True democracy is based on a changeover of governments, in which parties alternate between the opposition and government within reasonable periods of time.
This ensures that different sectors in society receive expression via the government. If the changeover fails to occur, and the political system stagnates, the balance between segments in society becomes undone, and groups that support the government receive a disproportionate preference from the ruling elite.
This has already occurred in the State of Israel. From the founding year of 1948 to 1977, the Labor Movement dominated governments throughout the entire period. And again, from 1977 to the present day, there has been a near full continuum of right-wing governments. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon become the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history.
Much like the Labor Party of pre – 1977, today’s Likud party believes that to govern is almost a right bestowed upon them by the heavens and that no one else is up to the task. It believes that no other set of ideals has any validity, and worse, that it enjoys immunity from having to pay the price of wrongdoing. The end of the Labor-dominated founding years was stained by corruption and political and strategic miscalculations that cost the country dearly. The same can be said today about the Likud-dominated government. It is marred by large-scale corruption and strategic shortsightedness.
Power corrupts, and parties that stay in power for too long magnetically attract corruption. The feeling of invincibility numbs the senses and fades the line that separates right from wrong.
This phenomenon has severely plagued the State of Israel in recent years, where a prime minister and senior ministers have served time in prison following corruption convictions. One must hope that the country does not witness yet another prime minister convicted of corruption charges. But it is not just about Netanyahu. The premier’s innermost circle of advisors, ministers, and leading Knesset Members are under police investigation, and the suspicions against them are severe.
DEMOCRATIC VALUES AND STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS
Under the current government, an escalating attack on the country’s democratic ‘gatekeepers’ has been gaining momentum. Those targeted include the High Court of Justice, the free press, and law enforcement. Some of the hostility towards the ‘gatekeepers’ stems from an ideology that seeks to limit the independence of the legal branch. Some comes from a desire by corrupt elements to harm the ‘gatekeepers’’ abilities to do their jobs. If these assaults do not stop, all checks and balances – so essential to safeguarding democracy – will crumble.
The current ruling coalition has also overseen an accelerated process that has harmed the delicate balance between religion and state. It has also harmed the balance once in place between the secular and the national religious, and the secular and the ultra-Orthodox camps. A status quo was once guarded carefully. It served as a stabilizing domestic anchor, despite many secular Israelis viewing it as a less-than-ideal situation. It allowed profoundly different segments of society to coexist in a reasonable manner. Yet today, 70 years after the founding of the state, a crude attempt is underway to change the status quo to the detriment of the secular or non-observant population. Some commentators in Israel are increasingly concerned that the state is moving toward adopting religious law, at the expense of the Western liberal principles upon which the country was founded.
In a related development, the current government has overseen a severe deterioration in Israel’s relationship with the majority of the American Jewish community, 85% of which is non-Orthodox. While most Israeli citizens do not lose sleep over this issue, that is only because they are not aware of the historic importance that American Jews have had, and will continue to have, in maintaining Israel’s strength.
THE VALUE OF A CENTER-LEFT GOVERNMENT
From a social-economic perspective, an intolerable gap has developed in Israel between rich and poor, between the haves and the have-nots. Despite some national economic success, much of the population has been left behind. According to every international standard, particularly visible in surveys conducted by the OECD, Israel is in an unenviable leading spot in the West when it comes to the inequality gap.
Additionally, long-term budgetary preferences for the ultra-Orthodox and national religious camps, as well as for West Bank settlements, have harmed the national economy by channeling funds unfairly. The country’s treasury is limited, and this allocation agenda has prioritized some segments of society over others. The time has come to rearrange these priorities, and obtain state budgets for geographical and social peripheries. No less important, a center-left government can be an opportunity to invest more in education, on behalf of all sections of the public. Contrary to popular perception, Israeli junior and high-school students score dismally in international education rankings.
A FUTURE SETTLEMENT WITH THE PALESTINIANS
Most importantly, Israel needs a new government to prevent the annexation of the West Bank, and safeguard the Zionist vision of a, democratic state with a Jewish majority. The current government is continuing to invest massively in settlement construction and expansion, including outside of the major blocs. The national religious party openly calls for the annexation of the West Bank. Last month, the Likud Party, for the first time, officially adopted a similar position.
Gradually, this is creating a reality that could disrupt any future solution that does not involve Israel having full control of the West Bank. For anyone who considers the Jewish character of the state sacrosanct, this process should be a huge source of concern. This discussion is at the center of an ongoing ideological dispute in the heart of Israeli society.
Tragically, at present, there is no serious Palestinian partner today with whom Israel can discuss a final or even a long-term interim peace arrangement, to permanently define Israel’s eastern borders, and who could be entrusted to set up a Palestinian state next to Israel.
Still, Israel must not allow the demographic reality in the West Bank to change in a manner that will permanently prevent a future separation from the Palestinians. History has proven that, over time, states containing nations that differ drastically in their identity, religion and narrative, do not hold up, and break apart in violence and bloodshed. The bloody, brutal collapse of Yugoslavia is just one painful case in point. Israel must avoid such a scenario at all costs.
Preserving Israel’s Jewish-majority and democratic nature is a critical Zionist objective, and can only be made possible, ultimately, by a separation from the Palestinians. A center-left government will promote these national interests.
Edited By Yaakov Lappin
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF or the Foreign Ministry. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.