Israeli Elections: Voting For The Past

As any trekkie knows, rifts in the space-time continuum are a fact of life; and as any Israeli knows, one of the defining such domestic rifts is the one between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv: for the two cities are only 60 kilometers (40 miles) away, and yet they stand some 2,000 years apart.

And what about Jerusalem and another city, Washington, DC? Here, in the three weeks since the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, and the general elections in Israel on February 10, we've witnessed yet another physical improbability: a reversal in the direction of time itself. For while Americans chose to look to the future and embrace change, Israelis have achieved the feat of both going back in time and setting themselves for continuing down that impossible direction, into the past.

It's difficult to recall two so different elections, so close together in time and so distant in substance: In the US, a campaign that was much about leadership, change, optimism, and "that the old hatreds shall someday pass." In Israel: a vacuum of leadership mostly filled by recycled non-leaders; a clear choice against change and for the perpetuation of what is familiar, even if proven false or has failed; a deep sense of pessimism, or perhaps just exhausted boredom? and to top it all - not only believing in unavoidable, endless conflict, but also unprecedented legitimacy to racist, fascist ideologies. In these elections in Israel, the parallel to Obama's 37-minute speech on race were 3.7-second sound bites on "citizenship and loyalty", with Israeli Arabs singled out as disloyal and their citizenship being put into question. Almost 400,000 Israelis voted for these ideas; I wonder whose "loyalty" they will want to examine next. Suspicion towards minorities, perpetuation of conflict and no-end-in-sight for the occupation, public acceptance of counter-democratic notions, and more - all these present clear and immediate threats to Israeli democracy. True, no democracy is quite perfect; but the accumulated weight of these threats now creates in Israel a reality where the basics of respect for human rights and democratic values are at risk.

Israelis haven't put "old hatreds" behind them - rather, many have opted to put their hopes behind. But this must be temporary. As any trekkie knows, rifts in the space-time continuum eventually close. Reality catches up with humanity. A rift closes, and suddenly - a brighter tomorrow opens. There is a way forward: there always was, there always will be. It doesn't take a miracle. It takes values, positive vision, unyielding commitment to truly engage people, and plenty of patience for the very long road ahead. But this society has gone through too much for it to become that stuck in the past. Once we turn back around - and we will - the future will again be ahead of us.