Israel – Two worlds clashing: Opinion piece July 2020.

In Israel we currently see two worlds clashing.

Perhaps more accurately, running parallel, as if the other did not exist.

That is, the real world and the world of the internal machinations of the Israeli government and Knesset politics.

In the real world, Israel, initially an international leader and example of how to combat Covid 19, has become a study in the dangers of opening up the economy too soon and of the complacency borne of early success.

Simultaneously, the extension of Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank/Judaea & Samaria that was due to be implemented on/from the 1st of July, has fallen by the way side – either temporarily or into the never never.

The justification for forming the Israeli government coalition was the first order issue of fighting Covid 19 and its effects. And with a more distant second written into the coalition agreement, of implementing some form of extended sovereignty.

Benny Gantz continues to exercise and wield power beyond his numbers in the coalition itself. Which in a political sense, demonstrates quite considerable acumen.

Ironically, it may also be the high point of his political career because if Israel does go to another election, with Gantz’s party consistently performing poorly in the opinion polls, his hopes of being elected Prime Minister seem dashed.

And strange as it may sound, talk in Israel is increasingly of another election.

In the real world the megaphone issue is the economic havoc being wrought in daily life in Israel against a background of rising daily numbers of infections.

So what is the Israeli government doing?

Beating itself up on legislative issues which may be important, but which are not core to the circumstances that built the coalition in the first place, nor reflecting the reality of the immediate crisis in Israeli daily life.

Moreover when it does try and deal with Covid itself, Likud is split internally and confusion reigns.

Whilst the Prime Minister and those around him announce lockdown measures, the Knesset Coronavirus Oversight Committee led after all by a Likud MK – Yifat Shasha-Biton – vote some of those measures down.

Confidence in implementing restrictions is low due to the ever-changing instructions to business and the public.

There are both demonstrations against Netanyahu for a whole variety of reasons, and smaller pro Netanyahu demonstrations.

Which is where the two worlds overlap.

And yet all of the opinion polls, without exception, show Netanyahu and his block winning any election. By a smaller majority than a few weeks ago, but never the less, winning.

This is a reflection of the paradox where despite the situation around them, and the marked dissatisfaction with the political leadership, Israelis still see no rising credible alternate potential prime minister.

As far as Likud is concerned, despite internal opposition and some serious future contenders, as long as Netanyahu is seen as taking them into government, his position is somewhat secure.

For the so called opposition, where are their shining knights? Not a single one to be seen.

Hence the two types of demonstrations – only either for or against Bibi.

Netanyahu is the issue – exactly as he was for the recent series of elections.

I am reminded of the big social justice protests in Israel that began in July of 2011. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis participated in them and for a sustained period of time. Netanyahu was already prime minister at the time.

Israelis claimed that from this movement would come the new Israeli political leadership.

Three names from 2011 stood out.

– Daphne Leef was the initiator of the protest movement. She never really entered politics and today is a film-maker still pushing for social change, but in smaller circles with very limited influence and no national profile.

– Stav Shaffir was arguably the political voice of the ‘revolution’. Young and articulate, she went into the Knesset in the Labor Party. Shaffir ran for the party leadership in 2019, lost, changed parties, spat the dummy and in the election earlier this year, found herself outside of the Knesset completely, having failed to be re-elected to a Knesset seat at all.

– Itzik Shmuli arrived at the social protests as the head of the National Union of Israeli students. He rose through Labor ranks, also challenged for the party leadership – and also lost. Unlike Shaffir who was highly critical of him, Shmuli stayed with the party. The two erstwhile allies fell out badly with Shmuli sending a message to Shaffir – “Keep your calls to yourself. Goodbye and good riddance”
With Labor now down to only 3 seats in the Knesset, Shmuli and veteran Labor leader Peretz, joined the current Netanyahu government.

In parts he is seen to have ‘sold out’ and in any case he is in a party that seems to be headed for political oblivion.

The biggest indictment of the anti Netanyahu forces are that in these times and with all of the possible valid criticisms of the Prime Minister, there is no defined opposition and no real alternate leader from outside of Likud.

Naphtali Bennett sort of plays that role currently and he has risen in the polls. But to date he has generally done well in the opinion polls and much less well in any actual election.

In any case, he is politically to the right of Netanyahu, heads a relatively smaller party and is nothing close to what the centre and centre left are looking for.

Ergo the disconnect between the two worlds.

If one looks at the Knesset and the general political world, one could despair and kvetch.

And if one looked frankly at the dangers facing Israel internally and externally, one could think similarly.

Yet in the real world, Israelis demonstrate their true feelings about their long term future despite short term setbacks.

Peter Hartcher writing in the weekend papers here in Australia about the effects of Covid wrote: The decision to have children overwhelmingly depends on confidence. Confidence in the future of the country, the society, the economy, the household. Fertility rates depend ultimately on the same magic elixir as economic growth itself – confidence for the future.”

Israelis continue to have the highest annual birth rates in the developed world of approximately 19 births per thousand people. To compare to say Australia, the UK and USA, each with around 12.

As an aside, Israel’s birth rate per thousand is even higher than India’s, which is approximately 17.

And it is the higher than western birth rates of secular Israelis that maintain these figures, as other birth rates in Israel fall.

The OECD also measures the number of young people in its member countries, which is of course a reflection of birth rates, put another way.

Again, Australia, the UK and USA each have a similar figure with around 18% of the population in each country being under 15 years of age.

For Israel, the figure is 28%.

If that was not enough to demonstrate confidence in the future, aliyah figures are up significantly. Jewish people wanting to move to Israel.

There are both push and pull factors at play of course.

However, more Jews from around the world are signifying that they too view Israel’s future very positively.

Notwithstanding the political world, the way everyday Israelis go about their lives, and the increased interest in aliyah are the better indicators of real world optimism, whilst the newspaper headlines shriek gevalt.

Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW. 

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