Middle Israel: Our very own Hugo Chavez

The Barak we now face is the same Barak who pretended to care for ideas, but actually cared for himself.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Hugo Chavez is no Ehud Barak. The Venezuelan tin soldier's military career culminated in '92, with a coup attempt that began with an F-16 attack on the presidential palace and ended with 70 people dead, 1,200 rebel soldiers surrendering and their leader, Lt.-Col. Chavez, behind bars. Chavez, who later still became president, never saw a real battlefield, has no idea what enemy soldiers look like, what crossing enemy lines feels like and what the howling of a jackal sounds like after a moonless midnight behind enemy lines. Barak does know all this, and a lot more when it comes to soldiering, and no one can take that away from him. Yet the fact that Chavez is not Barak-the-soldier does not mean that Barak cannot emulate Chavez-the-politician. A Labor committee this week authorized Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon to propose amendments to the party's constitution that are designed not to address issues but to consolidate his patron Ehud Barak's power. If it's up to Barak, Labor will no longer demand that its leader face a primary election within 14 months of failing to win a general election. Instead, a Labor leader will lead for a full four years regardless of his performance. In addition, if an early election is held next year, the party will not have its members elect their candidates for the legislature, but simply have the current set of lawmakers proceed from the 17th to the 18th Knesset, as if it's part of their inheritance. Finally, some lawmakers will be handpicked by Barak. God forbid that any of this be about opportunism; it's all principle. Barak believed Amir Peretz should lead his party for a full four years once he was elected, and challenged him only because it was allowed. And it's not that Barak doesn't think the public should play a role in electing its representatives, it's only he thinks they did such a good job last time that he doesn't understand why the party members should be bothered again. And anyhow, there will be new faces, lawmakers he will appoint himself, people who in raising their hands for this motion or against that bill will imitate their dear leader as obediently as overweight housewives follow their aerobics instructor's every movement. What did Barak not do to make us think he has changed? He divorced, remarried, plucked out a beauty spot from his cheek, patted numerous "simple" people on the back, clasped cabbies' hands and listened to their conversations, pretending he gave a hoot about their personal problems and lofty ideas. Most of us, the ones who voted for him once and will never do so again, remained unimpressed. Some, however, restored him to prime-ministerial contention. Where will he and they go next? THE GOOD news in all this is that Israel is not Venezuela. This electorate didn't need nine years to hand Barak, back in '01, the worst electoral defeat ever seen here, and it will not allow him a chance to seek emergency authorities or the power to hire and fire local governments. Israel is also not Russia; it won't need heroes like Garry Kasparov to realize it has a Putin in its midst, out to dent its democracy. The bad news is that all this is happening in Labor, the party that once crusaded for electoral reform and prided itself on incubating ideas. Sitting once with Gad Ya'acobi in his home off Tel Aviv's Rehov Hayarkon, I heard the former minister and ambassador recount his Sisyphean, 20-year effort to reform the electoral system so that most Knesset members would be elected personally, in districts. "We in Labor," he said, speaking of the 1980s, "believed that this way we would have a more balanced, fair and governable system, just like Ben-Gurion had thought." Ya'acobi has since passed away. So has Labor's reformist zeal. Why should anyone there give a damn about ideas, or even just about decency, let alone morality, if that ecosystem is inspired by a Bonaparte who violates his vow to bolt Ehud Olmert's coalition once the Winograd Report is issued? That whole party can no longer articulate one idea it truly and uniformly cares for. How can it, when the leader of the party that ostensibly cares for jobs more than anything else has nothing substantive to say about the teachers' strike? Does he think the school system is managed properly or poorly? Does he think it needs more money, and if so, where should it come from? Does he think the teachers are good or bad? Who cares? Evidently, Barak thinks we are still the same idiots who mistook him for a compassionate idealist when he promised to focus on the old woman at the end of the hospital corridor. Apparently, he thinks we are the same fools who listened to him gullibly when he spoke about shifting Israel to a civil agenda. Clearly, he thinks we forgot how he forced his colleagues to annul a basic law (the one that capped the cabinet at 18 ministers) just because it served his momentary needs. And certainly he assumes we've forgotten how he had Labor nominate him in '01 in a snap, single-candidate election by a raising of hands, only to soon be clobbered at the ballots by Ariel Sharon. The Barak we now face is the same old Barak, the one who pretended to care for ideas, but actually cared for himself; the one who consulted practically no one even before dealing away the Temple Mount, and then assumed no responsibility for the violence his dereliction unleashed; the one whose disparagement of aides, ministers and coalition partners is now reappearing as a thinly veiled effort to deplete Labor's Knesset faction of what little vitality it still has. All this can only happen with a man who, like Hugo Chavez, is really convinced that he is very smart and everyone else is an idiot. The problem is that at some point the citizens wake up and show such people who the real idiot is. This week it even happened in Venezuela.