What Israel’s Election Really Reveals About the Jewish State
A saying attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt states that small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas. This is not applicable to all commentators on public affairs but it is sadly true about the remarks made by the White House after the victory of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – as well as declarations during the controversy over the speech Netanyahu delivered to a joint session of Congress on March 3, 2015.
It must come as a shock to the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media to learn that “divisive rhetoric” is used in hard fought national political campaigns in other democratic countries. The media must also be bewildered that “values and democratic ideals” have been perverted by an Israeli election in which 25 political parties participated, and in which 10 parties got seats. In Israel’s election, 71.8% of the electorate voted, 17% higher than those voting in the 2012 U.S. presidential election and 35% higher than in the U.S. Congressional election in 2014. On that basis, which country better fulfills democratic values than Israel?
Most important is the absence of attention by the White House to the participation and relative success of Israel Arabs in a free and fair election. The threshold to gain seats in Israel’s proportional representation electoral system was raised from 2% to 3.25%. Far from being “marginalized,” the Arab groups thus formed a united party, the Joint List, composed out of four previous Arab parties, that got 11% of the vote and 13 seats in the 120 member Knesset. This success makes the Joint List the third largest party in the Knesset. Since 4 other Arabs were elected from other parties, there are now 17 Arabs in the parliament, almost the proportion of Arabs living in the State of Israel.
Estimates show that about 65% of the Arab population of Israel voted. In contrast, the estimated vote of African-Americans in the U.S. 2014 Presidential election was less than 25%. It is also worth noting that the chairman of the Israeli Central Elections Committee, which oversees the election formalities, is an Arab judge.
Two others indicators are particularly interesting. One is related to the surveys taken of the concerns of Israeli Arab voters. These show that Arab voters are concerned with socio-economic conditions and their civil status, not with the issue that concerns the White House – the need for a Palestinian state. Those concerns and priorities are about employment, education, healthcare, and neighborhood crime, rather than statehood issues.
The other factor is that Israeli Arabs, more represented and more confident, can be expected to play a more considerable role and have more clout in the politics of Israel. What impact that will have on the security concerns of Israel and the possibility of a Palestinian state remains to be seen.
After the election, President Barack Obama appeared to be more concerned with maintaining his opposition to Netanyahu than in offering congratulations. Other political leaders, British Minister David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Francois Hollande, the prime ministers of Australia, Netherlands, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and India quickly made the customary polite remarks to the Israeli leader.
In the interests of peace, as well as harmonious U.S.-Israeli relations, it is essential that Obama rethink his immediate response to Netanyahu’s victory. Obama had already injected himself into the Israeli electoral campaign. Netanyahu was perhaps excessive in his rhetoric that complained of the foreign-funded effort to topple his party. Yet he was correct that a group, led by a former national organizer for Obama, had set up the electoral V15 organization and boasted they were doing a job of getting out the anti-Netanyahu vote with over 15,000 volunteers throughout Israel.
Obama expressed displeasure at Netanyahu’s pre-election comment that he did not approve a Palestinian state while there was chaos in the Middle East, a qualification that was either not understood or ignored by many commentators. It would be wise to accept the Netanyahu’s statement that he remains committed to a demilitarized state of Palestine if conditions are satisfactory.
Netanyahu explained his position by arguing that Islamist forces have absorbed every territory that has been vacated in the Middle East. Now that’s an issue for discussion by great minds.