches from our political leaders, wave flags and banners in what is a left or right wing demonstration ritual or even festival of like minded people, and go home, happy in the knowledge that life goes on almost as normal and that as long as our army is holding up against the new threats from Gaza, Lebanon and Iran, everything else is okay.

The left wing mantra has brought about the total collapse of the left in Israel, pretty much as it has been doing in the UK. The UK Labour party should learn from what has happened in Israel if it doesn’t want to disappear altogether. In both countries, the great silent majority prefer centrist politics, a social democracy which seeks to combine welfare state with laissez-faire economics, not to defeat either of them altogether. And if faced with a choice between the two extremes, the UK, Israel and other countries in democratic Europe, are showing that the nationalism of the right is more popular than than the socialism of the left – such is the power of populism in today’s unstable world.

Israel is probably more of a welfare state than is the UK today, but both systems are in danger of collapse, with growing poverty, inability to get into the housing market, and increasing gaps between rich and poor which, back in the 1950s and 1960s, were thought to have been a thing of the past.

At least the excuse of Brexit for not dealing with other social and economic issues will finally, for good or for bad, go away. For those of us Remainers, Brexit has been lost thanks to the inadequacy and radicalism (and in no small part anti-Semitism) of Corbyn. The excuses used by our own political elites in Israel for not dealing with the real social and economic issues which are becoming more critical by the day, will not however be going away in the foreseeable future. Israel’s security and defense situation will always be a convenient excuse for not dealing adequately with all the other pressing social issues, and as our security situation worsens in recent years, this will remain the number one item on the political and electoral agenda.

But that does not excuse our politicians from seeking the common good. The idea that politicians in Israel are elected to serve the public good, rather than themselves, has become laughable in the eyes of the majority of the population. The idea that they should be prepared to make major compromises and to be more inclusive in the formation of a new government (the concepts of national unity and inclusion do not mean the same thing in Israel) , even if their own personal status will be diminished as a result, is so blatant that it has become unthinkable.

Corbyn and Netanyahu share one thing in common. They both live in denial. They are both totally deluded about the importance of the message they believe that the public “really want” to hear. The major difference being that Netanyahu knows how to win elections and continue grasping on to power, while Corbyn, more of an ideologue than Netanyahu, has absolutely no idea how to get there and even today, after the massive defeat at the elections, still doesn’t understand why it happened.

He, at least is going home – even if it may take longer than expected. Netanyahu, who regardless of the indictments and whether we thing he was a success or a failure as prime minister, should have known how to bow out with grace after an unprecedented 10 years in power.

The UK has a new government following its third election in five years. Whether we like their policies or not, they are now able to move ahead with the day to day policies which affect the lives of their citizens.

But here in Israel, we know better. Come March and we will be in the same position as we are in today. No clear government, no clear majority, the same politicians grasping on to the reigns of power, no attention to the daily social and welfare needs of our citizens.

I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that our defense forces behave as an army which takes its orders from the civilian government. Otherwise, we would have had an army putsch a long time ago. But then again, in our start up nation, we have a better idea. The army generals take off their uniforms, put on civilian clothes and then take over the political system.

We deserve better.

We deserve government.

About the Author
David Newman is professor of Geopolitics in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. BIO: David Newman holds the Chair of Geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University, where he founded the Department of Politics and Government, and the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society (CSEPS) , and served as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences from 2010-2016. Professor Newman received the OBE in 2013 for his work in promoting scientific cooperation between Israel and the UK. From 1999-2014 he was chief editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. David Newman moved to Israel from the UK in 1982. In 2017 he was selected as one of the 100 most influential immigrants to Israel from the UK. His work in Geopolitics focuses on the changing functions and roles of borders, and territorial and border issues in Israel / Palestine. For many years Newman was involved in Track II dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians.He has additional research interests in Anglo Jewish history, and is a self declared farbrent Tottenham Yid.
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