Israel, the land of politics and lively debates. When I immigrated to this country, politics became a central topic at our Friday dinners. Tensions are rising over the proposed judicial reform, and family tables are becoming a battleground. Picture this, Uncle Eli is sitting on the extreme left, while Aunt Sarah occupies the extreme right, raising her voice to be heard. Their distance makes them sound like they speak different languages. As a result, our political drama has moved from the Friday table to our daily lives and demonstrations on Saturdays.
This took me to my beloved Colombia, where I also witnessed a similar scene during the negotiations between the government of President Juan Manual Santos and The FARC. The country became deeply polarized, divided between a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ plebiscite to endorse the peace agreements.
Going from the left-wing government in Colombia to the right-wing government in Israel, presented familiar challenges. I find myself “caught in the middle” with a unique position to explore the potential of the centrist ideology in addressing the deep divisions that threaten the fabric of Israel’s liberal democracy.
At the heart of this polarization lies a fundamental tension surrounding power sources and limits. A democratic government is founded on the people’s rule, making the people the legitimate power source. Therefore, the majority of citizens have the ultimate authority. Liberalism comes into play when discussing fair limits to power. It emphasizes the importance of protecting individual rights and freedoms and seeks to establish checks and balances on state authority to prevent power abuse.
In the case of Israel’s judicial reform, the discussions and disagreements often hide behind the labels of right-wing and left-wing. This is a farce, as the actual conflict lies in finding the right balance between the democratic will of the people and the preservation of individual rights within the framework of the country’s legal system.
In response, society becomes increasingly polarized, with extreme viewpoints becoming more favored and opposing views delegitimized and vilified. In this adversarial environment, reaching a consensus and engaging constructively is difficult. Technological advancements and algorithms perpetuate intolerance by amplifying the voices of the extreme while marginalizing more balanced and nuanced perspectives. Consequently, we become afraid of the other side, as extreme voices feed and legitimize our deepest fears. It’s hard not to feel silenced by the extremist view as a voice for the center and someone that holds an “unpopular” opinion. This phenomenon is known as the spiral of silence.
The spiral of silence manifests when individuals perceive their opinions to be in the minority and consequently choose to remain silent for fear of social isolation or reprisal. In an increasingly polarized society, where extreme voices dominate public discourse, the spiral of silence can be particularly pronounced. People with moderate or centrist views may feel marginalized or overlooked as the dominant narrative amplifies the voices of the extremes. This vicious cycle perpetuates polarization and hinders the possibility of constructive dialogue and consensus-building. Consequently, the voices of the center, which often advocate for nuanced and balanced perspectives, may need help to gain visibility and influence in shaping public opinion and policy decisions.
The centrist ideology, representing the hybrid between two extremes, is the missing tile in the puzzle of societal cohesion. Although the solution may appear obvious, it is not easy to achieve.
A moderate government could fulfill the role that the right and the left cannot, acting as a bridge between opposing ideologies. We must always change challenges into opportunities. This moment calls for the center to emerge, seizing the opportunity to navigate the complexities of polarization and lead society toward a more inclusive and balanced future. Israel, a political society facing extremism and polarization, necessitates a strong centrist leader.
Let Aunt Sarah and Uncle Eli serve as a reminder that despite their differences, they are family and must listen to each other. It is time for the center to awaken, engage in meaningful dialogue, and shape a future that benefits all Israelis by embracing the values of the left and right of democracy and liberalism for the sake of economic growth and social progress.