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Let’s Stop at “Worried”

If you feel that the old Israel is gone, and a new Israel was born last week, when a coalition of right-wing and religious parties won a majority, go back to square one. Obviously, you’ve missed more than a few developments that brought us to this point. 
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November 9, 2022
Amir Levy/Getty Images

If you’re worried about Israel’s future, stand in line. Many of us are worried too. 

If you feel that the old Israel is gone, and a new Israel was born last week, when a coalition of right-wing and religious parties won a majority, go back to square one. Obviously, you’ve missed more than a few developments that brought us to this point. 

If you think it’s time for sane Israelis to pack and leave, or time for American Jews to cut ties — you’re not a true Zionist. If Zionists were to pack and leave amid obstacles, Israel would never have made it to its current, more than solid, place among the nations. 

What happened last week? A small majority of Israelis, assisted by more than a few tactical mistakes of their political rivals, was able to form a majority that is likely to become a ruling coalition for the coming years. This majority has a coherent, if somewhat farfetched, story about its mission: Israel is under threat because of people who strive to erode its unique position as the only state of the Jewish People. Israel is under pressure because of a universalist, secular, progressive, unpatriotic zeitgeist. The majority must resist this pressure, lest Israel cease to exist as an enterprise worth keeping. Israel’s majority was galvanized by constant repetition of this narrative.

It is a false narrative, but Israelis, or Americans, who hasten to “pack their bags” or “cut their ties” or declare Israel a lost cause, as more than a few this this week, make it seem true. If losing an election fair and square, no trickery involved, no stolen ballots, no violence, no illegal maneuvers, is a cause for measures as drastic as jumping ship—well, that is a proof of something, ain’t it?

Election Day is not a day on which a country changes. Election Day is merely a day on which a change that already occurred manifests itself. 

There is no reason to ditch Israel today. No more than yesterday, or the day before, or the year before, or the decade before. Israel had indeed changed. It changed in the ’30s, when waves of middle-class city dwellers eroded the dream of an agricultural, socialist society. It changed in the ’60s, when Jews from Morocco immigrated to the country,  it changed in the ’70s, when the long rule of Labor ended. It changed in the ’90s, when Russian immigrants entered the country, and changed in the first decade of the 21st century, when Palestinian violence pushed the Jewish public rightward. And yes, it keeps changing. For good and bad. Election Day is not a day on which a country changes. Election Day is merely a day on which a change that already occurred manifests itself. 

What is the essence of this change? Two main features come to mind. 

One — polarization because of a personal question: whether Benjamin Netanyahu is a legitimate leader for Israel. In this election cycle, more than ever before, there were two camps in Israel with a Berlin Wall type state of mind separating them. The refusal of half the country to let its representatives sit under Netanyahu left him with little choice but to make use of whatever political maneuvers he could muster. This included the legitimization of the once-outcast Itamar Ben-Gvir. 

Two — the gradual growth in numbers and influence of the Haredi parties, and their strong alliance with the right-wing bloc. Of course, there is nothing new about this. It is true today as it was true since the collapse of the Ehud Barak coalition at the very end of the ’90s. In July 2000, Shas, the Sephardic Haredi party, abandoned Barak as he decided to go to Camp David for the miserable peace summit with Yasser Arafat.

So, if you’re surprised, or feel that the change was sudden, I have little sympathy for you. But if you’re just worried, I can certainly understand why. The polarization of Israel is both a political complication and an emotionally distressing phenomenon. The rise of a relatively radical right/religious coalition with no balancing force to tame its ambitions is troubling. It’s troubling, because such a coalition is going to feel the need to assert its presence by initiating reforms beyond what’s truly needed. It’s troubling because such a coalition will include members with little experience in running a country, who never tasted the bitter outcome of hasty, unmeasured decisions. It’s troubling because some members of this coalition seem to want to enrage the “other side” by making outrageous statements, more than they want to deal with problems. It’s troubling because this coalition is likely to further entrench the Haredi enclave that is a challenge, economic and cultural, to Israel’s future. 

So yes, I’m a little worried. It is appropriate to be a little worried. But for now, let’s stop at that.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

One more paragraph on the differences between Israel’s two political “blocs”:

One of the distinct differences between the right and the left (it’s mainly the center, but we’ll call it the left for convenience) lies in the fact that the right has a sort of plan that it strives to implement, and the left does not have an alternative plan that it strives to implement. The right makes promises and does not always deliver. The left does not even make promises, and therefore it has nothing to deliver. Think about the outgoing government. What was its big promise? To have a government without Netanyahu. That is not a plan for action, but a plan of inaction: what not to do. Now think about the incoming government. It makes so many promises (some reasonable, some kooky), that it becomes difficult to even count.

A week’s numbers

Fifth and last? (in this cycle…)

A reader’s response:

Michael Remler tweeted: “If Meretz, Balad and Jewish Home had participated in appropriate joint electro lists, then Netanyahu would have 60 seats.” True, but a similar mishap prevented Netanyahu from winning back in 2019 (that could have saved us four rounds of elections). 


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

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