Almost everything became personal in this election cycle. Instead of talking about issues, we talked about people. Instead of a serious investigation of actual topics of relevance, ambiguity dominated the debate arena. Ideology, if such a thing still exists, was pushed aside. Slogans about "governance," "strength," "Jewish identity" and "social agenda" floated through the air, but no real debate on issues took place. The "issues" vanished and only the "personal" remained. Judgment or clarification of values, on any essential or factual level, did not happen at all.
This stands in sharp contrast to the recent elections we witnessed in the United States. There too a personal struggle took place, but at the same time, there was also a real discussion of the issues, particularly in the debates between President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney. Here in Israel, however, even the mere appearance of a discussion and clarification of disputed issues does not exist. Here, the struggle is more a horse race, judged according to polls, pollsters and media consultants.
Take the Iranian nuclear issue. For many long months, politicians drew blood from each other over this difficult issue. But during this election cycle, there hasn't been a word about it. Just last week, a shadow passed over us with the report published by a group of American experts at the Institute for Science and International Security, which said that Iran could produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as early as the middle of 2014. Not a word about this in the election rhetoric.
Even "the old lady from the halls of a hospital in Nahariya," who starred in the 15th Knesset elections, has not been considered much of an issue, despite the fact that the hospital crisis and the lack of equality in the health care system are still burning issues here. What about poverty? Unemployment? The high cost of housing? The huge disparities between the "State of Tel Aviv" and other areas in terms of infrastructure, welfare, health and employment? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic policies created injustices, but also made us an island of economic stability, setting us apart from the woes suffered in Greece, Spain and Portugal — but no serious discussions about this really took place here.
Even the issue of a Palestinian state was buried. Is it good for the Jews? Bad for the Jews? Is it dangerous? Will it bring peace? Will it bring about our elimination? Nothing. What about Jerusalem? Is it really a united city? What are the consequences of dividing it? How many apartments did the government build beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem? Is Israeli sovereignty truly realized through this practice of building in east Jerusalem? Only partially.
The discussion of candidates' qualifications is warranted, but it completely pushed aside any discussion of substance. In the Center-Left of the political map, we have Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich and "the concerned citizen," former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. All of these figures, due to their massive egos, were unable to unite. On the Right, it was difficult not to notice that Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett both tried to speak to us in shorter sentences, generalizations, "frothy" sentiments, as their advisers requested, and shied away from a profound investigation of the relevant issues burning on today's agenda.
It is too bad we missed this opportunity to deepen the public's knowledge with the very issues they are actually voting on. It is unfortunate that the main issue voters look at today is the leader's image rather than his or her ideology. Exceptions to this rule are, of course, the ultra-Orthodox parties and some of those voting for Bennett, Meretz and Labor. In these sectors, ideology is not a curse word. Fleeting seasonal parties' voter base is increasing massively because the elections have been personalized and lack substantive discourse.
We also missed out on some individuals within the parties in this election cycle. There are quite a few worthy candidates, but our focus on party leaders rendered others on the list almost irrelevant. The public would have been better served had it really gotten to know some of the other Habayit Hayehudi candidates, such as Zvulon Kalfa and Orit Struk, Likud candidate Tzipi Hotovely, Labor candidate Itsik Shmuli or Yesh Atid candidate Yael German. We didn't even get to size any of these people up.
The most obvious sign of the death of issues was the shallow party platforms. There were those who didn't even bother to publish their party platforms, because they believed it was no longer relevant. Others sought to avoid committing themselves to any particular policy, leaving themselves free to maneuver through a wider political space.