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Gam having your cake ve-gam eating it too

Yair Lapid's win shows a yearning to reverse Israel's tendency towards polarization

A few weeks ago, Israel held general elections. Although uncertainty still reigns regarding the makeup and character of the next government of Israel, fresh winds are already blowing and there seems to be a widespread feeling among large segments of the Israeli public that something good happened here. I believe this “something good” can be summarized in two Hebrew words: gam ve-gam.

For the last few decades, Israeli politics have been characterized by an emphasis on differences. Extremism. Partisan politics. Using fear for electoral gain. Leveraging hatred of The Other instead of offering support, love, and acceptance of differences. Left versus Right. (If you were to ask ten random people in the street to tell you the political difference between Left and Right, perhaps one would manage to give even a partial answer, and yet everyone throws those terms around freely.)

Gam ve-gam means “both this and that” and a gam ve-gam attitude is the antithesis of the typical polarization we are used to in politics. Gam ve-gam is the ability to understand both sides of an issue and to develop an approach that incorporates the good of both.

In our home we do not have a TV set. When our oldest was born 19 years ago, we thought that having a TV was an excellent way to invite junk entertainment and commercial brainwashing into the house. Somehow or other we have managed without TV. No TV means the Israeli politicians I see are in the flesh, at conferences or events – or on Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), a weekly program that satirizes current affairs and that we watch via the Internet.

It would be interesting to see some research into the effect of Eretz Nehederet on the attitudes of the Israeli public towards its elected officials. I would guess that it has a greater effect on the public consciousness than all the conventional election broadcasts we see leading up to an election. Sometimes the impersonators are so good that it seems as if the actual politician is merely imitating a character on a TV satire show.

The surprise success of the 2013 elections was Yair Lapid. Eretz Nehederet had presented him as indecisive, as someone who wants to please everyone, a nice guy who wants to satisfy every sector of the public, someone without a clear, firm stand – a politician of gam ve-gam.

What does gam ve-gam mean in practice? Gam ve-gam means:

  • Understanding that it is possible to be both a proud secularist and also to appreciate, respect, understand – and even enjoy – the immense importance of the tradition and religion of the People of Israel; that the religion of the People of Israel belongs to all Jews and not just to those who claim to have the sole true approach and who want to put up barriers to others.
  • Understanding that it is possible to zealously defend Israel’s security, military superiority and borders, to be on guard against its enemies, and at the same time to have empathy and seek a solution for the distress of another people who are living among us under occupation. Even if we ignore the opinions of others, occupying another people damages Israeli society.
  • Understanding that it is vital to support entrepreneurs, free market competition, and excellence, and also vital to provide a social safety net for the weaker segments of society, to help those who are not doing well – those who never had the opportunity or who simply got left behind. The problems of the weaker segments will in the long run also hurt the strong. In our Start-Up Nation we must never accept a situation where the homeless rummage through garbage cans to find something to eat.
  • Understanding that we can maintain the Jewish character of Israel, and also display inclusivity, respect, and trust towards its non-Jewish population.

At the children’s karate practice at Hoshaya two days after the elections, I used Yair Lapid’s Cinderella story as a way to give a quick lesson in democracy, and also to encourage the children’s commitment to the Japanese martial art. “You see,” I said, “we finally have a politician in the Knesset who is a black belt in karate. He practiced hard and you can see where that got him… For sure his karate will help him in politics as well.”

But the truth is, nothing is “for sure” in Israeli politics. Even if Lapid had several black belts – in karate, judo, aikido, or even taekwondo – it is not certain that would be enough to help the freshly minted politician. I did not vote for him, but if Lapid can prove to the Israeli public that the gam ve-gam approach is feasible, even if he starts with just a few areas, then his place in the Israeli “Hall of Fame” will be assured.

Let us all try to help gam ve-gam to succeed.

About the Author
Sagi Melamed is Vice President of External Relations and Development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, President of the Harvard Club of Israel and author of "Son of My Land" and "Fundraising" - the 1st Hebrew book about Resource Development. Sagi can be reached at melamed.sagi@gmail.com.