Sunday, September 09, 2007

The following article was published last December in the Viewpoint section of the Jerusalem Report. It is based on a piece that I wrote earlier last year. I removed it temporarily, but its subject remains topical and relevant, I am afraid. The only difference with today's reality is that we have a new Minister of Defense, who is most probably more capable and on much better terms with the PM than his predecessor.
Let's start thinking positive
Israel's democracy is not in tip-top shape these days. Our government is hardly functioning, the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense communicate mainly through press leaks and public accusations. That would not be so disastrous if only some promising alternative was to be seen anywhere. Unfortunately even worse than the shape of our government is the shape of the opposition. The only ones who appear to have a serious chance of replacing Ehud Olmert are Binyamin Nethanyahu and Arkadi Gaydamak. Bibi never managed to become this country's leader entirely on his own. It is highly doubtful whether he would have become Prime Minister without the help of Yigal Amir and Hamas. As Prime Minister he mishandled many things. He antagonized the US and in spite of his rhetoric gave away territory without anything in return. Almost written off politically earlier this year, Bibi is back in the picture again. Courtesy of Hassan Nasrallah & co., I would almost say cynically. Also, the incompetence and arrogance of the government during and after last summer's war helped to clear Nethanyahu's path towards the Prime Minister's office. His advisors make sure his complacent face does not appear too much on our television screens: that could only ruin the work that Israel's enemies from without and within do so well for him. Arkadi Gaydamak's name has been linked to illegal arms trading, tax evasion and money laundering, and he is wanted by the French authorities. Still, in the few years after he fled France to return 'home' he managed to gain a significant circle of supporters, particularly by buying sports clubs and through donations to the victims of Israel's wars. His ratings are especially high among the less well-off Israelis who do not question the origins of his wealth or the motives for his philanthropy. He basically bought his way into the opinion polls by filling a void left by the government's ineptness and lack of empathy. The current popular support for Gaydamak and Nethanyahu points to what I call the anti-vote phenomenon. Much of Bibi's support has always come from people who do not love and trust Bibi/Mordechai as much as they despise everything associated with the Left/Haman. Bibi has been a master at turning such hatred into vital political support. Similarly, Gaydamak's supporters tend to ignore the gray areas in his resumé: what is important is that his generosity reveals the bankruptcy of the state and that he opposes the current non-leaders. We tend to vote against someone or something, rather than in favor of an idea, a vision or a personality. Today we want to get rid of Peretz and Olmert, tomorrow we will be dissatisfied with Bibi or Gaydamak and replace them with another politician whose failures we will have forgotten by then. Anyone but Bibi, anyone but Olmert, anyone but the one whom we cannot stand today but will be begging to save us tomorrow. Nobody truly believes that Nethanyahu has some panacea for our troubles, and nobody really knows what Gaydamak's political vision is, or if he has any. That does not matter, as long as one of them replaces the bunch that is leading us to nowhere right now. Because our politicians know that our vote is determined by negative rather than positive factors, they do not have any reason to take us seriously: the only thing they have to do is to point at the innumerable flaws of their opponents. Why should they bother to come up with a proper alternative? Thus the status quo, which serves several interest groups and many politicians but hardly the common good, is continued perpetually, and our destiny is determined largely through initiatives taken by our enemies. We only react to our enemies' actions, and are unable to decide how we think our state could become better functioning, less corrupt and rotten, more just and secure. Although I consider myself leftwing, I believe that even a convincing, determined rightwing policy would be better than the string of successive, unguided anti-policies that we have witnessed for too many years. No matter who is in charge on 'the other side', Israel should take the initiative on several fronts. Far too long we have been pushed into corners because we had to react to our enemies' initiatives. If a more active approach does not bring us peace, at least it will give us a chance to decide where, how and under what circumstances we meet our enemies, without being unpleasantly surprised time and again. If we make up our own minds and if our politicians capitalize on what we want rather than on what we despise, this state's leaders will be better able to take bold and not so bold initiatives that might change our lives for the better.

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