Rattling the Cage: Israeli hyperpolitics

Does anybody really believe that this Big Bang is the last one?

By LARRY DERFNER
November 23, 2005 21:32
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

 
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This is all extremely exciting, but it isn't good. Things are changing too much, too fast. This isn't Israeli politics with its normal jolts and surprises, this is a new, fairly chilling development - you could call it Israeli hyperpolitics - and I'm afra id there may be no going back. Most people here are going to be bewildered during the election campaign, they're not going to know what to make of this completely new, unfamiliar line-up of political forces contending to lead the country. A would-be ru ling party is going to be created from scratch; it still doesn't even have a permanent name. The current ruling party, Likud, is in search of a leader and an identity; meanwhile, it's struggling to stay alive. Labor, which has been sleeping peacefully for the last five years, has suddenly been taken over by a live wire who intends to shake up the system. And Israel's dominant political personality, its rock of security, a reminder of its heroic past, is now, at age 77, starting over. Mainstream voters will be going to the polls on March 28 like it's the opening of a shopping mall. Look at all this new stuff to buy! Look at all the flashy displays! This is really state-of-the-art, this is just dazzling. But with nothing but new names, packages and selling points to choose from, people are going to have an awfully hard time making up their minds. There will be so many floating voters out there that the candidates are going to have to campaign by raft. This election is not going to be about ideology, not about settlements or poverty, not about substance at all. All three potential ruling parties will be too busy introducing themselves to an overwhelmed electorate, trying to get confused voters to feel comfortable with them, to trust them to lead the c ountry. It will be a very delicate operation, requiring a lot of psychology. Like never before, electoral politics here is going to become a matter of marketing, of branding, of images, of creating identities. Legions of political consultants are going t o have the time of their lives - they'll be working with an almost blank slate. WHILE I'VE never been the Likud's biggest fan, I'm beginning to miss Likud-style politics already. For all the mafia-style corruption, there's a lot to be said for a political movement with an earthy, intimate nature, that gets in people's blood, that its followers think of as "home." What is Sharon offering as an alternative? A shell of a movement, an instant, digital party that, I'm sorry to say, seems almost fascistic in the way it relies on the personality cult, the cult of the strong leader, that attaches to Sharon in this society. It's one thing to vote for Sharon, it's another to vote for Sharonism. As for Labor, I like Peretz a lot, but I know that most Israelis ar e scared he's going to tax them to death and hand the country to the Palestinians - and if they're not scared of that yet, they will be as the campaign heats up. And as for the Likud, just think - the infighting over there hasn't even begun yet. If that p arty makes it to March 28 without scores of members ending up in intensive care, it'll be a moral victory. With all the bad blood flowing, and the escalated threat to so many politicians' careers, the election campaign is going to be absolutely toxic. Confused to begin with and then exposed to so much viciousness, mainstream voters are going to be riddled with anxiety. To them, choosing Sharon's party, Labor or Likud to run the country will seem like choosing Big Brother, Che Guevara or Animal House. I think the transformation of the political map is going to cause Israelis to become alienated from politics in a way that they haven't been before. They bitch all the time about politics and politicians, of course, but they care deeply about what's going on, and when push to comes to shove, 80% of them vote. But you can't sustain the "vibrant democracy" this country is famous for if people's mental and emotional ties to the political arena are apt to be shredded overnight; if large numbers of prominent political figures switch parties wholesale; if new ruling parties appear out of the blue and cause existing ones to nosedive; if Party A joins Party B today and Party C splits off from Party D tomorrow. Many people are applauding Sharon for rationalizing Israeli politics, for formalizing the split in Likud and thus allowing voters a proper choice between Left (Labor), Right (Likud) and Center (Sharon's party). I think this is awfully shortsighted, and that what Sharon has really done is let a genie out of the bottle. DOES ANYBODY really believe that this Big Bang is the last one? What are the chances of all three potential ruling parties surviving intact after the election? I bet one of them's going to go, which will cause a second major redrawing of the map on the heels of the first. And what happens after Sharon leaves the political scene? Will National Responsibility, or whatever it's called by then, be able to carry on as a potential ruling party - that is, if it doesn't disappear after this ele ction - or will there be still another earthquake? I see Israeli politics starting now to take on the character of global capitalism, with parties, like companies, opening and closing, dividing and combining, with no loyalty left between parties and vot ers like there's no loyalty left between companies and employees. This will be a real loss, because politics, Israeli-style, has been one of the things that stitches people in this place together, that gives this society heart. Soon, I'm afraid, this demo cracy will be a lot less vibrant, and a lot more sterile. What we're watching now, though, is the fun part of Israeli hyperpolitics, the thrilling blast-off. Remember it.e

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