My Word: Party numbers

These are elections that are all about Freudian id rather than ideology. Since parties now seem to have agendas rather than party platforms and virtual supporters rather than structural support, many have become defined by the person who leads them.

Tzipi Livni 370 (photo credit: Courtesy The Tzipi Livni Party)
Tzipi Livni 370
(photo credit: Courtesy The Tzipi Livni Party)
An ego trip is a perilous ride. Instead of having a clear destination and being able to enjoy the journey, someone on an ego trip is driven by an overpowering force with no time or inclination to enjoy the view.
It’s an occupational hazard for journalists, writers and artists – people whose livelihoods and reputations depend on an audience; it’s even more of a danger for politicians.
Recently, I’ve found myself recalling the lyrics of the show Evita, in which Eva Peron sings in a deathbed revelation: “Thought the more that loved me the more loved I’d be, but such things cannot be multiplied.”
You can’t buy love (or even loyalty) and you certainly can’t multiply it, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
When I was relaxing at an amateur but not amateurish performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers last Saturday night, it was the line “when everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody” that struck a chord.
The operetta was performed by the local Encore! company while Israel Musicals is performing Evita this month and next.
The Evita lyrics first came to mind when I had my own office in the Knesset and a seat in the press gallery. Unlike so many colleagues, I have not been tempted to jump from journalism into the political arena. It makes me feel unfashionable, but as it became ever harder to keep up with the musical chairs when party lists were drawn up ahead of the January 22 general elections, I was pleased to be in the position of observer, a slightly bitchy watchdog.
Among the moves with noteworthy chutzpah value was the last-minute switch of Amir Peretz, elected No. 2 on the Labor list, who sidestepped into the No. 3 position in the Tzipi Livni Party.
Tzipi Livni’s party deserves special mention for having each of its top three slots occupied by former party leaders – from two different parties. (Livni led Kadima, and Amram Mitzna and Peretz both led Labor; just don’t ask me where they led them. Ask current Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, who are trying to bring them back.) The latest public transfer of affections came last month when Yoram Marciano used his inauguration speech as a Labor MK, replacing Peretz, to pledge support for Likud Beytenu.
When Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is competing on the same ground as Livni, predicted that she would quit politics, again, as soon as she finds her only role is as head of a small opposition faction, her supporters accused him of “political spin.”
Perhaps it’s all the spinning that’s making me feel a little nauseous.
Initially, I ridiculed Livni for eponymously naming her party, but I think she might be onto something. These are elections that are all about Freudian id rather than ideology. Since parties now seem to have agendas rather than party platforms and virtual supporters rather than structural support, many have become defined by the person who leads them. The ordinary person, with that typical Israeli familiarity, talks of voting for “Bibi,” “Shelly,” “Lapid” and Naftali Bennett.
By the way, Bennett, the young and charismatic new head of Bayit Yehudi, can (but won’t) thank TV interviewer Nissim Mishal for making him a household name after coaxing him to comment about whether soldiers should follow orders if told to dismantle settlements.
Haim Amsalem, the former maverick Shas MK, clearly chose the party name Am Shalem (One Whole People) as a play on his own name. Amsalem’s former “Anglo” mainstay, Dov Lipman, is now running with Yair Lapid. (Are you keeping up?) Incidentally, while the situation of Israeli women is being portrayed as dire, they head three significant parties: Labor, the Tzipi Livni Party and Meretz, led by Zehava Gal-On. And when former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik recently announced her resignation from politics, I bet that she will run next year either for president or as the first female mayor of Jerusalem.
Another woman, Haneen Zoabi, is proof that being well known and being popular are not the same thing. This week, the Supreme Court ruled that Zoabi could run for the Knesset overturning a ruling by the Central Elections Committee that she had supported terrorism and rejected Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, based largely on her participation in the Gaza flotilla.
Zoabi is now free to get reelected, although just who she’s representing is unclear. Not the vast majority of Israeli Arab voters, that’s for sure. Like Israelis in general, they are more concerned with socioeconomic issues than anything else.
Part of the Israeli experience is that security and diplomacy end up dominating the political agenda. The Hamas missiles that hit the Greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas during Operation Pillar of Defense in November can count the 2011 social justice movement among their casualties.
When Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz addressed the Jerusalem Post editorial staff this week, he predictably stressed the government’s economic accomplishments, pointing out that at a time of global financial upheaval Israel’s growth rate and moderate unemployment rate are particularly noteworthy.
It reminded me of the old adage that “an acceptable level of unemployment” means the government official who compiles the statistics still has a job. The next day, however, the head of the Central Bureau of Statistics announced he had been fired, claiming he had been notified of his dismissal by email.
THESE ELECTIONS show up the strange contrasts of Israeli life: The way that the finance minister can be both so right and so wrong; that the country can be doing well, and yet the ordinary folk feel so squeezed. That women can be so successful without yet having achieved full equality.
That the security situation is far from secure, but as a people in war we, once more, proved resilient. We also proved worthy, again, of the Start-Up Nation epithet – a country which longs for peace but designs the Iron Dome anti-missile system to survive.
In another duality, although there are many parties running in the elections, there are still only two blocs and when citizens casts their votes it will come down to a choice between two sides. President Shimon Peres will have to appoint as prime minister the party leader with the best chance of creating a ruling coalition.
Immediately after the election there will be talk – as always – of the need for electoral reform. But change does not require a revolution, and looking at our neighbors in Syria and Egypt, the danger in sudden, dramatic upheaval is all too apparent.
As a parliamentary reporter, I frequently saw politicians considered rivals sit down for a meal together or swap pleasantries in the Knesset corridors. When the cameras are off, there are rarely showdowns. Indeed, it’s essential to keep in mind that this is one small country, in one huge tough region.
Events beyond our borders are not in our control; how we respond to them is.
Politics makes strange bedfellows. The same is true of diplomatic alliances. We don’t need to be loved (although it would be nice); we need the free world to realize that the survival of this tiny democracy is essential for its own future. And we need leaders to put aside their egos when necessary so they don’t trip up on them.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]