In Israel, sometimes all it takes to see the gulf between parties supposedly close to each other on the spectrum is to attend one of their events; I noticed this immediately after one (at a bar, where else?) hosted by former Minister of Heath Yael German of the Yesh Atid party. German, a former mayor of Herzliya when a member of Meretz, spent most of the event talking about tackling different facets of corruption endemic in Israeli society. She discussed, among other things Yesh Atid’s move to do away with the wasteful Minister Without Portfolio system, as well as its efforts to further the integration of Haredim. But many of those in attendance weren’t there to hear about corruption (and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it seems that Israelis have inoculated themselves against the subject, anyway).
Rather, most of those eager to ask questions wanted to know about German’s views regarding the legalization of marijuana in Israel (from what I understand, she is against direct legalization, as is Yesh Atid Chairman Lapid, although she wants to work for ‘backdoor’ acceptance through medical use). One would have thought, by the near hysteria that accompanied some of these questions, that this was an issue of life and death, upon which the very fate of the country rested. The discussion reached a fever pitch when, from literally out of the shadows, a pro-cannabis activist dressed as cannabis leaf armed with a megaphone (yes, really) started screaming at German, only to be escorted off of the premises.
|The activist in question, complete with megaphone.
In fact, the only question pertaining to anything remotely related to foreign affairs came from a polite older women who meekly asked about Yesh Atid’s platform regarding the peace process. To her credit, Ms. German came out in favor of a peace accord based on the Arab Peace Initiative (for more on why the center and left need to promote said initiative, see here). Yet the fact that she had to be prompted by someone, forced to talk about the subject, is in itself highly problematic. In summation, the most shocking thing about the event (for me, at least) was not watching a grown man dressed as a plant being manhandled by a guard; it was the fact that a high-ranking candidate of an avowedly ‘centrist’ party did everything in her power to avoid having to talk about the Palestinians.
Compare this to a statement made by Mossi Raz, a Meretz candidate, at an event that he hosted days before: “I’m assuming that all of you are already familiar with the Geneva Initiative? Good, then I don’t need to go into the details”. Activists were not only eager to talk about the peace process; they made it their central topic of discussion, trying to formulate ways to defeat the right from coming to power by convincing undecided or Labor-leaning voters to vote Meretz instead. The mood was somewhat pessimistic, but among those in attendance there was a clear end goal-end the occupation, end Israel’s international isolation, prevent a slide into non-democratic rule of law. Most importantly, it seemed that many had internalized the idea that a vote for the Zionist Union would simply lead to more of the same.
Two different candidates, two different constituencies, two very different sets of priorities. It’s often said that the left is concerned with the peace process almost to the point of obsession. That’s an exaggeration, but there’s some truth to the fact that parties like Meretz sometimes focus on the peace process to the detriment of other issues (to counter that claim, see their economic platform here). And parties like Yesh Atid can hardly be blamed for making the economy their central plank given that a. it’s supposedly what people want to hear about and b. it’s Bibi’s weak point.
But, as I witnessed during the 2013 elections as well, there is a real, conscience aversion to talking about peace. That many in Israel have given up hope and have turned inward isn’t surprising, nor is it the central problem. What’s more problematic, is a political class that has become so frightened of talking about unpopular but pressing subjects lest it lose votes, that it buries it deep within party platforms. We saw this occur to great effect two years ago when then Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich practically ignored talking about negotiations with the Palestinians, going so far so make claims that Labor had never been a “left wing” party. The result? Labor received a paltry 15 mandates, while Meretz doubled is numbers from 3 to 6. It now seems that Yesh Atid risks falling into the same trap.
No one should have any illusions that a peace accord will be a cure-all for Israel’s woes; we’d still be left with a culture of rampant corruption, an ethnic divide between Jewish and Arab citizens, an erosion between church and state, and various other, deep-seated problems. But negligence of the peace process will touch upon all aspects of society-it will have an averse effect on Israelis politically, diplomatically, culturally, militarily, and yes, if sanctions eventually come into play, which they will, economically. Try as they might, citizens and most importantly, politicians must internalize the fact that they ignore these discussions at their own peril.