Ten take-aways from the Israel elections about Israeli society

I have been thinking a lot about the elections in Israel and I have come up with 10 take-aways from them. They all reflect how Israel is changing as a society and as an electorate.

  1. Israeli society has changed greatly since 1979 when I made Aliyah (“going up” to live in Israel) —demographically, sociologically, culturally, religiously and politically. As Tom Friedman wrote recently in the New York Times, “The Israel we knew is gone.” I agree with him completely on this point. The Israel that I came to 43 years ago is no more.
  2. Demographics—Jewish society in Israel has become more and more right-wing, both religiously and politically. Just to give one glaring example: when Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister in June 1992, the Labor Party had 44 seats. Now it barely has 4 seats! About 75% of Jewish Israelis vote for right-wing parties now. This is a dramatic change, highly related to the growth of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sector, which has two major political parties, both of which gained seats in the last election.
  3. Jewish Religious extremism has become kosher and now mainstream—witness the rise of super extremists Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir from the so-called Religious Zionism political party, whose incendiary political agendas may ignite war with the Palestinians and with the Jewish Diaspora. In a recent zoom seminar on the elections that I attended, Professor Shaul Magid of Dartmouth University said: “6 seats would be a disaster, 13 would be a catastrophe”. And they received 14 seats. So, we have a catastrophe plus on our hands, both in Israel and abroad.
  4. The kibbutz movement has become “privatized”—they now live in “gated communities” as one friend at Kibbutz Hanaton likes to say. Socialism as we knew it in the early decades of Israel, and in the pre-state era, has vanished. Labor Zionism, which was a major part of the Zionist movement in the USA, has virtually disappeared. The people who live on kibbutzim have become middle class. It was reported in the Israeli media that on one historic kibbutz, Ayellet Haschahar in the Upper Galilee, where Itamar Ben Gvir made an election campaign visit, 23 people voted for his extreme right-wing party. The founders of the kibbutz are undoubtedly turning over in their graves!
  5. High Density—We have one of the highest density populations in the world. This is causing enormous problems in many areas of our life such as housing, transportation, education. According to Professor Alon Tal, who writes and teaches about this issue in Israel, this is unsustainable in the long run. Many of the people who vote for so-called “centrist parties” in Israel would like to see this issue tackled. But as long as the ultra-orthodox are in the government, this will never happen, since they will continue to insist on government funding for large families, which is one of the major causes of this problem.
  6. Rampant Consumerism and rising income disparity—For many years, Israel has copied American society by becoming a huge consumer society. In recent years, we have seen a continual rise in shopping malls, purchasing of new cars (hundreds of thousands of new cars on the road every year), traveling abroad by the upper classes and the middle classes. All of this has led to a rising gap between rich and poor, as in the USA. This mostly negatively affects people in the lower socio-economic classes, but they don’t vote for the parties who would pass legislation to help them. Instead, they vote for ultra-orthodox or ultra-nationalist parties, which don’t give a damn about them but promote their own interests, such as their school systems or their settlements. Or they vote for Likud which is a Milton Friedman super-capitalist party, which uses populist rhetoric to capture their vote (does this sound familiar to Americans?).
  7. The Occupation of Palestinian lands continues unabated for more than 50 years, since 1967, with no end in sight. Daily humiliation and oppression, immoral demolition of homes, frequent human rights abuses, undemocratic rule over another people come together with settler expansion and creeping annexation. The Jews in greater Tel Aviv (what is often referred to as “the state of Tel Aviv”) are at the malls or the movies or at the beach, and are in deep denial about the Occupation. The centrist parties ignore it. In fact, all the political parties ignored it in the last election, except Meretz, which did not get into the Knesset. On the other hand, the extreme right-wing parties were elected on platforms of expanding settlement and even of annexing the West Bank (but will the current American administration go along with this? Unlikely!) If they actually do what they are saying, this will lead to increased violence, if not war. Some of the most fanatic of the extremists who will be in the next government would actually like this to happen!
  8. The absence of peacemaking. There is no political horizon—there have been no negotiations with Palestinians for a very long time. There is no peacemaking taking place. The last government of Israel took this off the agenda and the current one will put the peace process in the deep freeze or the grave. The last peace agreement with the Palestinians was in 1998!!  The right-wing and so-called “centrist” politicians have given up!  (The “center” is occupied mostly by the right-wingers these days.) They don’t want to even think about it anymore. They appear to prefer the status quo, which means constant violence and counter-violence what is called “terrorism and counter-terrorism” and they do not try to resolve the conflict so that we could get on with figuring out how both Palestinians and Israelis can learn to live together in the same land in peace and harmony.
  9. The presence of peacebuilding: In contrast to the failures of the politicians, peacebuilding in civil society in Israel and Palestine is growing. According to the Alliance for Middle East Peace, there are more than 160 organizations working on peacebuilding programs between Israelis and Palestinians. Most of them are unknown to most of you. But they out there every day, building bridges between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, often without fanfare or much publicity. I try to give them some publicity. This is why I recently wrote a book about peacebuilders entitled Profiles in Peace. They are the only ones keeping a flicker of hope for peace, in a situation which grows more desperate by the day.
  10. Is peace possible? Or will peace between Israelis and Palestinians never be possible?

I raised this question in the last chapter of my book. For the full answer, you will have to read the book. For now, I will say, that it ought to be possible. Not right now, not with the extreme right-wing government which is in the process of formation in Israel. But perhaps in the future, when a saner government will arise. I believe that peace is in the mutual interest of both the Jewish People and the Palestinian People. It is preferable to ongoing war and violence. We need to convince our political leaders of this, or get new leaders, from the younger generation, who are sick and tired of all the violence and wars, and would prefer a normal life in Israel and the region.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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