Like most – if not all – of my friends, I was disappointed by the outcome of Israel’s recent general election. Perhaps I was not quite as disappointed as some of them, as I had been expecting a result along the lines of what actually transpired. I still remember the night about ten years ago when ‘we went to bed with Peres and woke up with Netanyahu.’ It is not only the pre-election polls that are deceptive (has anyone ever told those pollsters about taking a representative random sample?), the actual results are not final until every last vote has been counted, and some of those are sent from abroad by diplomats and other service personnel and can have a significant effect on the result.
Some friends confess to being ‘clinically depressed’ by the result, and deeply worried for Israel’s future, and more pertinently, the future of our children and grandchildren. I grant that those are legitimate concerns, but at this stage, having cast our vote and fulfilled our democratic duty, there is little more we can do, and worrying isn’t going to help.
The bottom line seems to be that Israel is no longer the open, liberal country with a social conscience that it was intended to be, and essentially was to begin with. Both the sociological composition of the population and the geopolitical situation around us have changed, and it is impossible to remain stuck in the same mindset as we were over sixty years ago.
One radical change is embodied in the fact that the people who founded the State, the kibbutzniks who tilled the soil and worked day and night to make the desert flourish, were made pariahs by the hate-filled rhetoric of right-wing leaders, starting with the saintly Menahem Begin. In fact, the rhetoric of hatred has generally been the prime instrument of the leaders of Israel’s right-wing parties. It led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and just now, as we went to vote in the recent election, it was used by Bibi Netanyahu to garner votes.
That approach, which is supported by what is evidently the majority of voters, is based on a combination of genuine security considerations and the sense of injustice felt by that segment of the population that regards itself as disadvantaged. The people who voted for Netanyahu may well be disadvantaged, but little has been done to improve their lot by the Likud party in the last ten years – and in many cases their situation is worse today than it ever was under a party with socialist leanings.
It has been posited that the situation in Israel today is akin to one of tribalism – there is the orthodox tribe, the disadvantaged tribe, the prosperous tribe, and the Arab tribe – and each one hates and either despises or envies the other. That is a view to which I prefer not to subscribe, though it cannot be denied that at election time the differences between the various segments of Israel’s populatio are cultivated and exploited by the political parties.
Security matters aside, the vision of egalitarianism and enlightenment that was the banner held aloft by Israel’s founding generation, and to achieve which they were prepared to endure privation and discomfort, has been trampled underfoot by the combination of economic policies that promote self-interest and an ideology that pays little heed to caring for those less fortunate. Many of those who voted for Netanyahu will continue to remain disadvantaged and will have no one to blame but themselves.