Yesterday, almost 72 percent of nearly six million eligible Israeli voters demonstrated their most basic democratic privilege to influence Israel’s future by voting for the twentieth Knesset (Israeli parliament).
A very short and emotional pre-election period of only 90 days ended last night with surprising results that contradicted all pre-election polls. The Likud, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party, has dramatically grown to 30 seats, while the Zionist Union, of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, which boasted a lead of almost four mandates in the polls, succeeded in winning only 24. Meretz, Israel’s most liberal party will hold on to four of its current seven seats, and Yesh Atid, Israel’s center party, and the 2013 elections kingpin, lost almost half of its seats. Another interesting development is the Joint List of the Arab parties, which for its first time in Israel’s history is the third largest party with 14 seats. A very positive result of these elections is the unprecedented large number of women slated to serve as Knesset members in the next parliament.
Despite, or in spite of, a very vocal cry in the last few months to see Netanyahu leave the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem, yesterday’s vote actually shows a steady commitment to Netanyahu, who will head Israel’s 20th government, and serve as its prime minister for the fourth time.
World Jewry is of course deeply interested in Israel’s politics and passionately follows, sometimes with great concern, everything that is going on in Israel. For most Jews, and non-Jews around the world, Israel’s most pressing problem is the comatose peace process, solving the Israeli-Arab conflict and resolving Jewish identity issues.
Initially, all pre-election polls reflected a gap between the concerns of world Jewry and what’s on the mind of most Israelis with regards to the purpose of the elections.The polls showed that for Israelis, day-to-day reality, cost of living, quality of life and equality in our society is what most of us living in Israel are concerned about. It’s not because we in Israel do not care, do not want peace or consequently have given up on living in harmony with our neighbors, most of whom live just a few miles from our towns. On the contrary, our disillusionment is a sad result of a deep disappointment in how the peace process panned out, and we are scarred deeply by the second intifada. Many of us in Israel sadly feel that our relationship with our neighbors (both the Palestinians and surrounding countries) is heading nowhere at the moment and that there is not a real, serious and honest partner sitting on the other side of the table.
Surprisingly, the count of mandates shows a different trend than expected. One that clearly reflects a majority of Israelis looking at Netanyahu’s determined concern and stance with regards to Iran, as well as a commitment to the “greater” Israel vision.
Like most Israelis we, too, took advantage of the sunny vacation day (election day in Israel is by law a vacation day) and after voting first thing in the morning, headed to Jerusalem’s Old City for some site seeing. Wandering through the Arab market is always a moment of great optimism for me. Jewish, Christian and Muslim ornaments peacefully lay together on one shelf throughout the market. Jews pray by the Western Wall while Church bells play, and the Muslim muezzin calls for prayer. If it all exists together within the great walls of the Old City, a city that witnessed heroic battles and tragic disputes for decades, why can’t it spread out and expand to all areas of life, beyond tourism and exotics sounds and smells, to our real life, our existence. I may be naïve, but I’m a believer.
This Jewish homeland is based on Jewish values as stated in our Declaration of Independence: “The Jewish State will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” David Ben Gurion’s dream to build a Jewish state, to make the desert bloom, and to excel as a modern country has become a proud reality, but we are, like many countries, a work in progress.
Like previous democratic elections, these past three months proved once again that our own internal disputes, “sinat chinam”( groundless hatred) , tensions and lack of tolerance have the potential to destroy us no less than external threats and weaken us even more.
We should continue to invest in this amazing miraculous land and proudly see it shine, while continuing to dream, hope and pray for days where harmony among ourselves and among our neighbors becomes a solid reality. Together we should look towards a better and brighter future, or as Ben Gurion’s vision states, “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”
For the benefit of the people of Israel and world Jewry I wish our new government sustainability and success in leading us to peace and prosperity.
Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Israel Center