After a year in which peace talks collapsed between Israelis and Palestinians; the Gaza War of the summer further isolated Israel from world opinion while confirming that Hamas and an ever-radicalizing Islamist movement rejects dialogue and favors ongoing terror; the growing rift between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu burst into the open; the continued strengthening of ISIS and its particularly virulent and murderous expression of fundamentalist Islam caused increased concern; an increase in racist attacks against Israeli Arabs brought shame; Israeli settlement policy continued unabated; increased terror incidents and random acts of murder against Israeli civilians enraged; and a general sense in the broader Israeli population that the basic services of the government--the economy, infrastructure, housing, education and health care--were not being met as well as they should be, topped off by the divisive "nation-state" measures encoding Jewishness over democracy in the Jewish state, it seems appropriate that Israel's Knesset dissolved itself and decided to head to new elections.
American Jews, who often sit at a considerable distance and judge Israel without ever having to really live in the shoes of Israelis -- a region unlike anything within North American borders (though in a post-9-11 world those borders are shrinking, aren't they?) -- would do well to roll up their sleeves, follow the news closely, and even better, hop on a plane and go talk to Israelis. See things up close.
One could argue that this is the most critically important election in Israel's history since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Just as Rabin's murder set into motion certain forces that maintain the agenda in Israel to this day, the current dissolution of this year's Knesset is a chance for Israelis, should they dare, to choose a new direction.
I'd like to see them choose democracy. This is actually eminently achievable. It requires a coalition of the Center, the Left, some willing Center-Right members of Knesset, at least one ultra-religious Israeli party (Shas, United Torah Judaism) and the Arab parties.
Impossible, you say? Could it be more "impossible" than the lack of progress we are currently witnessing?
Unworkable, you say? Could it be more "unworkable" than what we now have?
If, as Israel's Declaration of Independence originally stated, the Jewish state is to "ensure complete equality of political and social rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex," than what is the problem? The foundation exists for a Jewish and democratic state, for equal rights before the law, and for the opportunity, for those Israelis of good will--Jewish and Arab Israelis and--to find a way to live together in peace.
It's an election made to call everyone's bluff:
The Left can't govern with strength?
The Right can't tolerate democratic rights?
The Arabs can't accept citizenship with minority rights?
The Ultra-Religious can't accept the reality of the contemporary world with innovations like secular education, equal rights for women, some form of mandatory service beyond the house of study?
If there is not a parliamentary majority of at least 61 Israelis who cannot line up behind the reality that the way forward for a democratic Israel is a majority of diverse Israelis committed to finding a way to live together, now, than these indeed are dark days.
To somehow believe that this is not possible flies in the face of history. Israel remains for me one of the great, unimaginable miracles of the twentieth century. What small, far-flung, persecuted but determined nation builds itself a state, reclaims its national homeland, revives its language, and creates, in less than a century, one of the most vibrant, creative, economies and democracies the world has ever known? Who does that?
This is not apologist writing for all you cynics out there. This is pride in the unparalelled uniqueness of the Jewish people, which, while it has its own terrible, dark forces it is obligated to tame, prosecute and mend, still stands as a state whose good far outweighs the bad.
I don't live in Israel and I don't vote there. But as an American Jew, a Zionist, frequent guest in the country, a man whose heart bleeds for peace and co-existence, and a rabid fan of the good Jews can do, I'm cheering like hell from the sidelines.