ELLISON: Israel’s lesson on crisis and compromise

The events that unfolded in Israel this week should make Americans optimistic. Unfortunately, that’s something you don’t hear every day. But this past Tuesday, on Jan. 22, the results of the 2013 Israeli elections revealed that perhaps, in the midst of great fragmentation and extremism, there is place for moderation and compromise — in both Israel and the United States.

Because of the coalition system in Israel, it’s still uncertain what the composition of the next government will be. The parties winning the most votes were Likud/Beiteinu with 31 mandates, Yesh Atid with 19 and Labor with 15. Likud is on the right, known for its stances on foreign policy and security, and it is also the party of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yesh Atid is a new centrist party focusing on social equality, and the left-wing Labor Party is looking to spearhead economic reforms. While the previous Israeli coalition included far-right parties and failed to provide the change that much of the Israeli public desires, there is hope that this new coalition can be built on compromise. This election provided an opportunity for a broader, more moderate and more productive representation of the Israeli people. At this point, there is strong likelihood that Netanyahu and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid will form a right-center government that will also include Hatnua, the new left-center party led by Tzipi Livni. As a result of Israeli electorate’s call for moderation, the numbers leave the possibility that this coalition will be free from extreme-right religious parties – a long-time woe for many Israelis.

In the context of the changes this election may lead to, we should consider the United States. There should of course be hesitation before making overly general comparisons between two very different countries and political systems. But both Israel and the U.S. have a diverse population of immigrants, a fragmented political culture pulling on both the left and the right, and a fear that the legislature’s utter ineptitude will result in crisis both at home and abroad.

Twelve different Israeli political parties won seats in the next Knesset (Parliament); many more ran, but did not achieve the electoral threshold to gain representation. Israel’s political parties span the spectrum from left to right, secular to religious, economic-focused to foreign-policy gurus.

In contrast, the United States has only two major parties. But these parties include a multitude of divergent opinions and preference sets within the parties themselves. Both Israelis and Americans are frustrated with their divided governments’ inability to solve many key national problems. In Israel, the focus is on economic stratification, lack of social egalitarianism and foreign policy, while in the U.S., the primary current issues are the economy and social welfare programs.

And so the 2013 Israeli elections may yield a compromise coalition that could be a turning point in this political deadlock. But why now? It may be that the crises in Israel are coming to a head. Perhaps Israelis have decided that enough is enough – “dayenu!” as said at the Passover Seder. In America, we must look no further than our Congress’ 11th-hour handling of the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling crises to observe a political by-product of human nature: Only when things have come to a crisis point will compromise be reached.

These Israeli elections should provide encouragement for the United States. In fact, Washington has it easier than Jerusalem — there are only two political parties to reconcile, not 12. Long before the State of Israel’s establishment in 1948, Theodore Herzl famously stated, “If you will it, it is not a dream.” American political pundits, journalists, workers and students have long lamented that even in their wildest dreams Congress could not pull itself together to pass laws that would truly address the nation’s problems. Perhaps the U.S., like Israel, has finally reached enough of a crisis point that compromise will no longer be a dream.

Danielle Bella Ellison is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact her at danielle.ellison@yale.edu .

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