The scuzzy sides of Israeli politics


Politics being what it is, not every day is a time for celebration.

Not even in the Promised Land.
A lower court has concluded its work on the files of Ehud Olmert and several of his cohorts in one cluster of the charges pending against the former Prime Minister. There are still appeals to be heard, as well as other criminal procedures against Olmert inching along through the police and judiciary. Currently he is facing a sentence of six years and financial penalties of 1.65 million NIS (c $470,000), while his colleagues in the giving and taking of bribes in connection with a real estate project have received sentences ranging between 3 and 7 years.
Elsewhere the current Prime Minister is doing what he can to change the nature of the country''s presidency.
While Bibi is calling it reform, the skeptics among his party colleagues, more overt opponents, and the country''s commentators are describing it as looking after his own future, and pursuing a personal vendetta affecting his own pique and that of Sara.
Israel''s presidency is like the head of state in several other democracies. It is generally more ceremonial than political. However, it provides the office holder with a prominent pulpit which some have used to pursue a personal agenda, as well as one point of discretion that can affect a crucial political outcome.
After an election, Israel''s president consults with the heads of all the parties that won seats in the Knesset, and then selects the party head that the president views as having the best chance of forming a government. Almost always, but not always, that choice has fallen on the head of the party that won the most seats in the Knesset.
By one view, Bibi''s campaign to reform the presidency is to assure himself another term as prime minister by removing that bit of discretion from the president''s role. Prominent is what is being discussed is a law that would automatically give the head of the largest party the first opportunity to form a government that would be endorsed by a Knesset majority.
By another view, Bibi''s campaign is really meant to torpedo the selection of long serving Likud Knesset Member and former Chair of the Knesset, Ruby Rivlin. Rivlin indicated his interest in becoming President years ago, and is widely thought to be the leading candidate. However, Bibi doesn''t like the idea. Some say that Bibi is irked at Rivlin for being too neutral as Knesset Chair, and not tilting things in ways to help the Prime Minister. Sara is also involved. Rivlin is by no means alone in having expressed veiled or not so veiled criticism of Israel''s First Lady, who for some years is known to be in the league of Mary Todd Lincoln, Edith Galt Wilson, and Florence Harding.
Shimon Peres'' term is scheduled to expire next month. Several candidates have announced, but the Bibi''s campaign includes a suggestion that the selection be postponed for six months. Peres says that he does not want to extend his term, but few Israelis are likely to believe him. Bibi clearly does not want another six months of Shimon, and has proposed that the current Knesset Chair take on the presidential duties while the reform of the office is being considered.
There is no detailed proposal of who will consider the reform that Bibi says he wants: a special committee, perhaps of governmental, judicial, political, academic, and other worthies; or an existing committee of the Knesset.
There is substantial opposition among Knesset Members, including those of the Prime Minister''s own party, for postponing the selection or moving toward a reform. Some are muddying the discussion by proposing their own wrinkles on what the Prime Minister has proposed.
It is not easy judging the career of Benyamin Netanyahu. To his credit is winning office and maintain it along with a sizable governing coalition in the context of a population divided on a number of sensitive issues. Religion, ethnicity, security, economics, social policy, foreign policy, Palestine and several intensely held ideologies are always on the agenda, heated up by Israel being at the focus of considerable international interest and pressure.
The same fissures in Israel and held about Israel internationally assure the Prime Minister considerable intense criticism. Whether it is waffling on prisoner release, settlements, the recruitment of Haredim to the IDF, economics, relations with Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, Netanyahu inevitably finds himself vulnerable to the charge that he has done too much, not enough, or the what is basically wrong, illegal, unfair, indecent, and/or inhumane.
There is also a personal side to the attacks against Netanyahu. His ego appears to be as sizable as than of anyone who pursues and achieves high political office. It is common to fault him for an excess of arrogance. The way Sara behaves toward the household help and ranking officials does not add to Bibi''s appeal.
We shouldn''t believe all that we hear. Disinformation is as much a part of politics in Israel as elsewhere. Yet so much smoke with no fire seems unlikely.