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Obama and the Middle East

Oh dear , what has happened to the knight on the white horse?

This week, many of Barack Obama’s admirers were shocked. Up to now, it had been believed that the huge sums of money flowing into the coffers of his campaign came from anonymous citizens, each sending a check for 100 or 200 dollars.

Now, alas, it has been disclosed that a large part of those millions actually came from big donors – the very same huge corporations, their CEOs and lobbyists, who have corrupted the democratic process in previous contests. They spread their largesse generously and simultaneously among all the candidates from left to right, so as to be on the winning side whatever happens.

Obama had promised to put an end to the old, dirty corporate funding-for-influence system. Now it appears that he participates in this corrupt system himself.

What a disappointment.

* * *

FOR ANYONE living in the real world, the disappointment cannot be that big.

The modern election campaign is an insatiable monster. It devours huge sums of money. Those who innocently believe that such sums can be raised from small and anonymous contributors are deluding themselves. That is quite impossible.

Obama did indeed receive many donations from ordinary citizens, and that is a positive sign. But if he had refused to accept contribution from the large donors, who are necessarily self-interested donors, he might as well have given up his candidacy. He would have been drowned by the flood of his opponent’s poisoned TV ads, without the capability to reciprocate.

The United States is a huge country, and any significant change in its system needs years – if not generations, unless there is a revolution. In the democratic system, a single leader can effect only small changes – if any at all.

A real politician never looks like a real politician. Obama is a real politician. He is not a knight on a white horse. He is, at best, a knight on a gray horse.

But there are many shades of gray. All the way from almost white to almost black.

In response to the old observation that there is only a small difference between man and woman, the famous French reply was: “Vive la petite difference!”

It is difficult to guess how big the difference between a President Barack Obama and a President John McCain would be. But one of these two will not be elected alone – after an American presidential election, thousands of other important positions change hands. Enough to mention the president’s prerogative to appoint Supreme Court justices. After eight years of President Obama, this vital institution would look vastly different from the court after eight years of President McCain.

Therefore, the cynical statement “They are all the same” is out of place. There is a difference.

So if some of the illusions of the black wunderkind’s adulators have been shattered and everybody has been returned to the real world – they had better make their decision at the ballot box in a realistic way.

* * *

IN THIS respect there exists an interesting similarity between the American campaign and the Israeli one. If some speak there of McObama, one can speak here of Molivni.

Tzipi Livni is running against Shaul Mofaz for the leadership of the Kadima party and almost certainly for the Prime Minister’s job after the departure of Ehud Olmert.

Here, too, there is a temptation to say “They are all the same”. What is the difference between the two?

Much has been said and written about this: both candidates (like the two others who are also running) present themselves at the Kadima primaries without submitting a program, without proposing solutions for the main problems, without  providing answers to any of the fateful questions facing the country.

* * *

SO IS – or is there not – a difference between them? There certainly is. As significant as that little difference.

Mofaz has a lot of experience. Livni has hardly any. But it is hard to say which is worse.

Mofaz has been Chief of Staff of the IDF, Minister of Defense, Minister of Transportation. In all these jobs he has distinguished himself only in one respect: that he did not distinguish himself. In all of them he was mediocre or less.

He never did anything that will deserve a mention in the annals of Israel. His sole military victory was over the inhabitants of the Jenin refugee camp during the operation “Defensive Shield”, when one of the strongest armies in the world overcame a few groups of juveniles equipped with pistols and some rifles.

He never voiced an original idea. Nobody can remember a single sentence of his, except the statement “The Likud is home. One does not leave home” – exactly one day before he left the Likud and jumped on the Kadima bandwagon.

As against the rich “experience” of Mofaz, the lack of experience of Tzipi Livni stands out. If Mofaz is a page covered in second-rate text, Livni is an almost blank sheet of paper.

She first came to notice as somebody who climbed on Sharon’s wagon at a very early stage, a fact that testifies to her sharp political senses. She has held several junior positions, and at long last reached the foreign office. The job of Foreign Minister in Israel, as in other countries, is a very desirable one: one just cannot fail. One is often in the limelight, one gets photographed in impressive international settings, one receives important foreign guests, and few people realize that foreign policy is made by the head of the government – the President (in the US and France) or the Prime Minister (in Britain and Israel).

Once every few days Livni meets with Abu Ala, the Palestinian representative, to tread the water of the fictitious negotiations. After more than a year, not a single article of the absurd putative “shelf agreement” has been settled. At this pace, peace can be expected in a century or two.

Where do Mofaz and Livni stand with regard to national policy? There is no doubt about Mofaz: he is a quintessential militarist, a man of the Right in every respect, obsequious to the Orthodox religious establishment, toadying to the settlers. His election would mean, at the least, a total freeze of policy and the accelerated expansion of the settlements. In short: permanent war.

About Livni nobody knows what she really thinks: lately she has tried to outflank Olmert – sometimes on the right, sometimes even on the left. Like almost every foreign minister, she now radiates moderation. That comes with the office. But not so very long ago she was talking about the “Oslo criminals”, meaning Yitzhak Rabin and his partners. Now she talks about “two nation-states” and draws the picture of a Jewish demographic state. All these are nowadays safe and tried slogans. As Prime Minister, she can surprise us in any direction. Impossible to know in advance.

Some might say: we know Mofaz, so we shall not vote for him. Livni we don’t know yet. So let’s give her a chance. Between the two, Livni may be preferable.

* * *

ABOUT THE Kadima primaries, one can say that they are a joke wrapped in a farce inside a comedy (with due apologies to Winston Churchill for the paraphrase.)

When Ariel Sharon left the Likud to set up his new party, he attracted refugees from all the other parties, those who felt that their advancement in their own party was blocked. The slogan could have been: Opportunists of all Parties, Unite! Shimon Peres and Haim Ramon came from Labor, Olmert, Livni, Meir Sheetrit and, at the last moment, Mofaz, came from the Likud. They had nothing in common except the hope that by clinging to Sharon’s coattails they could get into the Knesset and the government.

Only later, much later, did there come into being something resembling (with a bit of imagination) a party. Functionaries brought friends, vote-contractors brought hundreds and thousands of ballot-mercenaries, whole blocs of voters. These are the 70 thousand “registered members”. It is they who will vote in the primaries for the party chairman, who will almost certainly become Prime Minister.

This is a caricature of democracy. It confirms Churchill’s dictum that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

The thought of a few hundred bought votes deciding who will be the next Prime Minister of Israel is quite horrifying.

* * *

ALL THE polls show that Livni has a very great lead over Mofaz as far as the general public is concerned, and a good chance to win the Knesset elections. But Mofaz has a great advantage in the Kadima primaries, owing to the voting blocks acquired from contractors. He promises to set up a rightist-nationalist-religious coalition in the present Knesset, so that there will be no need for general elections until 2010.

So what about peace? The occupation? Economic policy? Social problems? Education? Health care?

Who gives a damn?

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

 

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URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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