My Word: Give up the gimmicks!

Under the circumstances, now would be a good time to decide that the best political gimmick is to get down to the serious job of governing.

Bayit Yehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Bayit Yehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Party primary elections give rise to winners and losers, the latter usually described as “victims.” This brutal category recently grew to include former Likud luminaries Bennie Begin, Dan Meridor and Mickey (Michael) Eitan. This week, however, I recalled a true victim of Likud party primaries – and political mergers – past.
“I have a brilliant gimmick,” MK Ariel Weinstein, told me early in March 1996. Always enthusiastic, Weinstein seemed particularly excited as he popped in and out of the rooms of parliamentary reporters announcing his teaser.
“You don’t need a gimmick,” I pointed out.
“Your record is outstanding.”
The voices of other journalists down the corridor echoed my words.
Weinstein was popular not only for being friendly; he was genuinely hard-working, and in touch with the real world.
A prominent member of the Knesset Finance Committee, he would probably have been flattered by how the committee chairman, Gedalia Gal, described him a few days later: “He was particularly sensitive to the man in the street, small tradesmen, and concerned about the common people.”
As you can guess from that telltale use of the past tense, Weinstein didn’t get to hear the praise – it was delivered as a eulogy. He never heard how appreciated his work had been; and we never learned what gimmick he had planned.
“I’ll tell you next week,” were the last words I heard Weinstein say, but “next week” never came. He died in his sleep on a Saturday night, at the age of 63. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest, but his widow wasn’t the only one who felt the primaries had literally killed him.
It was the year that the Likud list merged with the Gesher and Tzomet parties, and chances of a good spot drastically decreased even for someone of good standing such as Weinstein.
Weinstein fell prey not only to the stress of the primary elections and party merger; the era of “ratings” also took its deadly toll. Israel’s media were beginning to open up with more television channels, bringing with them the ratings culture – a foretaste and warning of today’s obsession with reality TV.
I’m saddened that Weinstein has been almost forgotten by the general public, and his name is probably not familiar to many of the new MKs who took an oath in the 19th Knesset a month ago. I’m saddened, too, by the context in which his life and death suddenly came back to me this week.
I was reading reports of the initial police investigation into whether Bayit Yehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky, a prolific lawmaker, had hired a “vote contractor” to ensure him a high place on his party’s list. Speculation was fueled by the fact that Bayit Yehudi had developed from several different factions, including Slomiansky’s traditional stomping ground, the National Religious Party.
The media this week also covered the story that the letter alleging that outgoing Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar had sexually abused a woman was a forgery. It seems likely the source was a political rival from Sa’ar’s own party.
The 19th Knesset is noteworthy for the number of new members, some 50 out of the 120 MKs. A new generation is being hailed. The corridors of power should be filled with good, energetic and enthusiastic people who genuinely came to make a difference. And they are; the trouble is, the system remains fundamentally flawed and tension is almost built-in.Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea last week described the Bayit Yehudi election celebration in a balloon-bedecked hall as an event that emphasized the generation gap. There were the new members, following their young, personable – and successful – leader, Naftali Bennett, a former hi-tech entrepreneur, and there was the National Religious Party old guard.
“He’s not connected to the NRP legacy, its DNA,” wrote Barnea. “They had a neighborhood grocery store, small and family-like. This man came and opened a supermarket on its ruins.
“‘The main thing is he delivered the goods,’ one of the attendees consoled himself.”
Netanyahu has learned “to do politics”; but he’s learned the old politics, opined Barnea.
The prime minister wants to keep his job for many more years, but he knows it won’t be easy. The Likud old-time rivals don’t worry him, but there is a younger generation definitely looking to go places. And the place they’d like to go is Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, where the prime minister’s official residence is located.
As a Likud politician once told me: “Any MK who tells you he doesn’t want to become a minister is lying. And any minister who says he’s not interested in becoming prime minister is also lying.”
Bennett in this sense has a lot in common with the young, and equally personable and successful, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, with whom he created an alliance against Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu faction could split from the Likud once it has what it wants – or if it doesn’t get what it desires.
There are precedents. Weinstein’s death caused an outpouring of laments at the time.
Few regret the passing of the joint Likud-Gesher- Tzomet list, which splintered ahead of the next elections.
And Labor leader Shelly Yacimovitch is not hiding her long-term aspirations either, although her party – in keeping with a longstanding tradition – is already rife with infighting.
AS THE coalition talks stumbled along their unexpectedly bumpy path, the idea of holding new elections was floated. But new does not necessarily mean improved. Or even different. Remember those party-hopping egos looking for the best deal a few months ago? They have grown bigger and more desperate in the meantime.
There is no need to waste more public funds on election campaigns as if this will create an entity more likely to last four years. The campaign promises will not sound better – or more credible. Postponing coalition talks by another two months won’t make the problems disappear.
The quality (and quantity) of the newcomers offered high promise that this time the Knesset would be different – clean, fresh and capable of original thinking.
That optimism has already dissipated.
Much of the general public is already fed up with the 19th Knesset and it hasn’t even got a government yet.
No wonder cynics and satirists are the main ones enjoying the current situation. A gag doing the rounds purports to be the transcript – in full – of the coalition talks between the head of the Tzipi Livni Party and the prime minister: “Hello, Tzipi?” “Yes!”
WE DON’T need new elections but new political thinking. If the rookie parties can’t even reach a compromise with the prime minister on how to sit together in the same government – something in their own best interests – it does not bode well for their collective decision-making process in the future.
And with all due respect – actually with more respect than they have earned – I’d like to point out to the party leaders that however big the social and economic problems facing the country – and no matter how much I, too, would like to see the burden shared more fairly – the true threats remain: Iran’s nuclear plans, the delegitimization of Israel, and Islamist terrorism.
Under the circumstances, now would be a good time to decide that the best political gimmick is to get down to the serious job of governing.
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.