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Seeking Wisdom in Our Political Leaders

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For weeks now, the government has been in election mode.  Despite the fact that there are many issues that need to be debated seriously, the politicians sense that elections are in the air and direct their comments more towards their own constituency than towards an efficient solution to any given problem.

One example has been the raging debate over the proposed legislation establishing Israel as a Jewish state.  Some have argued that this definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish State already exists in the Declaration of Independence.  But this is really more an excuse than a reason to object to the law.

Others  who have voiced opposition to the law express concern for the continued democratic nature of the state.  But all of the proponents of the various drafts of this law support  democracy, and in fact each of the pieces of the legislation give voice to that concern and state unequivocally that Israel is a democratic state.

Yes, there are differences in the legislation with some defining Hebrew as the official language with Arabic given a special status, and others leaving the issue out.  Some believe that these issues are best left to precedent and consensus rather than legislation.  But there have been numerous incidents, both internationally and domestically, where legislation of this sort would have assisted the Government of Israel to put forth a position that is otherwise more difficult to put forward without the legislation.

Netanyahu has long insisted that the basis for any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians be predicated on their recognition of Israel as  a Jewish state.  The reason for this is clear.  The Arabs have refused to relinquish their claim to an Arab right of return to what is Israel, enabling millions of so-called Palestinian refugees to settle in cities such as Haifa, Lod and Ramle.  Absorbing these refugees and giving them citizenship in Israel would pose a direct threat to the Jewish nature of the state.  Furthermore, Arab rhetoric in recent years has made it clear that they are willing to recognize Israel as a state but not as a Jewish state, enabling them to further their goal of redefining Israel as an Arab State or at least a bi-national state with equal rights to immigrate to the state for Arabs and Jews.  Again, this would destroy the Jewish nature of the state in a matter of a generation, based on demographics if not on ideology.

There is another issue.  Often the debate surrounding Israel and its policies includes accusations of racism.  While there may be some people in Israel who are racist, as there are some racists in every society, Israel as a society is not racist.  But it is a society that includes people from different religions and nationalities and while all of these people are citizens of Israel with full equality under the law, our society does recognize these differences and gives them space.   And yes, the Jewish religion and culture has a separate status.  Jewish holidays are official legal holidays and Christian and Muslim ones are not.  But anyone is free to take off vacation days on their own national or religious holidays.

The debate over democracy is a complicated one in Israel.   Although we are totally committed to democracy, democracy should never be used as a tool to erase the Jewish nature of the state. And when nations look at Israel and criticize the way we handle our various national and religious identities, they are often basing themselves on a democratic model that makes no allowance for the national identity of a state.  Creating a different model does not mean we are racist.

What I have expressed so far are issues that are very much in the consensus in Israel.  And yet, the legislation regarding the Jewish state has created a huge outcry and vociferous debate.  Most Israelis are actually scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the fuss is all about.  Yes, there are differences in the various legislations proposed but like all important pieces of legislation, this is why the legislation goes to committee, to work out an agreed-upon final draft.

Except that elections are in the air.  Ever since this government was formed less than two years ago, many doubted the government would last long.  Yesh Atid, the brand new party headed by Yair Lapid garnered 19 seats and few people even knew what they stood for.  The party itself is a strange mix of right and left, religious and secular, and they have demonstrated enormous inexperience in accomplishing a political agenda.  The Likud, on the other hand, although the party of Prime Minister Netanyahu, has only 18 seats after splitting from Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu party.  So with a very splintered coalition, Netanyhu is having trouble getting anything done.  And the ministers seem to spend more time attacking government policy and jockeying for popularity within their own constituencies than working on compromises that would enable the government to keep functioning.

Most of the members of Knesset have no interest in elections any time soon, because they realize their own seats could be up for grabs,  But once it becomes likely that elections will be soon, each member of Knesset and each party leader begins to campaign, voicing extremist positions that bring them popularity among specific voter groups.

Ideology is important to me and I support political parties who articulate ideological positions that I can identify with .  And I wish that the positions articulated by our leadership would in fact be the positions that are implemented after they take power.  But without a solid majority behind any given ideological position, compromise is necessary.  But there is a huge difference between compromise that is aimed at keeping a failing government together and compromise that enables productive work to go forward.  If the current government is indeed about to fall, I hope and pray that the next government will be one that is comprised of MK’s who see eye to eye on critical issues, who are committed to the Jewish nature of the State of Israel and who are not afraid to base their decisions on faith and ideology.  And I hope these leaders will have the wisdom to create consensus around these issues, and  demonstrate real leadership, not just political grandstanding.




Sondra Baras