Following his ringing electoral defeat in 1945, Winston Churchill said that a
friend of his had learned of the result while in Zagreb, where a local woman
told the Englishman with genuine sorrow: “Poor Mr. Churchill, I suppose he will
now be shot.”
Fortunately, that woman had no idea how democracy works.
Unfortunately, democracies can fall ill, even if they don’t execute politicians.
Israeli politics, for instance, has been plagued in recent generations by two
illnesses: territory-itis and tribal-itis.
The former we have finally
cured; the latter has been removed from our body’s Russian side, but on another
side it has taken a turn for the worse.
FOR NEARLY half a century, our
political energies were sapped by the futile territorial debate between Land for
Peace and Greater Israel.
Inspired by gullible movements that never stood
for election – Peace Now and Gush Emunim – the political system cultivated the
illusion that the territorial dilemma lay at the heart of our future. As it
were, between the settlement drive and the Oslo Accords each school had its day
in the sun and each failed to deliver the goods. Consequently, Labor now avoids
discussing the conflict, while Likud leaders have built the separation fence,
evacuated Gaza and accepted the two-state solution.
exhausted like two boxers after 16 inconclusive rounds, both schools have lost
the public’s attention along with the entire Palestinian issue. Meanwhile, the
public has learned that the same politicians that are in no position to end the
conflict indeed are in a position to affect jobs, prices, taxation and savings.
In post-intifada Israel, that passed for a revelation.
That is how we
finally end up with a domestically dominated election, for the first time since
the great recession of 1965.
Better yet, the debate is led by two
economic ideologues: the neo-conservative Binyamin Netanyahu and the
neo-socialist Shelly Yacimovich, who represent opposite views while speaking
honestly, knowledgeably and also respectfully of each other. Following decades
of empty demagoguery, this is a breath of fresh air.
ON OUR OTHER
disease, tribal-itis, the good news is that for the first time since 1996 no
“Russian” party will be running for election.
Yes, Avigdor Liberman’s
combination of Bluto-the-sailor looks with occasional Dr Strangelove rhetoric
makes many cringe, and his record on other fronts deserves separate scrutiny,
but in the tribal regard he has just done the Zionist dream a great
Following Likud’s merger with Liberman’s party the Russian
electorate has once and for all joined the political mainstream. Yes,
Russian-speaking Israelis still have their problems – who doesn’t? But the
politicians no longer see in them much of an electoral reservoir, and that is
because they no longer feel a need to be patronized by tribal
Having been here for nearly a quarter-century they have mostly
learned Hebrew and seen their children serve in the IDF, graduate from Israeli
schools and join the local job market and business scene – warts and
Alas, all this progress is being offset by someone else, a dude who
is already hard at work inspiring and embodying here a grand political reaction.
His name is Arye Deri.
THE OLD-NEW Shas leader’s supporters ask: what do
you want from Rabbi Arye? Yes, he had his run-in with the law, but so did
Liberman; only the foreign minister is from Kishinev while the former interior
minister is from Meknes, and the Israeli system, when faced with such a choice,
picks on the “Moroccan.”
Well, that’s libel. Liberman has not been
indicted of anything, much less convicted.
Deri has been convicted – of
bribery, of all felonies. Deri should therefore be morally compared not to
Liberman but to former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, who is doing time for
embezzlement. Middle Israelis would have fumed had that thoroughbred Ashkenazi
attempted to return to politics, and they are livid in the face of Deri’s
Deri never admitted, let alone apologized for, his felonies, and
the insinuation to his voters is that the judiciary mistreated and also framed
him. This is the message he will effectively be peddling into the political
fray, backed by a battery of rabbis. That’s a scandal, a tragedy and a strategic
threat on par with an enemy’s army.
It is in this general anarchic
setting that Deri is entering the emergency room, his surgeon’s gloves hardly
concealing the brass knuckles with which he is about to treat the tribal-itis
patient on the operating table.
“I DIDN’T COME from Caesarea,” a
sanctimonious Deri said on TV this week in a thinly veiled allusion to
Netanyahu, before declaring this election as “pitting the haves against the
have-nots” and adding that Israel’s current leaders don’t know what poverty is
because they never saw a parent halve an egg lest he wouldn’t be able to feed
each of his many kids.
Well maybe the one who didn’t see is Deri, and
what he didn’t see is the European parents who arrived here traumatized,
penniless and orphaned and then lived ascetically, spending their modest
incomes, not on the kind of luxuries that he is known to appreciate, but on the
good secular education of which he deprives thousands in the morning before
decrying their consequent poverty in the evening.
Now the healthy
economic debate that awaits us this winter stands to be hijacked and debased by
this convicted felon’s fiscal populism, social demagoguery and tribal
incitement. Worse yet, the morning after the election he plans to be in the
thick of our lives, mediating between parties, concocting bills, funneling
budgets, briefing journalists, appointing ministers, directors and advisers and
generally telling us what matters, who counts, where to go and what to
None of us, particularly Deri’s target constituency, deserve the acid
cloud he is about to hang above our heads. It is therefore our civic duty to
tell anyone who intends to vote Shas that in doing so he will be dealing the
Jewish state a strategic blow. No one is asking Shas voters to vote Meretz. They
can vote Likud, they can vote Labor, they can vote Habayit Hayehudi and, if they
are really into ultra-Orthodoxy, they can vote for the original: United Torah
UTJ may be wrong about many things, but its lawmakers
aren’t felons and they don’t approach the law-abiding, taxpaying and hardworking
majority with libel in their mouths, hatred in their hearts and bribes in their
The writer is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.