By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Large numbers of cliches are lost after the Israel municipal elections. They were hoping to come out on November 1 to tell the public how the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) are taking over the country and write opeds about how Israel should be divided into cantons but now they are sitting at home, bewildered and worried.
For years cliches were able to have a disproportionate amount of space on radio, TV and in opeds, and they often profited from traveling abroad to sing the woes of Israel. Israel is a divided society, they would say. It’s tribal. There are “four tribes” and they can’t along. They would write oped after oped after oped about the need to divide up cities, about how different groups couldn’t get along. Ashkenazi. Sephardi. Russian. Orthodox. Arabs. They even talked about the “white tribe,” which sounds vaguely white supremacist, and yet audiences listened without criticism in quiet acceptance as the cliches blabbered on. That was their tune. Always they would tell us about how their group, often what they called the “white tribe” couldn’t live in the country as it was being “taken over” by other groups. But also they would whine and complain about how “Jerusalem is lost of Haredization” and “we must divide Beit Shemesh, we can’t live with haredim.”
But after years of being the go-to voice for experts and foreign commentators who wanted an “insider”, the cliches are now worried they won’t have as much an impact. No one wants to hear from them after Ofer Berkovich came in second in Jerusalem and is heading for a runoff with Moshe Lion, after a woman, Einat Rotem, won the race to be mayor of Haifa, and after Aliza Bloch won an upset victory in Beit Shemesh. The cliches were waiting in the wings on election night. “Jerusalem is lost,” one of them might have been writing, again, as had been written in 2013. Whining about how “Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) students currently account for 39 percent of all the capital’s school children. Arab students account for 37 percent of the capital’s school children. Zionists account for only 24 percent of the capital’s school children and, of those, only half are secular.” Oh the demographics, oh no, the cliches were preparing to say. Oh no, demography. Too many of their kids and not enough of our children. “There is no future for Jerusalem. It’s gloomy.”
The cliches who claim there are “too many children” in Israel and Israel is an “outlier” with too many kids, are now worried. The cliche that always says that immigration is good in Europe because there are low birthrates, but that Israel has “too many children,” is now concerned. What might some of the “too many children” cliches have said? “My gloom and doom, and constant dog whistle racist references to too many Arab and Orthodox children, isn’t being made into a talking point in media today. It’s very upsetting. Usually after elections when Orthodox parties do well, I get to speak all day about demographics and use pseudo-science from the 1930s to prove my point. But in 2018 I’m not being consulted as much.”
In Beit Shemesh the cliches are very concerned about the next few years. In 2012 they wanted to divide the city because of too many Orthodox voters. They kept pushing the agenda in 2013 and 2014, but alas it didn’t work.
The democracy cliches are also worried about their sky is falling narrative. When voters went to the polls and didn’t elect stereotypical candidates they got very depressed. “To save Israeli democracy we need to divide it into cantons” had been a refrain a few years ago. Under this plan, that looked sort of like other failed systems done in places like southern Africa, the country would be divided along ethnic and religious lines. Separate development would come into play. To save democracy, it must be destroyed, the cliches said. But now we hear less about the “cantons” concept.
In Jerusalem the cliches are at a coffee shop, their heads down, quietly going about their day. “No call from the radio station today,” one is thinking. Why not? Why not my voice on the radio to say how “Jerusalem is lost,” and how “too many of them” have voted. Instead a young secular man is poised to have a chance at being mayor.
Across Israel voters didn’t choose stereotypical candidates. Haredim voted for women, haredim voted for secular people, people voted for their interests and outside their bubble. This made the cliches very lost. It’s been good business talking about the fall of democracy and “too many” of “those others’ voting. It’s been a good snake oil business talking about “demography” and encouraging racist plans to divide cities, divide communities along ethnic and religious lines, and turn everything into a giant ethnic-religious series of communities and parks, claiming that no one can get along. But the average voter decided that in 2018 they wouldn’t bow to the cliches, they would vote differently.
“Upset” victories are the headlines, “shocker” are the stories. Not “democracy is dying” and “the city is lost.” For the first time in half a decade the cliches are not dominating the headlines.