In this Israeli election, I will cast my vote in sorrow

Netanyahu, Lapid and Gantz could form a stable Zionist government right now, if only they didn’t hate each other.

Then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and then-Prime Minister Yair Lapid in the Knesset. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

Israel is heading into the final stretch of its 2022 election campaign, though the Nov. 1 vote is almost certain to result in further political deadlock and yet another election. Despite their claims to the contrary, Israelis take their elections very seriously, and the public discourse has once again become a slugging match. The opposing blocs—“anti-Bibi” and “pro-Bibi”—are hurling invective at each other with a vigor one wishes we could reserve for our enemies.

I will make my own prejudices clear from the outset: I will be voting for Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is that I believe Lapid and his main ally, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, have acquitted themselves fairly well in the months since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stepped down, trigging the current round of voting. While their policies are obviously controversial—they could not be otherwise in a country such as Israel—I believe they justify their return to power.

For example, earlier this year, Lapid and Gantz fought a brief but extremely effective war against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Unlike previous rounds under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this operation had clear goals and accomplished almost all of them. In particular, it completely wiped out the PIJ leadership in Gaza and managed to keep Hamas penned in its corner, unwilling to join in the fighting. This is in and of itself a tremendous accomplishment.

Moreover, Bennett, Gantz and Lapid have thus far successfully walked the tightrope of the Russia-Ukraine War. Israel has been put in an impossible position by this war. It is both naturally drawn towards the Western camp and dependent on good relations with Russia in order to successfully continue its low-intensity conflict with Iran. While it has been a rocky and difficult road, the government has managed to protect Israel’s security interests without permanently alienating Russia or the West. It is possible that this will not last—anything is possible these days—but the men responsible deserve due credit.

The most controversial initiative undertaken by Lapid’s government is probably the recent maritime agreement with Lebanon. Lapid has been charged with caving in to Hezbollah demands and giving away precious Israeli assets to appease the terror group. This is a valid interpretation, and people are right to be concerned about it. Still, if we accept it for the sake of argument, all it means is that Lapid took a gamble: He made a potentially dangerous concession in order to avoid a war that Israel neither wants nor needs right now. It is quite possible that his decision was a bad one, but it was not made in bad faith.

Also much on the public’s mind is the ongoing violence in Judea and Samaria, and continuing issues with Israeli Arab lawlessness and the resulting carnage in the Galilee and the Negev. The current government has not made significant progress on the latter, it is true. But it is worth noting that during the fighting with PIJ, there were none of the anti-Semitic riots that occurred during the May 2021 conflict under Netanyahu. The Israeli Arab community has not overcome its pathologies overnight, but clearly something worked this time that did not work under the previous government.

Regarding the terrorism in Judea and Samaria, this is a serious cause for concern and, of course, a mortal one for the Jews of the area who must live in the midst of it. It is not clear, however, precisely what the government could do that it is not doing already. The IDF is operating on the ground 24 hours a day and has scored notable successes in recent days, including dealing grievous blows to the leadership of the new Lions’ Den terrorist group. It is doubtful that a Netanyahu government would or indeed could do anything much different than Lapid’s.

There is also, for me, the question of Netanyahu’s allies. The haredi parties are as they ever were, in that their priority remains obtaining funds for their communities, which one may or may not support, depending on one’s personal beliefs. But almost everyone who is not haredi—including many Orthodox Israelis—agrees that the relationship between religion and state in Israel is badly in need of reform. This will be impossible if the haredi parties become a dominant force in a new government.

The Religious Zionist Party is, of course, a more immediately controversial force in the pro-Bibi camp. While I do not believe that the likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir could singlehandedly destroy Israeli democracy—and I appreciate that many right-wing Israelis feel that here, finally, is someone who “tells it like it is”—that does not mean his inclusion in the government would be a good thing. For me, this was illustrated by a video I once saw of Ben-Gvir screaming insults at Yitzhak Rabin’s granddaughter until she finally walked away in disgust. It was a despicable and telling incident. While it is true that Ben-Gvir claims to have moderated his views, he has done so just as national office is within his grasp, a change which, I believe, is too coincidental to be trusted. Such a man may conquer, but he will never convince.

Despite all of the above, however, I will cast my vote with a certain lamentation, because the solution to Israel’s endless political impasse is so clear and so impossible. In fact, there is no need for this election at all. There is a stable, Zionist coalition that could be formed right now by Netanyahu, Gantz and Lapid if they would put their more extreme allies aside and join forces. But they will not do so. Israel, now divided more or less right down the middle, is too defined by its petty resentments and hatreds to trade animosity for consensus.

Israel is, generally speaking, a center-right country of liberal democratic sensibilities. It wants to preserve itself as a Jewish state and treat its ethnic and religious minorities decently. It wants to remain a mostly secular nation with a strong but not dominating role for religion. It wants to protect the security of its citizens while maintaining its moral values. This is also, more or less, what Netanyahu, Gantz and Lapid want. The only reason they cannot come together in service of this vision is that they hate each other. And thus, I will cast my vote in sorrow, but also with a measure of hope that in the end, perhaps many elections from now, this vision will prevail.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his writing on Substack and his website. Follow him on Twitter @benj_kerstein.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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