Yesterday’s election, Israel’s Future

March 18, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory is a deep disappointment to all who hoped that Israel might choose a new direction for the country in yesterday’s election.

The Prime Minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and resort to a campaign grounded in fear and tinged with racism successfully moved 150,000 votes from other right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days. But we fear that the cost to Israel in the long-run will be steep in terms of support here in the United States and internationally.

The Prime Minister’s outrageous statements in the campaign’s final days may have pushed him from 19 percent in the polls before the election to 23 percent on election night and cemented his position as the leader of Israel’s right wing, but this was not a broad mandate in support of the direction in which the Prime Minister is leading. Seventy-two percent of Israelis on the eve of the election felt the country is headed in the wrong direction, and only one-third of Israel’s voters supported the hard-right represented by Likud, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, a number roughly comparable to last election. Even in the next Knesset, the blocs of the center-left and of the right wing will continue to be evenly balanced.

Without question, we respect Israel’s democracy and the outcome of the election. We celebrate the vibrancy of debate and dissent in Israel over essential matters that was on full display during the campaign. And – contrary to the Prime Minister’s panicked attack on the participation of Arab citizens in the election – we view their increased participation in this year’s election as a positive sign about the strength of Israeli democracy.

None of that can change our core belief, however, that the policies that the Prime Minister articulated in order to win – outright rejection of the two-state solution and territorial compromise – should and will be rejected by the international community, including the United States. Sadly, the results of this election will only deepen Israel’s growing isolation.

The manner in which the Prime Minister secured his victory – shredding the broad bipartisanship that underpins American political support for Israel and preying on fear and racism at home – also demonstrated that he willingly put his own political interests before his concern for Israel’s relationship with the United States and his commitment to Israel’s democratic character.

Moving forward, J Street will be unwavering in making the case that Israel’s security and survival as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people require a change in course, recognizing that the need for change is ultimately a matter for the citizens of Israel to debate in the years ahead.

Here, in the United States, J Street, however, has a clear role to play. We will stand up strongly and proudly in American political and Jewish communal debates for an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.

We will speak out on behalf of the majority of American supporters of Israel – Jewish and not – who support a two-state solution and oppose moves to limit the rights of any Israeli citizens or to deny the collective right of the Palestinian people to self-determination in a state of their own.

Faced with a return to power of a Prime Minister who has publicly demonstrated that he does not share those beliefs, we will advocate strongly that the American Jewish community must maintain and even more actively promote its commitment to the core principles and policies which have been bedrocks of the US-Israel relationship for decades.