Watching the evolving campaign for the presidency of the United States, I cannot help but contrast the messages across the ocean with what we experienced in the recent Israeli election and in the ongoing coalition discussions.
Americans are being treated to fresh faces, barrier-breaking candidates, new ideas, and dreams of a better tomorrow; the first opportunity for a female president; the possibility of the first Cuban-American president; candidates talking about healthcare; sharing ideas for education; debating immigration policy; discussing creating more jobs; and more.
We in Israel, on the other hand, were treated to mostly old faces, old ideas and little vision for any real change. The campaign slogans for the two leading parties were: “It is either us or him,” and, “It is either us or them.” Essentially: “Just not the other guy.” The party that won the election by a knockout did so with no platform.
It had no vision for education, no vision for small businesses, no vision for religion and state, and no vision for young couples and the elderly. Literally no vision was presented for anything at all other than “Just not the other.” And it won! And therein lies the problem. The Israeli public allowed this to pass. Voters could have demanded real debate and could have rejected leaders who refused to present a platform. They could have opted for fresh and new.
And now we are stuck with coalition talks in which no one is demanding the Education portfolio in order to help a failing education system; no one is debating policies to save a crippling health system (that ministry is simply being handed to a sectorial party which finds ways to benefit its own from that position); no one is requesting the Economy Ministry with a plan for small businesses; and no one is clamoring for the Welfare and Social Services Ministry to help the elderly while getting the younger generation to work.
There is close to zero discussion about ideology, and mostly a discussion on how to distribute prominent cabinet portfolios to those who view themselves deserving of these positions of honor.
We are also on the verge of going backward in the battle against corruption. A convicted felon will likely return to the ministry in which he accepted bribes and abused the public’s trust and funds, without apologizing for it; the Construction Ministry will likely end up with a minister who was accused of improprieties in his dealings with the housing authority; and this government will likely find a way to circumvent the law that demands that governments be kept to a maximum of 18 ministers – a move that will increase cushy positions for MKs at a cost of approximately NIS 100 million of public funds.
No ideology. No vision. Corruption.
That is what we get for allowing an election campaign to be devoid of content, and only about “Just not the other guy.”
But the public can also be the source of the solution to these problems by demanding a change to this situation. Citizens throughout Israel must not allow the same visionless, tired faces to win elections.
Israeli voters must have the courage to open the door to fresh young leaders filled with dreams and a vision for a better tomorrow. They must say no to corrupt politicians and convicted felons regaining power.
I hope that Israelis will pay close attention to the presidential election campaign in the United States beyond the positions the candidates take regarding Israel. I hope they internalize the need for those fresh faces, and a zero tolerance for corruption.
I hope they become inspired by the vision that the candidates will present and their detailed platforms to deal with every important issue. I hope they recognize the importance and value of actual, live debate between candidates who must answer real policy questions, explain their stances and defend their values.
And, most important, I hope the public remembers these lessons the next time we, in Israel, head to the polls.
The writer, a rabbi who made aliya from the US, served in the last Knesset as an MK for Yesh Atid.