Sunday, June 04, 2023

I’ve written before about my love for Israel, my relationship with the Holy Land, and my feelings towards some of what happens there. I’ve always stood on the side of Israel and what it stands for. And what I’m writing now is no different in that respect…even if it’s a bit different in other ways. For once I am not holding up Israel as a paradigm of virtue, which it is in many ways, but as a real country with very real but very normal issues.

You see, as I write this, elections are rapidly approaching in the State of Israel. And not just any elections; it’s the vote for the next Prime Minister. I don’t understand exactly why they are happening right now; I know it has something to do with Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu getting rid of his Justice Minister Tzippi Livni, and his Finance Minister Yair Lapid, and that broke the coalition or something, and now there are early elections. I could do the research, but for this article I’m leaving that like it is to show how, at least from the outset, Israeli politics are confusing in a way that American politics aren’t. (For instance, the equivalent to the elections happening now in Israel is our presidential elections. We just elect a president every four years; while I’m sure Hillary Clinton would be thrilled, they never happen early.)

So who are the contenders? From what I’ve heard, we’ve got incumbent Bibi on one side, and Isaac Herzog and Tzippi Livni on the other side. (If there are any more contenders, I haven’t heard of them, kind of like how the Green party presidential candidates don’t usually show up on most people’s radars.) I have a vague connection to Herzog in that he is a Ramaz graduate, which I will be in a bit over a year. He was in the class of ’78 and was just recently honored at the Ramaz Dinner Dance. I was hoping to meet him, but because of the elections he only appeared onscreen and not in person.

Herzog also gains some meaningless points in my book (I can’t vote, obviously) because he has a great nickname. I’m not sure who came up with “Bu’ji” as a slang term to refer to Herzog, but it’s such a fun word to say! Between Bu’ji and Bibi, we’ve got no shortage of linguistic delight in the Israeli elections.

But more seriously, what about the campaign issues? This article isn’t meant to go in depth about the elections or what the candidates face, but there are some things I want to touch on.

Take Iran. It’s hard to trust that country when it says it isn’t building a bomb and then spews so much anti-Israel rhetoric. Bibi Netanyahu’s speech was well timed, since the deadline for some of the US-Iran negotiations is at the end of March. On the flip side, it’s hard to see Bibi’s trip being completely disconnected from his political goals, given how close it occurred to the elections. I don’t think he was completely motivated by what the White House thinks, but it must’ve been a factor. (I do know that Congress invited him; he didn’t ask to come, but it was still probably up to him to come or not.) And given the damage it caused to US-Israel relations, the speech may not have been worth it.

But there’s another issue which my Hebrew teacher, when we were discussing the elections and the speech in class, touched on, and I’d like to adapt it a bit. Iran is an issue and a threat to Israel, yes… but it’s also in some ways a distraction. Netanyahu in some ways is using it to distract from the domestic issues inside the land, my teacher said, like the fact that much of the Israeli population lives in poverty. And there’s the constant terror attacks. And the mandatory draft, which seems like a constant in Israeli life but has indeed been protested by many. These things are the status quo in Israel right now.

Thinking of all of the broader issues, I don’t know if a new prime minister like Bu’ji would make a difference, or whether Bibi will step it up if he stays in office. I do think, however, that what goes on in Israel doesn’t need to be the status quo. It seems like Israel will always have enemies and terror attacks, and will eternally be at war. From a religious perspective, there’s the idea that the Jews will never find true rest and peace until the coming of the Redemption. I don’t know if any of those ideas are escapable, but I do think it’s important to try to change that perspective, that Israel should step up its efforts to change the status quo. It should NOT, definitely not, supremely not (I’m just trying to make myself completely clear) give up any land or make any concessions to anyone that might jeopardize the country, but the Israeli government and the future prime minister should try to change things for the better. It should focus on the issue of poverty and try to alleviate it; it should try to put an end to the constant terror attacks and their causes; it should try to eliminate Israel’s almost-constant state of war. That may be impossible. But Israel needs to at least try.

My Tanach class recently spoke about the phrase, “Bakesh Shalom v’Rodfehu,” seek peace and run after it. Giving up is not an option; we want peace, and now we should chase it, try for that elusive goal, try to fix the issues both internal and external to the land. And whether Netanyahu remains prime minister or Herzog and Livni take over, I’m hoping that’s what they’ll try to accomplish.

Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist, but currently is drowning in emails from colleges. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

Sign up now!