Everyone in Israel, and many in the Diaspora have what they believe to be the solution to the political maelstrom created by the Likud led alliance of six political parties. No one appears to be trying to understand how Israel arrived at this point and what conditions are required to ensure peaceful change.
In a distant future historians will examine the issues that caused the crisis in Western (and that includes Israeli) parliamentary government. This crisis has encouraged a populist revolt against democratic norms. Mutual tolerance and consensual political conduct have been replaced by political polarisation and unrestrained public hostility. This leads to national fragmentation. We have lost sight of society’s necessity for unity.
What is government? In a democracy, it is an elected group of representatives given the authority (by virtue of their successful election) to manage the affairs of state. In order to manage this, compromise is needed so that the greatest number of people within society are, if not happy, then comfortable with the decisions made on their behalf. The government sets taxation policy; redistributes taxes and any other sources of revenue. In short, it keeps the lights on and the people safe from harm.
Everything else is open to negotiation. Usually, change is incremental, not radical. People on all sides of the political landscape feel they share the future through constructive engagement in the political process.
In theory, parties coalesce around an ideology that binds its members. Political parties are supposed to have a vision for the kind of society they want to see, and they achieve that vision through how they manage through consensus, the country’s resources.
If we examine the current government and the previous one, each constituent party had and has its red lines that are difficult to reconcile with constructive coalition membership. The Likud is conservative, nationalist, liberal and populist. Religious Zionism is exclusive (therefore uncompromising) and ultra-nationalist. United Torah Judaism (UTJ) is two parties – the one, ultra-orthodox the other, non-Zionist. Otzma Yehudit is radical right-wing and theocratic while Noam is religiously messianic and conservative.
Fragmentation and mutually antagonistic ideologies do not create stable governments but can be profitable for their separated constituencies.
The parties of the Left have never understood that success means broad-based identification with their ideologies. They have always been more comfortable making “back-room” deals and imposing their will on the nation. “We know best” is patronising and condescending. Unsurprisingly, the Left has failed to attract voters to the parties of the opposition in sufficient numbers to win power. It is an attitude that has rendered the parties of the Left an Israeli anachronism.
Menachem Begin, the quietly modest, religious leader of the Likud rose to power in 1977 on a wave of popular Mizrachi discontent that had been brewing since the mass immigration of the early independence period, while the parties of the Left were obsessed with their own image, even as it worked against them. The irony is that intermarriage between Western and Near-Eastern Jews, running at 22% in the early 1970s has been increasing at a rate of 1% per year ever since.
I am going to refer to all English-speaking Israelis as “Western;” they are not all Ashkenazim, so “Ashkenazi” is inaccurate and misleading.
Non-Westerners are an absolute majority, and the children of intermarried families are not even counted. So, the irony of the Right governing Israel, almost exclusively from 1977 until the present time is that Mizrahim have risen to the top of Western institutions and Western parties while simultaneously attacking, the Western “elite”.
One simple example of how dysfunctional the argument over ethnicity is, happened recently when a Likud activist declared that all Israeli Westerners should be (or should have been) murdered while admiring the ultimate symbol of the Western elite, Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud wins because it encourages feelings of victimhood. It feeds off of feelings of resentment and anger and it is willing to transfer any amount of money its religious partners ask for in order to survive.
Patronage is defined as funding that primarily or exclusively benefits one group of people even though the funding comes from a much wider community of taxpayers. It is Israel’s time-honoured means by which parties cling to power.
Secularism, liberalism, and the pursuit of Western ‘norms’ are the traits of the opposing parties, but why are these traits so important? The Western World has managed to celebrate anti-Judaism almost as an act of secular faith (in spite of the Shoah) while ignoring (or worse, justifying) nearly every egregious act of terror carried out by the non-democratic nations of the world. It does not make an attractive model to emulate. It seems logical to assume that the only thing the Western world is good at, is making money and hating Jews. Is all else in the West hypocrisy and lies?
Over 30% of Israelis of all faiths identify as religious. Pork Barrel politics is a not a recipe for long-term survival because there are so many different communities all of which can lay claim to being communities of special interest – Arab, Druse, ultra-Orthodox, Circassians, Christians and Bedouin. There will be others I have insulted by omission. Each can legitimately claim that they deserve distinctive consideration to the exclusion of the rest. It represents disintegration instead of unity. Pork Barrel Politics is the deliberate misuse of large amounts of public money aimed at retaining the loyalty of special interest groups at the expense of everyone else. It defines how a corrupt regime retains power. It is not what Israel needs for its survival. Being a nation state begins with encouraging unity, not separation.
Recognition that we are not all the same means that we should aim to encourage tolerance while dispelling prejudice. This is the opposite of what the Likud and its partners is doing.
