Israel/Palestine,  Your View

On doing the deed

This is a guest post from Alex Stein of

The dominating emotion of this most undecided of elections has been anguish. Normally reserved for the most troubling of love affairs, this anguish has seized my nights and conquered my days; the scenarios all laid out, the permutations thoroughly hypothesised. Never before have the clichés about choosing the lesser evil been proved so true. And, if anything, the dilemmas only increased as the campaign (if that is what we can call two and half weeks of low-brow, personality driven bickering) progressed.

It’s strange to look back now, but everything started with so much clarity. The choice was between Bibi and Tzipi. This was an election favouring the right, which meant those on the left had to be realists. Instead of fighting among ourselves for the few votes available, we had to shore up the one candidate who actually had a chance of preventing the return of Mr Netanyahu. 

I joined “Youth for Tzipi”. Aside from the demands of realism, I was also impressed by her decision not to meet Shas’ unreasonable demands vis-à-vis child support, even if that meant missing out on the chance to be Prime Minister. Plus she seemed to be surprisingly down-to-earth and free from the corruption that continues to blight the upper echelons of Israeli politics. There was also the personal element – the opportunity to get involved in a grass-roots Israeli political campaign, and to develop my Hebrew.

For a whole host of reasons, I enjoyed the experience. But then came Operation Cast Lead. Like the rest of the hypocritical Zionist-left, I supported the jus ad bellum while maintaining reservations about the jus in bello. But I wasn’t pleased with Tzipi’s performance. She came across as belligerent and unreasonable, particularly in front of the international media, which is perhaps the most crucial battleground of Israel’s future. Her calls for the overthrow of Hamas were hopelessly unrealistic and seemed to show no awareness of the constraints on Israeli hard power. It was if she was walking into a trap set for her by the men. 

The war produced initial gains for Labor and Kadima, gains which fell away once the population came to the conclusion (a mistaken one, I believe) that the status quo ante wouldn’t be changed. Now came Bibi’s chance. I would have finished the job, he told us, breaking his diplomatic silence. At the same time, spurred on by the pro-Hamas rhetoric of the Arab parties, came Avigdor Lieberman, with his repulsive neo-fascist cry of “no loyalty, no citizenship.”

I was perhaps even more disappointed by the bill banning Balad and Ra’am Taal from running in the elections. This was supported by Likud, Kadima, and Labor. The ruling was overruled by the Supreme Court, but the damage in terms of alienation had been done. If the leaders of these parties have committed a crime then by all means prosecute them. But don’t ban them. If Israeli democracy is robust enough – and I believe it is – to survive 15 or more Yisrael Beitenu MKs sitting in the Knesset, then it should be robust enough to cope with a few anti-Zionists.

By this stage it was clear that my depiction of the election as a choice between Bibi and Tzipi was a trick of reductionism too far. Choosing the Prime Minister is arguably the lead significant aspect of the choice before the Israeli electorate. Pure proportional representation demands an impossible weighing up of conflicting goods and evil. I was never impressed with the rest of the Kadima figureheads, nor was I convinced of their peace credentials. Shaul Mofaz, anyone? It was clear that my choice was far more complicated than I had initially made it out to be.

I didn’t really want to vote for anyone who was prepared to sit with Lieberman in the cabinet, even if this went against my immaculate realist credentials. It also didn’t leave me with much of a choice. Aside from the radical left, the only party who had declared they wouldn’t sit with him were Meretz, a party I am prevented from voting for by a deep inner perversity.

I turned to Meimad-Yeruka, a liberal-orthodox/environmentalist hybrid led by Rabbi Michael Melchior’s, one of Israel’s few leading politicians with genuine integrity. The dilemma with a small party is that they might not even end up passing the threshold, but I had detected a certain cross-partisan enthusiasm towards them (Umm-el-Fahm Arabs to pro-Bibi Tel Aviv cabbies) which made me confident they would do so.

But yet. A friend I had earlier converted to the Tzipi cause phoned me up to remind me of the original reasons I had lent my humble weight behind her campaign. There is a clear difference between a coalition led by Tzipi and a coalition led by Bibi, whatever cabinet position Lieberman ends up taking. Doesn’t she at least deserve a chance?

I believe she does, but I wasn’t convinced I needed to help give it to her. My theory is that at the last minute a majority of undecided voters will vote on realist grounds. Bibi’s painful tree-planting in the Golan will get back some of the votes he lost to Lieberman; Tzipi’s apocalyptic scenarios will win back Labor and Meretz supporters. This, then, was the time to strengthen the small parties.

For some reason, the map on the Interior Ministry website told me my polling-booth was in Ramat Gan, a good twenty minutes from my home in the Vineyard. I got into a cab and explained the situation. The driver didn’t know the street, but said he would check over the radio. We talked politics. He was in favour of Bibi; I told him anyone (well, almost anyone) but. Then I mentioned Melchior. “Good point – he’s done some good things. That’s a very good idea.” Two undecideds, cruising down empty, mazy streets. The crackle over the radio, “There’s no Yitzhak Elhanan in Ramat Gan”.

The map had misled me. Yizthak Elhanan was, but of course, five blocks away from my house. We laughed at my immigrant error, trying to work out the purpose of this needless 40 shekel ride. “Vote for Melchior,” I told him. “Only if you do,” he replied, the mutual recognition of the life lived in the grey. Finally, my mind was made up. I headed into the booth, propelled by the small shreds of Zionist pride still left to me, and put the voting slip into the ballot-box. התנועה הירוקה מימד

On this day at least, naïve dreams of the future won out over the filthy demands of realism.