Israeli Society Isn’t Extreme, So the Center Can Still Prevail

Our political culture is sick and incapable of translating the popular will into a functioning rule of the people. So we must define a new center now.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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One reason for the demise of the social protest movement of summer 2011 was that many Israelis could not identify with its left-wing agenda.
One reason for the demise of the social protest movement of summer 2011 was that many Israelis could not identify with its left-wing agenda.
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

At third and fourth glance the results of the recent election appear less bleak than they seemed at first and second glance.

The first piece of good news is that Naftali Bennett lost a third of his power. This was partly because his party was seen as homophobic — and in the new Israel you can’t be both cool and homophobic at the same tie.

The second piece of good news is that Avigdor Lieberman lost two-thirds of his power because young Russian-speakers here no longer want Belarus politics, but California politics.

The third piece of good news is that extremist Moshe Feiglin got kicked out of Likud, and Shas renegade Eli Yishai failed to make it into the Knesset. Because unlike (enlightened?) Europe, (dark?) Israel rejects candidates and parties clearly seen as racist.

The fourth piece of good news is that Joint Arab List leader Ayman Odeh has spawned a large united Arab party, because in the democratic Jewish state Arab men and women can do what they can’t do in most Arab states — vote and be elected in a free and fair election.

The fifth piece of good news is that the unadulterated nationalist camp gained less than one-third of the vote, and the split ultra-Orthodox camp gained little more than one-tenth of the vote. So the majority in Israel apparently is still one that can be negotiated with. Maybe it’s still one with which one can build — or save — a country.

All this good news of the 2015 election has been overshadowed by one crushing piece of news — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s undisputed big victory over the media coalition that rose against him. But a mere six weeks after that bombshell night of March 17, this piece of news has grown stale.

The 34th government’s desperate labor pains prove beyond a doubt that King Bibi is no king, Queen Sara is no queen and Netanyahu’s fourth monarchy is no monarchy. Because in the end, everything here is ramshackle, fragile and temporary. Everything here is a petty shtetl. The wretched Israeli township is one of wheeling, dealing and haggling, and everything is personal.

Do we have a governance problem? We have a complete absence of governance. Is the administration weak? We have a vacuum, not an administration. Our political culture is sick and incapable of translating the popular will into a steady, functioning rule of the people that strives toward some horizon of hope.

Obviously much of what we thought and wrote a short time ago was groundless. It’s not true that Israel made a sharp turn to the right. It’s not true that Netanyahu rules alone.

On the other hand, the situation in which (again) there’s no king in Israel is frightening. The situation of acute instability is appalling. The way things were run by the previous government and the way they’re run now — nothing can be done here.

The way things have been run and are being run, it’s impossible to make peace or endure a war. It’s impossible to foment a social revolution, but also impossible to ensure economic growth. Our inferior political system has deteriorated even further, losing control.

The conclusion is clear — we need a center. Israel needs a sane, strong, worthy center like the air it breathes. Since Israeli society is not that extreme, it’s possible to establish a new center. Since Israel is already in crisis, it’s crucial to establish a new center.

As we watch the repulsive spasms of politics past, we must define the center now. Around it we can forge the politics of the future.

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