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Only the center can hold: Democracy and the battle of ideas

Neither the left's radical universalism nor the extreme nationalism of Netanyahu's right: A manifesto for a shared Israeli future
Yair Lapid speaks at a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to quit, at Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yair Lapid speaks at a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to quit, at Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Politics is a battleground of ideas. The strength of an idea is the driving force behind nations. They alone have the ability to further or hinder our economic and national causes. They alone are powerful enough to shape our future or to tear us apart at the seams. These lines are being written at a critical moment in our nation’s history. For the first time, our own government is openly pushing to dismantle the democratic structures holding it together. And it is doing so under the cover of a sweeping global pandemic. The conduct of our government throughout the crisis has clearly demonstrated that the Israeli battle of ideas is not being fought in potential responses to the coronavirus. Rather, it is caught up in the existential question of whether we are able and willing to live here together.

Our internal conflict is currently focused on the last bastion of consensus in Israeli society: a Jewish and democratic state. The one constant that used to bring together both sides of the Israeli political map in agreement no longer does. The right and the left in Israel have shifted towards the extremes. The right, led by Netanyahu, is pushing for a Jewish state in which democracy is subservient to nationalism. The left has adopted a progressive belief system that would set us on the path to becoming a bi-national state. Our political system is herding us towards a modern-day Judgment of Solomon. It forces us into a false binary surrounding our identity – are we nationalists or liberals? Jews or democrats? If we answer the questions – if we take one of the sides – we lose our way. Without the backbone of our country, those citizens and their children who serve in the IDF, who work and pay taxes, and whose cultural heritage is Jewish but also liberal, the State of Israel will surrender the social cohesion that underpins our national economy and security. Centrism is the only idea capable of preventing this disintegration.

Israel is not the only country to be grappling with the wider implications of this question. In recent years, the wider western world has found itself in the midst of an all-consuming struggle between nationalism and liberalism. What is more important – protecting our borders or our obligations to refugees? The struggle against our enemies and against terrorism or the human rights of our citizens, or even of those same enemies? Our commitment to safeguarding the local economy or the imperative of being part of the global economy? Religious belief as a component of national identity or separation of religion and state?

The previous century belonged to nationalism – with two world wars and a prolonged cold war. We entered the 21st century with a sense that liberal democracy had achieved a resounding victory. Western democracies arrogantly assumed that the pendulum of ideas had settled in its final position. If history is the tale of ideological struggles, then the end of history was upon us. The election of Barack Obama, an intellectual of African-American heritage, as president of the United States had seemed a fitting conclusion to the debate.

The end of the Cold War resolved not only the question of the ideal system of government, but also that of the human ideal: someone technologically competent, environmentally conscious and with a decent grasp of English. If they were religious, their religion was a personal matter. Their political opinions were informed by such concerns as the price of cottage cheese or health insurance. Political correctness dominated the linguistic landscape. Those who attempted to raise objections were tarnished with patronising euphemisms such as “intellectually challenged.” National identity was consigned to folklore – Lighting candles and reciting Kiddush on Friday night while the TV played in the background.

In hindsight, while this may have been a forward-thinking vision of humanity, it was an abjectly flawed vision of what makes us human. Human nature cannot be taken apart and reassembled in such a short space of time. More than anything else, our politics is the product of fervent convictions: commitment to our family, loyalty to our team – separating the world into “us” and a hated “them.” The first assault on liberal ideals came from outside, with the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the rise of global Islamic terrorism. This did not catch Israel off-guard. We always knew the danger, and often sounded the alarm.

The second wave came from within. The 2008 global financial crisis brutally exposed the failings of liberalism: arrogance, a craving for riches, blindness to the importance of local community and the middle class in a globalised world, and bureaucrats behind desks, disconnected from the realities of everyday life. And so the political pendulum began to swing back in the other direction: the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016, Brexit in the UK, democratic backsliding in several countries in Eastern Europe. Almost overnight, the nationalist right gained ground around the world, speaking to values that had at one point seemed consigned to the past: patriotism, tradition, national identity.

