No Choice: The Unbearable Angst of the Israeli Voter

Haim Watzman

I envy Americans. The choice they face in their coming election is so clear. The choice we Israelis will face in our next election couldn’t be more muddled.

The choice in the United States is so stark because nearly every policy the Republican administration has put into action has failed, and in just the ways that the Democrats predicted. The implosion of the economy, the metastasization of the national debt, the failure of the adventure in Iraq, the destabilization of the Middle East and now the Russian periphery, the impending disappearance of the arctic ice cap–you name it, the Democrats were right and the Republicans were wrong. During the last eight years, the Democrats erred only when a) they assumed that the Republicans would pursue a risky policy in a responsible way (as in Iraq) or b) when they were too frightened to speak up clearly against insane policies that were popular with the electorate (as with the Bush tax cuts).

Israel, too, faces economic and social ills and threats to its security. But here, over the last eight years, the policy choices have not been as plain, the facts on the ground have been ambiguous, and the political opposition has not offered clear alternatives. The United States has been ruled from the far right since George Bush came into office; Israel has been ruled from the center during that same period.

The Olmert government made a disastrous error in its conduct of the Lebanon War of two years ago, and has pursued an insane policy of trying to eviscerate the Supreme Court. But the broader picture is not black and white, whether in foreign, defense, or domestic policy.

The major reason Olmert has been able to continue to govern despite the numerical weakness of his party and seemingly endless police investigations is that neither Labor nor Likud has tried to rally the country around a clear alternative set of solutions to the problems faced by Israel. In fact, both these parties largely agree with the basic outlines of this government’s program. They’d change emphases but not fundamentals. Both Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu would continue to seek, warily, a negotiated solution with the Palestinians. Neither will commit himself unambiguously to the use of force, or to its non-use, in facing the challenges presented by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. In the domestic sphere, they face the same constraints of budget and entrenched interests; again, they differ on details but not on the basics.

So why hasn’t the Israeli political system produced a local Barack Obama who can stand up and campaign for change we can believe in?

I think the main reason is that we live in a small country, one that’s not as strong as we often like to believe. As a small country, both our defense position and our economy are influenced in powerful ways by forces beyond our control–in particular, the domestic and foreign policy of the United States of America. In the international economic and security milieu of the last eight years, Israel has been left with little choice but to muddle through as best it can.

A real change in the United States will likely present Israel with new opportunities to progress towards peace and towards solutions to its economic and social problems. When that happens, but only when it does, will Israeli voters face the stark–and obvious–choices that American voters face this November.

11 thoughts on “No Choice: The Unbearable Angst of the Israeli Voter

  1. There’s also the fact that the Israeli “Barack Obama” would be an Arab, a group far more efficiently excluded from political power in Israel than African-Americans are in the United States.

  2. Where is the choice regarding U.S. policy toward Israel between Obama and McCain? Currently, Secretary Rice says that continued settlement building is “unhelpful” to peace and on it goes. No hearings in Congress on U.S. policy regarding Israel and its neighbors. Don’t envy us too much Haim, our policy choices only extend so far.

  3. How is our choice so clear? Both candidates will bring ruin upon America, and ironically it seems that Juan McCain would be more devestating to America in the long run than Obama(pbuh).

    Despite all the rhetoric, the difference between Obama (pbuh) and Juan McCain really don’t have much disagreement on the basic issues facing America. Sure you have the Iraq war, offshore drilling, and yeah Juan McCain will be more sympathetic to you guys but I am looking at it from an American perspective here as I hope all people who are able to vote in an US election would do.

    Both Juan McCain and Obama(pbuh) supports Amnesty for illegals. Both have bought into the lie of Global warming. On issue after issue when you sweep away the rhetoric of both Obama (pbuh) and Juan McCain and you don’t find much difference.

    But the difference is in what Juan McCain would do to the republican party. Make no mistake, although he is not a flaming Marxist like Obama(pbuh) Juan McCain is liberal enough to mess up the country big time, and guess who would get the blame.

    And Juan McCain and his people have made quite an effort to get rid of the influence of conservatives within the Republican party. So, while an Obama(pbuh) Presidency will unite the party and indeed most of the nation against him, a Juan McCain president would only lead to Obama (pbuh) or even someone worse getting elected in 2012.

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    So, indeed, we have a choice between two evils in America and ironically what at first glance seems to be the worse evil is actually our only hope. After all it took Reagan to get us Carter.

  4. When you have only two parties, policy posturing is easy for the party out of power – “we would do the opposite”.

    When the governing party makes a string of bad decisions, the opposition ends up looking smart by comparison. That’s no indication that the other party really will govern any better.

    But Haim, if you’d prefer a bipolar political world, don’t forget an essential ingredient – marketing! The Democrats have not used their victories in the congressional elections to do anything about Iraq. The formula they have for the Presidency is (NOT Bush == change). It’s not that the Democrats have done anything to earn the credential as the party of change (well, not in the last two years), they’ve just done an excellent job of marketing their nominee as the “unCola”. Perhaps Israeli leadership is just suffering from poor marketing and lack of image control. 😉

    Does Obama represent “change you can believe in” or superior market penetration in the “Selling of a President”? I myself found Barack Obama’s acceptance speech truly inspirational. That doesn’t change some of the nonsense that was said (like the comments on Georgia). Aside from a timetable for leaving Iraq it’s very unclear what would be done to meet the threats from terrorist states and organizations.

    There’s basis to hope, though, that it will show more imagination than just launching missiles at the problem.

