Despite the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been out of circulation as he has been sitting shiva following the death of his father, the Likud machine is working hard to arrange the next general election. According to the law, the election could be called anytime until November 2013. The prime minister and his advisers, however, have decided to accelerate the date to September this year.
A bill to dissolve parliament ahead of the next election is due to be discussed in the Knesset today (Sunday 6th May) which could see the Knesset dissolved in one week’s time. Even before the Knesset has been dissolved, I notice that campaigning has begun. Advertisements have already been plastered onto buses and primary campaigns have sprung into action. The election campaign has gained such rapid momentum that it is difficult to believe that only two weeks ago, there was no official speak of an election at all.
The prime minister has decided to call an election now because he is obviously riding something of a wave of popularity right now. He has had a fairly stable term in office without any major ups and downs. He has done nothing remarkable, but has also not really put a foot wrong. His popularity seems largely to have depended on the things that have been happening in the other parties rather than actions of his government. The other parties have been very helpful in assisting Netanyahu’s fortunes over the term of this Knesset. The contest for the leadership of the Labour Party resulted in considerable damage to the party as the two main rivals bitterly vied for the top position. Since then, the new leader, Shelly Yachimovich, has not really asserted herself in any major way in the public eye. Now that there is talk of an early general election, she has suddenly made a public statement saying that Labour could defeat Likud in the election. This is nothing more than wishful thinking. Tzipi Livni’s defeat as leader of Kadima and her subsequent resignation from the Knesset have left the party languishing. Opinion polls suggest that Kadima could be demoted from the largest party to the fifth largest after the next election.
In addition, the prime minister would have been dreading another summer of social protests. He managed, somehow, to cling on last summer during the height of the tent protest when his government was being held responsible for the constant and dramatic increases in the cost of living. He certainly would not wish to repeat that experience if he can possibly avoid it. The election campaign over the summer months is, I think, partially designed to divert attention away from the social protests and bring other parties into play in the economic discussion.
It will take the Israeli public a little more time to get enthusiastic about the election. The truth is that it would be very surprising if Netanyahu is not reelected as prime minister. Most people have already resigned themselves to this outcome, and have moved on. So what is there to be excited about in an election that is not expected to deliver anything new? Many will be voting for Netanyahu to register a protest vote against the others, who all seem unelectable. Even Ehud Barak, who is a previous prime minister, seems a million miles away from the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street in the eyes of most voters. The minor details of whether the Likud gains 31 seats in place of its current 27 seats, or if Kadima is the largest or the smallest party in the Knesset all seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Voters may be tempted to vote for one of the smaller parties if they believe that strengthening this party’s position within a coalition government may help to promote certain policies or legislation. This been proven to be effective by the Yisrael Beiteinu party in the existing coalition, which has been prepared to vigorously pursue issues that are of unique interest only to its voting constituency. It has enjoyed some success where this is concerned, and this fact is likely to secure it a similarly strong position in the next Knesset.
Despite the fact that the election seems not to inspire much excitement amongst the Israeli voting public, especially at this stage of the campaign, there are many reasons why Israelis should be excited and motivated by the election. We need always to bear in mind that this is the only true democracy in the Middle East, a fact for us all to be proud of. The election campaign is the greatest example of this democracy at work. This is also, uniquely, a Jewish democracy. This gives the chance to debate and vote on issues that are particular to us as Jews, and especially issues that concern our ongoing safety and security within the family of nations. In this respect, the Israeli elections have an impact on Jews living outside of Israel as well as within her borders. The more democratic the outcome of the election, the greater is our security and the more secure our future as Jews in the world. We should remember that the Arab citizens of Israel are also voters, and have their own parties which will send representatives to the Knesset as they have done since Israel was founded.
This democracy is not only important to Israelis and Jews, but is also important to the free world. Israel is a beacon of light in a dark Middle Eastern ocean that supports and finances Muslim extremism and terrorism in all corners of the earth. The fact that Israel contributes to a first line of defense against the threats of Iranian nuclear plans, Syrian government violence and Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism amongst others things, will always be a source of comfort and relief to many in the free world.
Unfortunately, democracy does not always deliver the right or the desired result. There are times that it could be argued that democracy has got things wrong. The best thing about democracy, however, is that it ensures the people the right to have their say again within a few years, and to hopefully put the wrongs right. This is certainly the character of Israel’s democracy, and is a cause for celebration. For so many years, Jews were denied the right to vote in the countries of their residence, and yearned for the opportunity to control their own destiny even in the smallest way. With the birth of the democratic State of Israel, Jews have been granted the opportunity to exercise this right under the Law of Return. It requires simply to prove that you are the grandchild of a Jew, and to turn up at the immigration desk at Ben Gurion Airport.
So, while Israelis consider who will deliver the best economic solution for them for the next four years or who will give them the best religious or ecological answers, we should not lose sight of the big picture that this election represents for Jews within and outside of Israel. Many generations of Jews would have been astonished and grateful for the little things that we take for granted. We are living their dream. Long live democracy in the State of Israel.