I’m in the midst of my 10-day trip to Israel, visiting family and friends. I’ve been around the country now over the last few days. There’s so much to share but since this is a public affairs blog, I’ll relate my impressions of the local political sentiment percolating through Israeli society.
First, Israel is the most dynamic, opinionated and complex population that I can think of. Considering its size and population (about 7 million) it’s even more amazing.
I’m here at a time as Israel’s newly elected parliament is about to put together its governing coalition led by Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party. One thing is for sure, this will be a very right wing government. The one thing that worries me is the new foreign minister will be Avigdor Lieberman, a Netanyahu protege further to the right politically and who positioned himself as the champion of the Russian-immigrant community in Israel (about 20 percent of the population). His presence in the world diplomatic scene will be rocky to say the least.
Though what troubles me most is the absence of the left in Israel. This is a country founded on socialist principles and governed for the first few decades of its existence by the left-leaning parties who helped establish the country. That political establishment is totally gone today. The Labor Party, and its descendants, are totally decimated, winning only 12 seats in this current government. That makes them the fourth largest party in Israel.
Moreover, Labor has succumbed to joining the government essentially at the behest of its leader Ehud Barak’s insistence that the party join the governing coalition. Of course, Barak will get the defense portfolio and the obvious personal political gain sums up his reasons for signing on to policies that his party would not support.
But look beyond Labor and its failing leadership, you don’t see any party out there with new ideas and energy to offer an alternative to the right wing parties. That’s a dangerous scenario for the liberal and even centrist population in Israel, which is substantial. They would categorically object to the hard-line and religiously oriented positions of this government.
Talking to people it makes perfect sense why Israel has made this right turn. First, they feel their backs are to the wall and that the rest of world does not or will not understand their situation where the Palestinians in Gaza fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli population centers and Israel’s self-defense responses are criticized as unnecessary or over the top.
Second, some of the country’s major political leaders on the right and the left migrated from their parties to join the centrist Kadima Party. Today, many people think of them as “sell outs” who were not loyal to their constituents or their principles. As a result, their popular support has dwindled.
And lastly, there is no new ideas or leaders from the left. Israel views that any risk they take for peace has been met with violence and war. They are tired of taking chances with the Palestinians who they view as constantly violating incremental moves towards peace. Whether this is true or not, this is the sentiment.
It is clear to me what is needed in Israel today to get back to a healthy democracy. The left must come up with new leaders and ideas ready to motivate a population starving for both. It needs Obama-style politics of hope for a better day.
In fact, the U.S. elections in November coincided with Israel’s municipal elections and the Obama effect was clear. Long dominated by insider political establishment politicians, voters chose many young, fresh faces to lead their municipal governments. People I asked here remarked how much their were inspired and hopeful from the Obama campaign.
There’s some food for thought. More to come later…