Been there, done that

Politics is for life, not just for now: In the wake of MK Haim Oron’s resignation, it’s time to examine people’s reasons for entering the political sphere and indeed, for leaving it.

haim oron 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
haim oron 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MK Haim Oron, leader of the Meretz party, announced last week that he was retiring from the Knesset.
RELATED:The Israeli judiciary: A model of independence (Premium)Do it Livni, for the sake of Israel (Premium)US President Obama's unique opportunity with Pollard (Premium)Hot chocolate, life insurance and NGOs (Premium)Banning the right to strike(Premium)
I know unequivocally what his friends and acquaintances will tell Oron at his farewell party, or on the phone, or at a chance meeting on the street. “You did the right thing,” they’ll say, “Good for you to quit that circus/madhouse/market… a man like you deserves a normal life.” And after a moment of silence their sycophantic diatribe will continue: “Look at all these clowns in the Knesset, just a bunch of ignoramuses/idiots/simpletons/ jerks… These are the people that govern us, what a scandal! You are so much better, but there are no more people like you there. We need people like you.”
I know this because this was what people told me years ago when I wasn’t re-elected to the Knesset. And until this very day, they keep on repeating these mantras. Of course, I don’t blame them. But I do blame those politicians – some of whom are among the best Knesset members - who one day decide that enough is enough and that it’s time to go home.
The panel of prominent Knesset Members who either left the parliament or didn’t seek re-election is impressive, and I’ll mention only a few: Amnon Rubinstein – a veritable pillar of the Knesset, David Levy, David Libai, Avraham (“Baiga”) Shohat, Moshe Shahal, Ophir Pines, Yael (“Yuli”) Tamir, Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, all of whom were former ministers. Two leading Labor members, Shalom Simhon and Matan Vilnai (Agriculture Minister and Deputy Defense Minister respectively) have announced their candidacy for the chairmanship of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le’Israel), indicating their imminent resignation from the Knesset. 
By resigning, these people have caused grave damage to the Knesset and to the body politic in Israel. As decision-makers with extensive experience, they have deprived the country of some of the best minds. Taking their place are newcomers, some of whom carry promise but many who are unknowns that have entered the parliament as foot soldiers of autocratic political leaders. Most of the Israeli public isn’t even aware of their existence, and in all likelihood they’ll vanish unnoticed from the Knesset in a few short years.
In most countries, people who are elected to public office devote their entire lives to this calling. We need to believe that those who run for office- aside from acting out of personal ambition - want to serve the country and the people. One can understand that a member of parliament would leave his job due to illness, old age, a scandal tarnishing his reputation, or a political appointment elsewhere. In the United States, a number of senators and congressmen have not run for re-election, claiming that they are hounded by the media and that their private lives have become a living hell. But for the most part, those that serve in the governing coalition or in the opposition stay and fight for their convictions.
But in Israel? Former Knesset Members choose to either open law firms, start a career in business, return to being university professors or they become journalists and analysts. It’s as if they no longer care for the monumental issues that in the past they had fought tooth and nail for, delivering fiery speeches, devising new laws and besieging the Prime Minister’s office. So the question is, why did they run for the Knesset in the first place? Was it just to be able to say, “Been there, done that?” Or was it to gain a taste of what it’s like to be a public figure?I truly believe that when somebody opts for a political career, it cannot be with a short-term mindset and then “we’ll see.” Even if their road is strewn with challenges and failures, as it invariably will be, they must continue to fight for the ideas that brought them there. Disappointment and ridicule are part and parcel of the job and should never be an excuse to leave.
The politicians of Israel’s formative years understood this. Former prime minister Levi Eshkol died in office. Former PM Menachem Begin quit only when his health forced him. And former PM Golda Meir left only when her party revolted against her. I remember Moshe Dayan’s words, at the twilight of his life, to his daughter, Yael. Yael asked her father why he insisted on remaining in politics as the head of a tiny party, despite being sick with cancer, losing his sight, and knowing that his strength and resources were fast waning? Dayan replied: “As long as I can still raise my hand in the Knesset and have an impact on what is happening, I won’t leave.” All those entering or thinking about entering into a political career, take heed. 
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.