New divides for a cohesive nation

The political delineation in Israel is archaic. The Labor Party is no longer a labor party, the kibbutzim no longer collectives.

By HIRSH GOODMAN
June 14, 2012 23:42
4 minute read.
Youtube videos of Mofaz go viral

Video screenshot of Shaul Mofaz370. (photo credit: Screenshot)

 
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The political delineation in Israel is archaic. The Labor Party is no longer a labor party, the kibbutzim no longer collectives, Tnuva is privately owned and land for peace bombed when Yasser Arafat declared war, not peace, when offered most of the territories.

As for the Likud, what does it represent today? The Land of Israel Movement in its various mutations has been hijacked by religious nationalists, while the Likud has torn up settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, given away Hebron and is now poised to fight settlers over the Ulpana housing issue.

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Meretz has all but disappeared in terms of an alternative to anything, though its Knesset members are to be commended as determined parliamentarians, and schizophrenia is a mild way of describing the current state of Kadima. I asked a member of the party, a member of Knesset, to give me five reasons why I should support Shaul Mofaz, the Kadima leader, or the party. “I’ll give you five reasons why not to,” he retorted.

The divides in Israel are no longer economic, Labor’s classic socialism vs the Likud’s free-market capitalism. It is no longer a Sephardi-Ashkenazi issue, other than for those who have an interest in perpetuating the problem. One only has to look at Israel’s political, economic and cultural elite to understand how far things have come in that regard. Just look at how the agenda of Shas has changed from Sephardi religious educational values to housing and settlement – not that the latter two have anything in common, God forbid.

There is little correlation between the current political divisions in the Knesset and political realities in the country. Put the names of the current members of Knesset in a hat, after each has ticked off four out of 10 issues most important to them, shuffle the names around, and arrange them into one of the following four piles: a Land of Israel party that wants an orderly annexation of the West Bank and continued settlement development until then; a social democrat party that seeks a twostate solution, even by unilateralism, to preserve Israel as a Jewish democratic country; a Torah-first party dedicated to Jewish values first and territorial issues second; and a binational-state party, that seeks to live in coexistence with the Palestinians in a binational state.

Those are the divides in Israeli society today. There is place for latitude in each of these parties, just as there is with today’s political formations, but there is no place for dozens of parties with similar agendas that mean strong coalitions with weak links; lots of jobs and little efficiency; political paralysis and leadership impotence.

Israel cannot continue living as a country in limbo forever. How permanent can a country without permanent borders be? For how long can the Knesset continue to represent yesterday, not tomorrow. Why should there be a Russian immigrant party? Does language and point of origin given them a different Israeli agenda to me? More than 70 percent of Israelis have now been born here. The absolute majority of them has no idea where the Green Line was or what it means. Fourth-generation settlers have little real idea what the argument is about, having never known that the homes of their parents and grandparents were “outside” Israel, or what the demographic consequences of annexation would mean. They have never been given clear choices, made available of all the facts.

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For years now the country has spoken about political reform. The politicians, of course, have done little about it, not wanting to risk the wrath of the small parties for supporting reform meant to hurt them.

There is now talk of raising the bar for entrance into the Knesset by a percentage point or so, a meaningless gesture, at best a painkiller for a deadly problem.

The next election is scheduled for late next year. The prime minister has told people privately that in his next term he intends to change Israel’s political radically, to that of a presidential system, one hopes the American, and not the Russian, model. Given the slew of complimentary foreign coverage he, together with the first lady, has received recently, it is said he may even opt for a monarchy.

Until then, however, we have to live with what we have, which is the sorry spectacle of the largest party in the Knesset, Kadima, being irrelevant and powerless which, in itself, says more about the state of Israelis politics than anything else. What type of democracy renders the will of the majority politically irrelevant? It is depressing writing these words that one knows that we will probably be faced by more of the same, a weak system that will produce weaker and weaker leadership as long as there are no clear political horizons and benchmarks for the electorate to choose from. It will be more of double talk and avoiding truths, bending history instead of making it. It will be more resources wasted on botched decisions, and political rivalries that transcend national problems.

How sad that we can’t vote for change.

The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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