Israeli politics differs from the Roman in avoiding spectacles of death by gladiator or wild beasts, but it resembles the Roman, and what occurs elsewhere, in its ingredients of entertainment.
This week's highlight was the announcement by Naftali Bennett that Jewish Home was giving a high place on its list to a well known retired football (soccer) player.
The predecessors of Jewish Home, who created and managed the National Religious Party, must be spinning in their shrouds. They politicked for the sake of kashrut and Shabbat, including the opposition to Saturday afternoon football, which was the venue that brought Jewish Home's MK candidate to public attention.
Who knows if the middle aged former athlete prays three times a day, or what he thinks about the Land of Israel. Name recognition he has.
The most favorable interpretation is that Bennett wants to convince us that Jewish Home provides a home for all kinds of Jews, but at least a few of the party's Orthodox core are now looking for some other party.
He's the only jock I recognize as such among prominent candidates.
More common is to parley a career as a media personality. Most prominent is Yair Lapid, who did not finish high school but did well as a TV talk show host, and no doubt learned how to do it from his father, who also came to politics from the media. Tomy Lapid led Shinui (Change) to a level of success close to that of his son's There is a Future. The younger Lapid's decline in the polls also recalls the fate of Dad's party, which began its fatal decline when it became known that one of its MKs hired a private detective to investigate another party MK thought to be conspiring against him.
Yair's party includes one prominent media personality other than himself. Yisrael Beitenu has sought to pull out of a decline due to corruption charges with the help of another media figure. One of the Labor's former leaders and presently ranked high on its list also came from a career in media, as did one of the most prominent figures in the Meretz delegation.
The higher echelons of the IDF have been well known as a source of political talent. To be considered a serious contender for leading the government, a party should have a former general on its list, who could be a candidate for Defense Minister. No history of Israeli politics would be complete without chapters on Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and at least a few paragraphs about Moshe Ya'alon, Shaul Mofaz, Yoav Galant, Amnon Mitzna, Benyamin Ben Eliezer, Yigal Yadin, Yigal Alon, Amos Yadlin, Haim Bar Lev, Ezer Weizman, and who knows how many others. Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir did not come out of the IDF, but are worth extensive treatment about the linkage between national security and politics.
There is a Future recruited a well known senior police investigator to its Knesset list, but he announced his retirement after one term.
Leading ranks of the police are not likely to supply candidates for ambitious parties in this election, although several who reached the ranks equivalent to general may be looking for work. There has been a plague of investigations and early retirements, which has now reached the Deputy Police Chief. Several have been accused of corruption in getting benefits from individuals under police investigation, but the more common cause has been improper conduct or sexual harassment, as accused by younger female officers.
The advantage of a parliamentary system is its many steps from a political novitiate to the top. No Israeli jumped directly from prominence outside of politics to the position of Prime Minister. Being a general in a serious army requires some of the broad information and manipulative skills useful in politics. It also brings name recognition. Between George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, the US list of Presidents also includes Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, and a number of lesser knowns who made it in the 19th century.
Rabin, Barak, and Sharon climbed through minor or middle-ranking ministries before getting to the top.
So far no Israeli has climbed from the media to become prime minister. Yair Lapid's rocketing from media to Finance Minister without high school credentials or any other governmental experience was a mistake for him and the rest of us. His party's drop from 19 seats to current polling in the range of 9 reflects the gap between extensive promise and meager accomplishment. His quarrels with ministerial professionals about his iconic proposal to solve the housing problem by forgiving first time buyers of the 18 percent Value Added Tax helped to keep the idea from passing through all the political hurdles. It may have contributed to a worsening housing situation during the months when it languished, contractors delayed putting units on the market, and buyers waited.
It's not hard to find American flashes in the pan who climbed too high too fast via their platform skills and the lack of steps between party primaries and the White House. One can quarrel whether GW Bush or Barack Obama did the most damage in the field of foreign policy, where neither was ready to lead the world's most powerful and intrusive country.
We can estimate the harm by the people killed as a result. GW Bush is arguably in the lead with a million or more Iraqi deaths on his debit. Obama's toll is still climbing from the time of a Cairo speech which got applause from some as a decent essay on democracy, but criticism from others for not taking account of culture. Subsequent actions in working against the Egyptian leadership, then flabby gestures with respect to Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and ISIS, plus continued reluctance to link extremism with Islam, may get him to numbers like those of his predecessor.