It is somewhat depressing to observe the stark contrasts between the caliber and
extraordinary dedication of Israel’s founding fathers and our more recent
This would perhaps be understandable if we were now living in
normal times. But alas that does not apply to our current situation. Despite
incredible, even miraculous achievements at every level, the only country in the
world still facing deadly ongoing existential threats from its neighbors cannot
be described as normal.
If one reviews the record of Israeli leaders from
all political streams since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,
it is clear that over the past two decades, the new breed is more self-centered
and frequently more inclined to promoting personal and political ambition above
the national interest.
David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir,
Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, being witnesses to the
Holocaust and deeply involved personally in the bitter struggle to create a
Jewish state, were leaders who had all been forged in fire. They were also all
obliged to make momentous decisions which carried existential implications.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is now also about to be confronted with such a
Irrespective of the merits of the policies they adopted, the
early leaders were unquestionably solely motivated by what they believed would
benefit the Jewish people and promote the national interest. Unlike their
successors, they displayed determined leadership qualities, willing to bite the
bullet and take tough decisions without sending out trial balloons to ascertain
whether their actions would generate public support.
If they believed a
course of action would benefit the nation, they usually went ahead, disregarding
the negative impact on their political standing.
The old guard was,
without exception, also indifferent and usually even contemptuous of the “good
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Ben-Gurion originated as a laborer and retired to Kibbutz Sde
Boker where he resumed his simple lifestyle.
Likewise, throughout his
life, Begin chose to live a frugal lifestyle and resisted offers by many of his
admirers to upgrade the standard of his very modest accommodations.
contrast, most of our current leaders have displayed crass hedonism in their
behavior and lifestyles.
That is not to suggest that the Mapai
establishment was pristine pure. To obtain a decent position in public service,
one required “protektsia
,” “protection,” commonly referred to as “Vitamin P.”
Thus former Etzel supporters and opponents of Labor faced blatant
discrimination. Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir was frequently accused of
“encouraging” entrepreneurs who secured contracts for Israeli business
investments to “contribute” to designated charities and occasionally to the
This “institutional” political corruption probably laid the
foundations for the personal dishonesty that subsequently ensued. But in the
early days, it was simply inconceivable for a major political leader to exploit
his position for personal financial gain.
Thus, when Labor minister for
housing Avraham Ofer was accused of corruption, he committed
During his first term of office, when prime minister Rabin’s
wife was disclosed as having retained an illegal foreign account – a technical
breach not involving income tax or other serious financial transgressions – he
resigned forthwith. Had such a minor breach involving a prime minister or
minister occurred in recent times, it would merely have created a brief media
flutter and been forgotten.
Be that as it may. The fact that the Labor
party occupied such a dominant role in the political arena promoted stability
and encouraged serious internal debates and genuinely painful evaluations on how
to further the national interest.
Yet, once the era of Labor hegemony
ended, the appalling electoral system progressively led to fragmentation and the
empowerment and excessive leverage of one-dimensional political parties –
especially haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties – which due to their crucial role in
the formation of coalition governments gave them enormous power.
also led to the demise of cabinet responsibility.
From that point,
individual ministers began behaving increasingly like mini-prime ministers, even
publicly condemning the policies of their own government without feeling obliged
to resign. Political nihilism became the order of the day, reaching its climax
with the current foreign minister publicly repudiating his prime minister
whenever he feels it would benefit his domestic constituency.
chaotic circumstances, it is surely no surprise that most talented Israelis are
loath to become engaged in politics.
Yet ironically, despite media
portrayal to the contrary, there is probably a greater consensus throughout the
country today over security issues than at any time since the great divide
instigated by the Oslo Accords.
Aside from the extreme Right and the
extreme Left, most Israelis have rejected “Greater Israel” and have no desire to
rule over Palestinians. Having witnessed how previous unilateral territorial
concessions have on every occasion undermined our security, they also oppose
making further compromises in the absence of reciprocity.
circumstances that should have led to stable government. But due to the
electoral system, fragmentation reigns supreme.
The issue could have been
resolved had the Likud and Kadima joined forces after the last election. There
are basically no ideological differences between them and their failure to form
a broad centrist government after the most recent elections was primarily due to
personal ego and lack of political foresight of Kadima leaders.
done so, they could once and for all have reformed the entire electoral system,
eliminated the extortion power of the smaller parties and allowed us to
implement desperately needed social changes. It would also have enabled us to
speak with a united voice and more effectively confront the global pressures we
Instead, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who as prime minister would
have been obliged to implement policies virtually identical to Netanyahu’s,
continues lambasting him, even when she is abroad.
The problem is
accentuated by the fact that many Israelis, fed up with the leading parties, are
inclined to vote for personalities rather than policies. Thus at the next
elections, with Yair Lapid and Arye Deri poised to launch new parties, we are
likely to face even further fragmentation and chaos.
If a sufficient
number of MKs were willing to prioritize the national interest and set aside
their petty short-term personal agendas, promoting electoral reform would be one
of their greatest priorities.
Time again we are told that efforts to
achieve electoral reform cannot possibly succeed because the haredi parties
occupy such crucial roles in determining the composition of any
Yet if people power is implemented by voters threatening to
punish parties which refuse to promote reform, the leading parties would be
obliged to respond, especially now with new independent parties threatening to
siphon off their disgruntled voters.
With the highly complex and
difficult internal and external challenges confronting us, reform of the
electoral system should be our top priority. Success would enable us to
introduce major changes that would impact positively on our lives and our
relationship with the entire world. It would also attract a much higher caliber
quality of leadership to politics.The writer’s website can be viewed at
www.wordfromjerusalem.com He may be contacted at
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