Getting Centered

For the past six months I have witnessed many things here in Israel. I witnessed an American presidential election for the first time while outside of the United States. I witnessed what some considered a war and what others considered just an operation. I witnessed the world pay an inordinate amount of attention to the State of Israel, and to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while the fates of tens of thousands of innocent people went unnoticed in neighboring Syria. I witnessed flash flooding in Tel Aviv, and I witnessed (unfortunately not in person) snow in Jerusalem. And this past Tuesday I witnessed the State of Israel prove everyone, including itself, wrong. 

Ever since the government dissolved and early elections were called, it seemed as if the people of Israel were in surefire campaign mode. For someone who had just gone through the first four years of the Obama Administration while in college, experiencing the run-up to the 2012 election in the States, and then (albeit remotely) the election itself, I was quite familiar with partisan politics and with the divisiveness of the American public. But to say that the Israeli political climate is different would be quite the understatement. If you thought Democrats and Republicans going at it was bad, trying getting between Labor and Likud, or Meretz and Shas. Try having to decide not between two parties but thirty-four.

Once the party lists had been finalized over the summer, the lead-up to Election Day became embroiled in partisan politics. Yes, the campaign process in the United States featured hard-hitting, often volatile and personal attacks against opponents. Yet, in Israel it seemed as if politicians were safe from no one, including their presumed allies. Labor went after Likud, Meretz went after Labor, Shas went after Jewish Home, Jewish Home spoke out against Likud. People who considered themselves firmly rightwing cheered at what they thought would be an easy win. People who called themselves leftwing lamented the failure of the government on one-hand and the inevitable failure of their party leaders on the other. And people in the center, people who were right on some things and left on others, initially found themselves leaderless. That is, until Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid.

What Yair Lapid brought to the political discourse, more than any other party leader, was consistency. Yesh Atid opened its campaign with boldness, a fresh take on the political atmosphere in Israel that no other party seemed to bring to the table. Its party list was made up of some of the most diverse and unknown names in Israel including the first American in 30 years; names that would become faces. Through a solid grassroots campaign, through countless parlor meetings and wide-audience events, in Hebrew and in English, Yesh Atid pitched its vision of the future directly to, not at, the people of Israel. And more than anything, that vision did not waver, from the start of the campaign, to the end of it.

I voted for Yesh Atid because I believe in its ability to bring this country back to that center. Not the center-left, not the center-right, but the center. The center that wants to help the middle class and lower-tiered income Israelis afford proper housing. The center that recognizes each member of our society has something to contribute, if it isn’t in the army than it’s through national service, and sometimes yes, even through the study of Torah. The center that unabashedly calls itself Zionist but is brave enough to make painful compromises for the prospect of peace. The center that believes in the need for the survival of both a Jewish and democratic state but is unwilling to sacrifice one tenet over the other. And the center that can give a prime minister, the only person that the Israeli people right now happily or unhappily believe is capable of leading them, the opportunity to shake off his political chains and make real and lasting decisions for the good of this country.

While I did not vote for Likud-Beiteinu, I also do not believe I voted against Prime Minister Netanyahu. Like many people I spoke to leading up to the election, including a large number of Anglos, I was stuck between Bibi and Yair. Like many people, I believed Prime Minister Netanyahu would be re-elected regardless of my actions for or against. Like many people, I believed that the prime minister was separable from his party, a party that had in fact taken a turn too far to the right. And, like a majority of those same people, I ultimately decided to vote for the candidate and party I could believe in, not just the candidate alone.

Sometimes what we are told will happen, and what actually happens, can be truly surprising. Sometimes what we think we know, and what we actually know can be very different. And sometimes, in proving ourselves wrong, we are given the hope of eventually being right.

About the Author
Eric Schorr graduated from Columbia University & The Jewish Theological Seminary as well as the IDC in Herzliya. He served as president of LionPAC, Columbia's largest pro-Israel group. He made aliyah in August of 2012 and will be volunteering for service in the IDF beginning in 2014. You can follow him @EJSchorr for musings and updates from Israel.