Israeli Elections: What’s Wrong With Us?
“Seriously? Feiglin doesn’t want to unite with Shaked? But they agree on so much!” my husband exclaimed as he paced around the room, phone in hand. He was hoping for the center-right and right wing parties to unite to preserve the coalition. Instead, the parties stayed separate due to petty disagreements. Instead of joining together and getting far more seats than they would apart, egos got in the way.
In Israel, a party needs 3.25% of the vote to get into the Knesset. which is 4 seats. However if they don’t meet that threshold they get zero seats, and tens or even hundreds of thousands of votes go to waste: those voters don’t get representation in government. This past election, brand new parties New Right and Zehut attracted a lot of media attention. Zehut for its impressive network of grassroots support, and New Right based on their catchy, funny, and sometimes controversial (in a good way) advertising. However, despite amassing over a quarter of a million votes together, neither party passed the threshold, despite polling as high as seven seats each at times.
If these parties were to join together, they would have won at least six seats, and they would have passed the threshold. Due to a lack of leverage on the right, the 21st Knesset was unable to form a viable coalition, and billions of taxpayer shekels are now being wasted on yet another drawn out and disruptive election campaign.
These two parties have a second chance at crossing the threshold. They now know if they were to join together, they would attain seats. Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennet joined together with the Union of Right Wing Parties and are polling at 9-12 seats, whereas Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party still won’t cross the threshold if current polls are correct. This is a fate they share with Otzma Yehudit, who in the previous election, ran together with the religious right wing parties but who have since split off due to political spats.
On a macro level, like most Israeli voters, most Israeli parties seem to want the same thing: a strong economy, reasonable cost of living, striking a peaceful balance between religious rights and secular freedoms, and a safer and more peaceful country for their children. Parties ranging from United Torah Judaism to Labour believe that religious Jews have the right to not allow cars through Ultra Orthodox areas on shabbat. Almost all the Jewish parties are staunchly Zionist. It can easily be argued that the only party that actively wants to dismantle the State of Israel is the Joint List.
We all want Israel to thrive, we just have, in the grand scheme of things, slightly different ideas of what this means.
So why can’t we all work together and face our common enemy? I blame what I call “microclashes.” They seem like mountains to those who have them, but from a birds-eye view they are molehills, or more like hangups.
Here is an example of a microclash:
Bob and Shirley are both Zionist. They both think Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish State. They both believe Palestinian intransigence is responsible for the lack of peace. They both identify as National Religious (dati leumi), and both support Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. They both believe something must be done to lower the cost of living and both have grandsons serving in the IDF whom they are very proud of. They both believe that the conflict can only be solved if Palestinians are given monetary incentives to move elsewhere, including uninhabited areas of Judea and Samaria outside of “Settlement Blocs”. Their political views are practically identical. However, Bob wants a party that tells it like it is and holds nothing back, and believes in taking back the Temple Mount by force, whereas Shirley wants a more diplomatic party, one that keeps its cards closer to its vest, and thinks the status quo on the Temple Mount is acceptable, since at least Jews are allowed to go up, even if its only in the early hours of the morning.
Shirley sees Bob’s comment on a thread on Facebook about the Temple Mount and is immediately taken aback. She brands Bob as an extremist and refuses to engage with Bob again, or take anything he says seriously.
After reading a new opinion from a rabbi she follows, Emmanuel’s sister goes from covering her hair fully with a headscarf to covering partially, he assumes she has gone “off the derech” (stopped being religious) and refuses when she invites his family over for Shabbat because he assumes she is no longer keeping kosher to his standards.
Lilach is a staunch zionist who served for five years in the IDF, reaching the rank of Captain. She believes that Haredim (Ultra Orthodox) should serve in the army or do National Service because “it’s only fair,” even though she knows their upbringing does not prepare them for the army in the slightest. She believes anyone can be trained. Dov is a staunch zionist who loves the IDF and served proudly for five years as an officer. He doesn’t think Haredim should have to serve in the army. “Why would we want to compromise our security by including those who are disloyal to the state, who want to dismantle it and rebuild it from scratch as a theocracy? Why would we want these scrawny Yeshiva “bochurim” who probably have never seen the inside of a gym, let alone gotten much sunlight? Those who should serve should be those who believe in what the State of Israel stands for.” Lilach sees Dov on a thread about Avigdor Lieberman and automatically brands him unpatriotic and an enabler. Dov brands Lilach naive and overly idealistic.
