Will a Rotation Government Turn to National Priorities?
After covering three consecutive Israeli election cycles, and despite the announcement of a rotation government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival Benny Gantz, the question of whether ego will continue to act as an obstacle to effective governance still remains.
As a political correspondent in Israel’s most-read newspaper, Israel Hayom, I watched as the general public went from enthusiastic electoral interest to utter indifference as the political stalemate dragged on.
Journalism is my life’s passion — a career that I live and breathe every waking minute. So when the nation went to the polls three times, each election cycle required a massive and intense effort on my part, as it does for every journalist who covers political affairs.
Over the past year, Israel has been locked in an intolerable situation — that of political turmoil. The instability could continue regardless of what transpires next and much of it has been driven by a single factor: ego.
The unwillingness of political leaders to compromise sent the people to the ballot box again and again, and the ego factor could well continue to dominate political developments, even after the latest news.
The fact that a country brimming with technological achievements, which is busy dealing with enemies that surround it, and is now facing a massive coronavirus crisis, should be politically stymied for as long as it has been represents a major and unreasonable political failure. That needs to change.
The unfortunate truth is that elections in Israel have turned into a reality show. Many voters are guided by emotions when they cast their ballot. Netanyahu conjures the image of a strong leader; Gantz’s good looks play to his advantage; Lieberman has created an imposing image of a tough figure; Bennett projects the image of a friendly leader.
After three election rounds, with each yielding largely the same result, it is time that politicians understand that they must work together to overcome deep divisions. So far, and despite all of the recent developments, they have not demonstrated any ability to do so.
The voters, in the meantime, are fed up with hearing about the same old promises and messages. Members of the Israeli public are united by their lack of patience with our political system, yet they are largely divided between two camps. One camp seeks stability and the status quo in the areas of defense, international affairs, and areas of key national importance. Netanyahu meets those requirements fully, and has excelled in delivering on such expectations. But the other camp seeks change and the arrival of a new leader. Until last week, that camp found its wishes expressed in the Blue and White list.
But as we now see by way of the disintegration of that party, the Blue and White political alliance was founded for the express purpose of toppling Netanyahu from power. Three elections revolved around the question of whether Netanyahu would retain power or not.
None of the elections discussed how to improve the lives of Israelis, our place among the international community, or any other core issue. They have only been about Netanyahu staying or going.
Even the coronavirus pandemic failed to push the sides into an emergency unity government. Weeks went by without movement or compromise when it was so badly needed. And though Netanyahu and Gantz have now moved toward a rotation government, tough negotiations still lie ahead, and former political parties remain unwilling to budge, remaining divided over the core question of Netanyahu.
Covering these developments has been like working 24/7, and political reporters have barely rested for a full year.
As a political correspondent, I am aware of the weight of my words. What and how I report has the ability to shape the opinion of the public. The responsibilities of the job therefore require constant self-appraisal.
Although Israel Hayom is a right-leaning newspaper, my task was to focus on the Blue and White list, an assignment that came with its own complexities. These included facing pushback at Blue and White press conferences due to articles I had written the previous day.
The first elections in April 2019 were fascinating. A new list of parties had gelled together to form Blue and White, attracting new people, and the experience of getting to know them was refreshing for me and for my readers. We were interested in learning about the viewpoints of the new opposition.
The second elections of September 2019 created a significant challenge for reporters, who had to find new ways of covering what were essentially the same electoral issues. By the time the third elections rolled around, everyone had lost interest. My sense was that we journalists were, by then, writing and speaking to ourselves. The people had become exhausted and uninterested in political affairs. On taxi rides to Channel 13‘s morning studios, even drivers stopped asking what the day might bring — a product of the sense of endless stalemate.
With the coronavirus dominating the headlines, a new and cynical joke developed among political correspondents: that the coronavirus would win the elections. Perhaps, in light of recent announcements, there’s more to that than was initially expected.
After all is said and done, it’s become clear that most people are not deeply interested in politics. A small fraction of the population follows political developments, and you can see and gauge their views on Twitter and other social media platforms. Most people, however, are simply seeking a better life, and they will vote for those likely to help them to build secure businesses or provide better education for their children. For that to happen, a government must now form.
Despite, ironically, increases in voter turnout after the mudslinging between the political camps, the electorate seems more disenfranchised than before. Public disgust increased and the estimation of politicians among the voters reduced.
It is too soon to know where developments will lead exactly, but whatever these latest announcements produce, ultimately a fundamental change to the electoral system is needed and long overdue. It’s the surest way to restore public faith and interest in the political system.
That fundamental change should begin with the raising of the threshold for parties to enter the Knesset to a level that leaves no more than four main parties on the ballot paper. Doing so would remove the ability of small parties to extort whole political blocs and grind the country into the political paralysis we have known for a full year, across three elections.
Additionally, and no less importantly, politicians must learn how to get along with one another, and to finally begin cooperating for the national interest. Battles of ego are not what will win the war against the coronavirus in Israel or restore public faith — a core foundation of any healthy democracy.
Let’s hope that we are now finally entering an era characterized by the subjugating of ego and the raising up of national priorities. I, along with my colleagues, will be watching — and reporting.
Danielle Roth-Avneri is an expert at the MirYam Institute and is currently a leading political correspondent and editor for the Israel Hayom/Israel Today newspaper, the most widely circulated publication in Israel.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.