Enthusiasm and Isolation in the 2019 Israeli Elections

Enthusiasm and Isolation in the 2019 Israeli Elections

In advance of the April 9 Knesset election, Israelis are reviewing the candidate lists put forward by the parties seeking seats in the parliament.

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

In advance of the April 9 Knesset election, Israelis are reviewing the candidate lists put forward by the parties seeking seats in the parliament. In Israel, voters choose a party, not an individual. To win seats in the Knesset, a party must receive at least 3.25 percent of the vote.

There are two major parties in this election: Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and the new Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party, led by Benjamin “Benny” Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

No single party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat Knesset, so whichever party is tasked with forming a government will form a coalition with parties that win a smaller number of seats.

The Blue and White party was created by merging a new party formed by Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, another former chief of staff of the IDF, with Yair Lapid’s existing Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party. The new grouping then added Gabi Ashkenazi, another former IDF chief of staff.

One columnist, Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev, pointed out the following on Feb. 21: “The prime minister may have reacted to the news of the new partnership with his staple warning against ‘a leftist government beholden to the Arabs,’ but he knows the ludicrous allegation won’t sway anyone outside of his loyal base. Describing a list that includes three former army chiefs with proven battle records in its top four spots as defeatist and disloyal is a bridge too far for anyone but blind admirers of the prime minister.”

Gantz and Netanyahu spoke at televised rallies. The new party has no record to run on. Netanyahu spoke to his followers about the successes of his years in office (1993 to 1996 and 2009 until now).

Netanyahu enumerated his achievements in his opening address. The startups in Israel continue to blossom because it is here, in Israel, where the “Jewish” brains are hard at work. Every major sale of a startup brings millions of shekels in taxes to Israel.

Transportation in Israel is a problem because Israelis now can buy a new or used car by just putting down a small amount of money and paying out the rest over the years. This has been the case in America for years, but here you had to put down almost 70 percent of the price of the car. With so many more cars on the roads, you can only imagine how terrible the traffic jams are, but everyone who wants can have a car. To facilitate traffic, highways have been widened under Netanyahu’s various governments. The best known, Highway 1, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, was widened to three lanes by putting in several tunnels. The highway has a bridge for animals to cross over. I have no idea how the animals know it is there, but Israeli animals are very smart.

The Netanyahu government has spent enormous sums to develop rail transportation, both city to city, and light railways in the larger cities. Ridership is higher than what was predicted. What the current government has done is impressive because it demonstrates what earlier government could have done and did not.

Two other points: Netanyahu certainly influenced President Donald Trump to halt the agreement with Iran. I cannot judge an American president but, sadly, former President Barack Obama did not understand Iran’s intentions. The European countries want to make money from Iran, so they continue to deal with that country. Iran wants to destroy Israel – there is no doubt about it. So, efforts must be made by a major power, the United States, since Russia and China will not, to halt Iran’s atomic weapon development.

Another triumph is that Trump, as the American president, recognized Jerusalem as the present and eternal capital of Israel and of the Jewish people.

The Blue and White party, according to one of its new leaders, came into existence after all previous attempts, because Netanyahu promised extreme rightist and racist Member of Knesset Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home party, that he would be the next minister of education. Netanyahu also added a small Kahanist party as a partner in this race for the Knesset. That was the straw breaking the camel’s back, bringing together the parties creating the Blue and White entity.

The fundamentals of the Blue and White party’s platform are still in final formation, but certain ones are clear. First and foremost, in order to avoid Israel becoming a binational state, creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel – two states for two peoples. Second, repeal of the nation-state law passed that says national rights belong only to the Jewish people. The stranglehold of the ultra-religious on religious practices, military policies, and hospital-health policies must be broken. The transportation building program must be placed under professional leadership because of problems springing up based on policies that the cheapest bids be accepted.

In the view of the Blue and White party, under the leadership of the Netanyahu government, the secular education system has been riddled with religious studies created by Chabad and other ritualistic religious entities. Textbooks on a variety of subjects have been rewritten so students in public education system do not hear about the theories of Darwin and others who have followed him. Other scientific developments, which supposedly are against the Jewish religion, have been removed from the textbooks.

The ultra-religious are beginning to enter the army in units segregated from those in which women soldiers serve. Ultra-religious and religious soldiers in the army refuse to be in classes taught by women or exercises led by women. The leaders of the Army are trying to figure out how to deal with these issues after much foot-dragging in recent years. The Blue and White party plans to increase the draft of these individuals.

The Blue and White party’s most important goal is to diminish, in some way, the hatred in Israel which has grown up between the right and the left. For those who have lived here for a lengthy period, we are saddened by the deepening fissure extended across Israel. Certainly, individuals are entitled to their opinions, but democracies, we all believe, make it possible to argue in a civil fashion, but not to physically harm your opponent or destroy his or her property. This will be the most difficult nut to crack, but a large percentage of Israelis fear that this hatred could split the country wide open. Little attention has been given to this issue, and it can poison the country.

And because of the intransigence of the Palestinian leaders and Hamas, little has been done to increase the possibilities of peace.

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

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