The burning issues in Israel’s election (coming in 10 days) seem to be about personalities and short-term issues like how to reopen the economy as we recover (at least, we hope we are recovering) from the Corona epidemic. Of course the yes-Bibi vs. no-Bibi question is very big. There is a huge amount of noise in the media about the technicalities of our malfunctioning electoral system, and about the criminal charges against Netanyahu.
What we don’t hear much about are national goals and how to set priorities to reach them. Yes, we are a nation with long-term goals, or we should be. Unfortunately we appear to be bitterly divided on what those goals are, or should be. If you listen to the very vociferous Israeli Left, which is supported by well-heeled foreign sources in Europe and the USA, you will hear that the problem is that we don’t have enough democracy, which means that they should rule instead of Bibi and his religious partners. You will hear that “occupation” is the root of evil, and “settlers” are its demons; and that Bibi is a massively corrupt demagogue and a fascist.
But in fact this is the position of a small minority of Israelis. It’s a minority that includes much of the media and almost all of the academic and cultural establishments, so it has an outsized voice, especially outside of the country. Most Israelis do not agree. They remember that the economy was far worse when it was more socialist; that the Left-sponsored (and European and American-supported) concessions to the Palestinian Arabs in the name of “peace” ended with blood running in our streets.
If you divide the parties that are running in the coming election on the basis of ideology rather than whether they would or would not join Bibi in a coalition, you find that there is a large majority that shares a consensus that is on the right or in the center in terms of economic and security policy. And the Israelis that support these parties agree on many important issues. These point to a set of shared goals, which in my opinion need to be clearly articulated by the parties that want to form a government. Only after its clear where we want to go as a nation can we begin to talk about strategies to get there.
There are some parties that are outside the consensus. The Haredi parties do not see themselves as part of the State of Israel. Some of their factions are explicitly anti-Zionist and others view the state as no different than that of the Tsar. Their objectives are to utilize it to provide funds for their educational systems and to make it possible for their supporters to insulate themselves from modern society, with all of its temptations, while still receiving the economic benefits of modernity.
Unfortunately the growing size of the Haredi population makes it impossible for the state to sustain their “all take and no give” lifestyle. It is essential for the future of the state that Haredim give back to the society in the areas of national service and the workforce (which requires that they learn secular subjects in addition to their religious studies). In order for this to occur, the Haredi parties must no longer be allowed to hold the balance of power in government coalitions. We often hear “but not all Haredim…” and this is true. But their political representatives fight for the unacceptable status quo.
The Arab parties are also, shall I say, “not helpful.” Many of their MKs are explicitly Palestinian nationalists or Islamists, and without exception they are anti-Zionist. It’s thought that they are significantly more militant than the general population of Arab citizens, many of whom accept the idea of living as a non-Jewish minority in a Jewish state. That’s not to say that they are entirely without grievances – for example, recently Arabs have been angry about a crime wave in their communities that they feel is not taken seriously by the police – but they are pragmatic and more interested in economic issues than nationalism. Maybe someday they’ll elect representatives who also feel this way.
Leaving out the extreme Left and the Haredi and Arab parties, I believe most Israelis more or less agree that our important goals are prioritized as follows:
- Security. Of course it must be first priority, because without security there can be nothing else. “In every generation they rise up to destroy us,” and in this generation our main enemies are Iran and its proxies. Neutralizing our enemies has to be priority 1, whatever it takes.
- The State of the Jewish People. I put this one second only to security because it is the essence of Zionism, and without a Jewish state there will not long be a Jewish people. There are those who think that the idea of an ethnic nation-state is old fashioned or even racist, but the situation of the Jewish people is different from that of others. The truth of Zionism has been validated by history, which shows that the only way that Jews can protect themselves from antisemitism is by living in a Jewish state. We can and must be fair to our non-Jewish minorities, but we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that a “state of its citizens,” even with a Jewish majority, is the same thing.
- The Land of Israel. We are ambivalent regarding the territories. Are they part of Israel or not? Although it may turn out that we will agree to establish autonomous Arab areas in parts of Judea and Samaria, the situation today in which they are governed by a complex, overlapping system of laws, some of which go back to Ottoman times, is absurd. We should annex Area C, put an end to European intervention in this area, and move forward with settling Jews in it.
- Capitalism. Private property and ownership of the means of production is a better economic system than a planned socialist or communist economy. Capitalism provides more growth, faster response to external conditions, more meritocratic opportunity, and is more likely to be consistent with individual freedom. Of course there are some functions that are better performed by governmental or quasi-governmental bodies, like health care, education, and policing; there need to be rules that protect the public against the excesses of private capital (e.g., monopolies); and there need to be safety nets (see below) for those who for some reason can’t compete in the private marketplace. But again, history – including the history of Israel – shows that capitalism works, and governments should do what they can to reduce friction in the market.
- Justice. Nothing is more important to ensure the cooperation of citizens and their respect for the law than the belief that they can obtain justice from the system fairly and efficiently. And Israel’s criminal and civil justice systems, including the police, the courts (up to and including the Supreme Court), as well as the tax authorities, do not inspire this kind of confidence. Improving these systems ought to be a major national goal.
- Safety nets. I mentioned this before, but it is important enough to have its own item. There are people who are limited by physical or mental disabilities who cannot provide for themselves. Sometimes it’s possible to rehabilitate them, and sometimes they must be supported by the society as a whole. Israel does a better job at this than some other countries (like the USA), but there are areas in which support is insufficient or people fall through the cracks.
- The electoral system. I’m putting this in because of my frustration with our recent inability to obtain a stable government. It seems to me that some serious effort needs to be expended on the way we select our Knesset representatives and government ministers in order to make it possible to democratically choose them without elections every few months.
- Family law. Marriage and divorce are in the hands of the religious authorities, something that can create enormous problems for secular people, including many of the million or so immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, and same-sex couples. The state should provide a domestic partnership system that would provide the legal foundation for a household of any two individuals, which is entirely separate from an (optional) religious marriage. Issues like taxation, divorce and child custody, and so on could be dealt with in this framework.
These are larger goals than the short-term ones on which electoral battles are fought; but one of the reasons we bother to elect representatives is to articulate such longer-term objectives. It’s a pity they rarely pay attention to them.