JUST TO die of envy. How the British manage to do these things! What a democracy! What dignity!
Elections within a month. A new coalition within five days. A change of government within 70 minutes. A visit to the queen. The departing prime minister takes his wife and two small children, leaves the prime minister’s residence and walks away. The new prime minister enters the residence.
Elegant, smooth, brief, and with good grace. The people have spoken, and that’s that.
And with us?
Our election campaigns go on for months and months. Tumult fills the air, a cacophony of curses and general vulgarity. After that, months pass before a new coalition is formed. In the meantime, the victors and the vanquished trade insults. Lefties, fascists, traitors, destroyers of Israel, despoilers of Jerusalem, lackeys of the occupation, thieves – anything goes.
Chaos reigns supreme. New parties spring up like mushrooms after rain. Up to the last moment, nobody even knows who is competing with whom.
* * *
OUR NEXT election is still far away. Unless a sudden crisis springs up, it will take place in 2014. In Israel, three years is a political eternity.
Many believe that the government will fall much sooner, perhaps in a few months. Then the time allotted to the co-called settlement freeze in the West Bank is up. Binyamin Netanyahu will have to decide whether to give in to American pressure to prolong it, or to go ahead with enlarging the settlements and risk a confrontation with Barack Obama. In the first case, the settlers and their allies in the government will rebel. In the second case, the remnants of the Labor Party might leave the coalition.
I doubt that either will happen. All members of the government have an essential interest in keeping it alive. None of its components is assured of a future outside. Ehud Barak, a general without soldiers, is glued to his seat . Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister no foreigner wants to meet, has not achieved even one of the things he promised his voters. Why should they increase his strength? Eli Yishai, a Lieberman with a skullcap, feels his former rival, Aryeh Deri, breathing down his neck again, and holds on to his God’s little acre. All of them feel that either they hang together or they will hang separately.
That is political logic. However, logic is a rare visitor in politics. If the freeze – or so-called freeze – is not terminated, the settlers may rise up. The most-extreme will drag behind them the just-extreme. Against the wish of all its members, the government may fall just the same.
What will happen then?
* * *
THAT IS the question that is now occupying the minds of all kinds of people – entertainers, TV personalities, commentators, generals, celebrities of all sorts and genders, pensioners, students, professors and whatnot – who dream of a new party.
This phenomenon has a specifically Israeli background.
In Britain, the constituency system has been exposed in all its nakedness. Tens of millions of votes went down the drain. There, people dream of a new system that will be, at least partly, proportional. In Israel it’s the other way round: the proportional system has corrupted political life, and many people dream of a new system that will be, at least partly, constituency-based. It seems likely that the best solution lies with a system that is partly proportional and partly constituency, like the present German one. But here in Israel, all politicians will oppose any change.
In a large section of the voting public, our system has aroused widespread disgust for all politicians. People detest the entire political system and all existing parties.
Therefore, in every election campaign, new parties spring up and try to attract the hundreds of thousands of voters who say that they have “no one to vote for”. These citizens could, of course, abstain altogether and go to the beach, but they don’t want to waste their vote. Therefore they decide, at the very last moment, to vote for one of the new parties which voice the anger against whatever is most infuriating to the public at that moment. The party which succeeds in reflecting this mood wins these votes – only to disappear soon after.
That happened to the Dash party of General Yigael Yadin, that sprang up in the 1977 elections. It had a patent medicine for all public ills, such as war, corruption, poverty and religious coercion: electoral reform. It won a stunning success (15 seats in the Knesset!) and disappeared without a trace in the next elections. Then all kinds of “center” and ‘third way” parties appeared and disappeared. The 2005 elections saw “Shinui” (“Change”), the party of Tommy Lapid, a TV talkshow host who had made a name for himself with his aggressiveness and the unrestrained vulgarity of his style. He hoisted the flag of hatred for the Orthodox, and won 15 Knesset seats – only to vanish in the next round. After him came Rafi Eitan, the man who had kidnapped Adolf Eichmann and was responsible for the Jonathan Pollard disaster, and who created a Pensioners’ Party. He won a handsome seven seats – not thanks to the pensioners, who mostly ignored him, but to young people, who thought it all a huge joke. At the next elections, of course, this party, too, disappeared.
