‘Yesh Atid’ (there’s a future) – but what future have Israelis voted for?
All my left-wing friends were pleased about the Israeli election results last week, as they represented, we were told, a ‘swing to the centre.’
By Matt Plen
All my left-wing friends were pleased about the Israeli election results last week, as they represented, we were told, a ‘swing to the centre.’ Strange that left-wingers would welcome a swing to the centre – no doubt a confirmation of the fragmented, dispirited state of the Israeli left (which I prefer to describe less charitably as being in a state of near total collapse since the outbreak of the Intifada in 2000 if not the Rabin assassination in 1995). I was also pleased, mostly by Meretz’s electoral success, growing back to six seats in Knesset, guaranteeing that there’ll be at least a handful of Israeli legislators who won’t sacrifice their principles for a seat at the Cabinet table and who’ll work to make progress on equality and human rights, the values the State of Israel is supposed to be built on.
Something interesting has happened to the semantics of Israeli politics in recent years. Once, political parties were called things like Herut – Freedom, Mapai – Land of Israel Workers’ Party, Ahdut Ha’avodah – the Unity of Labour, and Mafdal – the National Religious Party. In those days you knew where you stood and, even as late as the 1980s, Israeli politics was marked by a clear debate between the mainly social-democratic Left who wanted a two-state solution and the mostly capitalist Right who didn’t (plus the religious parties who didn’t fit into either bloc and pursued their own sectional agenda).
These days, most of the right-wing and religious parties have gone for names which, to the uninitiated, all sound the same: Israel Beiteinu – Israel our Home, Habayit Hayehudi – The Jewish Home, Yahadut haTorah – United Torah Jewry. Likud just means ‘unity’ and refers to the origins of the bloc in a merger between two smaller parties. On the Left, we still have a Labour party (much like its UK counterpart it now has hardly anything to do with labour), but the most popular party names are things like Meretz – ‘energy’, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah – ‘the movement’, Kadima – ‘forward!’, and best of all, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid – which translates as the startling insight that ‘there’s a future.’
Rather than a swing away from the Right or towards the Centre (and a swing away from the Right and towards the Centre would actually, by definition, be a swing, however small, to the Left), I think the recent election confirms the trend away from meaning, ideology and vision in Israeli politics. Every Israeli election in the last 20 years has seen the emergence of a new ‘centrist’ force, which proclaims its intention to clean up politics and take Israel in a new direction, scoops up a surprising number of votes, achieves nothing and vanishes within two election cycles. Who remembers the Third Way or the Centre Party? Who’ll remember Kadima or Hatnuah in 10 years’ time? Who remembers the surprise victors of the election before last, the Pensioners’ Party?
It seems that the Israeli electorate is suffering from two debilitating conditions: on the one hand collective amnesia which feeds a strange repetition compulsion, and on the other a desperate desire for change without any idea of what kind of change it actually wants. We don’t know what we want other than it’s not what we currently have, and we know we don’t want the last people who offered this kind of change, we want new people to offer us a new kind change which, lacking entirely in content, is actually indistinguishable from the old kind. A party trying to appeal to such an electorate could choose no better name than the evocative, noncommittal, and ultimately empty Yesh Atid.
All of which would be funny were it not for the fact that every Israeli government since the 70s, peace process notwithstanding, has promoted the settlement enterprise, the deepening of the occupation and the seemingly unstoppable process towards the one thing that almost no-one wants – a one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Let’s see what Yair Lapid plans to do about that.
I met with Charlotte Fischer, the new full-time community organiser who has just started work with Citizens UK, the country’s largest civil society organising network. Noam and Marom, as well as the Citizens’ Group at New North London Synagogue, are members of London Citizens, a broad-based network of churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, student unions and university departments, affiliated to Citizens UK. Charlotte will be spending a day a week working with Masorti young people and communities, getting them involved with diverse local groups in cross-London campaigns on issues like the Living Wage, street safety and crime prevention, opportunities for young people, affordable housing and care for the elderly. Charlotte will also be working within the Reform and Liberal movements and, for two days a week, with Jewish and non-Jewish communities across Barnet as the local borough organiser. Click here to learn more about the amazing work of Citizens UK.