After two inconclusive elections in Israel, incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears certain to form a government after elections Monday, ending an unprecedented period of political instability.
Whether Netanyahu himself, under indictment and slated for a trial this month on corruption charges, will remain prime minister for long, the right-wing is certainly poised to govern for the near future. Israel’s Supreme Court explicitly refused to offer an opinion on whether a convicted prime minister could continue in office, a question that may now go from theoretical to very real.
Jews in the Diaspora, including a great many here in British Columbia, follow politics in Israel casually or closely, as many of us do the machinations of American politics that are also roiling this week. Canadian politics and those in British Columbia, around issues of environmental policy, disruptive protests and a host of other topics, have people here at home fired up about politics even without elections on the near horizon.
While there are countless issues and contests vying for our attention, there is also an undercurrent of less immediate yet possibly more ominous peril facing our democracies. Threats of external influence from bad actors, like a repetition of the Russian interference in U.S. elections in 2016, are cause for serious concern. The rise of domestic extremism – in mainstream politics as well as in the form of underground and sometimes violent movements – also deserves close attention. So does apathy.
All of these influences and attitudes present dangers to our democracies – in Canada, in the United States, in Europe and Israel. Newer democracies in Central and Eastern Europe have demonstrated how fragile the tissue of open, accountable and responsive government can be. It is alarming to witness the path that Hungary, Russia, Turkey and Poland have been on recently. Our democracies – in the United States and Canada, even Israel – may be somewhat older, but these countries are still warnings of how things that we take for granted can be snatched away. Democracy is less an enormous oak with deep and broad roots than it is a delicate flower that requires nurturing and constant attention.
For this reason, when there are government policies or election outcomes with which we disagree, we should remind ourselves that democracy may be the ultimate win-some-lose-some proposition and recommit ourselves to respect for the institutions of our democracy, not just when they serve our interests but even – especially – when they deliver outcomes that we find disagreeable. At the same time, we should be identifying and calling out every instance when a political leader or movement threatens the institutions or norms of our democracy.
Amid all of these political dramas, very daunting situations that recognize no geographic or ideological boundaries are challenging each and every one of us. This week, again, coronavirus is spreading and causing panic. Meanwhile, the dangers posed by climate change escalate every day. The economic impacts of these global concerns are blaring across the business pages: pandemic fears are causing wild stock market fluctuations, while the measures necessary to alter the course of climate change demand fundamental economic shifts. All of these threaten to exacerbate existing inequalities locally, nationally and internationally, threatening our morality and the stability of our world.
In the face of existential issues like these, the differences in our ideologies in countries like Canada, Israel or the United States fade into shades of grey. This is perhaps optimistic: that the differences between us are minimal in comparison to the difficulties we face together. That should motivate us to look beyond or to bridge our differences and recognize both the humanity in those with whom we disagree and the challenges to humankind that we must overcome together or succumb to apart.