Middle Israel: What do journalists bring to politics?

The migration of columnists, editors and anchors to politics is not about the new candidates' material needs, but about the party system's spiritual poverty

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
A new cavalier is on his way to our rescue and he is not a general, barrister, professor nor a rabbi, to mention but a few of the self-styled saviors who over the years have crowded our corridors of power. This one is a journalist. One? A whole battalion, it seems, is galloping past the dense, belching and crawling traffic along the Jewish state's clogged arteries, faceless towns and clueless leaders. And what a battalion it is: Men and women, young and old, secular and religious, straights and gays, immigrants and veterans have all thrown keyboards, microphones and cameras out the window to jointly charge the Knesset, like forty-niners en route to El Dorado. True, no one better than the press knows just how distant legislative work is from all things golden, how Sisyphean, boring and inglorious a bill's passage, a blueprint's adoption or a new program's budgeting can all prove. And yet, the new candidates' sobriety aside, the question is: Where does the new trend of journalists joining politics come from, and where does it lead? TO MANY, especially in the Diaspora, Israeli journalists are all one big hodgepodge - of self-hating, pompous nihilists, needless to say - yet one is at a loss to find a common denominator among the plethora of newscasters, columnists and correspondents who are now converging on the Knesset. What's common to Yediot Aharonot's observant and mustachioed columnist Uri Orbach, who is running with the Jewish Home Party, and Channel 10 foreign editor Nitzan Horowitz, a declared homosexual who is joining Meretz? Or to Russian-language TV anchor Anastasia Michaeli who is running with the nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, and Daniel Ben-Simon, a Moroccan-born Francophile, social crusader and land-for-peace advocate who is running with Labor? And yet, something is afoot. Add to these Kadima's Nachman Shai, originally Channel 1's military correspondent; Likud's Silvan Shalom and Gideon Sa'ar who were, respectively, Yediot's Treasury correspondent and Hadashot's political correspondent, and Labor's Shelly Yacimovich, who earned her fame as an outspoken Israel Radio talk-show host, and you get a trend whereby most major parties are fielding journalists among their leading candidates. Is it the media's financial crisis which is making disillusioned journalists seek second careers? It isn't. Most of the departing journalists actually sat pretty and, if anything, are sacrificing professionally by entering politics, as their gambles may fail, and by the time this transpires it may prove too late to restore their previous careers. No, the journalists' migration is not about their own personal material needs, but about the parties' spiritual poverty. IT IS TEMPTING, particularly for us journalists, to say that we bring baggage on the scale of what journalists like Theodor Herzl, Berl Katznelson, Vladimir Jabotinsky and Ahad Ha'am brought with them to the Zionist enterprise. Well let's not get carried away. Not one of the new candidates has written anything quite like Herzl's earth-shattering Altneuland, or for that matter Jabotinsky's superb translations of Edgar Allen Poe into Russian and Dante Alighieri into Hebrew, nor has one of them established a news organization as influential as Katznelson's Davar. Others would say that the system is seeking its own Jeremiahs, people who specialized in scolding corrupt leaders and their followers. But that still wouldn't explain why the party system would woo the very people who spent years exposing, attacking and ridiculing it. True, journalists bring the kind of eloquence, horizons and popularity that most hacks will never possess, and which the parties hope will generate votes. Yet the generals whom the parties had previously deployed en masse were often much more charismatic than any journalist ever will be, just like professors such as historian Menachem Ben-Sasson, mathematician Alex Lubotsky or jurist David Liba'i were more learned, and literati like Yizhar Smilanski, Moshe Shamir and Uri Zvi Greenberg more passionate and inspiring. Apparently, journalists bring something else, something which to legislators elsewhere goes without saying, but to ours is something between curiosity and anathema: They bring connectedness. Eye contact with real life, with the real citizen, any citizen, not just one's immediate circle, and not just one constituency's political whims and emotional gaffs, but its anxieties, livelihood, lingo, fashion, music, hobbies, habits, aspirations, role models, educational concerns and consumerist obsessions. The attachment of a stethoscope to the people and the incessant study of their pulse, the bread and butter of the journalistic profession, has become exotic to a political generation that has reached power from above, whether by appointment, inheritance or manipulation. Now some of this may change. THE EMERGING proliferation of journalists in Israeli politics defies the rise of leaders like Ehud Barak, who this week scolded "people who have never seen war from within" for making statements concerning Gaza. Never mind right now that according to this idiotic logic Roosevelt and Lincoln, for instance, should not have passed judgment on Pearl Harbor and Fort Sumter. Barak, the ultimate product of a rotten system's elitism and aloofness, really thinks we should all wait quietly while he, the ubermensch, meditates for all of us. Such was also Shaul Mofaz's slight to Tzipi Livni the other day that where "she has no experience," he effectively expects her to have him, her No. 2, tell her what to do. He really thinks it takes one who knows to do battle to decide whether to do war, and that war management is an elected representative's task. Journalists come from very different places. They will not disparage laypeople's wisdom, and unlike most Israeli lawmakers will dialogue with voters and focus on their day-to-day concerns. This is not about Right and Left. Shelly Yacimovich and Gideon Sa'ar are politically inverted, but they are both exemplary legislators who focus on the small citizen's real life, not on high diplomacy, having entered politics not to boss people around, wage wars and flail billions this way and that, but to listen to the people and help them. It will be good for all of us to have fewer military machos like Mofaz and Barak, and fewer oddities like Estherina Tartman, a nonentity who came within inches of a cabinet seat before the media exposed her as a liar, or like Adm. (res.) Ami Ayalon, who within two weeks sought anchor in three odd parties only to get lost in the Bermuda Triangle they formed. In these zombies' place we should have more people like Gideon Reicher, who for decades exposed on TV Israeli bureaucracy's torture of the small citizen, and is now running with the Pensioners Party; like Dani Ben-Simon, who spent decades giving voice to the disenfranchised; like Uri Orbach, who has been more effective than a thousand rabbis explaining observance to the secular public; like Nitzan Horowitz, who has spent years crusading for the environment and fighting for civil rights; or like Anastasia Michaeli, who symbolizes for a million immigrants their possible victory over absorption's tribulations. No, none of these is a Herzl, Katznelson or Jabotinsky, but they sure would make proud those original blenders of public service, Zionism and journalism.