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Israel Thing | Speaking of Politics

למה לי פוליטיקה עכשיו – Speaking of Politics

Check your Hebrew calendar! We’re few days away from Tu B’Shvat, the most ecologically-minded  holiday celebrated in the Jewish world and nationally in Israel. Last year I wrote here about the meaning of the holiday and the customs that developed and are still kept in modern Israel around the holiday, like planting trees and eating dried fruits. These unique traditions symbolize the connection and dedication to the land, to nature and to the world around us. While this is the main message of Tu B’Shvat, in Israel it also marks a very different, yet in my eyes very appropriate occasion – the birthday of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament).

Even before Israel’s establishment, the Zionist settlements in the land of Israel managed themselves in rather democratic way. The pre-state Jewish residents were able to found semi-governmental institutions and even elected political parties to be their representatives in the budding political system. However, it was exactly 63 years ago when the Knesset – named after the representative Jewish council convened in Jerusalem in the 5th century B.C.E– formally convened for the first time in an act that marked the beginning of the modern Israeli democracy.

Like in many countries, in Israel there is a general assumption (that isn’t difficult to justify) that the top priority of all politicians is not the public interest but their own seats. Add to that, shady political maneuvers and criminal proceedings against certain politicians (see former president Katsav, former Prime Minister Olmert, figures like Deri, Hirschzon, Liberman and others), and you can understand why Knesset members in Israel suffer from an image of unreliability and corruption. With that state of mind, many people who aim to make substantial change to Israeli society don’t go into politics, and instead try to make an impact through different arenas. These often include the work of the media and of non-profit organizations that manifest the interests and will of citizens but are themselves distinct from government.

Therefore it was quite surprising for me to hear about the recent entrance into politics of two well-known names: Noam Shalit and Yair Lapid. The first must sound familiar because Shalit, of course, is the father who fought for more than five years for the release of his soldier son Gilad from captivity in Gaza (he was freed last October). Following years of a public battle, Shalit said he would run for a place on the Labor Party list for the next Knesset elections. Around the same time Lapid – a best-selling author and columnist who has anchored Channel 2’s top-rated weekend news edition in Israel – announced he is quitting the news business and will form his own independent party with a liberal bent. Polls have shown that a Lapid-led party could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the next general Knesset election. And though elections in Israel are currently slated for late 2013, these latest developments have created a lot of political buzz.

There are many who criticize Shalit and (mainly) Lapid, saying they lack the skills needed to make decisions about the country’s fate; that they have no political or administrative experience and have never been immersed in the turmoil of Israeli politics, the pressures of which, from within and without, are some of the greatest in the world.  Some have accused the Israeli public of confusing theater with politics in its quick and widespread endorsement of Lapid without waiting to hear his clear agenda, mainly due to his populist characteristics: easy charm, handsome looks, excellent ability to articulate his thoughts and great public speaking skill.

Personally, I think that both the Israeli public and the people who wish to be its representatives in the political ring deserve more credit. In light of the dissatisfaction with politicians, new, enthusiastic candidates who obviously care for Israel’s future are needed and I’m sure that on election day, Israelis can be trusted to take make a considered choice of whom they chose to give their votes. At the end of the day, the Knesset, for all its faults, is still a more democratic parliament than anywhere else in the Middle East. Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The fact is that despite all of the hardship, Israel remains loyal to its democratic system and values, and that is truly a cause for celebration.

Rega Shel Ivrit

Tikkun olam – תיקון עולם (“Repairing the World”)

Much has been said about this profound Jewish concept of making the world a better place. It basically calls on each of us to take responsibility for our own part in the world – environmentally, socially, politically. For me it all comes down to that and if we put our cynicism aside for a moment, I believe that we definitely can make the world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom,

About the Author

Roey Shiff, NFTY ShaliachRoey Schiff is the NFTY Shaliach. Roey grew up in Ein Vered, Israel and has experience working with teens and leadership development. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Management from Ben Gurion University. In September 2010, Roey moved to NYC to act as the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach as part of the URJ Youth Division.