What’s Really at Stake in the Israeli Elections

What’s Really at Stake in the Israeli Elections

(originally posted June 23, 2022)

“Let us be strong and resolute for the sake of our people and the cities of our God; and God will do what He deems right.”חֲזַ֤ק וְנִתְחַזַּק֙ בְּעַד־עַמֵּ֔נוּ וּבְעַ֖ד עָרֵ֣י אֱלֹקינוּ וַֽיקוק יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה הַטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינָֽיו׃ (I Shmuel 10:12)

There is a paucity of civil servants remaining in today’s democratic politics. The temptation is to become cynical and despair of the possibility of there being any true public servants in contemporary politics.

But while politics necessarily must be ugly, messy, and imperfect, this concession would be a tragic, even mortal blow to democracy. In fact, the opposite is true: the paucity of true public servants means that we need to work harder than ever to support the few politicians who, even at risk to their own careers, have placed country, community, and family above party and personal ambition. Of course, that doesn’t inevitably mean that we must vote for the public servant in every election and ignore all other considerations. But in a world awash in cynical politicians and a cynical electorate, championing the ideal and embodiments of true public service should be the order of the day.

I can’t tell Israelis how to vote, but one need not be a voting Israeli citizen to observe that sadly Bibi has for too long been the very antithesis of the public servant, worsening in proportion to his standing in the polls and the proximity of elections, and regularly tearing the country apart at the seams in order to garner more votes and seats. It gives me no joy to add, but it must be iterated and reiterated, that Ben Gvir is a walking Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name). It is an ugly stain on Religious Zionism that a course, crass, rabble-rousing provocateur who idolizes Kahane and Baruch Goldstein is increasingly not only the standard bearer of RZ, but is a mainstream force in Israeli politics, including among significant parts of the Haredi youth.

By comparison, FWIW, it seems to me that while imperfect, Bennett has largely shown himself to be a genuine public servant who places the country’s needs ahead of his own. Lapid is more relevant in the upcoming cycle; I was a bit more skeptical about him a few years back and am still ambivalent, but from afar, Lapid’s actions in the recent election cycles and in the current government appear to have been statesmanlike, principled, responsive to the electorate, unifying rather than unnecessarily divisive, and he has shown a willingness to sacrifice on his own not inconsiderable political ambition for the greater good.

The most important issue in this election, and far beyond any single election, is whether we are willing to relegate the hallowed notion of the public servant to a relic of a more idealistic bygone era, or if we hold steadfastly to the principle that there are few values more important for the future of democracy than the notion that there still can and must be people who ask first and foremost what they can do for their country - in other words, that we may again be touched by the better angels of our nature.