Middle Israel: To Avishay Braverman

Life isn't fair. Had it been fair, you would have next week slid gently into a political cockpit.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Life isn't fair. Had it been fair, you would have next week slid gently into a political cockpit as sophisticated as the Finance, Education or Defense ministry - places where you so clearly belong, whether in terms of what you carried with you, or in terms of what you shed, as you dived into the public fray. How many others in this Knesset, or for that matter in any parliament, have transformed an academic backwater into an internationally renowned university? How many have helped the world's downtrodden, as you did in your previous role as a World Bank economist? How many have formulated, crusaded for and helped implement a developmental vision as you have for the Negev? And how many have given up a prestigious university's presidency for a humble legislative position? I will always remember standing with you atop a balcony overlooking the bustling campus as you enthusiastically waved your arm across the vast Negev moonscape around us, hailing the emergence of a new railway station there, the completion of a bridge here, and the hopeful emergence of a hi-tech park there. Whether in terms of its substance or passion it was the closest anyone today comes to Ben-Gurion. And yet, like a Gulliver among Lilliputians, you were this week humbled - what humbled, humiliated - by the hacks whose responsibility for Labor's recent electoral debacle is as massive as their audacious seizure of what crumbs of power Ehud Olmert is now so graciously granting them. That is why highly accomplished but politically virgin guys like you and Ami Ayalon will have to look on as old political hands like Fuad Ben-Eliezer or Eitan Cabel beat you to cabinet seats. It takes no novelist to imagine the pinch in your heart and the wry smile on your face the moment our emerging, under-qualified and over-populated cabinet is sworn in. YOU CAN of course feel good about having de-radicalized Amir Peretz. You may not sit in this government, but its main economic gospel so far - the gradual, responsible and conditioned raising of the minimum wage, rather than Labor's original intention to immediately hike it to a monthly $1,000 - is yours. As such, you already are likely to have more of a share in the new government's impact than its assorted ministers-without-portfolio ever will. Yet chances of this thought comforting you are, shall we say, low. After all, you didn't enter politics just to offer ideas; for that, you could have stayed in academia. You joined, and were vocally welcomed by, Peretz as a front-row leader, only to soon see him sideline you in brazen disregard of the most basic demands of merit, decency and accountability. For his part, Peretz might say that what he did to you is merely what Olmert did to the recent election's other academic star, Uriel Reichman, the prominent jurist who this week abruptly left politics after the prime minister-elect's failure to keep Ariel Sharon's promise to hand him the Education Ministry. Yet it's not the same thing. Olmert faced a coalition constraint, and he gave up an agency, not an individual; he actually designated Reichman for the sensitive Justice Ministry. You, Avishay, were personally relegated by your own party boss, and for what? For political lowlifes whose main claim to relevance is their servility to Labor's dear leader? You have all the reasons in the world to feel bitter, disillusioned, betrayed. THE EASY solution is to do what Reichman did. "Why bother," you might be tempted to ask yourself before opting for a cushy position with this or that charity, think tank, UN agency or multinational corporation. "Is this really my calling, to spend my days competing with Shelly Yacimovich for the Finance Committee's vice chairmanship, where I will have the honor of reporting to Rabbi Litzman? Or to wrestle with, say, Yoram Marciano for a seat in the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, where I would be granted the dubious honor of asking Defense Minister Amir Peretz, like a junior reporter, why the IDF did this or didn't do that? Well, you have no choice. First of all, because the fewer people like you enter the fray, the more it will be filled by the nonentities who have led our politics where it has arrived. But more importantly, you should stick around because from where you have been maneuvered opportunity actually beckons. FOR ONE thing, you don't owe anyone anything. You certainly don't owe Peretz, certainly not what he owes you for having given him the economic stamp of approval without which he would not have won even the minimal following with which he ended up. You also don't owe the party apparatus; your impressive showing in the primaries came from the people down in the field. In short, you are free to do in this Knesset as you please. It follows that this is the time for you to launch your own initiatives and build your own coalitions. The cause for which you should crusade is one you already champion, and Middle Israelis crave: governmental reform. Your view, that Israeli government is dangerously weak, and that it demands structural reforms - like empowering the prime minister, regionalizing the electoral process, and separating the government and legislature - is shared by many in this Knesset. You can collect, galvanize and deploy them. By assembling people like Meir Sheetrit, Avigdor Lieberman and Gideon Sa'ar, you can create a high-profile, multi-partisan forum that would jointly introduce a bill, if even initially only a partial-reform blueprint, say one that would introduce some regional elections. By creating a synergy among the four main secular parties, you will position yourself as mainstream Israel's no-nonsense, business-minded, issue-oriented ultimate leader. The religious and Arab parties will be loudly unhappy, but that should play into your hands, as it will give you the opportunity to attack all that is wrong about their abuse of the public coffers. The media will adore you. The pundit community, with a few exceptions, will join you. Your own party will be compelled to follow your lead. And if you're patient enough with its course, history, too, will ultimately concur.