Ship of fools

Our political system is a partyocracy that panders to ideological sectors.

July 20, 2009 21:05
4 minute read.
Ship of fools

Lieberman har homa 224.8. (photo credit: AP [file])

So when exactly did we go nuts? With depressing regularity, our leaders say the dumbest, most vile things. And we, the public, look up at this bloated, cacophonous monstrosity of a government and think, "Everything is OK." Take our public security minister, for example. This June, while reviewing antidrug operations in southern Tel Aviv, Yitzhak Aharonovitch praised an undercover cop for his grungy appearance, remarking that he looked an "Araboush." Now for those who don't speak bigot, Araboush is an anti-Arab epithet on par with, say, Jewboy or Hymie. In any sane Western democracy, an official caught using such language could kiss his career good-bye. But not so here. When the media called out Aharonovitch for the slur, all he had to do was apologize, then assure us that the comment did not represent his worldview. And we moved on because no one who belongs to Yisrael Beiteinu could possibly be racist, right? I mean, this is the same party that sought to institute loyalty oaths, ban Israeli Arab political factions and prohibit commemoration of the nakba - the defeat and dispossession of the Arab community during the War of Independence. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, has even suggested disenfranchising Israeli Arabs by handing over their towns to a future Palestine. Oh, and there was that stray comment about bombing the Aswan Dam in Egypt. Again, in a normal Israel, Lieberman would be left to rant on a soapbox next to the meat-is-murder wackos and the Raelians. But what do we do with such a dangerous demagogue? Make him foreign minister, of course! For the past couple of months, Lieberman has been serving as our voice abroad. Well, sort of. Lieberman is, in fact, so toxic that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres have to pick up much of the diplomatic slack. WHAT'S STRANGE is the fact that few people here seem troubled by this. Maybe it's because we expect so little of our politicians that nothing shocks us anymore. After all, we do have a housing minister who backs Jim Crow-style segregation. Lecturing the Israel Bar Association earlier this month, Housing Minister Ariel Attias said that he sees it as his duty to keep Arabs out of Jewish communities in the North. Mixed towns are dangerous, he said: "Look at what happened in Acre." Yes, let's look at what happened in Acre. Last Yom Kippur eve, a pack of youths attacked an Arab motorist after he had driven into a mostly Jewish neighborhood. The assault then sparked an intercommunal riot that engulfed the city. None of this, though, matters to Attias. He doesn't care about healing wounds; he just wants the Arabs hemmed in and out of sight. And we treat Attias like he only speaks for himself, like what he does is happening on the moon. Of course, not every minister in the government is prejudiced; some are just idiots. A case in point is Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. He actually thinks that the future of Zion can be secured by changing Arabic place names on highway signs. Then there is Yossi Peled. This minister-without-portfolio suggests that we boycott US defense contractors and sell arms to nations not on the White House's BFF list to register our displeasure with Barack Obama's Mideast policies. Apparently, Peled wants Israel to risk $3 billion a year in foreign aid, lucrative defense projects with the US and superpower backing at the UN Security Council to keep on building in the settlements. A sign of still deeper dysfunction, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently told the Americans that he'd remove illegal outposts if the US took a harder line on Iran. In other words, Bibi would enforce our own laws only if first paid a political bribe. NOW, TO be fair, we've had crummy ministers before. The Bibi government is just the reductio ad absurdum of our political system - a fractured partyocracy that panders to ideological sectors, not real communities. See, there's no such thing as an Israeli citizen. There are just haredi voters, secular voters, Arab voters, etc., and we all vote as if no one else existed in the country. Likewise, the politicians act as if they were responsible to no one but their parties. Accordingly, the system encourages behavior that borders on madness as even the center must pay homage to the radicals. Indeed, if Netanyahu were to fire Lieberman, Attias and Co., their parties would bring down his government. The only way to end this farce is through regional representation. By dividing the country into voter districts, we can make each and every Knesset member beholden to the people. A first-past-the-poll system in each district would likewise temper extremist positions as assorted factions would need to band together to win. Unfortunately, our current crop of "public servants" has no interest in fixing the status quo. So to make a change, we will need to rally from the bottom up. If we don't, we may wake up one day to find a country not worth defending. The writer is a freelance military reporter based in Tel Aviv.

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