Israel's Jewish identity under the spotlight ahead of elections

Opinion: After Bennett fell victim to Likud's claims that he sacrificed his identity for power by establishing a coalition with Islamist Ra'am party, Lapid vows to protect Israel as Jewish and democratic state that prioritizes civil rights

Sever Plocker|
The focal point of the November 1 national ballot, which will undoubtedly come up time and time again in election campaigns and debates, will be the Jewish identity of Israel.
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  • Recently, a random taxi driver told me, "This year I didn't put the Israeli flag on my car on Independence Day because I feel that the state is escaping me, no longer mine, no longer a state of Jews."
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    כפר המכביה לפני הצהרות שקד והנדל
    כפר המכביה לפני הצהרות שקד והנדל
    People at campaign rally for Ayelet Shaked's new party The Zionist Spirit
    (Photo: Yair Sagi)
    A significant share of the Jewish public fears the state's Jewish majority, and thus its Jewish identity, is growing weaker by the day. The elections will be a platform through which this concern is set to be addressed.
    Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu launched his campaign with a video message, saying he intends to maintain the purity of the national identity of the country ... and also lower the cost of living, but added that in most democracies elections aren't won by economic incentives alone.
    According to Netanyahu and his advisors, Likud will prevail on the back of the deepening rift between Jewish and Arab Israelis, which ironically widened during the year when the government coalition included an Arab party for the first time in history.
    The former prime minister hopes to ride this crusade all the way to the Knesset's throne.
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    בנימין נתניהו
    בנימין נתניהו
    Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch)
    It can be easily understood why Israel's economic situation won't set the tone of the upcoming elections - as worrying as it is.
    The financial accomplishments and failures of the Israeli economy in 2021-2022 are Netanyahu's responsibility much more than they are of Prime Minister Yair Lapid or his predecessor Naftali Bennett. The strengths and weaknesses of our economy are the outcome of lengthy domestic and global processes, which began long before 2021 when the Bennett coalition was formed.
    While the public unrest surrounding astronomic housing prices is indeed the most significant social crisis the next government is facing, and it will find its place in the election campaigns, it doesn't act as an issue that benefits or undermines any political camp. Because essentially - everyone is to blame.
    Not one of the governments Israel has had in the past few years can boast to have improved the situation, with the average house price rising by 120% between 2008 to 2021.
    However, in the attempt to present their opponents as willing to jeopardize the exclusive Jewish identity for power, the Likud and Netanyahu will face a political persona very different from that of Bennett.
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    יאיר לפיד
    יאיר לפיד
    Prime Minister Yair Lapid
    (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch, Yaron Brenner)
    Lapid, who a decade prior established the Yesh Atid party and successfully led it through several elections, has a team of loyal voters from the middle class and is very much worthy of heading an interim Israeli government.
    Just from listening to Lapid's speech during the swearing-in ceremony, one could easily have noticed the frequent use of the phrase "the Jewish state". Lapid, as the true centrist, represents "the Jewish state" in the nationalist sense, not the religious one.
    The Likud will certainly struggle to present Lapid as one who is willing to sacrifice Israel's identity for power - something they could accuse Bennett of quite easily given the former premier's affiliations with the national-religious Yamina party.
    All Lapid has to do from now until the election day is not to mess up, and certainly not on camera. He must not abandon the progress made vis-à-vis the Palestinians, consult with professionals on finding solutions for the housing crisis and proudly stand up for the sectors he so proudly represents.
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