Elections and the Closing of the Israeli Mind

And it’s elections season again. Oh, joy. Sit back, ladies and gentlemen, and get ready for the local mud-throwing show. On our program tonight are personal insults, borderline defamatory remarks, sweeping generalizations, and self-congratulatory catchphrases. Stay tuned!

Every elections season, I feel like I am under attack. Normally I can have nuanced and complex opinions. I can be an Orthodox feminist, a staunch Zionist who cares about human rights, a religious activist against religious coercion, and an enemy of terror who promotes compassion towards innocent Arabs. But come elections season, each element of my opinions is claimed by a different party as its exclusive domain.

When I tell a right-wing friend that I feel like we should be more assertive in our treatment of terror, she exclaims “I’m so glad you think so. You should vote for Bennett, that’s exactly what he stands for!” When I tell a left-wing friend that we should really do more to protect the rights of innocent Arabs, she says “I’m so glad you think so, you should vote Meretz, that’s exactly what they stand for!”

What was a perfectly coherent worldview a second ago, seems now like a jumbled-up mess of contradictory positions. Because how can I possibly agree with Likud, Meretz, and Bennet at the same time, when they are busily presenting each other as entirely wrong?

Voting for a party was never supposed to mean that we agreed with it wholeheartedly and exclusively. But in the mud-throwing atmosphere of elections season, this is what it feels like. Every candidate is implicitly telling us that since everyone else is wrong, we must agree with him or her completely.

Once elections season is over, the different parties magically rediscover their shared opinions and causes. Otherwise, how can they form a coalition? But the social and psychological damage is already done, and the season leaves us more dogmatic, narrow-minded, and hateful in its wake.

Dogmatism and hate come with heavy costs. Civil society can’t function if people don’t cooperate across party divisions. Democracies can’t thrive when dogmatic thinking prevents productive discussions.

So let’s sit back, relax, and try to watch the show without forfeiting our nuanced opinions. As the different parties tell us to choose between black and white, let’s keep our ability to think in color.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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