Quebec and Israel's changing political narrative
Nov 15, 2011

Quebec and Israel's changing political narrative

When there is a single issue which dominates the politics of a jurisdiction for decades, it is often the case that progress on other issues is inhibited by the myopic focus on the one dominating issue. Such is the case in both Quebec and Israel dominated by the separatist issue and the Palestine issue respectively. However, there are signs in both places that they are moving somewhat aware of these conventional conflicts to take up a broader pallet of issues. For quite some time, Quebec political parties have been essentially polarized on the key sovereignty issue. But this is changing.

In Quebec, this last May saw the demise of the Bloc Québécois and the rise of the federalist NDP in that province. Five years ago, the left edge of the Parti Québécois provincially seperated into Quebec solidaire. Today, the popular François Legault has formally split off from the Parti Québécois to form the Coalition Avenir Québec party which has a real shot of forming government next year. There is the chance that within a few years the dominant political spectrum is decided by issues outside of the sovereignty issue.

One might think that these moves represents a capitulation for one side on the sovereignty issue that has so long dominated Quebec federal and provincial politics. Certainly it is large blow to that side of the issue. However, François Legault and others have been very firm on framing the transition not as the abandonment of the long term separatist goal, but in setting it aside for a decade to be able to focus on other issues. It is an acknowledgement by these politicians that the myopic divisive focus on this single issue is detrimental to Quebec and reflects a sentiment among the population that is weary of the lack of progress on other issues as well as the sovereignty issue.

In contrast, in Israel the dominant political narrative for the last forty years has been the problem of the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Parties are polarized with regards to how they want to deal with this problem. The incumbent Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is more hawkish, the opposition Kadima party is more dovish (although there are many minor parties in the Knesset). For example, the creation of the Kadima party in 2005 was based on moderates who supported the unilateral disengagement plan of Ariel Sharon.

In 2011, however, there has been the rise of the social justice movement which has occurred somewhat in tandem with the broader Arab Awakening. This is a movement that has massive public support (98% of Kadima supporters and 85% of Likud supporters) and focuses on inherently domestic social issues such as housing, schooling, taxation and anti-privatization. For a long time, Israel's political spectrum didn't follow a left-right divide the way we in Canada or the US might perceive it because of the focus on the Israeli/Palestine conflict. However, the social justice movement is pushing these more traditional left issues and forcing it to be in the political spectrum. They have achieved very real policy successes in promises from the ruling Likud party, and when the next election comes around the outcome of this is very likely to be determined on the backs of these kinds of issues.

Some societies, such as Kenya which I have written a bit about here, have a political identity which is entirely ethnically based. Other societies with religious divisions have entirely religiously based political identities. These divisions which in some sense are inherently not policy-centric - they are about the interests of particular subgroups and not a set of policies or even values - mean that finding good policies are often reduced to secondary importance or worse. At least in the case of Quebec and Israel, sovereignty and the Israeli/Palestine conflict are a real policy adjudication. But they push out so many other important issues in our society. The way democracy works is that it is often quite insensitive to more minor issues, with the outcome of elections depending on the polarization of the big issues. As such, the push away from the dominance of a single issue in both Quebec and Israel is a very good and healthy thing.

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