(Fair disclosure: In 1965, my friends and I created the “Haolam Hazeh – New Force Party”, which served two Knesset terms and then became part of the “Sheli” party and, later, the “Progressive List for Peace”. All these had a highly unfashionable program.)
Now, many people dream again – each for himself or herself – about another try. They don’t seem to care if it’s only for one term – the main thing is to get into the Knesset at least once. Among the candidates there is Yair Lapid, the son of the afore mentioned Tommy, a handsome, smooth and likable TV anchorman who appears daily on the screen and almost never voices an opinion that is not agreeable to everyone, nor takes a stand on anything, nor voices an original idea. The ideal candidate.
He is not alone. There are plenty of others: wedding singers beloved by the public, popular soccer players, celebrities who owe their fame to their PR agents. Even Rafi Eitan has appeared again from nowhere. When hundreds of thousands of votes are lying around in the street, temptation is rife.
Parties will spring up, parties will vanish. Like that gourd in the Bible
“which came up in a night and perished in a night”. The prophet Jonah, who had enjoyed its shadow, was so angry “that he fainted and wished in himself to die” and even told God “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” (Jonah, 4) But that is not really important.
* * *
WHAT IS important is the need to close the gaping hole in the Israeli political system: the black hole on the left.
The Right is flourishing. Open fascists, who once were marginal, are now accepted at the center. A pupil of the ultra-racist Meir Kahane is starring in the Knesset, and no one seems to mind. The settlers are planning a “hostile takeover” of Likud.
Besides Likud, the only large party is Kadima, which is as far from the Left as Earth is from Alpha Centauri. Recently, two Kadima Knesset members – Ronit Tirosh and Otniel Schneller – submitted a hair-raising racist bill designed to outlaw any peace organization who exposes atrocities that “besmirch” Israel and may get Israeli army officers arrested abroad. Tzipi Livni did not lift a finger to oppose it.
It is generally agreed that in the next elections, Labor, which has become the Ministry-of-Defense-Party, will be annihilated, and so will Meretz. Both are now only shadows of their former selves. They will leave behind a political desert.
This situation cries to high heaven. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli voters carry in their hearts the basic values of the Left: peace, justice, equality, democracy, human rights for all, feminism, protection of the environment, separation between state and religion. Where are they? Who represents them?
A large part of the public is now pondering this question. Many agree that “something must be done”. But it seems that nobody quite knows what.
* * *
SOME ARE looking for a cookbook recipe on the lines of: “Take 4 eggs, 2 spoonfuls of flour, a pinch of salt…”
So: “Take 12 celebs, 7 respected professors, 3 human-rights advocates, 2 peace activists (not too radical), 1 pop star, 1 famous TV personality, sprinkle with cautious slogans (not too extreme), stir well and serve luke warm…”
Or, alternatively, “take 4 of the remnants of Labor, 2 refugees from Meretz, 3 disappointed Kadima members, 1 Green, 1 Poor Neighborhood activist…”
No, it won’t work that way.
The creation of a new party – a party that can change the political scene, seriously compete for power and function for a long time – is not a cooking exercise.
It needs an act of creation, no less than a painting of Leonardo, no less than the building of the Taj Mahal or the Duomo of Florence.
Such a party must embody those values, not as a collection of slogans, but as part of an integral whole. A party that will not be a continuation of the path of political wrecks nor stick to outdated modes of thought and the slogans of PR wizards. A party that will outline a completely new blueprint. A party that will not put patch upon patch, not propose a repair job here and there, but present a new model of the State of Israel, a complete plan for a Second Israeli Republic.
The leader for such a party will not be found in the political junkyard. A real leader arises by his own power, like Barack Obama, a young person with a new message.
As long as such a leader has not appeared, the initiative must come from below. At all the demonstrations I see new young people, idealists who impress me with their sincerity and courage, peace activists, human rights activists, environmental activists. From among them must arise the new initiative, which will rally us all around it.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Sooner or later, the black hole will be filled. Unless we do this ourselves, it may be filled by a many-legged monster.
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.