Being in Israel just after the General Election is a pleasure. Relief. That’s the word that occurs most frequently when I talk to friends and acquaintances, from both the centre, centre right and left. There seems to have been an extraordinary change in the mood of the country within the last two days leading up to the election, when people felt galvanised to rethink their votes and which resulted in far fewer seats for the joint ruling Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu (Netanyahu-Lapid) party.
I heard about the increasing gap between the press coverage and people in the street. The press narrative tended to be that it was a foregone conclusion that it would be a Netanyahu-Bennett strong win but apparently the street narrative was different. This narrative was about being bored with Old Guard party leaders seen as being far more focused on personal aggrandisement than policy and that election manifestos displayed more pictures of faces than details of ideology or vision.
It seems as if two days before the election, many people ‘woke up’ and realised that they needed to vote and there was the real possibility their vote would be able to impact to bring change. They were remembering the empowering momentum of tent social protests of summer 2011 which had been lost last summer and fizzled out. They realised that the message of equality of the financial burden and equality of all people serving in the army (including the Hareidim) is vital to Israeli society.
People have been talking about a desire for ‘clean politics’ and a return to messages of social justice. This may explain the higher voting turnout than had been thought initially and, most noticeably, a strong vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (the modestly named: There Is A Future) party and more votes for Meretz than had been predicted.
I am always reminded that sociologically, Israel is one of the fastest changing societies in the world. this week, we saw the changes expressing themselves in voting patterns. It seems as if people voted for ‘cleaner’ politics with two leftward shifts, towards Meretz and Yesh Atid.
This Knesset has more women than ever before, including three female party leaders; two Ethiopian MKs and most noticeably, over a third of the MKs are completely new.
So there is hope in Kiryat Tivon (just outside Haifa). It’s a very cautious hope for change, a change in which all sectors in Israeli society will have to make an equal contribution to the security by Hareidim serving in the army, a change in which the peace process will progress (news of American plans for this on the radio here) and that the widening social and economic gap will be stemmed by a re-balancing of social economics.