The Year That Shook All Our Assumptions on Israeli Politics

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.
Emil Salman

Certain major perceptions that had been defining our lives until now are being smashed to smithereens.

There’s the assumption that the Israeli government couldn’t rely on the Arab parties as partners, at least partial ones, in running the country; the assumption that Arab citizens, and particularly their political representatives, aren’t capable of freeing themselves from fiery language and hostile alienation from the Jewish public; the assumption that Avigdor Lieberman is only capable of deception and at the moment of truth, in return for appropriate political compensation, he will return to assure the continued reign of Benjamin Netanyahu; the assumption that “the people in Israel are shifting rightward,” and thus Likud would control our lives forever and any other political trend was doomed to failure; the assumption that those with an in-depth understanding of the eternal rule of the right would surely turn the right-wing propagandists into media stars, giving Yair Netanyahu, Miri Regev and Naftali Bennett all the exposure they wanted due to their prominent status, and so on.

Ever since this year’s elections, these assumptions, which were the foundations of our political thinking, have undergone an intensive shake-up. Suddenly it turns out that most of them are no longer valid and that we have to start thinking about reality differently.

The problem is that, as usual, many public leaders and influencers in the media cannot cope with this emotional and intellectual task and are almost unable to consider the possibility of change. This is especially the case because this confusing process is still ongoing and its results are uncertain: Not only can one always come out looking stupid, but it’s really a new situation, and new things are difficult to deal with. It’s easier to just repeat the old assumptions.

Is it possible, for example, that Lieberman really intends to support a minority government led by Kahol Lavan? Zehava Galon thinks there’s no chance, and she may be right. But her knee-jerk reaction doesn’t engender enthusiasm. The same skepticism is also at work in the opposite direction. Media appearances by Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh indicate that their arguments, and particularly the way they express themselves, have undergone a clear metamorphosis. Instead of endless criticism of Israel, they are now speaking in businesslike and even conciliatory terms about working together. Isn’t it important to put trust in such a dramatic turn?

Not everyone in Kahol Lavan or in the Arab parties understands this upheaval. Ofer Cassif of Hadash, for instance, has proven how the only Jew in his party can not only be the toughest ideological zealot, but also the most limited person. Balad is another group that’s wasting its time and the time of its voters by remaining deep in the frozen past.

It’s very possible that the Arab parties won’t succeed in meeting the challenge before them. And if Netanyahu doesn’t allow the formation of a unity government, it’s possible that Kahol Lavan won’t know how to come to an agreement with the Joint List that will facilitate the formation of a minority government. The situation is very fluid and is liable to fall on our heads like cold porridge.

Nevertheless, the changes themselves are happening. It’s the first time in many years that the fundamental state of Israeli society is opening to new possibilities. To act as if nothing is really happening and everything is continuing exactly as it has would be an error of rookies or losers. Lieberman, the Joint List and Kahol Lavan are capable of better.