The temptation to read other nations’ politics as a reflection of our own is hard to resist, but it leads to faulty conclusions. The United States shares with Israel common values, respect for the rule of law and a determination to fight jihadist enemies that want to destroy us both. But Israel’s domestic politics, its multi-party parliamentary system and much else is unlike America’s.
The Jerusalem Post explained that Israel’s just-completed election campaign “focused squarely on domestic issues, and on a resounding call by the public to effect change in several key areas dividing Israelis: a fair share for the haredi community in the national burden of military and/or national service; the rising cost of living; and the growing gaps between rich and poor.” The second-place finisher in the race for prime minister, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, was a TV personality, essentially an icon for secular Jews.
Josh Block, president of the Israel Project, writes:
Israelis woke up on Wednesday to a new political configuration, but a largely unchanged political reality. The country’s center-right and center-left blocs, within which different parties compete for and cannibalize each other’s votes, have been roughly stable for over a decade.
Last night, a centrist country, rooted in liberal, Western values identical to our own, gave its vote to parties clustered around the political center. Those who predicted a different outcome will now have to ask themselves which of their assumptions, or their agendas, led them so far astray.
Those predicting, or rather rooting for (in order to discredit) Israel to usher in some right-wing, anti-democratic regime were mistaken in their assumptions about both the country’s politics and what it means to be “right” or “left” in Israel.
There is, and was during this election, no viable peace party in Israel that wants to double down on the Oslo accords. After Lebanon, Gaza and the Arab Spring, the public at large has largely reached a consensus that a “two-state solution” isn’t happening any time soon and the formula of land for peace did not bring peace. So none of the top vote-getting parties put forth a foreign policy that was distinct from, let alone contrary, to the ruling Likud Party’s approach to both Iran and the Palestinians.
So why was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “rebuked,” as some claim? A Christian friend who lives both in Israel and the United States said wryly, “Because he didn’t pick up the dinner check in 1978.” In other words, the politics of personal animosity and style shouldn’t be underestimated. Moreover, since it was a given that Netanyahu’s party would get the most votes, his supporters generally stayed home, leaving other energized parties the opportunity to seize more seats.
Why then should the mainstream media in this country be so transfixed by the election results and so determined to paint them as a loss for Netanyahu? It should be obvious by now that, in its disdain for the Jewish state (that, the president tells us, doesn’t understand its best interests), the anti-Israel left saw the election as a contest between Obama and Bibi, between conservative and liberal (in the American parlance) and between pro-peace and pro-war. As Block puts it, “While doomsday predictions of Israel’s illiberalism, endless caricatures of a country being transformed by some emerging ultra-orthodox monopoly, and threats of a radical shift to the right may have been en vogue for pundits (and useful for those whose political agendas are served by such misleading portrayals) they stand in stark contrast to reality – and to the real State of Israel.”
What is interesting is that conservatives, unlike liberals in the United States, have not been rooting one way or another for this or that party in Israel. The very idea seems absurd to them; that we should second-guess a democratic electorate of an ally is anathema. It is for only those who infantilize Israel, treating it as incompetent to manage itself, that the stakes were so high and the opportunity to discredit the Israeli electorate so tempting.
It is also important to see the message Israel delivered to the Palestinian Authority, which has essentially refused to negotiate with the Netanyahu government, hoping either the United States or a new Israeli government would give them a better deal. Instead, Mahmoud Abbas, the Jerusalem Post noted, was a real loser: “[I]t seems as if his choice to refuse any and all negotiations more recently came up snake-eyes with the Israeli public. The message voters delivered to the Palestinians on Tuesday was loud and clear: If you won’t talk, Israel will stop listening.” Actually, Israel stopped listening when it became evident that it has no peace partner and land concessions, building freezes and negotiations are all useless, if not counterproductive.