By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Most of what’s happening in Israel these days and some of what’s happening in the rest of the world is viewed here in the context of the forthcoming general election.
Thus the elaborate and drastic preparations to meet the expected snow storm – the first installment of each has been and gone, but more is on its way – is seen by many as an effort to show that those in power are on top of things. The implication is that you can rely on the Netanyahu government to take care of us in all matters, including the weather, also after the elections.
The government reaction to the killings in Paris makes this even more obvious. If Paris is so exposed, how much more is Israel! But, so the argument goes, our government is strong and will always make sure that terrorists will be dealt with.
This is the favourite stance of Netanyahu and his Likud party. He likes to depict the opposition leader Isaac Herzog and his running mate Tzipi Livni as weaklings.
There’s a rumour that Naftali Bennett, who claims a stellar army record, has agreed with Netanyahu that his price for joining a Likud –led government will be the defense portfolio. Though Netanyahu has assured the current defense minister, former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, that there’s no such deal, the facts may be different.
Along the same lines, Moshe Kahlon, the founder of yet another right-of-centre party, has announced that the second name on his list will be that of General Yoav Gallant who was bypassed last time as chief of staff and also seems to have aspirations to hold the defense portfolio in the next government.
The Herzog-Livni party seems to have sought to be different by stressing social justice rather defense. That’s why it has enlisted Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, a well known economist and the author of an important report about social justice in Israel, for the third spot on its list.
One of the reasons for my speculation that Herzog-Livni will want Shas in its coalition is because its former/present/next leader Arieh Deri being ultra-Orthodox shows little interest in military defense and much in better conditions for the poor, many of whom he hopes will vote for him.
Ari Shavit, the famous author of My Promised Land, has argued in his column in Ha’aretz that Herzog-Livni should augment their team with people who have impeccable defense records in order to assure the electorate, to prove that Netanyahu’s criticism is unwarranted and to show that their people can do as well as Ya’alon, Bennett or Gallant.
It’s, of course, impossible to argue against the importance of defense in the struggle for Israel’s survival. But for Israel to thrive, not just survive, all leaders must also address the growing social inequalities in the country with some 1,5 million citizens said to be living below the poverty line. Ironically, the repeated stress on defense may be a sign of cowardice in refusing to face the country’s deteriorating social fabric that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Hence this question: Is it too much to hope that the next government will in no way compromise on defense to assure Israel’s survival, yet at the same time pay more attention to the survival needs of its poor citizens? To separate the two is an unwarranted political ploy to divide Right (defense) from Left (social justice).