Michal Cotler-Wunsh

So Who Won?

This morning, Israelis awoke to elections results that were surprising to many. In a seemingly unanimous reading of the results – the right of the political spectrum has won.

Whether one is thrilled by this perceived victory or deeply concerned about its’ implications – it would seem there is another possible understanding altogether that should at least be considered – the possibility that in fact, the left has won.

In order to truly assess the elections results, it is important to remember what these elections were about. These elections were not about the peace process; these elections did not include discussion of the important balance between ‘Jewish’ and ‘democratic’; these elections were not about security; these elections did not raise any of the traditional political right-left debates.

These elections focused on the cost of living. They focused on housing. They highlighted the growing gaps in Israeli society and insisted on the need to address them. These elections focused on the imperative to improve a steadily declining educational system; these elections focused on the emergency rooms filled beyond capacity and a floundering public health care system.  These elections spoke to the socio-economic challenges that the State of Israel must address.

In the heat of international discussions and debates whether PM Netanyahu should speak before the American congress or not, most Israelis did not even watch the broadcast of the speech. They did not do a head count of who was missing from the congressional address , nor compute the number and length of standing ovations in its course. Troubling as this is in terms of reflecting the growing gap between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, most Israelis did not even watch the broadcast and viewed it as part of election campaigning. Interesting as it is in terms of anthropological and sociological evolution of Israeli society, it honestly seems that these elections focused almost solely on domestic issues.

For the first time since the founding of the State, it is quite possible that Israel is advancing towards internationally accepted differentiation between left and right – defined by differences in approaches and views on economic agendas. It is a possible and real sign of maturation to think that economics and not foreign affairs define the political split. Republican or democrat; Liberal or conservative, it is optimistic to think that these delineations would replace the historical Israeli right-left divide. It creates a more harmonious society and a more professional work environment for the 120 democratically elected representatives of the Israeli public. It holds the potential for bi-partisan collaboration on the very real issues troubling the Israeli public. It promises to allow for genuine teamwork between members of the coalition government and those sitting in opposition, bound together by a deep sense of shared values of this new right-left redefinition. It empowers voters, no matter their religion, gender, sexual preferences, ethnicity or culture, to hold their elected representatives to account and demand that they transcend their differences and work together to address the real issues that were the topic of these elections.

It does demand intellectual rather than emotional reflection, on the election results and their possible ramifications. It is early days, but assuming that the next finance minister is Moshe Kachlon, the economic left has been victorious. The 10 mandates added to the possible coalition government that Likkud will form with Kachlon’s ‘Kulanu’ will see an accomplished list of economically left-minded members in key positions. Moreover, careful examination of the 30 individuals on the Likkud slate indicates that there is significant representation to the economic left in Israel’s future government. Some might even say that it is a far more economically left-wing list that the alternative would have been.

This requires a fair amount of intellectual honesty. The elections were all about domestic issues. In Israel, a true democracy – the people of this country focused on their every-day life in casting their ballots at the polls. The elections results indicate that if Israel is indeed headed for a redefinition of the left-right split to the internationally accepted economic one, the left has won. Hypocrisy aside, if one holds left views, there is reason for great hope. No matter what, it looks like the economic left will be very well represented in the next government. Hopefully it will be a stable enough government to address the real issues that the last elections were really about and about which Israeli citizens voted. Hopefully it will be a government that will recognize that the most important portfolios are those that will focus on education, housing, health, Israel-diaspora relations and social issues. Hopefully, we have all won.

About the Author
The writer is a lawyer, research fellow, and policy and strategy advisor. She served as an MK in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, co-founding the International Bi-Partisan Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism.