Israeli elections demonstrate democracy despite final outcomes

By Sports & Health Reporter

Israelis visited the polls on March 17 to exercise their right to vote as citizens of the only true democracy in the Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, was elected for a fourth term as prime minister, much to the dismay of progressive Israelis and Jews worldwide, though the left-leaning Zionist Union and its leader Isaac Herzog—Netanyahu’s main opposition—were projected to win in several polls. 

When asked by Israeli news organization NRG on election eve if a Palestinian state would not be established during his reign, Netanyahu answered, “Indeed.” 

After winning the election, Netanyahu clarified in a March 19 interview with MSNBC that he was not retracting previous statements that supported a two-state solution.

“I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution,” Netanyahu said. “But for that [to happen] circumstances have to change.” 

Despite Netanyahu’s attempts to clarify two days later, the comment only fueled the international image of Netanyahu as an unreliable, aggressive and conflict-hungry leader who does not actively want to make peace with neighboring Palestinian leadership. 

The possibility of the left’s victory gave a glimmer of hope that Israel could work to resume peace talks with Palestinian leaders and avoid future warfare. Many abroad may be skeptical of Israel’s commitment to peace after voting for a right-wing government led by Netanyahu only a day after his comments against Palestine. 

What many members of the international community do not realize is the typical Israeli citizen’s priorities; 60 percent of Israelis said they support the establishment of a Palestinian state, according to a June 2014 survey by the Dialog Institute. The Israeli support for Netanyahu does not correlate with the average citizen’s views on creating two states. The survival of Israel is the top concern for citizens, and Netanyahu has proven in the past that the Jewish state will not fall while he is prime minister.

This concept is likely difficult to grasp for those who have been fortunate enough to grow up in the U.S. Terror attacks on American soil are rare, and Americans live with little fear of their country being annihilated during their lifetime. The same cannot be said for Israelis. 

As soon as Israeli children learn to walk, they are taught how to run to a bomb shelter. Radical terror attacks are not uncommon; a Palestinian man hit five Israeli citizens with his car in Jerusalem on March 6, according to a same-day ABC News report. 

These attacks instill a constant fear in the Israeli public. Israel is also surrounded by neighbors that call for its destruction, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ charter calls for a genocide of the Jewish people and a dismantling of the Jewish state by radicals. 

Netanyahu emphasized the differences between the U.S. and Israel in his March 2 address at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. 

“America lives in one of the world’s safest neighborhoods,” Netanyahu said. “Israel lives in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood…. American leaders worry about the security of their country. Israeli leaders worry about the survival of their country…. I think that encapsulates the difference…. There’s not a single day, not one day that I didn’t think about the survival of my country and the actions that I take to ensure that survival, not one day.”

Netanyahu has made it clear through his actions in his nine years as prime minister that he can promise a secure future for Israel as a state and as a homeland for the Jewish people. 

A Palestinian state cannot be established alongside the existing Jewish state if Israel’s enemies are given opportunities to destruct and dismantle Israel. The Israeli people have voiced what their priorities are. As Americans, we share many values with the State of Israel and its people, such as democracy, freedom of speech, diversity and minority rights. While the Israeli left and the international community may be dismayed with the outcome of the Israeli elections, the Israeli people have spoken. They have selected Netanyahu as their next leader, and as Israel’s strongest ally, the American people should respect that decision and celebrate the strong democratic process that allowed Netanyahu a fourth term as prime minister. 

Abby Seitz is president of Students Supporting Israel at Columbia College Chicago and an intern at the Jewish United Fund’s Israel Education Center.