Israel May Be Soon Also Be Facing a New Political Reality
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
There is a fascinating confluence of political and social streams which appear to have hit both America and Israel at the same time. In America it took the 2012 defeat of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party to begin to open the public’s eyes to a new America. So far, it seems that Israel is not there yet, but the leadership of the country will eventually need to respond to its new reality as well.
As has been discussed all across the media and in most academic circles since last Tuesday, the America that re-elected Barack Obama last week was a clear snapshot of America of the 21st Century. It is less than 50% White; it is more than 50% women; it is composed of more one sixth Latino; and is being driven by the voices of those under 35. While America is an aging population, the young are the energy and the political drivers. It is their issues which will be determining the future agenda. While they do not control the levers of economic power or most of the political switches, the Obama campaign realized what was happening and built a brilliant campaign which capitalized on the changing American demographic.
Curiously, Israel is also facing a major shift which it is not yet sensitive too—much like the Republican Party in the U.S. In fact Israel still may be a bit removed from a dramatic change as there are virtually no young people going into the ugly, Byzantine world of Israeli politics; but it is coming. While Bradley Burston alluded to this phenomenon, it is time to understand what is wrong with Israeli politics and why Rabbi Richard Jacobs’s speech at the GA was far closer in his understanding of the political reality than was Ambassador Michael Oren. (More about their respective speeches another time.)
Israel is still being ruled by the next generation of largely Ashkenazi Jews who constituted the majority of the founders of Zionism and the new state. The Sephardim and the Russians are still permitting themselves to be bought off with trinkets from the ruling class and the Ethiopians are only beginning to delve into Israeli politics. Like the religious Zionists and the haredim, these groups have not sufficiently mobilized themselves yet to overthrow politically the ruling class. The demographic picture in Israel is much different than that in the U.S., but the classic “white” secularists are declining—rapidly. These rising groups are bolstered as well by the fact that the only real Aliyah today is largely from the Orthodox or haredi world, and they are also the only segment of the Israel population whose demographic is growing dramatically by their birthrate.
Avigdor Lieberman understood this reality. It seemed that he and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party might have been ready to challenge the power structure, but he was bought off by Bibi and agreed to run together with Likud in January. Similarly, Shas and the other haredi groups will still be bought off, but sooner rather than later the numerical shifts will remove power from the ruling class, unless they dramatically change their agenda, recast some of their model, and find new, less polarizing leaders.