Israel has undergone similar fluctuations over the previous decade, with one critical difference: it did not entail a change in leadership. Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party have held power in Israel for the past 11 years. The stability at the top of the executive branch concealed the shifting ideological sands from the public eye. The Likud, established as a defiantly national-liberal party, began to backslide from its liberal values. Instead of the liberal party being overtaken by a nationalist rival, the liberal party itself simply metamorphosed into a nationalist party. And it was Netanyahu who stood at the forefront of this transformation. Time and again over the past year, those of us in the Israeli center stood accused of being part of the “anyone but Bibi” camp. This accusation does us, and to a large extent also him, a disservice. It almost completely failed to consider the ideas being advanced and represented by Netanyahu and the direction in which he is taking the country. It completely overlooked the contrasting vision being offered by the Israeli center.

It is clear to even the most casual observer that Netanyahu embraces the Hobbesian notion that people seek security over justice or liberty. Democracy, he tells his supporters, is a weakness in a world that understands only strength. Democratic safeguards are an albatross around the neck of Israel’s security needs. He has no shortage of examples – the attack against Iran that was called off under the (false) claim that he “did not have a majority in the cabinet,” the vitriolic criticism of the Supreme Court for not permitting the expulsion of terrorists and the destruction of homes. All of these and more were wrapped up in one compelling lament: I could provide you with security, if only we were not being held back by democracy.

At that moment, however, a “positive” problem arose, one that was brought about partly as a result of his own actions and that undermined his argument. Successful cooperation with the Palestinian Authority had led to the almost complete disappearance of Palestinian terrorism, while at the same time, the Israeli high-tech industry had kick-started the economy, providing financial security for many citizens. The 2015 elections – which Netanyahu won only as a consequence of the weakness of his main rivals – served as a shot across the bows. He understood that, in the absence of salient causes for alarm, right-wing voters were beginning to lose their fervor. The Likud needed to come up with a new banner to rally around. It didn’t need to look far. The Jewish identity of the State of Israel became its new raison d’être.

Netanyahu 1.0 focused on national security and the economy; Netanyahu 2.0 turned his attention to issues of identity. With the change in focus came a new trade-off: if Netanyahu’s previous model asked to sacrifice freedom for security, the new version demanded restrictions on the country’s democratic character in order to entrench its Jewish essence. This is how a non-Zionist party such as United Torah Judaism, which rejects IDF enlistment and the value of industry, is today nonetheless considered part of the “right.” We must abandon the tiresome balancing act between Judaism and democracy, Netanyahu told his voters (and no less importantly – they told him). In its place, we will build a proud, unapologetic, powerful Jewish state.

As with every other case around the world, this approach was enabled by a number of factors. In Israel, these included members of the National Religious movement registering as members of the party in large numbers; rising nationalism among the Haredi public; fear among the settler movement of a second disengagement (the National Religious camp never saw the disengagement as an issue of national security, rather as a traumatic assault on their identity), a build-up of anger against the justice system among right-wing intellectuals, and a political shift away from Europe and the Democratic Party in the USA all played their part. Netanyahu’s legal troubles have also come to the fore recently, driving him to systematically weaken the foundations and institutions that underpin Israeli democracy (and that threaten to send him to prison).

In the service of his goal of eroding Israeli democracy, Netanyahu made a deal with the nationalist religious stream of Israeli society. One of their senior representatives, Benny Katzover, outlined their expectations of Netanyahu in no uncertain terms in an interview (Hebrew) with Beis Moshiach magazine: “Israeli democracy has run its course; it must be dismantled and made to bend the knee to Judaism.” In exchange for their political fealty, the nationalists demanded, and received, an expedited erosion of the liberal values of the old Likud. Those who represented such values – Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Limor Livnat and others – left the stage. Laws such as the “Muezzin Law” and “Nation-State Law” (with the equality clause removed), landed on the Knesset’s podium to loud fanfare. Netanyahu’s Likud has transformed from a national-liberal party into a national-Jewish party.

Netanyahu himself has never been open about dismantling Israeli democracy. He likes to boast of our status as “the only democracy in the Middle East” and of his party as “the most democratic party in Israel.” This is a project riddled with contradiction: radicalism in the name of conservatism; anti-democratic, yet made possible by democracy; anti-establishment in the service of the ruling power. The method is not one of Netanyahu’s own concoction. Throughout the world, nationalist rulers – Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey are two examples that spring to mind – employ the language of democracy and democratisation even as they abuse the power of their positions to dismantle the democratic systems in their countries.

