This time last year, I, alongside hundreds of my other classmates, had the privilege of jetting off to and exploring a new country. My personal choice was Israel. When I arrived I knew this country would serve as my playground for a few months; little did I realize it would become my true home. I know that I am not the only student at Wash. U. who feels a connection to Israel. Whether through religion, politics or cultural interest, Israel has been and will continue to be a country that fuels dialogue on campus.
Due to my personal connection, and other students’ interests, I decided to devote my time to informing the Washington University student body of Israel’s elections. The elections took place on Jan. 22, and in a context whose complexity grows daily, and at times hourly. On its security front, Israel faces threats from almost all of Israel’s neighbors, from Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to uncertainty with Egypt and rockets from Syria. Additionally, the notion of a nuclear Iran is on every Israeli leaders’ forefront. Domestically, Israel’s religious sector is at a crossroads where they are being asked to serve in the army. There is a push for social reforms from the left wing parties.
Fittingly to this complex context is an electoral system that is beyond foreign to Americans. Unlike the two party system instituted in the United States, Israel has a multitude of parties. Whereas Americans vote for candidates, Israelis vote for parties and the amount of votes a party receives dictates how many seats that party has in Parliament. The head of the party with the most seats becomes the prime minister. However, the prime minister only succeeds to govern if he or she has a majority in parliament. Since it is almost impossible for any one party to get a majority through votes, the prime minister must work with other parties to form a coalition. The coalition allows for smaller parties to have a greater amount of sway.
Prior to election day, all the political pundits in Israel and abroad called the Likud party as the clear winners. Likud is the main right-wing party who has been in power for the past few years, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Likud is known for its hawkish foreign policy stance, fiscal conservatism and previous coalition with the even more right-wing political parties of Israel, headed by the ultra-orthodox. This election brought with it a huge surprise. While Likud came out with the majority, it was very slight, only 31 seats, and in a not too distant second came a party that no one saw coming: Yesh Atid (There is a future).
Yesh Atid is a left-leaning moderate party headed by Yair Lapid, a famous Israeli journalist. Without any political experience, Lapid and his party were not taken overly seriously by the media. However, Yesh Atid managed an impressive 19 seats in parliament. What does this mean? Israelis want change. As Americans, all I hear about on the news is the conflict, settlements—Israel’s survival is constantly at stake. But, when it came time to go to the polls, Israelis did not just choose a hawkish government—a government whose focus is foreign policy and highest priority security. They chose a party that focuses on social issues. A party that wants economic opportunities for the middle class. A party that wants all citizens to serve in the army, even the ultra-orthodox.
It is so easy to make abstract a country into one problem, but when you look at the election results you realize these are real people facing the same issues as our middle class in America. These people care about social change, and that is what they want. They came out in record numbers voting for a party not made up about seasoned politicians and polished diplomats, but rather a party full of change and hope. Israel is not just a warzone, it is my home, and a home much similar to your own.