Nahum Barnea
A not so happy new year
Op-ed: Israelis know that as bad as current government is, next one will not be better

It is customary for Jews to wish each other a happy new year from the beginning of the month of Elul. It is a nice tradition, and I embrace it every year, including this one. But this year I was confronted with a serious credibility problem: I wish a happy new year, but people refuse to believe me.


Some make due with a skeptical nod of the head, while others respond with some sort of wisecrack. They offer a variety of reasons for their skepticism, from the sharp rise in gas prices and the lack of security at the workplace to the talk of a war with Iran and teenage violence. It all leads to the same conclusion: For now the majority of people are okay, some say even great, but the future does not look bright. The sense is that we are standing on the edge of an abyss: The last thing we want to do is take a step forward.


Many of the difficulties stem from objective circumstances. The Israeli government is not to blame for the global recession or waning of the US' power. Moreover, the government cannot always control processes that take place within Israeli society. But the government is required, at the very least, to minimize the damage, act responsibly and consistently, and project stability at a time of uncertainty.


The Israeli government is doing the exact opposite. The justified campaign against the Iranian nuclear project, which was launched by a previous administration, played a positive role in delaying the project and in the decision to impose harsh economic sanctions on Tehran.


Naturally, Israel and its western allies – headed by the US and Germany - are at odds over the urgency of the issue. But there was no need to turn these differences of opinion into a diplomatic crisis and a personal dispute between the leaders. This crisis is bad for Israel, regardless of whether we attack Iran or act with restraint.


The crisis promotes the interests of two elements: Netanyahu's American donors, who want a Republican president in the White House; and Iran of course. There was no need to build more settlements at such a crazy pace. Netanyahu sacrificed his relations with foreign governments for the benefit of the extreme Right - both in Israel and the US.


The global economic recession has been accompanying us since 2008. Despite this, the government preferred to celebrate. Today the ministers are blaming the social protest for the huge budget hole. The protest originated in the middle class, which justifiably felt that it was shouldering most of the burden while the upper echelon of wealth, the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox were enjoying all of the country's spoils. The government should have altered its priorities, reduced the defense budget and rejected the demands of preferred sectors. Instead it inflated the budget.


The most unnecessary zigzagging took place in the political arena. Netanyahu declared elections (and therefore did not address the economic issues) and backed down at the last minute; then he teamed up with Kadima and also withdrew; now he is once again threatening to hold early elections.


People are skeptical of the promise of a happy new year because they know that even if they are critical of the current government, the next one will not be any better.


The balance created over the years between the Right and Left has shifted: The Left is non-existent. The Labor Party is a joke. It has nothing to say about Iran; it has nothing to say about the Palestinians; it has nothing to say about the settlements or racist trends and anti-democratic violence. It is an insult to its voters. Kadima does address these issues, but after the embarrassment it caused to its voters, no one is listening.


Thirty-five years after the Right won the elections for the first time, it is finally ruling the nation. Alone. Without any competition. It controls the State-owned media outlets and determines the fate of the commercial channels. Its tycoons are stifling free press with their money. It is alone at the top.


It's easy to be democratic when you are sitting in the opposition, but it is much harder to show tolerance, restraint and self-confidence when you are in the driver's seat. The Right's ability to restrain itself will be tested in the coming year. There is no doubt that it will be a good year. The question is, for whom?




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