In modern democracies, elections are often a referendum on the incumbent.
With Israel’s economy relatively stable and the country experiencing a general sense of security, it stands to reason that the incumbent has an advantage.
It was therefore not that surprising, from the outset of this brief and yet equally ubiquitous campaign cycle, that almost all of the parties emerged declaring who would and who would not sit with the Prime Minister in a future government.
As the polls have evolved, it has been almost assumed that Prime Minister Netanyahu will form the next coalition. In such an environment, the various political parties have been jockeying to see who can stand out on the right and who will lead the opposition.
Rather than leaking details of differing platforms or new visions to lead the country, leaked recording were circulated to the media about whether a candidate admitted to being willing to sit in a coalition with the Prime Minister.
Methinks the parties doth protest too much.
With passions ignited, the framing throughout has been Bibi or Not Bibi. In this debate, the two camps rally to their logic. There should be little doubt of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s considerable talents, strong leadership and impressive accomplishments in the international arena. This camp argues “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Conversely, disregarding the aura of pending indictments, the country needs to enable an orderly transition of leadership to stimulate new ideas. Under this argument, a prime minister who had said he believes in a limit of 2 terms should not be seeking his fourth term. This camp argues that the country is broken and they have put egos aside to fix it.
In politics, there is no room for monolithic absolutes. The failure of the left is that they detract from Bibi’s spectacular accomplishments by painting him in one color. He is not the personification of evil. He has served our country well and works incredibly hard to advance Israel in a multitude of spheres. He deserves our appreciation, respect and gratitude.
However, he should know when it is time to move on. He should have the presence of mind to transition and build a future leadership within the Likud party and encourage those leaders to restore the values of the Likud from the days of Menachem Begin.
But should that really be the framing of this election?
As the election campaign kicks into the final lap, emotions are high. The level of diatribe and poisonous rancor among the candidates has reached a peak that has spilled into society. Ad hominem attacks from both sides are daily and are increasing in their creativity. Glancing among the social media feeds and comments among friends, one can easily see the fault lines straining under the stress.
It is entirely appropriate to acknowledge Bibi’s successes and yet vote for a change in leadership. As it is equally respectable to opt to maintain stability in our system. What is not acceptable is to allow the spirit of the battle to destroy the fabric of decency and mutual respect that we afford one another.
It has become cliché to attack the other side in one breath while proclaiming that at the end of the election, we will all need to sit together. But on April 10th, we all will need to work together to pick up the pieces from our fragile democracy.
But before then, we deserve more from our future leaders. We deserve to hear their vision for the future of our children. We deserve to have them lead with decorum and respect. And we deserve a path forward that reflects the majority’s desire for the advance of peace balanced with security.
Life in Israeli politics is not binary. Although the vote is a singular vote, our parliamentary system with a myriad of coalition partners encourages strategic voting.
This horse trade forces the voter to think about the nature of the coalition and the balance of power.
When we go to the polls today, the question should not be a referendum on Bibi and his achievements. The question should be what kind of state do we want going forward?