Hebrew Hear-Say: See how they run

It is better for the ballot to decide than the bullet, as President Shimon Peres likes to say. And while you can argue about almost anything in Israeli politics (and certainly Peres often provides plenty of room for dissension), on this he is undoubtedly right. The bullet (kadur) leads to a dead-end. The ballot (kol) is part of a democratic process and like any other process, it is a work in progress. Let's face it, with the recent record in elections (behirot), no prime minister (rosh memshala) holds the position that long. We go to the polls (holchim lakalpi), elect someone and then knock them down again in fairly rapid succession. Even the famed 100-day period of grace - mea yemei hessed - is not guaranteed anymore. Theoretically, Israel has "election years" (shnot behirot) once every four years and usually the moment the hint of the polls can be smelt in the air - not a very pleasant smell, admittedly - something known as "election economics" (kalkalat behirot) can be felt. In "better" years the haggling is postponed until after the elections, when the coalition (coalitzia) has to be formed. Hebrew-language purists of all political persuasions would be happy to see terms like "coalitzia" and "oppositzia," defeated by popular vote and replaced with the words "yahda" (from the word yahad, together) and negda (from neged, opposed). A couple of years ago I interviewed the Hebrew Language Academy's Rahel Selig when she was lobbying heavily for Hebrew versions of political terminology. Even if the vote isn't in on these terms, the academy can be encouraged by the landslide victory of the word makdimot, which is beginning to replace "primaries" - or "primeries" - in the Hebrew media. Every election seems to have its catchphrase, and this year anyone who is (or wants to be) anyone is talking about "politika aheret" - a different type of politics. The time has come for members of the Knesset to clean up their acts. Sadly the phrase "political convictions" seems to refer to the considerable number of the country's elected under investigation, and "ma'atafot" (envelopes) are used to describe an inexcusable funding system (shitat mimun) more often than the envelopes in which we place our ballot slips (pitkei hatzba'a) on election day (yom habehirot). Even the word "politician" in Hebrew (politikai) is used in a derogatory form to mean "schemer." To call someone a "politikai katan," a "little politician," is not a compliment. Political slogans are potent things. In the world of sound bytes, some bite off more than they can chew. In the Jerusalem municipal elections, for example, Russian-born billionaire (or maybe he's only a multi-millionaire now) Arkadi Gaydamak was seen on billboards and on the sides of buses proclaiming: "Lo medaber - oseh" ("Doesn't talk: Does"). It didn't take long before activists from opposing parties "improved" the slogan so that it read: "Doesn't talk Hebrew." The British Conservatives once ran a successful campaign, as I recall, using the slogan: "Labour: It just doesn't work." The Likud's "Peres yehalek et Yerushalayim" ("Peres will divide Jerusalem") has had as many political lives as the president himself, lending itself easily to almost any name of a candidate (mu'amad or better, mo'omad) who appears to be advocating negotiating with the Palestinians over the status of the capital. No wonder politics in Israel are discussed so endlessly: The issues are very close to home. That's not to say that everybody understands what they are talking about. I remember at university reading a study reviewing the huge numbers of people who apparently could not explain many of the political terms used as a matter of course in the news broadcasts surrounding elections. Floating votes (kolot tzafim) passed right over the heads of many, let alone terms like political threshold (in Hebrew, ahuz hahasima, literally "the blocking percentage"), referring to the number of votes necessary to step into the Knesset. And the oft-discussed Norwegian law (hok hanorvegi) might as well have been Greek (or Grieg) to them. It actually refers to the proposal that cabinet members would resign their Knesset seats to concentrate on their ministries so that the Knesset would have 120 full-time Knesset members. Well, perhaps not full-time: They're likely to be busy with their party lives, too. But you can't have everything. The least you can do is get out and vote, or as the Interior Ministry campaign puts it: "Mi shematzbia, mashpia" - whoever votes has influence. Despite the title of university departments everywhere, politics is not a science but an art. liat@jpost.com