They don’t realize they agree on literally everything else.
With the Israeli political parties, it is the same. The Likud, Jewish Home, Otzma, Israel Beiteinu, Zehut, Blue and White, and even to an extent Labour, agree on almost everything. All the fundamentals anyway. And even if they don’t in principle, they certainly do in practice. For example, Labour and Israel Beiteinu claim to be tough on the Haredim / Ultra Orthodox in principle, but in practice, when they had more power, they’ve made deals with their leaders behind the scenes, and were no tougher on them than the Likud. Many often forget that when the Ultra Orthodox were in a coalition with Labour, Labour gave in to them as well.
Canada, my country of birth, can serve as a cautionary tale for what happens when there is disunity within a majority faction over minor issues. Canada, which is a rather left-leaning country, had a right-leaning party in power for almost a decade. Although I was and still am a fan of that party, I felt it was somewhat strange that a party could be in power when nearly three quarters of voters voted against them. How did they keep winning?
The answer is simple: the left was fragmented. The right was united and all voted Conservative. The left consisted of the Liberal Party, which the other parties found was not ideologically steadfast enough, the Green Party, which the other parties considered to focus too much on the environment and marijuana legalization to the neglect of other issues, the Bloc Québécois, which the other parties chastised for being too obsessed with Québec separating from Canada, and the NDP, a party that whose action was dwarfed by its idealism and lack of experience. They spent so much time bickering about little details that they failed to realize that they agree on literally everything else! Had they took a second to go over their policy positions and perhaps compromised on their microclashes, maybe they’d have a shot at winning. Eventually, the Liberal Party found a popular and charismatic leader whom the other parties were willing to form a coalition with, and the Conservatives, much to my chagrin, got the boot.
If you compare the platforms of the center-left to center-right wing parties in the Israeli Knesset side by side, you’d be surprised at how few actual differences there are in policy, even though their modes of delivery are often very different, or their brand, or their flavour.
Political parties are kind of like Toothpaste: if you pick up a tube of Colgate, Crest, Sensodyne, Aquafresh, or even Store Brand, you still get toothpaste, and it still does more or less the same thing, with almost all of the same ingredients. It’s only the flavour or maybe the texture that’s slightly different. Those differences are the microclashes, and they are more often than not inconsequential when it comes to the effectiveness of the toothpaste.
Here’s the secret though – this analogy doesn’t just apply to political parties. It also applies to people.
When I first made Aliyah, I naturally fell in with a crowd of likeminded pro-Israel activists of all stripes. Often I’d be invited out by one of them for beer at Mike’s Place and sure enough it’s a gathering of Zionist thought leaders. Sometimes, I was shocked by some of the people I saw there. They invited him? I had thought, but he believes [insert issue I vehemently disagree with here]! How could they accept him into our group? However, as the night would go on, and we would discuss other issues than the issue the person was known for that I had disagreed with, I always left with a new friend I deeply respected, having discovered that we have far more in common than not. Sometimes we were even able to come to compromises on the issues we disagreed on!
People are like onions. When you see a basket of onions at the grocery store, they all look different. Some look pristine on the outside, their smooth brown skin unblemished. Others might look a bit grimy, with indentations across the skin, and numerous other imperfections – those are the microclashes. However, I frequently discovered that when I peel back the first layer I notice, both onions are exactly the same.
I write this with hunger pangs, as it is Tisha B’Av, the Jewish fast day where we mourn the destruction of our Temples, the latter due to sinat chinam, or baseless hatred. These pangs serve as a constant reminder that the destruction of the temple could have been prevented had we taken the time to peel back the outer layer of the onion, and appreciate that underneath, we are far more similar than we are different. Let’s work together, propelled by our similarities and common goals, rather than deterred at first glance by our differences or microclashes. After all, we are stronger together than we are fragmented, and the Jewish People will only benefit from this cooperation.