Students, professors reflect on Israeli legislative election

On February 3, 2013

  • In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, photo, Yair Lapid gestures as he delivers a speech at his Yesh Atid party in Tel-Aviv. Courtesy of Associate Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party narrowly won the legislative majority late last month. Kenneth Dauber, an English and Jewish studies professor, believes the unexpected outcome reflects a change in attitude for Israelis and the country's politics.

Benjamin Balderman, a freshman biology major who has family in Israel, called the election a "major turning point" in the country's history.

Voter turnout for the election was the highest since 1999. Netanyahu's party won the election through a majority 31 seats on Jan. 22. However, he lost major ground in a legislature that holds 120 seats. The Likud Party now holds 11 fewer seats than it did in the 18th Knesset Assembly, giving it less political leverage.

The campus community realizes the implications that come from this election can affect Israel and even its relationship with the United States.

"Basically, the results represent the increasingly strong voice of a non-ideological Israeli-Zionist middle," Dauber said in email.

Dauber went on to say most Israeli voters identify themselves with neither the socialist Zionist left nor the Likud Party. Rather, they are simply "Israelis committed to the flourishing of their country and are rather pragmatic on matters both of foreign and domestic policy."

The election resulted in a major transition in Israeli politics as people went to the polls. Though Netanyahu's Likud Party won, the Yesh Atid party - a new centrist party focused on helping the middle class - gained more support than originally expected.

In 2012, Yair Lapid, a former television personality, created the Yesh Atid party - which translates to "There is a Future." This year, the party won 19 seats.

Concerns of the peace process, relations with Iran and the role of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society dominated the election year.

In Israel, military service is compulsory, but the ultra-Orthodox - also known as Haredim - are excluded from the draft. David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, gave them an exemption at the founding of the state while providing large government subsidies so their children could study the Torah and not have to enter mainstream society.

"I think the draft should absolutely be mandatory for all," Balderman said. "It's not fair that the ultra-religious should be exempt. A lot of these Haredim don't even believe in the modern state of Israel because it's a secular country. Yet they are still receiving so much money for them to pray and learn the Torah, but they don't have to give anything back."

Joe Ornstein, an English and media studies major, agrees with Balderman and wants Haredim to abide by the same laws as the rest of the population.

"[The ultra-Orthodox] need to offer something back to the country," Ornstein said. "They don't offer much more than a lot of hatred."

The debate over military service has been a political issue in Israel for decades but has recently intensified. Throughout the campaign, Lapid and his party exemplified the theme of "sharing the burden."

The election's outcome demonstrated some Israelis' disapproval of Netanyahu's proposals and his increasingly tense relationship with President Barack Obama.

"[Netanyahu] has his own priorities, and as he's shown before, he doesn't care what anyone else thinks of him," Ornstein said.

Balderman expressed more disappointment with Obama. He said the president hasn't demonstrated the support Balderman expects from the leader of Israel's greatest ally.

"I feel as if Obama has kind of alienated Israel in many ways," Balderman said. "He gave a talk saying that Israel should come to the table expecting to go back to the 1967 borders agreement."

Balderman felt Obama was "taking a side" in his 2011 comments about the border that supports Palestine instead of Israel.

The majority of the Israeli public supports a two-state solution, according to The Jerusalem Post.

"I agree with the idea that a two-state solution would be absolutely ideal," Balderman said. "On the other hand, I don't see any serious partners in peace."

Israelis wonder if this will change the country's negotiating stance with Palestine.

The election has changed the circumstances of Israeli domestic politics, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to how it will affect the possibility of a peace agreement, according to Dauber.

"They await a change in circumstances where negotiations might begin," Dauber said. "In the meantime, they will work to strengthen the Israeli social fabric and keeping open as best as circumstances allow the chance for forging a peace in the future."

Dauber said any coalition that Netanyahu will form with Lapid is likely to be less confrontational with Obama and "generally more open to good ideas and any possibilities that seem realistic to emerge."

Throughout the election, Israelis and Jews around the world have expressed a desire for secure peace and a humane end to the occupation.

Dauber, Balderman and Ornstein each hope the Jewish state will be able to make political strides with security and prosperity.



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