You cannot overstate the importance of the elections just held in Israel. The astounding 72.3 percent voter turnout demonstrates that people felt that this time was different. They felt that they were choosing between two ways, and each side truly believed that its way was the only way to secure Israel’s future. Naturally, now that the right has won, many people on the left side of the political map feel frustrated and despaired. Some even ponder aloud (over social media) if they should stay in Israel or move elsewhere.
Beyond the paramount importance of this campaign, it was also one of the most venomous and divisive campaigns in the short history of modern Israel. It is no wonder that on the morning after, the first thing Isabel Kershner of The New York Times wrote is that she wonders if Netanyahu has the “ability to heal Israel’s internal wounds.”
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Even if Netanyahu lost, the Livni-Herzog duo would still have to heal Israel’s internal wounds, so the question is really not who won, but how the divided people can become a united nation once again. Those who are contemplating relocation are only doing so because they wanted to govern, and since they can’t, they want out. But if the desire to govern is our only motivation, then neither the left nor the right will have its way. All of us will lose bitterly.
In my view, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s words about the need for unity accentuate the single most urgent issue that should be on the new government’s agenda, whatever its makeup. Neither the way of the right, nor the way of the left will win us peace or favor in the eyes of the world. Only the way of unity can do that, and this is what the new government must pursue, first and foremost. If the new government implements a spirit of power struggles and division of the spoils, it doesn’t stand a chance. In fact, no government stands a chance if this is the spirit with which it functions. The result will be what everyone anticipates—a short-lived government.
However, if the new government implements a spirit of true unity—among all factions of the nation, from all sides of the political map— it will succeed for sure. What matters is not that it is a unity-government or a narrow-margin government, but that it is a government of unity—between secular and orthodox, Jews and Arabs, new arrivals (olim) and veterans, and generally every single person who lives in Israel. In short, the state of Israel should exist in a state of unity.
In her story, Mrs. Kershner was skeptical about Netanyahu’s ability to “better [Israel’s] standing in the world.” This is a euphemism for saying that Israel’s standing in the world is catastrophic, and that she doesn’t think Netanyahu will change it as long as he maintains his current policy. But if the Livni-Herzog duo were to form the next government, I have no doubt it would not do any better.
It is not for lack of diplomatic skills that I think so. In fact, I think diplomacy has nothing to do with bettering Israel’s standing in the world. To improve our standing, the people of Israel must begin to be a nation. It is not a question of building or not building in this or that territory; it is a question of inculcating a new state of mind. Instead of “us against them” or “anyone but him, ” we should start thinking in terms of “all of us, together.”
In my book, Mutual Responsibility: a light unto the nations in times of global crises, I used an allegory to show what I mean when I talk about unity: Let’s assume that we have two people: one is a 6’5” hulking mover working 12 hours a day, and the other is a 5’1” scrawny computer geek. The mover makes $15 an hour plus tips, and the geek, whose furniture he is moving today, makes $150 an hour, plus bonuses and options. Is this fair?
One was given muscles, another was given brains. They both use what they were given by Nature with equal diligence, so why should one make more than the other? They both contribute what they can and what they do best to society, so in their contribution, they are equal. Why doesn’t this apply to their incomes?
But what if the mover and the geek were brothers? Would the geek still be oblivious to his brother’s financial hardship? Even better, what if the geek were the mover’s father? Would he let his son go hungry or broke just because he didn’t get his father’s brains but a bulky physique instead?
Indeed, before we go about celebrating our victories or mourning our defeats, let’s pause for a minute and think, “What is it we’re really trying to achieve here?” “What are we showing the world by treating each other as we do?” “Is this how we want to be perceived?” “Is this the kind of ‘light’ we want to be unto the nations?”