Yesterday, through the wonders of the Internet, I watched about an hour of political commentary on Israeli TV, i24. I’d become interested in that country’s elections since Netanyahu used the U.S. Congress as a prop in his campaign, to divert Israeli voters from their economic problems and widening inequality.
I don’t think often about being Jewish; I’m not religious, and while my parents tried to give me some Jewish culture, sending me to an after-school secular Yiddish shul, all I remember is what some of the letters look like. Periodically, I tried to understand the Middle East conflict, and sensed that settlements in land occupied after the 1967 war were not a good sign. In the 2000s I sometimes joined a Women in Black vigil in sympathy with the Jewish and Palestinian Women in Black and against the occupation.
I’m not a Zionist either. My parents were leftists and not nationalist. The Jewish “homeland” my father told me about was Birobidzhan, an “autonomous region” the Soviets set aside for Jewish Communists in far eastern Siberia, bordering China. (Did the Russian Communists think they could solve their “Jewish problem” by getting all the Russian Jews to move as far away as possible?)
Watching another country’s election is fascinating, especially when the system is so different from ours. The program on i24 had a woman host and four male pundits whose names didn’t register since I don’t really follow Israeli politics. Here’s what I learned from just that brief dip.
1. Racism in Israel is complicated, not only Jews against Arabs but also Ashkenazi Jews (those from Europe) against Sephardim (those from the Middle East). Alas, it’s skin color again. Netanyahu blatantly appealed to the first kind when he said, on election day, that Arab Israelis were voting in hordes and his right wing was in danger. But some commentators thought Netanyahu’s opposition, Labor, with its Ashkenazi roots, had failed to be inclusive of Sephardim, and I find that very disquieting.
2. Because Israel has a parliamentary system, there are multiple parties, 10 in fact. I was engrossed listening to the pundits add up the various possible combinations to form a coalition that the heads of the two parties with the most seats projected to win, but each far from a majority, would need. Would American politics be any less dysfunctional if there were separate parties for all the factions within our current Democrats and Republicans? Maybe, maybe not.