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March 22, 2021 11:39 am
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Why Yesh Atid Is the Right Party to Lead Israel

avatar by Elazar Stern

Opinion

A general view shows the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, May 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

As Israel heads into its fourth elections in just two years, it can be easy to be fed up with the non-stop horse-race political coverage. Flashy polls on television and radio, and wall-to-wall coverage of coalition math, have made us lose sight of just how important this election is for the future of our country.

We find ourselves in an unprecedented moment in Israel’s history. The perfect storm of a lethal pandemic, an economic crisis, and a paranoid prime minister facing serious criminal indictments, is putting us on the verge of becoming a failed state.

This election is not about backroom political machinations. It is about my five children and 13 grandchildren, and yours.

This election is about what kind of country they will inherit.

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It is about whether Israel will continue to be a liberal, innovative, and open society, guided by our Jewish values — or whether we will stand back as our political system falls victim to continued political extortion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is looking to cobble together a coalition of ultra-Orthodox parties and far-right Kahanists. If he succeeds, it would be a slap in the face to the very core of Israeli society: hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens. It is a coalition that would test the limits of our relationship with the Diaspora, erode institutions and norms, and continue to tear us apart.

If elected to another term, Netanyahu will continue to incite groups in Israeli society against one another, solely for personal political gain. And this incitement and hatred risks poisoning our culture.

But replacing Netanyahu is not enough. The remedy for our national crisis is an unshakable commitment to the values of uniting the country, and bringing people together. Yesh Atid is putting forth well-balanced, rational policies — free of the extremities and excesses that have plagued our politics in recent years. These extremes have been on full display throughout the pandemic.

The government’s incompetence in dealing with the Haredi sector has resulted in damage to public faith in our system. Haredi politicians do as they please, regardless of the consequences. They extort the government for subsidies and exert control over the religious apparatus of the state. This cycle must be broken, in order for Israel’s future to be secured.

Yesh Atid believes there should be one law for everyone, and we will keep fighting for more equal national burden-sharing. But unlike others who incite against the Haredim, Yesh Atid has reached out to the Haredi community. We see them as having an important role to play in Israel’s future. We have sought a joint dialogue, while staying firm in our belief that the fundamental balance of the relationship between Haredim and the state must be changed, for all of our futures.

It is this balance of principled moderation that informs Yesh Atid’s religious and state agenda.

Yesh Atid believes that Jewish Peoplehood is inextricably linked to pluralism. We stand with world Jewry and the majority of Israelis who support pluralism in Israel. The Haredi monopoly is a threat to the Jewish character of Israel — it pulls people away from Judaism and each other, instead of bringing people closer to our collective Jewish unity.

For us, Jewish unity and support for pluralism will always supersede short-term political considerations. The decision to freeze the 2016 Western Wall agreement was a result of the corrupt deal-making we oppose.

Jewish unity, in Israel and with the Diaspora, makes us stronger. Yesh Atid supports reorganizing the Western Wall Plaza so that it is more evenly distributed between women and men, and we support increasing a public third plaza.

Yesh Atid believes each citizen should be able to institutionalize their personal relationship, as suits their worldview. We strongly support a Civil Marriage Law that will allow any two persons that wish to do so, to have a family life within a legal-civil framework. We are proud of Israel’s Jewish character, and support couples who decide to get married through the Rabbinate — but it should be by choice, not coercion.

Yesh Atid is driven by a commitment to preserving our values as a Jewish and democratic state, and protecting the rights of all our citizens. The Nation-State Law was an affront to our minorities. I am ashamed of the message it sent to the Druze community, whose brothers and fathers have fought and died for our country. A top priority of ours is to add an equality clause to the law, and fully enshrine the rights of our minorities.

One of the privileges of a 34-year career in the IDF is that you gain a deep perspective as a result of working, living, and fighting alongside Israelis of all backgrounds. And what I learned from my military service is that while we may come from different backgrounds, we are all united in a shared commitment to this home of ours.

My experience in the army made me realize that our identities and challenges defy simplistic, one-size-fits-all approaches. Yesh Atid — as a centrist party — is the most effective party to navigate this dynamic, and to secure Israel’s future.

Elazar Stern is a Member of Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, and a former Major General in the IDF. He served as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate before retiring in 2008.

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