Middle Israel: Israel - The Middle East's only decaying democracy

0205-middle (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When the current Knesset was elected two years ago, some celebrated the Gil Pensioners Party that came out of nowhere and walked away with more than 5 percent of the votes; it really seemed charming, exotic and poetically just. These people are just like anyone's aging parents and grandparents, people said, and unlike others in the Knesset they represent a real cause and came to the legislature to work for a real constituency. Others among us knew already then, and those who didn't should realize after this week's events, that the party represents no one, and is but another symptom of Israel's rapidly expanding political decay. Now, with two of its members having surrendered to the seductions of a man their voters were told nothing about when they voted Gil, and with a third shunning this buyer's bid only because he got an even better offer from another horse trader, let's all agree that these are neither social crusaders nor charming Santa Clauses but political criminals. THE PROCESS of the Pensioners Party's disintegration was also foretold. First, such instant parties find their way into the coalition, just like Tsomet, Shinui and Israel Beiteinu before it. Then they leave behind several hurt people, whether because they got no cabinet seat or because the party's leaders just insulted them. Then the news is out that the disgruntled are for sale. Then somebody emerges from nowhere and seduces them. Once it was Gonen Segev - a man who had been elected by hawks but then turned his coat and sold his vote for a cabinet seat, much the way he later trafficked in drugs for cash. There is no difference between the two crimes, except that for drug trafficking you get jailed - as Segev was - while for vote trafficking you don't even get charged. And this is why there is always someone ready to buy lawmakers - now it is Arkadi Gaydamak. And the sellers are also always out there, shamelessly weighing their options, like pawnbrokers. Now some say, who cares, Ehud Olmert has a comfortable majority anyhow, and what grand designs does he have that these people can either derail or deliver? So first of all, Olmert might emerge with a deal involving the West Bank or the Golan, and in such a case these people's votes will suddenly prove fateful. Second, the current vote buyer speaks no Hebrew, is wanted by the French police, and will not tell us how exactly he made his fortune. Need we say how dangerous all this is to the Jewish state's very foundations? Is it any wonder that in a system where conviction has become a joke, what can potentially comprise a parliamentary faction is now being openly auctioned off, with the prospective sponsor potentially buying not just a ready-made faction that the public never elected as such, but also a cabinet seat for himself - in other words the opportunity to cast the deciding vote in situations that will shape this country's future? David Ben-Gurion must be spinning in his grave. THE UNIVERSAL acceptance of Gil as an expression of the voters' will is itself overblown. Never mind right now that thousands of its voters were youngsters who said they wanted to ridicule a system whose cynicism, aloofness and corruption had become intolerable. The party's following - and anyone else's in this Knesset - was actually a lot smaller than meets the eye. Six percent (they won less than that, but let's round out the figures in their favor) of the 63% who voted in the last election - our lowest voter turnout ever - means that overall this political Snow White's seven dwarfs won less than 4% of the electorate. Elhanan Glazer, the Gil Knesset member who at the last minute was lured away from Gaydamak's bosom only because the prime minister himself dealt this backbencher a deputy-ministership - he represents but 0.5% of the electorate; and even that microscopic following is fictional, because not even this anecdotal party's voters had the faintest idea who he was, or who Gaydamak's recently recruited mercenary Moshe Sharoni was, or for that matter who was Ya'acov Ben-Yizri - the man that this party managed to install as health minister - or what any of these people thought about anything, from taxation to education. Now some still think all this is funny. Channel 2 TV's Eretz Nehederet - the most popular and best-made broadcast satire seen here in years - has a great time depicting party leader Rafi Eitan as a forgetful zeida. Yet the fact is that Eitan, too, is a questionable candidate for a cabinet seat, considering his dubious record as the Defense Ministry official who reportedly recruited, operated and abandoned Jonathan Pollard. So now this man, along with the undereducated colleague he installed as health minister, will be joined in directing the executive branch by the anonymous Glazer - a career technician who curiously enough entered the Knesset as a representative of the retirees while himself only 59. Maybe you, too, think all this is funny. Middle Israelis think this is sad, indeed dangerous, because - as the Second Lebanon War demonstrated - what begins with farcical executive appointments might soon be followed by tragic deaths; a lot of them. NONE OF this would have happened had we elected our lawmakers personally and by district. Israel is the only significant democracy in the world that deprives its voters of the right to personally select, reward and punish their lawmakers. These functions are all reserved for the party; we voters only get to vote for parties, not for individuals. Worse, a growing number of lawmakers are simply handpicked by party leaders rather than selected by party forums. The result is a servile and narcissistic lawmaker, inherently lacking the independence, originality, charisma and guts that are the prerequisites of any leadership. In the current Knesset a majority of lawmakers - including the entire ruling party - were installed by party leaders, and as such feel they owe their seats to them rather than to a community of voters. Is it any wonder that in managing their political assets, it doesn't occur to such lawmakers to consider you, me, our children and the good of this country? We so much like to say that we are the Middle East's only democracy, but let's face it: Israel's has become an appointed democracy, not a truly elected one. In Israel's democracy, fewer and fewer politicians have any idea what constituent service is, while more and more are there to serve party bosses. This is why Israeli democracy is so substandard; this is why Tel Aviv's boardrooms are blessed with infinitely better leadership than Jerusalem's corridors of power; and this is why our best and brightest don't consider politics a viable alternative to a career in law, medicine, engineering, science, commerce, academia, the media or the arts. What for? To spend their evenings taking orders from Ehud Olmert, Avigdor Lieberman, or Rafi Eitan, and their mornings brainstorming with the right-honorable luminaries Moshe Sharoni and Elhanan Glazer?