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In the aftermath of Israeli elections

On my way to a family holiday abroad, I was forced to handle some flight delays that apparently can’t be avoided. Standing by the airline counter along with other frustrated passengers from across the world, I was approached by one of them who asked me where we were from. As soon as she heard we were from Israel, she reached out and held me, offering the most spontaneous, unexpected hug I ever got, and said, “I’m from Iran”.

Just like that, in the middle of a bustling airport in Europe, a human gesture proved how life without the interference of politics, without the intrusion of interests and power, can be so much better, brighter, and broader.

During one of the most political weeks the State of Israel has experienced in recent years, in the aftermath of a second parliament elections in five months and following extremally polarizing campaigns, I can only wish the kind, genuine Iranian lady I met in Norway will be the norm. It was an example of how two people with a shared desire to strive above the ugliness of politics, relate to one another as fellow human beings rather than rivals.

I may be naïve. After all, I was on my way to a dream holiday so being naïve was my state of mind at that point, shedding my usual Israeli cynicism. Yet, it was a great reminder of what we should hope for—the only way to embark on a vacation.

Yesterday, the People of Israel were called to elect 120 Knesset (Israel’s parliament) members, to determine who will serve in the opposition and who will lead and determine what type of future Israel will have.

As a reminder, the upcoming elections for the 22nd Knesset were called under unprecedented circumstances: the previous Knesset, elected on April 9th, decided less than two months later on its early disbanding after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government. This is the first time in Israel’s history that two elections were held in the same year. These elections ran under the shadow of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Forcing two elections in one year has its toll. The Israeli public is showing clear signs of fatigue, disgust from the political system, and apathy.

In general, the public’s optimism about both the future of democracy in Israel and the future of security in Israel is declining influenced by the growing tension in the north and the ongoing tension in the south with politicians too busy in personal survival vs running the State.

Relative to April’s elections, this time around more Israelis prefer to see the two large parties form a unity government—creating a strong, centric coalition, stable enough to govern for the next four years, lead the State through stormy waters and threatening winds.

And while the Left and the Right, the Secular and the Orthodox, the Jews and Arabs argue, defame, and slander one another, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president hosted the launch of the Declaration of Our Common Destiny initiative , calling on Jews of all ages, affiliations and nationalities to discuss, debate and shape the future, the joint future, of the Jewish people worldwide.

President Rivlin was quoted saying, “We must embrace our unity, and our diversity. We must see our diversity not as a source of weakness, but a source of strength.” He added, “As a Jewish and democratic State, Israel is essential for the survival of the Jewish people. In the same way, a thriving Jewish people, our fifth tribe, is essential for the survival of the State of Israel.”

President Rivlin’s call should be addressed to our politicians. Although Blue and White won with a slight advantage, we woke up this morning to a reality with no clear winner in a race that was too close to call. Neither center-left nor right-wing bloc are able to muster majority. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, may be heading over to the Opposition’s benches.
The leader whose party wins the most votes is traditionally the first person tasked with assembling a governing coalition within 42 days, and if he fails to do so, the President will ask the second largest party to give it a try. If neither is successful, a third round of elections will be forced on the people of Israel, a disaster by all means.

Close to 70% of Israelis voted, a similar percentage with similar results of the April elections five months ago. The Joint Arab party is the third largest party with 11 seats, but all eyes face Avigdor Liberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu party who with his 9 seats will be the deal breaker. Although Liberman is clearly a right-winger, he is an ideological secularist. This positions him to serve with either Netanyahu or Gantz.

The next 42 days will be fascinating, frustrating and most of all, critical in many aspects. Will Netanyahu, after 10 consecutive years as Prime Minister step aside and allow former Chief of Staff, Beny Gantz to serve as Israel’s Prime Minister? Or, what most Israelis hope for, will the two leaders join forces and form a unity government to address Israel’s great needs together, representing the People’s will?

The days are getting shorter. Leaves are blowing in the wind and wandering birds fly high above, looking for serenity. The Days of Awe surround us; fill our hearts and souls with prayers, exaltation and hope.

In 10 days, the Jewish people will gather around beautiful, festive tables, dip apple into honey and welcome the new Hebrew year with great expectations for a sweet, better—so much better—5780. A year where a simple hug from an Iranian stranger will be the common and animosity the uncommon.

I pray the New Year be filled with all the promise that lies ahead. May the curses and adverse circumstances of 5779 come to a close, and a new year, with its blessings, rise upon us.

“אבינו מלכינו, שמע קולנו, חדש עלינו שנה טובה”
“Lord our God, hear our voice, bless this year.”

Shanah tovah,

Leah Garber
Vice President, Israel Engagement | Director, JCC Association Center for Israel Engagement

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