We Need a Democratic Party in Israel

campaign logo, 2020, from wikicommons
Biden-Harris campaign logo 2020 from Wikicommons

In a recent conversation with some friends in the USA, I shocked them by telling them that their political situation is much better than ours in Israel!  The reason that I gave them is that the Democratic Party has come back to win the presidential election after four disastrous years of extremist and irresponsible Republican rule. This was a great victory for democracy in America and a beacon of hope for the world. The Biden-Harris team—and their new superb appointees recently announced for their cabinet—reflect a stark change from complete craziness to rationality and reasonableness in the USA. Oh, how I envy my American friends right now.

In complete contrast, we here in Israel are still stuck with Bibi Netanyahu even though he has reigned (almost like a king)  for 14 years (not all consecutively) –the longest of any prime minister in Israel– and despite the fact that he has been indicted on three major counts of corruption, for which he will begin to be tried in court in early 2021. In recent years, he has become more “Trumpian” every day– with constant lies, incitement (to fan his base), autocratic rule and a constant desire to wage war with Iran, apparently with Trump’s help, as in the targeted assassination in Teheran last week which foreign sources attribute to Israel.

Even though Trump was duly unseated, there is little hope to unseat Bibi. This is due to our unique system of complicated and convoluted coalition politics in Israel. In addition, the inability to vote him and his Likud political party out of office is also due to the absence of the American version of the Democratic Party in this country. Let me explain.

Once upon a time, we had two major political parties in Israel: The Labor Party (once known as Mapai, the workers’ party), which was center-left and the Likud party –which used to have some “moderates– which is center-right.  Originally, the Labor Party ruled the country for many decades, from the pre-state period through the establishment of the state in 1948, until the upheaval of 1977, when the Likud Party led by Menachem Begin, was elected in a surprise victory. For most of the last 43 years, the Likud party has led the government, even though the Labor Party did have some brief periods of leadership under Yitzhak Rabin (1992-1995) and Ehud Barak (1999-2001).

During the past two decades, however, the Labor Party has gone from bad to worse to total oblivion. I don’t have enough space here to tell the whole sordid tale, but suffice it to say that this historic party is about to go out of existence completely in the next election.  It currently has two seats in the Knesset but all the polls show it will have zero in the next election.

The last attempt to form a center (not even center-left) political party in Israel was via the creation of a new party called “Blue and White”, led by the former head of the IDF Benny Gantz , who many people in Israel   hoped would be the Israeli  version of Joe Biden.  The party was formed by combining four “centrist” political parties with many right-wing members, with the purpose of defeating Netanyahu and his Likud party. They came very close three times in elections held during the last two years — April 9th and September 17th, both in 2019, and March 2, 2020.  But in the end, they joined up with Bibi and company, much to the chagrin of most of their voters. In May of this year, they formed one of the most bloated and dysfunctional governments in Israeli history, that embarrasses itself every day with unceasing recriminations and repulsive irresponsibility.

It now appears that this unfortunate government will fall apart soon and new elections will be called for the 4th time in two years, even in the midst of the corona pandemic! As of now, the numbers for “Blue and White” in the polls are very low, predicting only about 10-11 seats– down from 33 that this party won in the March election of this year– so that if there is another election soon, this party which promised to save us from Bibi and his corrupt ways will have no chance to form the next government. Unless another center or center-left party is created very quickly, or unless most of the political parties get together to form some new grand coalition rife with contradictions and big egos, to nominate someone else—which is very unlikely and practically impossible—there is a strong possibility that Netanyahu and his cronies will be tapped by the President of Israel to form the next government once again, as unbelievable and horrible as this sounds to rational minds and compassionate hearts.

All this takes place at the same time that thousands of concerned citizens demonstrate against Netanyahu’s corrosive leadership every Saturday night all over Israel (but as winter approaches the numbers of demonstrators have begun to go down). Many people in Israel are genuinely fed up with him, but clearly not yet enough.

Also, Bibi’s trial on three major counts of corruption looms ahead. It has now been postponed until February, and Bibi’s lawyers will continue to try all kinds of tricks and shticks to delay it further, at the same time that the Great Leader will do everything in his power to create a new government that will somehow help him avoid facing justice in the courts.

In addition, the coronavirus pandemic will continue all winter in Israel, with no end in sight, despite Bibi’s promises to bring a vaccine to Israel next month. But not too many people believe his promises any longer since they are just part of his electioneering spin tactics.

All of this is to explain why we need an Israeli version of the Democratic Party in this country in order to change the political leadership in Israel to a rational and sane one. We need a clone of the Biden-Harris team here that would speak systematically with sensibility, substance and sensitivity to the citizens of Israel, especially now during a national health and economic emergency. In addition,  we need a population that would want to elect a new team which will give hope and restore some normal sense of governance to the people of Israel, and which would get out the vote to make this happen, as occurred in the USA.

Is it possible?

Who knows? It doesn’t look terribly likely right now, but in political life, one never knows what new constellations can be created. Nevertheless, it is clear to me we need a new party, like the Democratic Party in the USA, to help us in Israel to renew the vision of our founders of a country that seeks harmony, justice and peace, for all of its citizens and its neighbors.

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 LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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