When we were growing up in Wellington many years ago (a bygone era – never to return) the highlight of the Jewish community’s social calendar and Zionist fundraising was the annual Jewish National Fund garden party.
Hosted by Zionist stalwarts, Heidi & Herbert Ruben, in their beautiful garden surroundings, it attracted almost the entire spectrum of the Capital’s Jews, young and old alike. One of the most popular attractions was the “lucky dip” stall where hopeful individuals, after paying a nominal fee, stuck their hand into a container and extracted an envelope which promised a prize. Naturally, most of the prizes were fairly unexciting but the lure of the one big prize ensured there was always a queue.
What has this blast from the distant past got to do with our elections scheduled for 9 April?
Very simply it is a similar exercise in blind faith or luck that the party we choose will actually deliver on the grandiose promises previously made. Rather than closing our eyes and extracting a mystery envelope we will instead be depositing a sealed envelope into a box in the vain hope that our ballot will actually make a difference.
On 9 April Israelis will have the opportunity to vote for the party they believe will best serve the interests of the country. Facing a bewildering array of over forty parties the choices are endless. Although this smorgasbord is in the opinion of many a bit of overkill it still beats the choices offered to those living in countries in our area where “elections” are either stage managed, manipulated, hijacked or occasions for incarcerating opponents.
Which issues should Israeli citizens take into consideration and what may influence our vote as we stand alone in the polling booth? Without any intention of making recommendations, I nevertheless lay out many of the concerns which face us at this critical juncture. Bear in mind five minutes is a long time in Israeli politics so several days is a lifetime during which a multitude of crises can erupt.
USE BY DATES & BIBI FATIGUE: Time for a change is often a motivation to change Governments especially if they have been in power for a number of years and are perceived to have run out of new ideas. Taking the electorate for granted, losing contact with grassroots supporters and believing that nobody else is qualified to lead the country are all factors which influence elections. No politician is indispensable despite what they may think and there comes a time when a new face is desirable. Sidelining possible successors so as to eliminate any chance of opposition never works in the long run. It will be interesting to see whether these factors will affect the outcome this time.
SECURITY: This is a crucial part of every Israeli poll. Politicians who were generals or leading military men do not automatically make successful politicians or Prime Ministers even though they may be touted as latter-day saviours. Likewise, those who make the most bellicose noises have in the past proven to be complete failures when it comes to security and defence matters. There is no doubt that the Gaza shambles whereby Jewish communities are being terrorized on a daily basis by rockets, arson balloons and kites plus violent mayhem is unsustainable. The farce of Israel allowing protection money in the form of millions of dollars from Qatar to flow into the coffers of Hamas while at the same time the terror groups proudly proclaim that mayhem will continue until Israel is destroyed must stop. Voters are increasingly becoming restive over this extortion and lack of action in thwarting the ongoing terror. Look for voters choosing those who promise to target the leadership of all terror groups and once and for all closing down this daily disruption to normal life for Israelis.
PEACE PROSPECTS: There are still some who fervently believe we have a partner to negotiate peace. Illusory as this is, nevertheless there are parties who pander to this mirage. However, a growing number of voters realize that not only do we have no viable partners but that we also cannot rely for our survival on an international community which believes we are “occupiers” in our own land. Therefore it is likely that those parties which offer realistic solutions, are prepared to defend our interests in the face of hypocrisy and double standards and are not terrified of declaring that Jerusalem is our Capital, Judea & Samaria are non negotiable, the Golan is Israeli and there is no place for creating another terror-supporting State will garner the most votes.
LIBERTARIAN ALTERNATIVE: For the first time we have a serious political party advocating less Government interference in our business and personal lives, breaking the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate, making meaningful reforms in our education system and legalizing cannabis and marihuana. The apparent appeal of these policies has caused some established parties to adopt similar objectives. It will be interesting to see where this leads.
ALLIANCES: The power of non-Zionist Charedi parties to hold coalitions to ransom, combined with an increasingly out of touch attitude to modernity, is likely to result in an interesting outcome. More young ultra-Orthodox voters who are now in the workforce and the IDF are no longer captive voters of these shtetl era parties. It will take time but a shift in political loyalties is discernable. Meanwhile, it would be helpful if those whose main interest is in milking the treasury, relegating women to the back of the bus and protecting a sex abuser from being extradited to Australia, spent some considerable time in opposition.
QUALITY OF LIFE: Affordable housing plus a strong economy are important considerations. Parties which do not promise the moon but instead offer realistic economic benefits and frugal management should attract the most votes. More investment in health care, welfare and public transportation is needed if Israel is to be a country where the quality of life, remuneration and affordability enhance living here.
OLIM & THE DIASPORA: We must prepare for further influxes of Jews from countries where living openly as Jews is becoming more hazardous by the day. At the same time, we must maintain good relationships with those who still do not see any reason at this time to move. Investment in Jewish education is crucial otherwise we will witness an acceleration of alienation already apparent amongst certain sectors. Of course, demands to change our policies can and must only be made by those living and voting here.
There are many more areas of concern which will exercise the minds of voters as they troop to the polls on 9 April. All of them depend for their implementation on a strong economy and united will to make changes for the benefit of everyone. Without a doubt, given the variety of views and parties on offer the end result will be another coalition which means compromises will have to be made.
At the end of the day, it all depends on the turnout. None of the pre-election predictions means anything if those polled refuse to turn up and cast their votes. Only a high turn out can reflect the will of the majority of the nation. The issues here are literally matters of life and death, therefore the motivation to perform one’s civic duty is higher. Unlike many other democracies, Israelis generally do turn out in large numbers. It is a public holiday after all.
The bottom line is whether at the end of the day we will receive all that has been promised.
To misquote Forrest Gump: Elections are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get!!
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.