Israel: An obsolete political system?

Edmée Pautet, translated by Kendall Maxwell
11 Juin 2015

After the dismissal of the Knesset in December 2014, the Israeli parliamentary chamber will be rebuilt after elections on 17 March. Twenty-six lists are competing, reflecting the diversity of political values present in Israel. Likud, the right-wing party of acting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was given majority according to the most recent polls. In the current context of the country, it is the questions of security that stand out in political campaigns, whereas citizens, most notably young people, are disquieted by other problems.

Last 29 January, on the southern border of Lebanon, two Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. This incident has been a reminder of the instability that Israel has suffered since its creation, as well as its encircling enemies. A holy land acquired at the price of numerous wars, incessantly fought over by two opposing cultures, the country must defend its position on a regular basis, but according to Mor, a 23-year-old Israeli student, this defense forgets the citizens.

Insecurity, a problem hidden amongst others

Israel is a place of refuge for the Jewish people, but the history of the country is steeped in violence. Situated in Palestine, its creation has resulted in a massive exile of Palestinians and in successive wars between the two countries, for religious as well as territorial reasons. This conflict-laden position has been in place since the establishment of the Israeli government in 1948, but combat very rarely goes on inside the country.

However distant it may be for citizens, this insecurity penetrates the whole of the political discussion. According to Mor, “everyone is using this conflict to their advantage. It’s easy to show that there is trouble elsewhere than in our own country. The situation could change if one of the two reached out to the other. This Israel-Palestinian conflict is only to strike fear into and control people. If you ask me, I don’t have any problem with the Palestinians. Like a lot of Israeli, I want to live in peace with our neighbors.”

The conflicts override citizen issues, and the political machine rusts. “Young Israelis haven’t lost interest in politics themselves, but in those who currently engage in them, and the national system. They know that the system has to change. Those in the government are too old, and there is no dialogue between them and the youth.”

The Israeli political system is based on the power of a parliamentary chamber, the Knesset. 120 members of different lists in turn elect a Prime Minister. The average age in the Knesset has ranged from 53 to 55 for several years, and the youth don’t feel as though they are among those heard, nor that the government is asking itself the right questions.

Excessively strong religious values

Religion and politics have never truly been separated in Israel: The previous Knesset counted 37 religious parliamentarians, which made up almost a third of the chamber. Nothing paradoxical given the history of the country, but the political debate loses clarity in this regard. For Mor, this has to change: “In this country, everything is a question of religion, and it is one of the hardest things to deal with for those that live there. Everything is connected to religion, as are politics of course. When more citizens become politicians and think less of their own interests, perhaps then it will become less religious. They have forgotten that there are some non-believers who live here. The orthodox have had power for such a long time that now I must work and pay taxes so that very religious people, who live, eat and breathe the Torah, can live such that they don’t have to work. That isn’t fair.”

The position is thus made for strong conservative values: The appearance of an anti-pornography party, which is ultra-orthodox, is a striking example. When even this party only aspires for a place in the Knesset, their existence marks a return towards restrictive moral principles.

Morality and Taboo

The anti-pornography party, dubbed “To Protect our Children”, has taken to the goal of creating stricter laws concerning Internet access. They had already campaigned during the 2006 election, but were not present in 2012. Formerly led by Avraham Negosa, who has since joined Likud, it is now led by Yechezkel Shtelzer, who advocates a strong conservative moral against what he calls “addiction to pornography.” According to him, “there are hundreds of thousands of porn addicts in this country.” The party has struck most forcefully during the opening of their campaign, a few weeks ago, most notably spreading a PSA against the dangers of the Internet. This video, already used by the French government to prevent the dangers of the Internet on children and adolescents, broaches the risks of bad encounters on the web. This film adds testimonials of former addicts to pornography: One of them, for example, explains that he discovered pornography at nine years old, completely perverting the development of his imagination.

However, the solution provided by the party to fight against the exposure of children to pornography has been met with some opposition. Mor thinks that the proper response to this problem is elsewhere, but also that this fight hides a bigger problem: “the solution of ultra-orthodox believers is to fight the things they want to hide. If they weren’t so afraid of sex, if they established an actual dialogue about all this, they wouldn’t have to protect the kids. Sex is natural, but like always, they are out to make it a taboo and combat it. I don’t think the youngest generation is like that.”

Israeli politics cannot de reduced simply to questions of protection or security, yet social issues seems to be being considered from a defensive point of view. When one asks Mor to describe the social situation in Israel, her response is quick: “It’s very, very complicated, and it’s very hard to live there.”