My Word: Party numbers
These are elections that are all about Freudian id rather than ideology. Since parties now seem to have agendas rather than party platforms and virtual supporters rather than structural support, many have become defined by the person who leads them.
Tzipi Livni Photo: Courtesy The Tzipi Livni Party
An ego trip is a perilous ride. Instead of having a clear destination and being
able to enjoy the journey, someone on an ego trip is driven by an overpowering
force with no time or inclination to enjoy the view.
It’s an occupational
hazard for journalists, writers and artists – people whose livelihoods and
reputations depend on an audience; it’s even more of a danger for
Recently, I’ve found myself recalling the lyrics of the show
Evita, in which Eva Peron sings in a deathbed revelation: “Thought the more that
loved me the more loved I’d be, but such things cannot be
You can’t buy love (or even loyalty) and you certainly can’t
multiply it, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
When I was
relaxing at an amateur but not amateurish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s
The Gondoliers last Saturday night, it was the line “when everyone is somebody,
then no one’s anybody” that struck a chord.
The operetta was performed by
the local Encore! company while Israel Musicals is performing Evita this month
The Evita lyrics first came to mind when I had my own office in
the Knesset and a seat in the press gallery. Unlike so many colleagues, I have
not been tempted to jump from journalism into the political arena. It makes me
feel unfashionable, but as it became ever harder to keep up with the musical
chairs when party lists were drawn up ahead of the January 22 general elections,
I was pleased to be in the position of observer, a slightly bitchy
Among the moves with noteworthy chutzpah value was the
last-minute switch of Amir Peretz, elected No. 2 on the Labor list, who
sidestepped into the No. 3 position in the Tzipi Livni Party.
Livni’s party deserves special mention for having each of its top three slots
occupied by former party leaders – from two different parties. (Livni led
Kadima, and Amram Mitzna and Peretz both led Labor; just don’t ask me where they
led them. Ask current Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz,
who are trying to bring them back.) The latest public transfer of affections
came last month when Yoram Marciano used his inauguration speech as a Labor MK,
replacing Peretz, to pledge support for Likud Beytenu.
When Yair Lapid,
whose Yesh Atid party is competing on the same ground as Livni, predicted that
she would quit politics, again, as soon as she finds her only role is as head of
a small opposition faction, her supporters accused him of “political
Perhaps it’s all the spinning that’s making me feel a little
Initially, I ridiculed Livni for eponymously naming her party,
but I think she might be onto something. These are elections that are all about
Freudian id rather than ideology. Since parties now seem to have agendas rather
than party platforms and virtual supporters rather than structural support, many
have become defined by the person who leads them. The ordinary person, with that
typical Israeli familiarity, talks of voting for “Bibi,” “Shelly,” “Lapid” and
By the way, Bennett, the young and charismatic new head
of Bayit Yehudi, can (but won’t) thank TV interviewer Nissim Mishal for making
him a household name after coaxing him to comment about whether soldiers should
follow orders if told to dismantle settlements.
Haim Amsalem, the former
maverick Shas MK, clearly chose the party name Am Shalem (One Whole People) as a
play on his own name. Amsalem’s former “Anglo” mainstay, Dov Lipman, is now
running with Yair Lapid. (Are you keeping up?) Incidentally, while the situation
of Israeli women is being portrayed as dire, they head three significant
parties: Labor, the Tzipi Livni Party and Meretz, led by Zehava Gal-On. And when
former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik recently announced her resignation from
politics, I bet that she will run next year either for president or as the first
female mayor of Jerusalem.
Another woman, Haneen Zoabi, is proof that
being well known and being popular are not the same thing. This week, the
Supreme Court ruled that Zoabi could run for the Knesset overturning a ruling by
the Central Elections Committee that she had supported terrorism and rejected
Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, based largely on her participation in
the Gaza flotilla.
Zoabi is now free to get reelected, although just who
she’s representing is unclear. Not the vast majority of Israeli Arab voters,
that’s for sure. Like Israelis in general, they are more concerned with
socioeconomic issues than anything else.
Part of the Israeli experience
is that security and diplomacy end up dominating the political agenda. The Hamas
missiles that hit the Greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas during Operation
Pillar of Defense in November can count the 2011 social justice movement among
When Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz addressed the
Jerusalem Post editorial staff this week, he predictably stressed the
government’s economic accomplishments, pointing out that at a time of global
financial upheaval Israel’s growth rate and moderate unemployment rate are
It reminded me of the old adage that “an
acceptable level of unemployment” means the government official who compiles the
statistics still has a job. The next day, however, the head of the Central
Bureau of Statistics announced he had been fired, claiming he had been notified
of his dismissal by email.
THESE ELECTIONS show up the strange contrasts
of Israeli life: The way that the finance minister can be both so right and so
wrong; that the country can be doing well, and yet the ordinary folk feel so
squeezed. That women can be so successful without yet having achieved full
That the security situation is far from secure, but as a people
in war we, once more, proved resilient. We also proved worthy, again, of the
Start-Up Nation epithet – a country which longs for peace but designs the Iron
Dome anti-missile system to survive.
In another duality, although there
are many parties running in the elections, there are still only two blocs and
when citizens casts their votes it will come down to a choice between two sides.
President Shimon Peres will have to appoint as prime minister the party leader
with the best chance of creating a ruling coalition.
the election there will be talk – as always – of the need for electoral reform.
But change does not require a revolution, and looking at our neighbors in Syria
and Egypt, the danger in sudden, dramatic upheaval is all too
As a parliamentary reporter, I frequently saw politicians
considered rivals sit down for a meal together or swap pleasantries in the
Knesset corridors. When the cameras are off, there are rarely showdowns. Indeed,
it’s essential to keep in mind that this is one small country, in one huge tough
Events beyond our borders are not in our control; how we respond
to them is.
Politics makes strange bedfellows. The same is true of
diplomatic alliances. We don’t need to be loved (although it would be nice); we
need the free world to realize that the survival of this tiny democracy is
essential for its own future. And we need leaders to put aside their egos when
necessary so they don’t trip up on them.
The writer is editor of The
International Jerusalem Post. firstname.lastname@example.org