Israeli election shows Israelis divided on preferred vision of the future.

Though it appears that Israel will form a new government after five elections in four years, Israeli society’s deep divide shows no sign of getting better anytime soon. While the divide exists on many levels and issues, Yossi Klein Halevi, Jewish thinker, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, believes, at its core, it is because Israelis deeply disagree on what kind of country they want.

Yossi Klein Halevi
Yossi Klein Halevi

“For Netanyahu supporters, the Nov. 1 election was about preserving Israel as a Jewish state. For Netanyahu opponents, it was about preserving Israel as a democratic state,” he says.

Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, will explore Israel’s challenges as it approaches 75 years of statehood at 6:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21, at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. The community program is free and aims to bring together Jews of different generations and backgrounds for learning and dialogue. Registration is requested.

A native New-Yorker, Halevi moved to Israel in 1982 at the beginning of the First Lebanon War. He remembers it as a time of a deep division that deepened as Israel stayed in Lebanon for 22 years. But now, rather than war and peace, as important as they are, he says it is about the very future of the country and how it relates to its citizens, fellow Jews and the world.

“Israel at 75 still isn’t confident about its identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” Halevi explains. “We haven’t convinced ourselves that these two identities, which our Declaration of Independence defines as foundational, can work together. The real divide in this election is between those who see democracy as a system of values and commitments, and those who see it as a simple situation of majority rule without much concern for minority rights.”

Halevi says Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the far-right Jewish Strength Party and admirer of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane who was barred from serving in the Israeli Knesset by anti-racist legislation, advocated for a non-democratic, right-wing religious Jewish state. His party may end up with 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and would be a significant component of a Netanyahu government. (Halevi himself was a Kahane-connected activist as a younger man, chronicled in his 2014 book, Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist: The Story of a Transformation.)

“What was unthinkable until this election — that the far right would become a mainstream party — has happened,” Halevi says, “but, more deeply, I think that this time Israelis voted from a place of fear — most of all, fear of the rival camp.”

This fear has led to demonization of those with opposing views, something not unlike our own uncivil discourse in America. Halevi, who is in the anti-
Netanyahu camp, feels it.

“Netanyahu succeeded in convincing large numbers of Israelis that ‘the left’ — his term for his opponents, who are largely centrist, not leftists — is virtually anti-Zionist. That denial of the Zionist credentials and Israeli patriotism of Netanyahu opponents is one of the tragic consequences of these elections that will be with us, I fear, for a long time to come,” he said.

He also sees a negative impact on relations with segments of the American Jewish community and the U.S. government.

“If far-right politicians become part of a governing coalition, I fear that we will see large parts of the Jewish community boycott those ministers. And it will, of course, increase the alienation of some young Jews from Israel. As for the American government, I imagine that, formally at least, the message will be: We respect the right of the Israeli people to choose their democratically elected leaders. But the tensions that will arise in the relationship will quickly become evident.”

Don’t come to this event simply expecting an analysis of election results and a primer on how Israel forms a government. Halevi will address and dialogue about the character of that government and Israeli society.

“His insights and reflections about what the results tell us about the future of the State of Israel are most important,” says Rebecca Starr of Southfield, director of regional programs for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. “This specific moment in history cannot be considered without taking Israel’s last 75 years into account and understanding this past is the best way to imagine what the next 75 years holds.”

“What Israel’s Election Tells Us About the State of the State at 75”
Monday, Nov. 21, 2022
6:45-8:15 p.m.
Temple Israel
5725 Walnut Lake Road
West Bloomfield
Dessert reception to follow

To register, and for more information, visit: shalomhartman.org/Israel75Detroit

This program is presented in partnership with Temple Israel, with support from the JCRC/AJC, JCC (JLearn, Seminars for Adult Jewish Enrichment) and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

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