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More than France with Humous

December 14, 2012

Shelly and Yair,

I’m in a bind, so I’m writing to ask for your help.  As our kids were growing up, I explained my two principles about voting in Israel.  First, you simply must vote.  You can take as much Dramamine as you need, but you have to vote.  And second, no voting for small parties.  Small parties are the plague of the Israeli political system, so you pick one reasonably sized party, down the pills, and cast your ballot.

They’re gown up now, those kids, but still, they’re asking me who I’m going to vote for.  Which is where you come in – maybe you can give me a good reason to vote for you, so I’ll have something to say to those kids that won’t sound ridiculous?

Obviously, Bibi isn’t an option (which is why I’m not sending this letter to him).  Even if I wanted to ignore his apparent addiction to making it harder for many American Jews to stomach Israel, even if I wanted to ignore his sticking his thumb in Obama’s eye with E-1 right after Obama gave Israel plenty of support during Pillar of Defense (though I grant you that Bibi probably never had any intention of actually building there for now), even if I wanted to ignore the fact that while there’s obviously no deal to be made with the Palestinians, we ought to at least take the high road and keep pressing them to come to the table so a few scattered souls around the world would see that we’re not the obstructionists … and I could go on … even if I wanted to ignore all of that, the problem is Moshe Feiglin.  

You see, the Likkud is becoming a caricature of itself.  Kind of what the Republicans did to themselves this past season in the US, only here, Likkud’s going to win handily.  But the Likkud got rid of Benny Begin, a soft-spoken, decent, honest public servant.  They tossed Dan Meridor, another level-headed, honest guy.

Whom does the Likkud offer us instead?  Danny Danon, for example.  (See Commentary Magazine’s December review of his book to get a sense of what a gift Danon is.)  And Moshe Feiglin.  Moshe Feiglin who’s recently said that “we will build the temple and fulfill our purpose in this land,” who’s said that “Arabs don’t live in the desert, they create it,” who’s been banned from entering the UK, and who on the subject of homosexuality has said, “Tel Aviv has become a city that has erased masculinity and where being a man is considered a sickness.”  Seriously?

So what about Tzippi, you’re asking, and that new party of hers, “The Movement”?  Beyond the instructive fact that she picked a party name that communicates absolutely no content, she’s a non-starter because we all know she’d blow it again.  Last time around, when she both won and lost, she could have taken the high road, allowed Bibi to become PM (because there was no way she was going to build a coalition), all while insisting upon electoral reform as the condition for her joining the coalition.  Bibi, Ehud and Avigdor were all in favor.  She could have forced the issue and made Israeli history.

But even more than she believed in electoral reform, Tzippi believed in Tzippi.  And as head of the opposition, well, she gave new meaning to meaning to “ineffective.”  And now, she’s surrounding herself mostly with people who have lost major elections.  Mitzna (good guy, but lost big), Peretz (not such a good guy, and also lost big).  Nope, Tzippi’s not an option this time, either.

Which is where you come in.  You know you’re not going to win.  Some 81% of Israelis believe that Bibi’s going to waltz back into office, and they’re probably right.  The question is whether you deserve a significant place in the opposition.  And that depends, at least for me, on whether you have anything important to say.

Thankfully, neither of you is promising us peace (or the tooth fairy, for that matter).  You’re too smart for that.  You’re promising some talks with the Palestinians, which would be good for our image, and you’re promising us some social justice.  So far, so good.

But here’s the rub.  Are you saying anything about your vision for this country that you couldn’t say if you were running for office in France, or Sweden or Denmark?  Anything at all about the Jewish nature of this country?  If you did, I might just vote for you.  So I’m going to help you out a bit.  Here are some things you could talk about.

Take social justice.  Are you just more mature versions of Daphni Leef, who back in the heyday of her summer protests had not a grain of anything Jewish to say about what this country should look like?  What Jewish vision animates your social goals for Israel?  If you’ve got nothing to say about that, why should any of us vote for you?  Israel’s got to be more than France with humous.  How’s it supposed to be different from Scandinavia?  We’re listening.

Or how about education?  I don’t just mean our sliding place in multiple international rankings, which is bad enough.  But what about educating a young generation of Israelis that knows that they will not live to see peace, that both they and their children will have to go to war to defend this country, and yet who are not consumed by hate?  Can Israel educate towards that goal?  If we can’t, we’re sunk, aren’t we?  And if you think we can do that, how?  Why have neither of you said anything interesting about that?

Do you have a plan for the Haredi timebomb that both accords them to right to live their lives they way that they wish, without my having to fund their lifestyle?  They’re not going to the army, that’s pretty clear.  And it may be good.  Do we really want to give M-16’s to thousands of young men whose allegiance is to their rabbi and not to the country?  But what, instead, do you have in mind for them?  Some kind of national service?  Do you have a plan for getting it passed?

Or if that’s too touchy, how about the irony that Moslems and Christians in this country have far more religious freedom than non-Orthodox Jews?  Do you have a vision for this country with a robust Jewish conversation at its core, in which the marketplace of religious and moral ideas (and not government granted power) determines who wins the loyalties of Israelis?

So far, of course, we’ve heard virtually nothing from you on any of this.  But it’s Hanukkah, that season when we pause to reflect on the question of why the Egyptians, Persians and Greeks of old are all gone, and we’re still here.  How did that happen?  It happened because we stood for something, because we had something to stay, both to ourselves and to the world.

What about you?  Do you have anything to say that a Norwegian couldn’t say for us?

If you do, tell us, quickly.  Because soon our kids are going to ask again, “Who’re you voting for?”  And we need to have something to say other than offering them another box of our Dramamine.


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