I wrote about crazy Israeli politics last week. But today I want to explain why, despite the confusing electoral system, the multitude of parties, the coalition maneuvering, etc., it is really quite simple. There is one issue that is of paramount importance to the great majority of Israelis, and nothing else comes close.
That issue, of course, is security, or how to manage the hundred-year old conflict with the Arab and Muslim world.
While there are strong feelings about the balance between religious and secular society, economic issues, etc., all of these things are clearly of secondary importance when most Israelis vote. If you read the American press, which relies greatly on Israeli voices from the left-wing media and academic establishments, you would think that there is presently a burning issue about whether the government or right-wing groups or Avigdor Lieberman is suppressing free speech. You would think that large segments of Israeli society closely follow the progress of the ‘peace process’ and that many of them are sympathetic to the efforts of the Women of the Wall to be permitted to read from the Torah at the Western Wall.
You would be mistaken.
Israelis are worried about Hizballah and Hamas rockets aimed at their homes, and they want to know what politicians plan to do to defend them. They are worried about the Iranian nuclear threat. Many are uncomfortable with uncontrolled immigration of third-world refugees across the porous Egyptian border. They are concerned by the radicalization of Arab citizens of Israel. Most think that the ‘peace process’ is a charade carried on to please the US. They think the Women of the Wall are silly, if they think about them at all, and don’t understand why they want to make trouble with the Orthodox authorities, even if they abhor those authorities.
But keep this in mind when the next elections come around: the winning parties will be the ones that have the best answers to the security question, the ones that will most persuasively explain how they intend to disarm or defeat Hamas and Hizballah, and prevent Iran from getting the bomb.
Before 2000 many Israelis believed that the Oslo process could be made to work. When Ariel Sharon proposed his disengagement plan, a large number followed him. Both of these programs were associated with political parties, Labor and Kadima respectively, and when they failed, the parties behind them took hits as well.
Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, while they come from different parts of the political spectrum, have this in common: their background as commanders of the top commando unit in the IDF, the sayert matkal. This counts — not because Israelis are militarists, but because they see competence in military matters as an absolute necessity for a nation that is unfortunately always at war.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see this sign hanging on the wall behind the next PM:
It’s security, stupid!