Savir's Corner: Unmasking our leaders

Most of our leaders and representatives have long given up on thinking what is best for the country’s well-being, prosperity, security and peace.

party leaders netanyahu livni yacimovich 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
party leaders netanyahu livni yacimovich 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Purim is next week and everybody, especially children, will be disguised as figures from the Scroll of Esther, cultural icons, politicians and as far as the children’s and industry’s imaginations goes.
But there is in Israel a distinct group of people for whom Purim is an all-year event, and who reside most of the time in the Knesset, where they voice their opinions, or rather the opinions that they believe their constituencies want them to have. They participate in a daily Purim street carnival (Adloyada), disguised in a fashion that aims to draw applause from the people watching in bewilderment.
Most of our leaders and representatives have long given up on thinking what is best for the country’s well-being, prosperity, security and peace.
They stick their finger out from the Knesset cafeteria to check which direction the wind blows from their respective constituencies and listen with obsession to the findings of the great prophets of Israel’s modern politics – pollsters Mina Zemach, Camil Fuchs, etc. They are led, not leaders.
With time, their masks become second nature, and gradually, in the eyes of the beholder, they become their true faces. This Purim, it’s time we unmask our leaders and politicians.
At the head of this political Adloyada marches not Mordechai the Jew, but Binyamin Netanyahu, dressed up as the quintessential godfather. He tries to please the settlers by expanding settlements, and then to please the international community by hinting at a “quiet freeze” on construction. He is the closest of friends to Israel’s billionaires, and gives a good populistic social talk a la Trajtenberg, to Israel’s needy.
He is Mr. War when it comes to threatening Iran, he is Mr. Peace when visiting the Oval Office. He wears a shtreimel when talking to his haredi partners, and sounds like a secular liberal when advocating changing the Tal law. He is brilliant at being everything to everyone, and makes offers to everybody that cannot be refused. He definitely receives the crowd’s loudest applause.
Tzipi Livni walks next to Bibi, not as Esther the Queen, but as a kind of chameleon, who changes her clothes ever so often: one day the loyal opposition, bowing to the “national interest”; one day the dynamic opposition leader, attacking the government with full force. She is with the government when it is criticized by the world, against it when its criticized at home, Madame “Mamlachtiut,” a disinterested statesman and an opposition leader at the same time. Next to her, another, newly crowned “Esther,” is Shelly Yacimovich.
Dressed in the strongest red when expressing herself on social issues, riding the wave of the protest movement, she immediately changes to blue and white, when stuttering with hesitation her almost nonexistent peace policy doctrine.
And then, a newcomer to the carnival, one Yair Lapid, dressed up, gel in hair, as Mr. Consensus. A friend, even a personal one, of the richest of the rich, and an ally of the middle class; a secular liberal democrat, with quasi-regal mannerisms. In favor of peace, but only under impossible conditions, such as Jerusalem belonging solely to Israel. If you want to know what 60 percent of Israelis think, or at least what Yair Lapid thinks they think, just listen to him, or keep your eyes on his consensus disguise.
On the other side of the street walks Eli Yishai, disguised as Arye Deri to please his patron, voicing his care for Israel’s poor and needy, yet constantly taking all he can get from the Treasury, solely for his haredi Shas constituency.
With them, in a guest appearance, Dr. Ahmed Tibi, more Catholic than the pope, or rather more Palestinian than the PLO. Although he surely knows better, he always expresses with eloquence the Palestinian positions, whether made in Ramallah or Gaza, rather than giving precedence to his own constituency’s social-economic needs within Israel.
Above them all, in a spectacular overflight over the parade, we see Ehud Barak, in an F-15, as general of the aviation, ready to bomb Iran and as far as he is concerned, any other enemy of Israel. He’s no less ready to dive down into the next Likud Knesset list.
At the end of the parade marches, as if he were in the Red Square, Avigdor Liberman. He is the only one who is not disguised – with him, what you see and hear is what you’ll get – true Jewish racism, with totalitarian leanings, suggesting legislation in order to delegitimize the High Court of Justice, the Arab minority and the entire Israeli Left.
And there’s one man who is not present but seems to be running the show – Prof. Yaakov Neeman, transparent, and very much existent, not as a friend of the High Court but a friend of the settlers, and a consiglieri to Bibi.
As the daily Adloyada continues, Israel is at a critical crossroads, between peace and war; between social-economic stability and justice, and economic collapse and corruption; between a vibrant democracy, and a populist system run by a “strong” leader at the expense of civil rights; between nuclear threats and the chance at an international coalition; between being a part of the family of nations and being a criticized, boycotted pariah state.
Israel at such a time is in need of a political leadership that tells the people the truth and presents the real choices that have to be made. A leadership that makes difficult decisions with courage, for the good of the country, distancing itself from the popularity considerations of mediocre politicians. Decisions need to be made in favor of a two-state solution at the expense of the settlements, leading the way to regional peace; in favor of being an important part of an Obama-led coalition against Iran; in favor of a democratic system, with a clear separation between its three branches, respect for civil and human rights, and for freedom of speech; in favor of social justice, with a fair distribution of burdens, wealth and services; in favor of having a good relationship with the world and our region, thus contributing to our own economic growth.
Such decisions are not only necessary but also possible. They rely on our ability, first of all, to enter into a viable peace process with the Palestinians and fully coordinating with our main ally, the United States. For this to happen, our leaders need to come unmasked, be honest and make courageous choices. Is this generation of politicians capable of this? I have serious doubts. Their ideological forefathers and the founding fathers of the state had the right qualities; their children, the young generation, whom we saw last summer in the streets of Israel, may have them and deserve a chance. The Bibis, Ehuds, Shellys etc. will most probably continue to hide behind their disguises.
Purim’s Scroll of Esther had a good ending for the Jews. For an optimistic horizon for Israel, we are in need of an honest and courageous leadership, not that of the Purim scroll, but one that is loyal to that other megila, the Independence Scroll.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.