Jason Pearlman | JNS
In a matter of days, Israel will go back to the polls … again. In a way, it’s a shame. The outgoing government provided an all-too brief respite from the endless cycle of elections and began to put key reforms in place. These reforms were badly needed to kick-start the Israeli economy and enact social change in areas such as civil rights, access to religious services and even ensuring a smooth start to the school year.
The outgoing government saw off the threat of an escalation in Gaza with a swift and targeted operation, promoted agreements with our neighbors on natural resources and even succeeded in reaching unprecedented diplomatic consensus on the Iranian nuclear threat.
Moreover, the government restored administrative stability, filling several high-level positions in the judiciary and defense establishments — something prior governments had failed to do, leaving key state mechanisms stagnant and hamstrung.
Clearly, I write as one encouraged by the progress made by the outgoing “unity government.” Even if not in full agreement with every policy or decision, I recognize that in the last 18 months, the country has been functioning much better than before.
We have not seen repeats of the riots in mixed cities we saw under former Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We have not seen the public spillover of diplomatic tension with the U.S. administration. Despite Israel’s penchant for controversy, we have been almost entirely spared outbursts of populism, media leaks and internal coalition mudslinging. All of this was accomplished with an unprecedentedly diverse coalition that included right, left, religious, secular and Arab parties.
So where did it all go wrong? And how can the Israeli electorate avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?
It’s important to understand why the outgoing government fell apart. The reason was not, as many expected, that the diverse range of parties with such vastly different ideologies failed to find common ground. Of course, there were tensions, but on average, with the expert parliamentary skills of figures like Gideon Sa’ar, who managed the coalition’s legislative slate with delicate professionalism, the parties were able to reach consensus even on contentious issues.
However, the government disintegrated because some of the parties could not reach internal consensus. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina Party, for example, was stripped to the bones before the government was even sworn in and continued to disintegrate thereafter.
Likewise, the left-wing Meretz Party was unable to keep itself together with numerous walkouts, walk-backs and internal run-ins spilling out of the party’s meeting rooms into the public domain. The result was a pressure cooker that simply couldn’t hold. Despite its accomplishments, the government was doomed from the beginning.
But there were parties that did hold together. It is no coincidence that Sa’ar’s New Hope was one of them. Even though it was a new party, bringing together a range of different political figures — young and old, men and women, religious and secular — it stayed together and conducted itself with respect and maturity.
It’s no surprise that New Hope is now running with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party as the National Unity Party. Like New Hope, Blue and White respected the values of consensus and the democratic process. The united list has even been joined by members of Yamina — Shirly Pinto and Matan Kahana — who also, time and again, even as their party came apart at the seams, showed they were prepared to support the greater good.
With polls showing that another political stalemate is likely and that another coalition of diverse parties will be necessary, this is a lesson that must be learned.
Voters must remember that even though members of Knesset are elected as part of a party list, once in office they can do pretty much whatever they want. They can switch blocs, form other parties, vote against their own party or simply not turn up for work.
When you attend a sports game, you always look at the team roster. You don’t think that your team will necessarily be successful because of its captain. You should do the same when you vote, especially because in Israeli politics, anyone on the roster can suddenly start playing for another team.
It is imperative to vote for a list that will work together. Vote for a list that you know will behave in a statesmanlike manner. Vote for a list that will put the country first, not bend to the personal whims of its leader. Vote for a list that exhibits internal unity and extended teamwork. Vote for a list that is based on a guiding principle.
For if not, the alternative is a hodgepodge of egos each trying to shout louder than the other. And the inevitable result will be another round of elections.
Jason Pearlman is an Israel-based communications strategist who served as an adviser to former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, among others.