If anecdotal feedback and surveys are anything to go by, an increasing number of potential voters are feeling tuned out as Election Day approaches on 1 November.
My own unscientific soundings of various age groups highlight a growing total disconnect from this latest attempt at electing a governing coalition. Obviously, the public is increasingly turned off by the juvenile antics of many who are aspiring to enter the Knesset.
This grassroots mood of discontent seems to have escaped the notice of those politicians still totally detached from the mood of weary citizens fed up with false promises and bombastic rhetoric.
The same failed individuals making yet another attempt at garnering our votes are repelling rather than attracting support.
What is it that they don’t understand?
In the good old days, political parties issued manifestos detailing their policies and describing how they would tackle the many problems facing the country, such as economic, security and social welfare. One could choose between good old-fashioned socialist solutions or opt for more liberal and competitive financial plans. The plain fact was that voters had the chance to peruse the various parties’ solutions to the problems of the day and decide which suited them best.
These days potential voters have to make do with vague generalities, sweeping assertions and unrealistic promises scattered like confetti which most of us know will never be fulfilled.
In addition, we once had political leaders whose personal lifestyles were modest and who had what seemed to be a genuine interest in improving the lives of ordinary citizens.
Prior to the advent of social media and its attendant intrusiveness, the things that counted most were coherent policies, a track record of service to the country, a devotion to the Zionist vision and a reasonable ability to articulate all the above.
Today, all it takes is an ability to look like a film star and rhetoric which glosses over the details and is instead big on generalities and taking down your opponents.
Once upon a time, it would have been unheard of for a twice convicted Cabinet Minister to not only lead a party (a religious one at that) but also be reelected to the position from which he had originally been removed. Today, we have an ex-jailed MK trying to return to the legislature and the Government. In addition, the head of the largest right-wing party is under indictment and striving to be PM again. Innocent until found guilty, he may be but isn’t there something shameless about someone in such a situation promising the moon and pleading for our support?
With its multiplicity of ethnicities, the Israeli electoral map straddles and encompasses most sectors of society which ensures a much fairer representation than is the case in democratic countries where only two or three parties always prevail. No system is perfect, but at least in Israel, there is a better chance of minority views being represented in the Knesset. With thirty-nine political parties vying for our vote and a relatively low 3.2% threshold required, critics complain that this is a recipe for instability, hence our frequent election cycles.
There are, however, two important mitigating factors that need to be taken note of.
In the absence of an upper House or Senate, the requirement to have coalitions means that compromises must be made and prevents a small majority from riding roughshod over minority opposition. The parliamentary system we have also ensures that a coalition or political leaders who have lost the confidence of the majority of the Knesset can be replaced and the electorate given another opportunity to elect alternatives. Contrast that with those countries like the USA and France, where the President remains in place for a fixed term and where short of a major scandal, they cannot be removed even if they prove to be incompetent or incapable of carrying out their duties.
As we roll up to the polling booths on 1 November, what factors must we take into account before casting our ballot?
What are the main major challenges facing the country, and do aspiring politicians have any coherent plan to tackle them?
Assuming that one issue parties have no chance, what choices do we face?
If you are a confirmed believer that Israel is guilty of original sin and that those who declare their intention to cleanse us from this land are really peace doves in disguise, then your choices are clear. You have a choice between Arab parties who are anti-Zionist and Meretz and Labour. Extreme left Meretz wants to return to the 1947 armistice lines and embrace Abbas, who incidentally is increasingly irrelevant as far as a growing number of Arabs are concerned. Labour which once was the dominant force in the early days has also drifted further left and, in the process, has ditched most of its socialist principles and support for developing settlements. Its current leader stated the other day that she saw no point in building transport infrastructure in the West Bank (her words) because that area was not going to be part of Israel in the future. Perhaps that explains why Labour is no longer a major force in the Israeli political landscape and has been reduced to a rump party.
If you are looking for a party in the centre but you are not sure whether it is centre left or centre right, you have several choices. Unfortunately, these alternatives all come with potentially severe flaws because they are composed in the main of refugees from other parties whose ideological acrobatics make discerning their real policies rather difficult and potentially fraught with dangerous consequences. Yair Lapid has pledged his allegiance to a two-State solution on our sovereign territory and has stated to Arab voters that he would make sure Jews do not (God forbid) pray on the Temple Mount. Benny Gantz has described the PA and Abbas as “moderates” even though their media and policies promote and support the murder of Israelis.
No wonder centrist voters are conflicted.
Right-wingers also face a conundrum.
Do they support Likud whose leader blows hot and cold every time the US Administration or the Charedi parties issue demands? In the past, he has supported a two-State solution and made agreements with Abbas, so can he be trusted in the future? If you believe that teaching core subjects is absolutely vital for Israel’s future and that the environment needs to be protected, how can you cast your ballot for a party whose leader promises to throw millions of shekels at Charedi schools which do not teach English and mathematics and promises to rescind the tax on disposable plastic goods and sweetened drinks just because his ultra-Orthodox allies demand it?
The alternative for religious right-wingers is the Religious Zionist Party. If, however, you are not a religious fundamentalist, then you will be repelled by some of their extremist views. In addition, “reforming” the judiciary so that one of its aims is to release the leader of Likud from current investigations is enough of a red flag to those who cherish the independence and separation of the courts and the legislature. On the other hand, if you support an uncompromising response to terror, then this party could be your natural choice.
The Charedi parties continue to pander to that sector. However, it is clear that slowly but surely, many younger, more modern members of that community are fed up with the ossified positions that they espouse. Caught in some sort of time warp dating back to the European shtetl these parties totally exclude women and are determined to keep their followers in abject poverty by denying them an education which would enable families to gain meaningful employment. When the head of one of these parties states that Israel does not need citizens who are proficient in English or mathematics or serve in the IDF, then you know that they are completely divorced from modern-day realities. Yet these are the very groups that Likud and Religious Zionist parties court.
This leaves right-wing voters who are tolerant of others and desire long overdue reforms in the areas of Kashrut certification and conversion and who once may have voted for the old Mafdal (National Religious Party) with a choice of the Jewish Home Party. However, owing to a feeling that they have now become too pareve and the fact that they will jump into a coalition with the above-mentioned parties it looks as though they will not garner enough votes to cross the threshold.
That leaves Yisrael Beiteinu, which is right-wing but secular and anathema to the Chareidi parties, who fear its policies of separating State and Synagogue and opening up all areas to more competition. Perceived as a purely Russian-orientated party, it does now attract other sectors but so far has not managed to receive double-digit representation. On the other hand, its leader (the current Finance Minister) keeps his promises and refuses to align with Netanyahu and his ultra-religious allies.
In common with the rest of the world, we face major challenges.
Cost of living, social disparities and associated economic hurdles need to be confronted.
Israel uniquely also faces other threats, such as defeating those plotting our demise and the rising tide of hate worldwide.
We do not, unlike New Zealand, need to introduce a flatulence (farting) tax or burping tax to “save” the climate. However, we could usefully introduce a hot air tax which, given the current emissions from our politicians, would certainly give our economy a boost.
The question remains. Who can we confidently vote for?