In order to successfully entrench this contradiction, Netanyahu engages in a constant attempt to control his voters’ understanding of what constitutes the truth. He has established his own vast media network – unlike any other democratic leader – with the most widely-circulated newspaper in Israel, the largest Facebook page in Israel, a TV station, websites, and a sizeable contingent of radio broadcasters who have been quietly introduced into the right places. This, combined with the levers of executive power with which he is all too familiar, has enabled him to create an echo chamber that has a chilling effect on traditional media, which he then portrays as “hostile.” With this, he is able to single-handedly dictate to the public what constitutes the truth and what is “fake news” (a broadly reliable rule of thumb for identifying “fake news” is that those who disseminate it with the greatest intensity are also those who complain about it louder than anyone else). This process does not restore power to the people – it siphons it away from them. Countries in which the ruler holds power over the definition of truth are not democratic.

Here too, Netanyahu is not alone. Around the world, leaders of his ilk project blame for their failings onto mysterious, shadowy establishment forces. In Europe, it is common for populists to talk about “bureaucrats in Brussels”; in the USA it’s “Wall Street” and “the D.C. elite”; in other countries they speak of a “Jewish conspiracy”; in Israel, it’s the “judicial mafia” and the “media.” This is a trick as old as time, restored and amplified by modern technology. As Robespierre said in the days of the French Revolution: “there are only two parties in France: the people and its enemies!” The names have changed, the times have changed, but the goal is identical: creating an enemy – a dark and shadowy conspiracy on which to pin the blame for every ill. The resulting fear will generate a rallying effect for the leader and strengthen their grip on power.

For the same purpose of creating convenient enemies – and to the same end – Netanyahu maintains a permanent state of tension with the European Union, with the Democratic Party in the USA and with international institutions, chief among them the United Nations. Many of his claims against them are justified, and I share them, but Netanyahu has no interest in improving matters. He knows the political value of a crisis and a sense of emergency as well as any authoritarian leader. The resulting crisis is not a side-effect of confrontation – it is the whole purpose of it.

* * *

At the same time – and partly as a counter-reaction – the Israeli left has also transformed into something else. As the right has become increasingly concerned with issues of national identity, the left has adopted increasingly liberal positions, often radically so. David Ben-Gurion’s belief, reflected in his famous saying, “the Torah is our mandate,” has been replaced by a progressive belief in universal human rights and juridical principles.

Here too, a social transition lies behind the ideological shift. The secular Israeli leftist living in Israel’s central region felt a closer affinity with the people of Paris or New York than those in Bnei Brak or Otniel. They could not understand why their values were the subject of ridicule and hatred, even as their taxes were being spent on policies they did not support. The concern that their children would move to Berlin led them to attach themselves to the elitist institutions that best represented their values – primarily the Supreme Court and academia. Those who were once the “mainstream” of Israeli society found themselves representatives of just another tribe – liberals.

As with so many issues, the left’s position on a democratic and Jewish state is the end product of its vision of the state and of society as vehicles for social engineering. This is what the social theorist Thomas Sowell refers to as the “tyranny of visions.” In order to make the country fair and just, they argue, we must enforce our cosmic vision of the perfect world. Human rights are not subject to context, and they enjoy an almost sacred deference. In any conflict between human rights and local identity, universal rights supersede the distress of our own people and our national interest – as is clearly demonstrated in their defense of the infiltrators in south Tel Aviv or on the issue of deporting families involved in acts of terrorism. Solidarity with the local community is substituted by a multiculturalism astutely described by one critic as a “deep respect for every culture except one’s own.”

The left sees democracy and its institutions as an immutable reality, and the state as a body with a single, coherent vision. In this view, Israeli democracy is not a dynamic entity. Rather, it is a cathedral standing proudly atop a mountain peak. The principles of this atheistic religion, with equality at its forefront, have been entrusted to a professional clergy – the justices of the Supreme Court, the prosecutors, the attorneys general. Their approach places the individual in the center, the sanctity of his or her life and universal rights above all else. From here it draws its appeal, but from here too it encounters its weakness, in the context of a complex reality.

The left holds that an individual’s rights are not to be influenced by his or her unique identity. There is no distinction to be made between the rights of Jews and non-Jews in the land of the Jews. There is no distinction to be made between the rights of Israelis and non-Israelis in the land of Israel. The left does not accept a reality in which there are those to whom we owe a greater debt, and to whom we grant expanded rights in return. Theirs is a lofty philosophical aspiration; however it comes as no surprise that it does not withstand an encounter with political reality. It ignores the reality of a human existence that is too multifaceted to submit to a single, universal vision. In the real world, people rank their circles of identity. They prefer their own children to those of others, their friends to strangers, their own people and land to foreigners, migrants and certainly to their enemies. These observations are not sociological in nature, but evolutionary. Our survival – physical and cultural – is dependent on those around us. This is the great paradox of the left: in pursuing an ideology that sanctifies humanity, it attempts to fix human nature itself – an attempt that is destined to fail.