How does the opposition reconcile its secular and liberal, social democratic agenda with a need to woo Israel’s minorities? Every time someone makes a statement that disparages one of Israel’s “minorities” (45% is the maximum percentage of Westerners in Israel) it reinforces the mood that the Western elite despises everyone ‘not like them’.
When every word that comes out of our mouths should be carefully considered, one of the hallmarks of our age appears to be spontaneity of expression, no matter who we hurt. We are living in a world of social media egocentrism and irresponsibility. Instead of thinking “peace and love”, we seek out controversy; we are far more squeamish about love than we are about hate. Hate is easy and excites a dedicated fan base that can never get enough of it. This is why the Likud remains in power.
The Cult of the Self animates Israels’ political classes and instead of aiming to create a national community, each party encourages fame or notoriety for its leadership and a social media presence that centres on personal recognition instead of political unity. Israel’s proportional representation system is a catastrophic failure because it encourages a cult of the individual and a multiplicity of isolated communities. It cannot create unity across ethnic, class and religious grounds because every single special interest group has its own party.
If Israel’s opposition wants to create a stable and sustainable Knesset majority, it must find common ground and a shared vision for the Zionist future. It requires appreciation of what unites us, a shared manifesto allowing as many people as possible to identify with The Party.
Before redistribution of seats, the Likud received just 23.41% of the vote. That is not rule by consent. The 25th Knesset cannot be described as possessing a legitimate mandate for the radical change it is carrying out. Consensus nurtures non-confrontational change. There is little consensus in Israeli politics, which is ironic because as a faith, Judaism is credited with giving the (Western) world the philosophy of the Golden Mean, which is consensus. The present government comprises parties that claim to be Jewishly religious and yet one of Israel’s key contributions to human civilization, is violently rejected by them. There is no effort at real compromise, no attempt to bring on board the other side; consensus is not part of the coalition platform for change.
And here lies the central issue with this government. In place of compromise, we have contemptuous disregard for unity, community, and co-existence. This is rule by provocation, a government of revolutionary change. It is undermining the institutions of the State through its constant attacks on those institutions.
Polls have consistently shown that while Israeli’s have no respect for the government there are three national institutions that have always been shown to be almost universally respected. They are the Presidency, the Supreme Court and the IDF. All have been consistently attacked from this government. Frighteningly, more than anything else this government is doing, this behaviour undermines the social fabric as well as the security of the State of Israel.
It seems that barely a day goes by when there is not a headline concerning a member of this government attacking the military or, an ultra-Orthodox family attacking a woman in uniform. This isn’t because they believe in God’s intervention – it is hatred. Hatred for the secular world and hatred for its institutions. The IDF has protected the people living in Israel from being subjected to genocide by the Muslim nations surrounding us. How can it be justified that those who refuse to serve or were deemed unfit to serve, are now at liberty to actively undermine that institution? Perhaps the most dangerous characteristic of fascism is its need to silence anything that it is unable to control or with which it disagrees. It is a short distance from censoring your ideological enemy to seeking their destruction.
There is no credible opposition worthy of government. They have no over-arching vision for a collective tomorrow, let alone today. They sing the praises of Western democracies rife with antisemitism. In a Jewish country it is difficult to sell such a model to a religious audience. So, all they have is a secular model for an unconvinced electorate. Therefore, they represent a self-interested special interest group, rather than a national ideology.
Why have so many of the coalition politicians showed such disdain for its institutions? It seems as if the government desires nothing less than to tear down the entire edifice of the modern stated. After the Shoah, belief in divine intercession on behalf of the Jewish people is at best nihilistic, at worst suicidal.
Fundamentalism of any sort is characterised by fanaticism that defies logic. Those who make excuses for Islamic terrorism take pains to tell us that Islam is a religion of peace. But the reality is that Muslims who kill for their faith do so as an act of religious devotion and do not view it as a crime. It would be naïve to view the fundamentalism of any other faith as different. Fundamentalists are capable of an enormous potential for hubris in the name of their creed.
Our tragedy is that the Jewish people have too often in past history been brought to their knees by religious zealotry.
The opposition must break with our post-modern obsession with individualism with its oppressive ego-worship and desire for absolute control over everything. It must return to a vision of collective responsibility and national community.
We need unity, not division. Tribal conflict can only lead to increasing fragmentation. Israel needs an exercise in coming together; it involves something rarely heard today “self-abnegation” – It means self-denial or self-sacrifice for the common good.
And the opposition? It would start with Yesh Atid, National Unity and Yisrael Beiteinu dissolving their parties into one; agreeing on a single platform. Bring in religious moderates and Arabs to share in this vision for a unified Israel.