  5. “So why hasn’t the Israeli political system produced a local Barack Obama who can stand up and campaign for change we can believe in? ”

    I’d have to say that the change you need- to live with Palestinians in the single country that is the homeland to both- just runs counter to the ideology of separatism and exceptionalism that Israel has wrapped itself in. Whatever good Zionism has brought to Jews fleeing oppression, it has done so on the backs of those it has oppressed and denied from the moment Herzl penned his essentially anti-native “Jewish State” tract. You can try to convince yourselves that the pie can be partitioned in an acceptable manner, but the memory of one’s homeland runs as deep, if not so long, for both Jews and Palestinian Arabs alike. Do you really believe that bulldozing a small village out of existence is all that is needed? Do you really believe that facts on the ground will make others rollover and cry “uncle” and give up the struggle? Get rid of the lousy ideology of dispossession. Get one of inclusion and unity. That’s the change you need, and that’s the change you can believe in.

    And as for Barack Obama, as far as Israel is concerned, and despite my support for him, he’s already been backed into a corner of political expedience and kowtows to the false prophecy of Zionism and the mealy-mouthed partition that keeps Jews and Palestinian Arabs at each others’ throats. On this front Obama offers no change. When I see change I’ll believe it, but I don’t see any change on the horizon for anyone in a land that sees everything as an existential danger, uses it as a primary motivator, and seems to require foreign allies to pay homage to this anxiety and make it their own.

  6. Running against the tide here for a moment, let me present you with what my middle-of-the-road friends back in the Old Country are saying:

    (1) the Iraq War might or might not be a mistake–the press tells us it was a mistake but it seems to be going okay now, maybe we shouldn’t cut and run;

    (2) the economy is a mess but its the fault of Wall Street and soft money greed;

    (3) Barack WHO? With how little experience?

    (4) What the hell does “change” mean, anyway?

    (5) Don’t much trust McCain, he’s a loose cannon but at least he’s been around and has a proven track record;

    (6) The Cold War is back and we need someone with more experience than Obama;

    (7) I’m not voting for anyone who is best friends with Rashid Khalidi;

    (8) Obama, McCain, so what? They’re both politicians and there’s nothing to choose between them!

    (9) Obama is a traitor to minority interests–he’s a changeling, all right–so f*ing Ivy League, he was raised by Whitey, talks like Whitey so if it quacks, its a duck, right? (this from a very liberal Black attorney friend in Oakland)

    …and it goes on and on. These are not quotes from conservatives–these are quotes from middle-of-the-road working middle-class Yanks from the San Francisco area. The comments could best be summed up as “A plague on both their houses.”

    There really doesn’t seem to be much to choose between them in terms of policy pronouncements–the WSJ did a great side-by-side comparison of their respective policies a couple of weeks back. The similarities are astounding. The main difference is that Obama gets trashed by the Right for being on the Left, and the Left trashes McCain for being a Bush clone (which he isn’t).

    I don’t think the public is well served by the spin machines of either party which seem to spend more time dealing out egregious sound-bytes slamming “the other guy” than making clear the distinctions between the two candidates.

    My bet: voter turnout will drop to an all-time low this November.

  7. Greg-

    You don’t know how happy I am to find someone else who doesn’t buy into the the “global warming” hysteria.

  8. Let me get this straight, Y. You believe in a divine flood that covered the whole Earth for 40 days, but think global warming is just a made up conspiracy?

    You’re probably right. After all, those climatologists probably aren’t basing their scientific conclussions on a 2000-year-old book that floated down on a piece of paper from heaven.

  9. Joe-
    There is no proof that the current warming trend is due to manmade CO2 emissions. Climate has varied considerably throughout human history, long before there were large-scale manmade CO2 emissions. I don’t care if there is a “consensus” among climatologists…there have been many times in history when the “consensus” among scientists was wrong, among them the prediction in the 1970’s that the earth was entering a new ice age. I have studied meteorology in the university and I know that the general circulation models are full of fudge factors because the earth’s climate is an unbelievably complex feed-back system that is linked with the oceans which are an immense heat sink with complex circulation patterns. Also there are biological factors involved, i.e. if CO2 increases, plant growth increases and then the CO2 is absorbed back from the atmosphere into the earth’s ecosystem. How much is this..they don’t know…..Freeman Dyson has a film on YOUTUBE where he talks about the importance of this and how little is known about it, and he also discusses the unreliability of general circulation models.

    Regarding the “Flood”, please don’t attribute views to me unless you hear them from me directly. A giant flood in the past is a historical fact…as I understand it, all ancient civilizations have historical memories of such an event. Whether it actually covered the whole earth or not is a question dealth with in the Midrashim which I am not really familiar with, but there are opinions that it did NOT cover the whole earth.

  10. So to sum up, evidence of human induced climate change is irrelevant as far as you’re concerned, yet you need absolutely no evidence to believe in a giant biblical flood.

  11. Joe, to top things off, I also accept the Warren Commission’s conclusions regarding the JFK assassination that Oswald and Ruby were lone gunmen. I guess I am beyond hope, as far as “progressives” like yourself are concerned.

    I didn’t say that there may be evidence of human effects in global warming, I said there was no proof. I strongly object to the hysterical campaign being waged about it in which people are being terrorized into making snap decisions involving TRILLIONS of dollars of expense and in which people, particularly in the poorer countries are expected to see major damage to their standard of living, health and welfare simply because of an orchestrated press campaign.
    You want to end CO2 emissions? Its easy. Raise the price of gasoline to $50 per gallon and quintuple the price of electricity. But what will the price be to society, especially if it proves that it has no effect on the climate one way or the other?

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