It is customary for political parties to turn to voters and seek their support. Politicians explain why they are better than their rivals and more deserving of the public's trust. They put forth spectacular plans. All this is accompanied by sharp debates between different candidates and meetings with voters on the campaign trail.
Election campaigning in Israel has some of these elements. But the influence of televised campaign ads is diminishing. In Israel, these ads contain too many populist images that would not be worthy of serious media coverage in most Western democracies.
What was Shas trying to do with its ad about conversion? Yisrael Beytenu MK Faina Kirshenbaum justifiably claimed that the ad had a racist tone. A serious discussion about conversion would require approaching the issue as Rabbi Haim Amsalem of the Am Shalem (Complete Nation) party does. Amsalem's outlook (he promotes finding ways to allow non-Jewish Russian immigrants to convert in a Halachic manner) is not superficial. Rather, it represents a real struggle between him and his former colleagues in Shas. Amsalem is presenting a possible solution while Shas engages in superficial propaganda on a matter that may be crucial to the future demography of the Jewish people.
On Wednesday, Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid said he would not enter coalition talks without receiving a prior guarantee that an equitable enlistment law would be passed. I firmly support such a law, but how can one be implemented without talks between different parties? Each day sees the center-left parties making more unnecessary commitments.
What emerges from this? Israel's electoral system is distorted. It was expected that Lapid, Labor's Shelly Yachimovich and Hatnuah's Tzipi Livni would harshly criticize the current government and emphasize the differences between their parties and Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party. It was also expected that the parties in the current governing coalition defend themselves and their records. But weeks have gone by and this hasn't really happened. Lapid, Yachimovich and Livni have instead been engaged in determining the conditions under which they would join — separately or together — a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a normal democracy, before an election opposition parties don't list the conditions under which they would join the government. I would exaggerate and say that they should be prohibited from doing so, but this would violate their freedom of speech. A ban on coalition negotiations before election results come in would not be a practical solution. But such a ban would represent the proper spirit for an election system.
There is a time to embrace and a time to back away, a wise person once wrote. Now is not the time for embracing. Please, ladies and gentlemen, don't make a mockery of democracy.