Up until recent months, we’ve always had neatly divided lines in Israel. Right and Left. Religious, Charedi and Secular. Jews and Arabs. We all fit into our boxes and knew where we stood. We all had something or someone to rally around. That is no longer the case.
This election became about one thing and one thing only – Benjamin Netanyahu. What he’s done wrong, what he’s done right. Who he would betray and who he might reward. Should he be treated as a criminal or should he be given benefit of the doubt. There were very few parties who tried not to get into the Bibi of it all. That’s not to say that there weren’t solid plans and platforms – I know that there were. I just don’t think that many of the average voters did. And the majority of the parties didn’t do enough to showcase them.
From the time elections were announced, I worked hard to try and highlight some of these platforms. I founded a page on Facebook – Israeli Politics Simplified – dedicated to doing just that. Along with Kerem House – a community organization in Tel Aviv – I hosted a series of events and discussions with candidates for Knesset focused on party platforms. I spoke with Jeremy Saltan of Yamina, Yorai Lahav Hertzano of Yesh Atid, Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionist Party, Rabbi Gilad Kariv of Labor and Sharren Haskel of New Hope. I did not mention the name Netanyahu once in any of my questions to the candidates. And to their credit, these people showed up. Of course there was some criticism of failed policies or lack thereof but they all had so much more to say than that.
I can’t count how many times I had someone ask me about a party and, while here and there I would get a question about one policy issue or another, the ultimate question was always, “But will they sit with Netanyahu”? Or, “who should I vote for if I want this person in or out”? I can understand the obsession – it’s all around us. The narrative of Bibi or no Bibi is being fed to us by the politicians and the media and we eat it up. When candidates were interviewed on news channels they were grilled on that one point more than any other. Why do we allow this to happen? Don’t we deserve more than just being told who you’re against? Shouldn’t we want our leaders to stand for something instead of against something else? If we don’t know what you stand for how can we know what you’ll fall for?
The number makeup of the parties since the final results have come in have shown us that putting together a neat coalition is not going to be simple and more than likely, not possible. Not because there aren’t enough parties that divide on these neat lines that we had all been so comfortable with – but because so many parties stand against something. It’s because of this that we may find ourselves with a unity government made up of parties that we never would have imagined together. While that mash-up of ideals and personalities may be odd and may not last long, it may force the parties and their leaders to take a long hard look at what they do in fact stand for. They’ll have to be clear on their objectives in order to cooperate and create lines that they can all live with. And we, the citizens and voters, should be paying close attention. This is a real opportunity to change and move away from the status quo. Let’s start moving away from the strategic vote or the identity vote or the negative vote and demand more. When we vote in the negative we lose a piece of our idealism. We have nothing to lose by voting for something we believe in and stand for.