Francis Nataf

The elections of bad and worse

There is no party in Israel today that truly taps into the depth of the Jewish religious experience

As elections come around again, it is hard for me not to feel a little lonely. And it is well near impossible for me not to question the enthusiasm of so many friends and neighbors for one party or another. Yet what gets me down the most is the lack of a party that truly represents what I believe to be a consistently Jewish vision for the State of Israel.

A religious vision of any type should carry with it a depth that can often elude secular political parties. It is from such a perspective that, in 2004, contemporary philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre, wrote words that continue to haunt me. Then, he pointed out that political choices that confront us are often really non-choices. His frustration was focused on the sense that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans offered a platform that a traditional person of faith should have been able to endorse. For MacIntyre, to be pro-life is also to seek to help society’s disadvantaged, so that they would not only want to take pregnancies to term, but also be able to raise their children in a healthy and wholesome fashion. But it was also to take a position against the unmitigated proliferation of abortion as a lifestyle choice, plain and simple. My interest here is not, in that issue per se. It is about the clustering of positions that, from a thought-out faith perspective, should be in opposition and the putting together of issues that should be separated.

One would think that with four major religious parties in Israel, someone who identifies strongly with MacIntyre’s sentiments would be able to find a political home. And yet that is hardly the case – as I see it, there is no party in Israel today that comes close to tapping into the depth of the religious experience. Such a party would show true concern about the underprivileged members of society, whoever they might be. But it would also be a distinctly Jewish vision of how that concern should be expressed. It would want to do as much as possible to teach the texts and values of the Jewish heritage and to protect its institutions, such as Shabbat and a rigorous conversion process – it would understand that Judaism, in all of its depth and particularism, is what the State of Israel needs to embody.

But it would also respect the dignity of those who express their Judaism in different and even untraditional ways, as well those who choose not to express it all. It would make sure that all sectors of society play their part in defending and sustaining the country, but do its utmost to allow this to be done in mutually acceptable ways. It would be worried about the need to protect ourselves, and not to be intimidated by foreign powers, but it would also do everything it can to find new ways of coming to equitable solutions with our neighbors.

Indeed, icons of the religious parties, such as Rav Kook and Rav Ovadya Yosef (at least, until his later years), held views that encompassed similar visions. But somehow, the parties that claim to look up to them have diluted and cheapened their views, to the point that they are almost unrecognizable.

And here is where it becomes more than just a curious nuisance. The thoughtful individual may easily come to MacIntyre’s conclusion that, “when offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives.”

Endorsing an alternative that is ‘less bad’ is difficult for someone who takes their beliefs seriously. And in a choice between bad and worse, it is hard not to come to MacIntyre’s conclusions. Of course, it is not an inevitable one, and I, for one, will continue to support and vote for what I see to be the least objectionable choice.

But what is of real import is not whether to vote or not. What is truly important is to continue to try to change the debate. To protest, not by not voting, but by continuing to express the hope that something better can yet be created.

About the Author
Rabbi Francis Nataf is a Jerusalem-based educator and thinker. He is the author of the Redeeming Relevance series on the Torah and of many articles.