The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings
- Julius Caesar I, ii, 140-141
Last week's Tack precipitated many readers' mails whose recurrent theme was a sincere belief in a sure-fire quick-fix for all that ails Israel. At fault, the responders diagnose, is our proportional representation system of government. Change it to an American-style constituency system and the bums will be booted out, the state will be properly run and national/existential interests will finally prevail. Israel will magically cease giving away its patrimony like so much overvalued real estate and will miraculously overcome its addiction to gambling with its most fundamental security interests.
Why don't we quit whining and just change the system? This question comes mainly from abroad, where it apparently isn't readily understood that the system preserves itself and that changing it democratically necessitates working within the very system which impedes change. It's a vicious cycle.
We won't even get into the debate about the suitability for the tiny awkward territorial wedge that is Israel of what works in America's vast expanses. The inordinate complexities of drawing up districts will enhance the demonstrated predisposition of certain parties (generally left-of-center or those seeking leftist approbation) to fiddle with the rules. Made-in-Israel gerrymandering would inaugurate one-party hegemony that'd be impossible to dislodge and would crush all opposition in democracy's name. Misusing power would be made easier.
But let's assume, for argument's sake, that electoral reform can instantaneously correct our political deformities. How do we effect the overhaul? Two recent events - one tendentiously underestimated by the more popular press and another underreported by Israel's accomplice-media - show just how self-serving, entrenched and change-resistant this system is.
The first was the attorney-general's decision to launch criminal investigations against Ehud Olmert on multiple suspicions of cronyism during his tenure as industry and trade minister. This comes on top of ongoing investigations into Olmert's alleged attempts to skew the Bank Leumi sale (while finance minister) and his dodgy Jerusalem property purchase at Rehov Cremieux (below a bargain-basement price, only in conjunction with which could the vendor-builder procure hitherto-denied permits to demolish the historic house on the site).
With incredible aplomb Olmert pooh-poohed all investigations, deeming them "unnecessary." The two mass-circulation tabloids echoed him loyally, as did loyal broadcast-media talking heads. Bottom-line, no chance he'd resign. The pundits concurred: It'll blow over.
THE SECOND event - the one mind-bogglingly near-ignored - was Ami Ayalon's appointment as yet another minister-without-portfolio. Olmert seems to need lots of portfolio-less lackeys around him - from Haim Ramon to super-talented Ruhama Avraham. And so Ayalon - the ex-admiral who railed against Labor's coalition partnership with Olmert - sold his soul extra-cheaply. He jumped onto the very bandwagon which he promised to bring to a screeching halt just several months back, when he was running hard for Labor's leadership.
Ehud Barak's dirty tricks and recruitment of bogus Arab party members were better than Ayalon's dirty tricks and recruitment of bogus Arab party members. That left Ayalon as an ordinary MK sans fancy car, posh office and fatter paycheck. Steadfastly boycotting an objectionable government couldn't suffice for so indispensable a man of principle.
The excuse: State interests behoove him to abandon overrated virtues. He acknowledges having declared that "the very role of minister-without-portfolio is unethical." Nevertheless, the man who undertook to convince us that "politics can be ethical" now says that "the state is more important than what I said." And who's to determine the state's interest? Ayalon himself.
REMEMBER Louis XIV's "I am the state" ("L'etat c'est moi")? The Sun King's sentiment is alive and well in Labor, Kadima, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, to say nothing of the maddening Pensioners Party.
Some of the above-mentioned factions keep Olmert afloat - regardless of overwhelming public opinion - in direct contravention of their own platforms and their voters' mandates. This is true of Shas (in it for the money) and of Yisrael Beiteinu (in it, perhaps, to avert prosecution). Kadima's flunkies-cum-suspects need Olmert to prevent early elections that would truncate their careers. Laborites share election-phobia but also hold Olmert to ransom.
The more territorial concessions he negotiates, the more settlements he's prepared to uproot and the greater his inclination to divide Jerusalem, the keener leftists are to keep Olmert in power and forgive his legal transgressions. It's precisely the vise in which they gripped Ariel Sharon. That's why the left-leaning media is so lackadaisical about Olmert's numerous, possibly felonious entanglements (in stark contrast to spurious petty accusations they scandalously lobbed at Binyamin Netanyahu). So long as Olmert implements the Left's agenda, he's safe.
That's why Ayalon climbed onboard. He's the man who advocated an Altalena-style onslaught against disengagement opponents (subtext: bloodshed). If Olmert is about to perpetrate a disengagement sequel, Ayalon can't object to him.
Ayalon, it must be stressed, didn't change his opinion on a specific issue. He zigzagged on ethics. But then again Ayalon admitted that, as Shin Bet chief, he knew Margalit Har-Shefi was innocent of collusion with Rabin assassin Yigal Amir. Yet Ayalon let her rot in prison nonetheless. So much for decency. He and Olmert deserve each other.
And Israel's electorate, given to voting with frivolous and fickle carelessness, deserves them both. We prefer trendy whims (like Kadima and the Pensioners Party) to issue-driven discernment. Even if hardly crazy about any leading prime ministerial contender, we should at least think twice about who's the lesser of evident evils - not negligently squander our right to safeguard our future and that of our children.
No electoral format could make any difference if we vote rashly and don't take the process seriously. It's facile to sit back, perceive ourselves as not-quite-competent choice-makers and blame the system - and/or those for whom we voted capriciously and uncritically - as the cause of all that goes awry. It's not in our stars. The fault is not in our system but in ourselves.