Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reflections on the Israeli Election

Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.

  The results are in, and they are quite different than what we were told to expect.  David Remnick of the New Yorker predicted a certain rightward, theocratic lurch in Israel politics.  The New York Times claimed that the lack of enthusiasm for the election was blatant, and Netanyahu's reelection was a shoe-in.  These portrayals of Israel's election were horrifying -- thankfully they were patently false.  Based on all exit polls, the center-left block won 59 seats with the right-wing block winning 61.  We witnessed a surge in the success of Israel's centrist and left-wing parties, and a bruising result for Israel's right wing.  Yes, Netanyahu will be the next PM, but it appears, just barely.
      So much of the mainstream media told us to believe that Israel was on the verge of implosion, and that it was on a fast track to becoming a radical theocracy.  When I spoke to so many friends and colleagues, they believed this to be undoubtedly true, and were readying eulogies for progressive Zionism.          
     How wrong they were. As I followed the elections today in the Israeli media, I read about the highest voter turnout since 1999, a country taking real accountability for its future. So much for this being the “Seinfeld” election about nothing.  Our brothers and sisters in Israel broke the bonds of inertia today, and in my opinion, have taken a huge, important step in the right direction.  The gaping chasm between what we believed about Israel and the reality that emerged should give us pause and teach us a few lessons:

1) American media rarely have their pulse on the most interesting and contemporary trends in Israeli society.  I was shocked by how many journalists I met while living in Israel that were not proficient in Hebrew, and presented partial accounts of Israeli society as a result.  Relying on English speakers in Israel for your insight into Israeli society will provide a profoundly myopic view.  Mostly, I've seen recycled analysis based on tired, and often pernicious, stereotypes about Israel.

2) We must be thorough and skeptical readers of what is written about Israel. Just as we cannot view Israel as a land without flaw, so too can we not assume that the most pessimistic portrayals are the most accurate.  Read a variety of viewpoints from all points on the political spectrum.  Usually the truth can be found in the aggregate.

3) There's nothing better than the original.  As Ruth told us last year on her visit, "Reading Hebrew text in English is like taking a shower with your clothes on." Until we, as an American Jewish community challenge ourselves to learn Hebrew, we will be kept out of the meaningful and authentic conversation about the future of our homeland.  Reading a variety of Hebrew language sources is the most reliable and honest way to construct informed opinions.

4) Have faith.  I believe with perfect faith that our brothers and sisters in Israel know how to live their lives better than we know how to live their lives, even when they make decisions that I do not agree with.  When we tell Israelis how they should be living their lives, most of the time they find it insulting, not helpful.  If the "right path" is as obvious as we think it is, Israelis will recognize it.  If it is rejected time and time again by the Israeli population, we should be the ones to look inward and ask why.

I'm not overjoyed with the election results (other than the fact that Dr. Ruth Calderon will be in the next knesset.)  I wish that the next Prime Minister of Israel was someone truly committed to economic justice, religious freedom, and effective diplomacy.  However, the landscape is quite different now than before.  This government is more diverse and fair-minded, and it includes thoughtful and passionate change agents.  Nearly 65 percent of all Israelis voted -- which shows just how vibrant and pliant Israeli democracy remains.

I'm not thrilled, but I am as proud as ever to be a Zionist. Today was a great day for the Jewish State.