* * *

This was the beginning of a dangerous process on the right and the left of retreating from our shared beliefs. It was a process that began slowly but has since picked up pace. The overarching idea of democracy, in which every participant in the political game retains space for the values and rights of the other side, has been replaced by populist radicalization, fanned by social media. The public is called upon to decide – Jewish or democratic? National or liberal? Patriot or internationalist? The thought that we are complicated beings and that the role of government is to chart a course among the contradictions inherent in each of us as individuals and as a collective has been scornfully abandoned by the political wayside. In the words of the political theorist Micah Goodman, people tend to be “confused into thinking that extremism is the only expression of authenticity.” Taking up extreme positions has not provided us clarity and resolution, only utter confusion and ideological paralysis. It has also given rise to a complete – and justified – lack of faith in our political system.

Rising to the challenge of the moment, the political center is reborn.

Despite what its name may suggest, the center is not one spot on the scale – it is a movement. In this political moment, centrism is the unequivocal decision of my companions and I to refuse to concede ground to the complexity of our Jewish and democratic state and of our national and liberal identity. Our basic principle is that politics does not take place away from the context of people’s lives, but as part of it. This is neither “grand theory” nor divine decree. It is part of the ongoing equilibrium between contrasting and often contradictory demands and values – civil liberties vs security needs, the free market vs regulatory oversight, national identity vs individual equality. None of these can be split in two or separated. There is no decisive verdict. Their existence – and our own – depends each on the other.

Those who seek an “unwritten rule” for the Jewish-democratic balancing act – some holistic and all-encompassing guiding principle that will enable the two to easily coexist under the same roof – will not find it in the center ground. The right and the left approach Jewish democracy as a clearly-defined system of government, one that holds the Torah in its right hand and the law book in its left. Naturally, each side claims that its hand is the more important. They each hold out the appealing promise of simple solutions – ones with a clear sense of right and wrong, where all we are asked to do is to choose between them. The center tells us that unfortunately there is no such thing. The easy decisions are no decision at all, failing as they do to take into account the aspirations, dreams and beliefs of the other side.

Centrism offers a completely different vision of democracy: we believe that democracy is a natural extension of the most fundamental elements of Israeli society. Community, tradition, historical memory, love of our homeland. Democracy is our national identity, our culture, our history, our language. We are bound to our people by the sum of our local connections. Our love for our children – as we accompany them to receive their first Siddur in second grade or to the military to be enlisted – becomes a living embodiment of our patriotism, our clarity of purpose, our sense of solidarity, and our desire to create a society we can be proud of. It is democracy as envisioned by Edmund Burke, who defined the state as “a contract between the dead, the living, and those yet to be born.”

The Israeli citizen is a democrat because they were born a democrat. It is what the economist Friedrich Hayek termed “spontaneous order” – our community shapes our identity even as we shape the identity of our community. When an Israeli is asked “who are you?” Their answer is “I’m an Israeli” This answer presupposes a belief in democracy, as a core component of that identity. No two democracies are identical. France is different from India, Spain is different from the USA, and yet all are functioning democracies. So wherein lies the difference? In national identity, customs, community structure. The Israeli citizen is unable to imagine a world in which they have no influence over their lives and their surroundings. There is no authority that can prevent them from going to the synagogue or to the Pride parade. That is how the framework of their life has been built and shaped.

The fact that democracy is the natural way of life in Israel means that even segments of the population that are not naturally inclined towards it – such as the Haredi citizens and parts of the settler movement – have become active participants in the political arena over time. Their public position is that their activities are of limited scope, intended “only” to obtain budgets or “only” for the emancipation of the Land of Israel. These claims do not hold up to scrutiny.

Once you are in, the essential business of the day always wins. And as long as they continue to engage (even if their approach on some issues, such as female representation, is flawed), the mere fact of their participation in the democratic process contributes to generating change. When MK Uri Maklev of United Torah Judaism extends his heartfelt greetings to a group of young scientists in his capacity as chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, you can hear the walls of isolationism crumbling of their own accord.

