If you haven’t been paying attention to the Israeli elections taking place next week, it’s time you started.
They are important for many reasons, not least because the outcome of the Jan. 22 balloting will determine the direction of the Jewish homeland as it faces a host of critical security, diplomatic and domestic challenges.
As our coverage indicates (pages 8-10 and 13), it is virtually guaranteed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be installed for another term, given the predictions that his Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance will dominate among the 34 parties contending for votes.
But the pollsters also forecast that Netanyahu’s governing coalition will veer right as increasingly disillusioned Israelis have all but given up on the hope of peace with the Palestinians any time soon. Parties that advocate annexing parts of the West Bank and don’t worry about diplomatic isolation are finding traction as voters understandably see themselves increasingly isolated.
Their neighborhood is growing ever-more dangerous, with Syria on the verge of collapse and new revelations about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s repugnant invective against Jews and Zionists only exacerbating Israeli skepticism about his plans for the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. (Recently uncovered videos show him urging his followers in 2010 to “nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred” of Jews and Zionists. In another appearance, he referred to Zionists as “the descendants of pigs and apes.”)
The Israeli elections also serve as an important reminder of the vibrant democracy that drives the Jewish state. Sometimes Israeli election campaigns appear more like three-ring circuses, with so many parties and personalities competing for votes. But the robust competition (there’s even a Pirate Party this time around), colorful (though blessedly shorter) campaigning, and free and fair elections attest to Israel’s true democratic nature. Contrast that with her neighbors, even those that these days profess to be democracies.
Lastly, the shift in the Israeli political landscape could lead to another rough patch in Israeli-U.S. relations. Regardless of one’s personal views of Obama and Netanyahu — whether we love them or hate them — it is incumbent upon us all to educate ourselves on the issues, to understand what’s at stake and to work constructively with the Obama administration and Congress to ensure that even as differences inevitably emerge, the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong.
One thing is clear: As American Jews, we can only watch from afar as Israelis determine their own fate. Israel belongs to all of us but only those who live there get to decide who runs the country and how.