After the surprisingly comfortable win for Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing parties in last week’s Israeli election, Moment reached out to three of our regular contributors to learn what the results can teach us about Israel that we didn’t know before.
The soul of Israel is not dead, but it has been brutally diminished. The outcome of last week’s election reveals us to be a nation finally impacted by demographic changes and substandard education. For decades, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and ascending nationalist circles have grown exponentially, while the secular, moderate and liberal demographics have stalled. Thanks to state and public leniency and to under-supervised school systems, both Haredim and the extreme right have managed to raise hundreds of thousands of younger voters blind to most civic values, identifying democracy with a violent, hateful and leering rule of the majority. We liberal and humanist Zionists, and far more so Israel’s Arab citizens, now stand to pay the price for two decades of Netanyahu-induced, internet-hatched proto-fascism. No, it’s not time to kick the bucket and seek a new homeland: I and my family, like most other Israelis, have nowhere to go and no wish to become political exiles. Our civil resistance—law-abiding until all else fails—is needed right here and now, as soon as the fully-fascist Itamar Ben-Gvir takes over the government portfolios he has demanded, home security and—yes—education. I ask U.S. Jews, if they can spare any attention from their homegrown political troubles, to lend us moral support.
Fania Oz-Salzberger is an Israeli historian and essayist and a professor at the University of Haifa.
For the first time in more than 50 years of living and voting in Israel, I found myself
undecided until the moment I entered the voting booth. But faced with putting a little slip with a party’s symbol into an envelope, I found myself reluctantly choosing the lesser of many evils, rather than expressing enthusiastic support for a party of my choice. Given the results, I think many Israelis did the same. The need for stability encouraged us to vote for a large party. The current upsurge in terror attacks made the thought of a coalition with Arab parties less than attractive, and Yair Lapid and his coalition partners less than reliable. Even though Benjamin Netanyahu has been on trial, many feel, myself included, that the charges are politically motivated. Many politicians could have been indicted for the same “crimes.” While I was encouraged by the direction the government was taking with Naftali Bennett at the head, I was appalled by Lapid’s impolitic speech at the U.N. calling for a Palestinian state. I am concerned about the religious right, but my hope is that with wide support, Netanyahu will be able to convince moderate parties under Lapid and Gantz to join in a stable, productive coalition that will leave extremist elements in the opposition.
Naomi Ragen is a novelist living in Zichron Yaakov, Israel.
The collective cry of “Gevalt!” from Israel’s liberal wing after hearing Tuesday’s election results marked a sad moment of reckoning for activists who truly believed their dream was Israel’s dream, and that even if the country had taken a detour, it has not lost its path. The upcoming coalition of center-right, far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties flies in the face of everything they had believed in.
But election results also brought about a welcome end to the state of denial Israel’s left wing has been living in for decades. Since Yitzchak Rabin’s murder, Israeli liberals had been sliding away from their ideals, slowly but surely. A quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace was replaced with acquiescing to the status quo and buying into the “no Palestinian partner” narrative. Voters gradually shifted their votes from the Zionist left toward the right, ending up with Yair Lapid, a leader who by all standards should be considered center-right, becoming the hope of Israeli liberalism.
The cause was lost years ago, but excuses and constant adjustments (including the adoption of the “anything but Bibi” mantra) helped mask this reality.
Now, Israel’s liberals are forced to acknowledge the dead end they’ve reached and figure out a new route. Cooperating on an equal basis with what should have been their natural partner—– Israel’s Arab political parties—could be a good place to start.
Nathan Guttman is a Moment Institute Senior Fellow and editor of Moment’s Jewish Politics and Power newsletter.
“The Jews won and the Israelis lost!’ my FB feed screams. “It’s time to set up a new party for the secular minority,” others rant.
Four of the parties that will compromise the next coalition are Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. The second-largest party in the coalition, Religious Zionism, is anti-democratic, Jewish-supremist, and rights-opposed. The other two parties are ultra-Orthodox and oppose any public role for women and “secular education”—that is, basic subjects and skills—for their children.
As a Jew and an Israeli, I abhor everything that these parties stand for. I am appalled that these are the men will be in charge of our institutions, and I am truly afraid of the darkness they will spread in our country. They won the election. But they have not won the right to claim Judaism for themselves. These parties, especially the ultra-Orthodox, who are still fighting against the Enlightenment, are little more than a theological, historical, and social aberration.
I am a liberal Jew. Judaism and Jewish thought inform much of my political and social thinking. I, too, want the State of Israel to have a “Jewish character,” but my Judaism does not meld distorted concepts of Jewish superiority with xenophobic hatred for others and ultra-nationalism.
I believe that one of the reasons that the center-left lost these elections is because we ceded Judaism to the extremists. We have fought for individual liberties and rights, and we will continue to fight for democracy, equality, inclusivity. Because we allowed the ultra-Orthodox and the supremacists to own Judaism, we have been ashamed of our collective identities. But we have not presented a clear vision for a collective, Jewish identity that strives to create a better society for all who live here based on the teachings of the biblical prophets and those who came after them.
As we have learned from these disastrous elections, collective Jewish identity is a crucial political component for many Israeli voters. Moreover, is what makes Israel unique. We must find a way for Israeli Jews who believe in democracy and a full social, political, and economic partnership with the Palestinian citizens of Israel to bring our Jewish identity into the political arena.
Eetta Prince-Gibson is Moment‘s Israel Editor and a former editor of the Jerusalem Report.
Top Image: Benjamin Netanyahu at the 2018 World Economic Forum. Photo credit: World Economic Forum via flickr |(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)