The democracy of the center ground brings down not only the walls isolating religious communities, but also the significant walls of isolation of western individualism. The journey is not towards a life lived in the interest of oneself – it is a journey towards the embrace of the community. This is what Paul Gross of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center describes as an “inclusive nationalism,” one that enables us to love our homeland not in opposition to the other components of our identity (such as gender, sexual orientation, political or religious affiliation), but as an expression of them. Israel is a democracy because any other system of government would not enable us to live here together. Democracy is the bedrock of solidarity among the constituent sectors of our nation – religious and secular, from the geographical center and the periphery, Israeli-born and new olim. Democracy not only provides them with their rights, but also the recognition that they share those rights with others. This is why we must continue to fight unflinchingly and with all our strength – even during a pandemic – against any attempts to dismantle Israel’s democracy. This is so much more than a threat to our system of government. It is an attempt to destroy our identity, our family, everything we hold dear and sacred. Centrism understands that the modern day Judgment of Solomon is based on a lie: We are not being asked to place our nation’s democratic identity before its national identity; we are choosing its democratic identity as the highest expression of its national identity.

We are able to coexist with our fellow countrymen and women as a result of separation of powers. I’m no supporter of judicial activism, but we need a strong judicial branch that is not dependent on public opinion, on tomorrow morning’s headlines or on the need for re-election. The autonomy of the Knesset – which was subject to the serious threat of executive overreach only recently – is the last line of defense for our coexistence. An independent Knesset and court system provide a voice even to those with whom we disagree. They ensure that every citizen has the chance to make their voice heard in the face of government tyranny. They are the difference between a country led by executive diktat and one where the government works for its citizens. It is not by chance that the American constitutional term for separation of powers is “checks and balances.” Not “brakes and balances,” but “checks.” Separation of powers is not a tool to halt the ongoing progress of the country, but an attempt to ensure that no one is left behind as it does so.

The goal of centrism is not to freeze democracy in place, but to continuously expand its limits. To gather all the different parts of our lives under its protective wing: faith in science and data, support for those whose work serves the public good (and not only furthers their personal interest), the ongoing reinforcement of the Israeli middle class, the kind of open and honest discourse that gave rise to our high-tech industry, and a media that is fearless in baring its teeth to power. This is our local version of the West’s “six killer apps” detailed by the historian Niall Ferguson: competition, science, property, medicine, consumption and work.

* * *

Our democracy cannot be detached and theoretical; it must be vibrant and grounded. It cannot be subservient to Judaism; the two must be in constant dialogue. In the spirit of the immortal words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky – “In the beginning, God created the individual.” Israeli democracy is made possible only when religion and individual reach consensus and compromise on a daily basis. It is a challenge for people of faith, but that challenge is woven into the Israeli fabric. In the same way, although to a very different extent, it is difficult for the left to accept those places and those moments where national identity takes precedence over individualism. To this, centrism says: progress that fails to take into consideration the past and the present is no progress at all. Laws can be reassessed. Human rights are not carved in granite. They must be constantly examined through the lens of security needs, migration patterns that threaten to alter the character of the community, a prime minister under indictment, the coronavirus pandemic and any number of currently inconceivable emergencies.

The clearest example is the question of the Jewish majority in Israel. A Jewish state cannot exist without a Jewish majority. It must act day and night to retain such a majority. This necessity informs its actions towards its Arab minority, towards migrants, and towards Jews living in the Diaspora. Some of these actions stand in contrast to the principles of equality or to international agreements. The right argues that “without a majority there is no Jewish state.” The left argues that “without values there is no state at all.” The center recognizes that proper navigation between contrasting values is what a government is elected to do. The need for a Jewish majority is an existential prerequisite, except life is not a zero-sum game. It is our duty to ensure the Jewish majority in Israel is retained, however it is incumbent upon us to do all that is in our power to minimize the consequences, including emotional distress, to those who are not Jewish. When I spoke out in the Knesset against the “Muezzin Law,” I stood at the podium and said: “Countries must do everything, all that is within their power, to avoid causing distress to their citizens.” This is not some vague guideline; it is a fundamental precondition for a life of coexistence.

