Lessons in Israeli politics

Opportunism and politics go together.


Some call it dirty.


Some say that it is the essence of civilization.


One way to decide on important issues is the way they are doing it in Syria.


On the other side of the border (wherever it is) is the way we do it in Israel.


Neither are as neat as an academic seminar.


But take it from me, not all seminars are orderly or admirable.


Somewhere close to the top of the Israeli agenda is the issue of the Haredim. Somewhat less pressing is the issue of the Arabs. The goal is to draft Haredi and Arab young men to the IDF or some other national service, and get the Haredi away from a lifetime of studying in religious academies (often falsified) with multiple subsidies, and into jobs where they support themselves and their families.


Two months ago, Kadima joined the Likud-led government with mutual pledges of changing the law to equalize the burdens of national defense and economic viability.


Last week it was evident that it would not work. Likud''s linkage with the ultra-Orthodox parties was a Catholic marriage, and Netanyahu''s proposal to deal with the Haredim differed from what Kadima would accept.
Bibi would allow the Haredim to decide about their recruitment up to the age of 26, by which time they would have enough kids to exempt them from the IDF.


Kadima left the coalition with its own declarations of principal, on the basis of a large majority vote among its Knesset members.


Now the 28 MKs of Kadima may becoming something less.
Monday morning we heard that several of them had made good deals for the price of their joining Likud. Two were to receive "ministries" produced for the purpose (Minister of Mass Communication, Minister of the Home Front), and two others would become Deputy Ministers in existing departments. One received assurance of a diplomatic appointment.


We rested assured that none of those appointees would harm the country. The faux ministers would get a car, driver, and assistant; the deputy ministers would get less. They would all complain about their lack of duties. Or they wouldn''t complain and enjoy their upgrade in title.
According to the Monday morning news, the departure of seven MKs from Kadima was a done deal.


By Monday evening several of those counted were denying their intentions. Only four MKs confirmed their intention to leave Kadima, and that was not enough to fit the regulations for dividing an established party.


Kadima leaders are trying to expel the four, but that may not fit with other Knesset members.
The rules reflect the ambiguity of Knesset Members. They are elected according to their ranking on party lists. Israelis vote for parties, not directly for individuals. In a sense, the parties own the members'' seats. But not entirely. The individuals elected are Members of Knesset, and can do what they want. Abandoning one''s party, however, violates the norms, and may be unhealthy for one''s political future.


The political manipulations have featured two figures with distinguished records plus less than distinguished experiences with the police and courts, who now qualify for the label "has beens." One of those fishing in the turgid waters of Kadima tried and failed to induce the minimum required number of defectors to join the right of center Likud. Another is trying to persuade the minimum required number to join him in a left of center party of his own creation.
Commentators describe the four MKs who admited to leaving Kadima for Likud as "nobodies." The more polite designation is "back benchers." Kadima party members who are well known to the public had considered joining Likud, but the price offered was not high enough.
It is common to say that Kadima was born in sin, with opportunism as its guiding principal, on the basis of MKs who left Likud and Labor. Those parties claim more traditional and respectable principals (nationalism for Likud and social justice for Labor).
Against those nasty comments are those who say that opportunity is the lubricant of politics, especially for a party aspiring to be centrist, pragmatic, and not tied to anachronistic ideologies.
Why would the Prime Minister offer such temptations to individuals with limited merit?
Most likely to assure him more votes for passing next year''s budget, to support whatever he decides with respect to Iran, and the Haredim.
Speculation is that Kadima''s leader, Shaul Mofaz, strongly opposed attacking Iran, and that issue--more than the Haredim--was behind his lack of fit with the Prime Minister.
Whatever happens in the Knesset''s party clusters, Prime Minister Netanyahu may push through changes with respect to the recruitment of Haredim and perhaps Arabs. While he is likely to describe what he does in the most superlative of terms, others are sure to call it an "Isra-bluff" (Hebrew for deception).
Syria is producing its own contemplations, preparations and maneuvers among Israelis.
This involves more weighty matters than who gets what job.


One of Israel''s most prominent military commentators has reported about three scenarios being discussed at the pinnacle of the IDF and government. All assume that Bashar al-Assad will feel his back to the wall, and do something desperate that will buy time.


One option is to bombard Israel with missiles, and have his client Hizbollah do the same. Another is to use his chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, and maybe against Israel. A third is to pass on his chemical weapons and the best of his missiles to Hizbollah.


Against the option of intervening against one or another of these possibilities, Israeli leaders are pondering the advantages to be gained by   staying out of the Syrian fight.


Another report from the north is that a unit of the Syrian army crossed into the no-man’s land between Israeli and Syrian borders on the Golan. The response was to complain with United Nations personnel assigned to monitor the border, rather than to push the Syrians back where they belong.


There has been limited attention to this report, suggesting that it is one of those things that the political and military leadership wants to keep below the threshold of public discussion. Thus, Israel''s leadership can avoid responding to a local event, and keep things from getting out of hand.
An Iranian expert with memri.org.il reports that Iranian leaders are threatening to have their Hizbollah clients attack Israel, and are promising nasty things for the United States and Russia, if their esteemed ally Bashar al-Assad loses out to Sunni rebels.
The heat is growing. Commentators are asking if bumbling politicians who cannot manage the simple process of deciding about Haredim or engineering the movement of Knesset members from one party to another can manage their way through the threats from Iran, thousands of missiles in the hands of Iran''s allies, and the strong desire of the White House to avoid complications before the November election.


Other lessons come from the ­sector of domestic protest. Several Israelis have attempted to immolate themselves since Moshe Silman (now deceased) did so last week. One succeeded, and is in critical condition.


Individuals claiming to be protest leaders are divided on what they see as threat or opportunity. One has spoken out against the practice, but there are others who lionize the immolators, and parade to chants of “we are all Moshe Silman.”


Last weekend’s demonstrations that employed the symbol of Silman attracted some 1500 participants all told in several cities. At one point, the media reported that the major site in Tel Aviv had fewer marchers than police meant to guard against further immolation.


The appeal of self-immolation in a public place has some weight among a fringe of Israelis suffering clusters of personal and economic problems, as well as radical protesters. They are not the people who led or were the prominent participants to last year’s parades of several hundred thousand.
Some combination of frustration at minimal accomplishments, as well as rivalries among protest leaders, has rendered social protest more prominent in the media than in the streets.


Thanks to the Internet, my daily inbox has a rich sample of Republicans’ and Democrats’ campaign screeds. Democracy being what it is, I will attempt no comparison of whether Israeli or American politicians and activists are more deserving of the label “bottom feeders.” That is a term I learned from my Wisconsin fishing friends, who used it for the undesirable stuff they threw back into the water, or fed to the dog.
All that being said, anyone with a better way of doing the honorable, important, and difficult work of leading government should let me know.
Cooks and physicians also do valued work, and dirty their hands in the process.