Bad choices

Over the last 66 years, the children of Israel have really outdone themselves.

Knesset (photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
Humankind received the option to choose between good and bad in the Garden of Eden and we have retained that power throughout history. Greek philosophers debated the question of which laws would make society more humane and civilized. And yet somehow the citizens of the world have still managed to make the worst choices possible throughout history. And although this may sound cynical, I believe that the Jewish people has made even worse decisions than other nations.
Instead of being a “light unto the nations,” we’ve only managed to spread darkness. The Torah is full of stories in which our forefathers make bad choices.
But over the last 66 years, the children of Israel have really outdone themselves.
The leaders of Israel in the early years, led by David Ben-Gurion, were imbued with great vision and courage.
They created a Jewish state and did not hesitate to fight for its independence. And yet they were not quite determined enough, and so they decided not to create a constitution upon which we could have relied when making regulations regarding tensions between cultural groups or separation of synagogue and state. Israel could have had a more stable governmental system and stronger democracy in place of the fragile regime we have today.
In the Israel of today, every few years, the government falls and we scramble to put together a new one. The next government that will come into existence this spring will be Israel’s 34th government.
You don’t have to be a master mathematician to calculate that Israeli governments last on average less than two years. This is madness! The country is completely unstable and we are completely incapable of carrying out strategic planning, developing transportation infrastructure or improving the education and health systems, since two years is not a long enough to make changes. We aren’t dealing with any of our country’s serious problems, such as Arab-Jewish relations, religious- secular relations or bolstering communities in the periphery. We have no longterm vision for improving the lives of our citizens.
THE 19TH KNESET recently dissolved after two years of scant political, economic or social reform. During this time, the Israeli people experienced a war which resulted in a loss of deterrence, a swollen deficit, increased political extortion, and education and health systems that are collapsing right in front of our eyes. And yet all these same politicians who are vying for reelection are spouting election propaganda as if none of these events took place. They are using the same empty slogans from two years ago, boasting of innovative platforms calling for social justice.
And once again political commentators are voicing their projections and it is clear to all of us that no single candidate has enough backing to win on his or her own, and so artificial coalitions are being formed, the only common denominator of which is a desire to be part of the government and have power. And of course everyone knows that the next government will be no more stable than the previous one and will also probably be dissolved well before the end of the term.
And we all know that no social or economic reform can be carried out within these two short years.
In November 2000, I participated in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority following the outbreak of the second intifada.
Jibril Rajoub, who was then the head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank and today heads the Palestine Olympic Committee, told me then, “Do you know what the difference is between us? Our leaders stay around for decades whereas yours are replaced every two years. And by the time the new delegates start learning the ropes, the government falls apart and we have to start all over again.”
I looked at Rajoub and just smiled, but deep down I knew he was right, and this is so very sad. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told me the same thing.
In late 2002, in the last few months of the 29th government, which was led by prime minister Ariel Sharon, I was sitting with my director, Avi Dichter, and the prime minister in Sharon’s office just after midnight. With plates of hummus in front of us, Sharon told us in a startlingly open manner, “I’m trying to run this country without having to deal with wheeler-dealers and politicians. I’m trying to plan for the long term, but... reality is forcing me to spend my time putting out fires, dealing with political blackmail and preserving the coalition.
“As a result, I have no time left to plan for the future.” This is so real, so true.
The real tragedy of Israeli governments which last only two years is that it costs close to NIS 2 billion to finance each election. NIS 900 million was taken from the Transportation Ministry, NIS 500m. from education, NIS 300m. from grants for military veterans, employment programs for the Arab sector, assistance to Holocaust survivors and welfare.
All of these amounts are in addition to NIS 3b. that was allocated to the Defense Ministry and NIS 130m. that Bayit Yehudi was given so that it would agree to approve the national budget.
And yet we will continue to flock to the polling stations on Election Day to vote for our next “savior” until we realize that we need to revamp the entire system.
The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.