Public opinion expert Dahlia Scheindlin argues that the fierce debate over the separation of religion and state in Israel’s latest elections could lead to a wider liberal shift in society.
By +972 Magazine Staff
Almost two weeks after Israeli voters cast their ballots for a second time this year, it is still unclear which candidate will lead the country. To make sense of all this, The +972 Podcast spoke with leading public opinion analyst Dahlia Scheindlin, who says not much has changed since the April elections.
On the outcome of elections:
“It’s hard to see where we’re going to get any sort of real change of direction for Israel.”
“What didn’t change is the uncertainty of who’s going to lead the country, the general ideological breakdown of the voters in Israeli society, and what probably won’t change is the basic direction Israel is taking with relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foreign affairs.”
Internally, “maybe there will be a difference in the balance around religion and state.”
On the appeal of Benny Gantz:
“We’ve been living with Benny Gantz since December, and I don’t know a thing about him. Israelis like him because he brings with him the general aura of appreciation and trust that 90 percent of Israelis have in the IDF. That’s a number that’s very stable over the years.”
On the potential liberal shift in Israel:
“The parties have identified a politically expedient niche in the Israeli set of ideas,” says Scheindlin. When parties talk about establishing a liberal government, “what they really mean is a secular government, or a government without the ultra-Orthodox.”
The debate over the separation of religion and state “is not new, but it became a new arena of political competition in these elections,” and it started with Liberman, explains Scheindlin. “It speaks to a slice of right-wingers that are secular, who want to vote for a right wing party but are really concerned about religious encroachment on public life. So, [Liberman] went for that slice, and that slice is not so small.”
Parties in Israel are trying to define liberalism “by one specific axis. Ultimately, that will open people’s eyes to all the other related values of a liberal society. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we’re far from there yet.”
“I think the question is, will the parties that have a natural advantage on the latter — the focus on individual rights, protection of minorities, state institutions having the responsibility and the empowerment to be independent enough to restrain the power of the majority, that kind of liberalism is ultimately the arena of the left wing parties in Israel.”
Up until now, parties have competed over the overriding issue of security, which “always favors the right,” says “If they’re now competing on the turf of liberalism, ultimately, the parties that do that best are the left wing parties in Israel.”