Organizers of the Israeli election town hall, Thursday, March 7, at the Shaarey Zedek (l-r): Tamar Barr, Interim Executive Director, Rady JCC; Dr. Rena Secter Elbaze, Engagement and Education Director, Congregation Shaarey Zedek; Elaine Goldstine, CEO, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg; Ian Staniloff, Executive Director, Congregation Shaarey Zedek; Yolanda Papini-Pollock, Co-founder, Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Tami Jacoby (Event Facilitator), Political Studies Professor, University of Manitoba; Gustavo Zentner, Finance Chair, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg

By BERNIE BELLAN
It was an experiment in participatory democracy – a town hall meeting at which audience members were encouraged to offer their opinions, either in English or Hebrew, about the upcoming Israeli election.

 


And, although the turnout might have been lower than had been hoped – only about 60 individuals altogether came out to the Shaarey Zedek on Thursday evening, March 7, the manner in which the event flowed certainly showed that it is possible to conduct an intelligent and polite conversation even though the subject matter may have been controversial at times.

The evening was led by Prof. Tami Jacoby of the Political Studies Department at the University of Manitoba. Fluent in Hebrew as well as English (also French, she told me), Tami was prepared to field questions in Hebrew, were any to be put forward. While one individual did offer comments in Hebrew – which Tami summarized for the audience, the fact that so few Hebrew-speaking members of our community were in attendance was an admitted disappointment for the event organizers (including this writer).

What follows is a summary, both of the remarks Tami made in providing an overview of the key issues surrounding the Israeli election, and of comments and questions from audience members.

Big picture and small picture items this election
In her opening remarks, Tami noted that she saw “certain big picture items” in the coming April 9 election “and certain small picture items”.
Ever since its creation Israel has wrestled with trying to maintain three different values, she observed: “security, democracy, and Jewish identity”.
“In the last years,” Tami said, “Israel has managed to establish security through: 1. Having a security fence along the Gaza border; 2. having a security fence along the West Bank; and 3. great work by security forces.”
Yet, despite the ongoing friction between Israelis and Palestinians, “the Palestinian issue hasn’t been brought up at all” this current election, Tami observed. She suggested though, that “Israel cannot move forward without resolving this situation.”

There has “been much talk of a ‘one-state’ solution,” Tami noted, although it means entirely different things depending on to whom you’re talking.
For the extreme “Jewish right”, one state means a state only for Jews. For the extreme “Jewish left”, it means a state where Israelis and Palestinians enjoy full equal rights.
And, at times, the concept of a “one state solution” has even been put forward by Palestinians, Tami stated although, just as it has different meanings for Israelis depending upon their political beliefs, the same can be said for Palestinians, with extremist Palestinians clamoring for a Palestine free of Jews, while more moderate Palestinians envision the same sort of state as Israeli leftists propose.
Yet, because the “Palestinians have bifurcated,” as Tami put it, “there is no single address with which to negotiate.”
And, as she also observed later during the town hall, discussion of the Palestinian issue has been practically non-existent this particular election.

So then, with the Palestinian issue seemingly off the table, what then are the “big issues” to which Tami referred in her opening remarks?
They are: 1. The fact that Likud has been in uninterrupted power now for 18 years. “That’s a long time in a democratic state,” Tami observed. When a party stays in power too long, you get corruption like we’re seeing now.”
2. Iran – its nuclear capability and support for Hizbollah.
3. Israel’s image in the world. “It’s pretty bad,” Tami suggested. Combined with Israel’s negative image in many countries, there is a “rising populism…universal xenophobia, and anti-Semitism” (also anti-Arab attitudes). “Israel has to improve its image in the world,” Tami said.

Here then, are the small picture issues, according to Tami:
1. What has happened to the left in Israel? “Since 2001” (coinciding with the beginning of the second intifadeh), “the left wing has disintegrated.” The question, therefore, is “Can you build a viable opposition to the right wing?”
2. Are the indictments against Netanyahu real?
3. Representation of women and “mizrachi” Jews (Jews from Arab countries). There are “no women in the first five positions of Likud”, Tami noted. (With Israel’s proportional representation system, parties propose lists. Depending on the number of votes a particular party receives, more or fewer party representatives on the list may be elected to serve in the Knesset.) “More women are higher on the lists of the left wing parties,” Tami explained. She added that there are also more members of the mizrachi community on left wing party lists than right wing parties.
4. The economy – “Israel ranks only 55th in per capita income in the world,” Tami observed. (Ed. note: Economic issues rank highest in priority for Israeli voters in a poll taken by the Times of Israel in January – well ahead of any other issue.)
5. Should the ultraorthodox serve in the army?