Many will feel discomfort at the idea that democracy is not a rigid code. As human beings, we strive for the absolute. And aside from that, there is always a concern – what happens should our democracy fall into irresponsible hands? The answer is that such a risk is always present – but that risk is increased and not lessened by a democracy that is unable to adjust and adapt. A democracy that is unable to rise to challenges is not a worthy human endeavour. It will find itself under relentless assault by populist forces offering easy solutions to complex problems, or by progressive forces unwilling to accept the importance of national identity. Centrism believes that democracy is a permanent balancing act between opposing forces. The state is not a social conflict to be resolved, but a conflict to be managed. “[Society’s] binding principle is not contract,” wrote the recently-deceased philosopher Roger Scruton, “but something more akin to love.”

Love requires constant work to maintain. The legislative process, the court system, the day-to-day workings, all must be willing to submit themselves to scrutiny with the start of each day. With that said, we should be careful in attempting to make changes to a successful process. The odds are that we will do more harm than good. There are no easy solutions and there are no grand solutions, there are only measured, gradual shifts. The idea of incremental change may not set pulses racing in the manner of sweeping ideologies, but it enables people with different stories to live together. Reform is far more effective than revolution. The state has no finishing line or destination. It has no means of compelling its citizens to be joyful. Friedrich Hayek stood firm in his belief that, as progress was unpredictable, we set out to change the world and end up changing ourselves. Intelligent democracies (and there is such a thing, the United Kingdom is one example of an intelligent democracy) recognize that an all out victory of one side inherently undermines the possibility for coexistence. The executive affectionately accepts that humanity will never be perfect, and that therefore its role is to create a harmony between the real and the ideal.

Fourteen years of Netanyahu – and especially the last three of them – have set democracy and Judaism on a high-speed collision course. Every issue that is central to our lives – how we treat minorities, religion and state, the Palestinian issue and the socio-economic discourse – have been channelled into this conflict. The right and the left demand that we choose: us or them, Jewish or democratic. We have grown weary, they say, we have lost our patience with the eternal dilemma laid down for us by the founders of the state. Let us determine our course once and for all.

Centrism refuses to accede to this binary. The eternal dilemma does not wear us down; it is a source of strength for the state and for us as a movement. The tension between Judaism and democracy is the essence of our shared life in Israel. The entire philosophy of the center revolves around the ability to build bridges between principles and changing circumstances. Between the ideas that shape our lives and our lives as people of ideas. The purpose of power is not to stoke conflict, but to find ways to shape a better world together. Charles de Gaulle’s memoir opens with an ambitious line: “All my life I have held a certain idea of France.” That is our duty as a political movement – to bring the right idea before the country. Politics is not about administration – it is the pencil we use to sketch the future.

Centrism posits that the only future available to us is based on the forgotten ability to reach across the aisle. It will be neither entirely as I want, nor entirely as you want. “What we lose,” writes Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “is more than compensated for by the fact that together we are co-architects of a society larger than we could construct on our own, one in which our voice is heard and attended to even if it does not carry the day.”

History is defined by ideas greater than ourselves. Our political arena is where those ideas collide. The question of how this collision is handled – that is left to us to decide. The politics of the center aims to take the battle of ideas and turn it into a dialogue of ideas. We have spent too many years trapped on the battlefield. None of us have emerged from it unscathed. We in the center do not live in a world of philosophical ideals – we live in a world of real people. A dialogue of ideas is the path to building something together. The debate cannot focus solely on our rights, but also on our responsibilities. It is on us to ensure that the Jewish Israel does not conquer the democratic Israel. It is on us to guarantee that democracy does not trample Judaism underfoot. We want those real people to be able to enjoy the liberties offered by democracy, and to have access to the inspiration and profound wisdom offered by Judaism.

Our shared future is a place where each does not hate the other. It is the place where conflict becomes conversation and collision becomes curiosity. Our only battle, the only position which we will never surrender, is against those people who wish to see us forced to one extreme or the other. Those who use fear and hate as weapons in the battle of ideas. That is Netanyahu’s unforgivable sin. It’s not about “anyone but Bibi,” it’s about anything but the division and rifts that he is fueling.

The political center will never submit to those who attempt to put their thumb on the same Jewish-democratic scale that holds the secret to our existence. It will never relinquish the core values of the Israeli majority – Zionism, integrity, personal liberty. Centrism is the politics of the majority. It is the politics of the broad consensus that empowers us all. Together, we are creating something new. We are just getting started. There is a long road ahead.

About the Author
Yair Lapid is the Founder and Chairperson of Yesh Atid, Israel's centrist party.
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