Israelis waving flags by the Forward

This Is The Least Important Israeli Election Ever

When you have seen as many Israeli elections as I have, patterns repeat. Every party spends a few months feeling out their electorate, dramatically overplaying the dangers of their opponents, and fighting internal battles for leadership. In the final month, you get TV ads, building-sized posters, overblown and suspiciously timed leaks, dramatic yet empty policy promises, and hysterical op-ed headlines.

And inevitably, the election is called the “most important in our history.”

Every time I hear it, it feels like Tim Cook plugging his latest wristwatch. It always rings false. But this time around, it rings especially false.

For this is, arguably, the least important Israeli election of our lifetimes.

Opinion | The Least Important Israeli Election Ever

To be fair, every Israeli election is important. In a small and embattled country, the election of incompetent leaders can translate quickly into friends and loved ones dying. Israel is a country speed-skating through history on a rapidly thawing river.

But this election season has been unusually bereft of issues. The economic miracles of the last thirty years have created a consensus on the biggest questions of fiscal and monetary policy. Similarly, on security and peace, in the Israeli mind there are no plausible alternatives on the table to the status quo, and Likud’s main opposition, the Blue-White party headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, are not really trying to offer one.

And on social issues, it seems unlikely that Blue White would fundamentally change the role of the Chief Rabbinate or the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox in the IDF.

Sure, it’s noisy. Both sides are screaming about the collapse of democracy. But the touchstone of a healthy democracy is the ability of an opposition to freely rise and not just channel dissatisfaction but actively encourage it. And on that front, we’re doing just fine.

I just do not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will actually annex the Jordan Valley or go to war to remove Hamas from Gaza as he promised on Tuesday. I don’t really care what Sheldon Adelson secretly told the police about Sarah Netanyahu. And I emphatically do not believe that this is the most important election ever.

It’s also not clear that Blue-White would be able to form a coalition without at least some of the classic right-wing parties; the traditional Israeli left continues to be noticeably smaller than the right, to the point that we might want to recalibrate our political instruments.

Instead, this election — exactly like the last one a few months ago — seems to be about exactly one question: Do you love Netanyahu or hate him?

Opinion | The Least Important Israeli Election Ever

It’s personal. The Prime Minister is despised by a lot of vocal people. He’s assailed, alternatively, as weak or militant, as a populist like Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, a clown, a divisive figure.

His supporters on the other hand see him as a steady hand who’s avoided war and kept the country prosperous for a very long time. But the most common argument I hear against him among Israelis is: “We’re sick of him, it’s somebody else’s turn.” Well, okay.

Netanyahu is 69, and will not rule forever. He has no obvious successor, which suggests that even if he escapes prosecution, it’s only a matter of time before Israeli politics goes through a serious, generational reorganization. In the meantime, we should expect a close election and, possibly, a repeat of the last round’s coalition-building dramas (though I suspect no party wants to be responsible for a Round Three, so there will most likely be a new government at the end of it).

With so little in the air other than Bibi vs. anti-Bibi, one cannot blame Israelis for suffering from election fatigue. They were tired last time — has it really been five months? — but now they’re really bored and tired. On the news one night, I saw a report about people planning on taking advantage of the day off to fly to Cypress or Crete for a quick vacation and skip voting altogether. They even highlighted a few travel companies offering great deals.

Opinion | The Least Important Israeli Election Ever

The exhaustion, the boredom — these are a real danger.

The one thing that might turn this into a surprisingly important election is if voters don’t show up. Democracy depends on participation, and when turnout is low, you get wildly skewed outcomes that give more disciplined or motivated communities a disproportionate voice. Weird things happen — and they are rarely good.

So maybe it’s okay that people are calling it the most important election ever. As long as it doesn’t actually become the most interesting ever.

In Israel, politics competes with life. Israelis don’t want to deal with wars and crises. They are not addicted to it. It is a healthy response to the old traumas. Given the choice, they’d much rather build companies and go shopping and try new restaurants, travel to Europe and beyond, and make families.

A boring election is not a bad thing, so long as people vote. It suggests that maybe the Jewish state has finally come into its own.

David Hazony is the executive director of the nonprofit, The Israel Innovation Fund

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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This Is The Least Important Israeli Election Ever

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