Italy’s elections

The by-now perennial laid-back recklessness of the Israeli voter incomparably exceeds any faddish ballot-box hijinks anywhere else.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu and PM Berlusconi 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
PM Binyamin Netanyahu and PM Berlusconi 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
It’s so easy to laugh at the Italians in the aftermath of their elections earlier this week. They almost invite derision, especially given the success of a populist small-screen comedian – a totally inexperienced political outsider – who managed to score phenomenal success.
No scriptwriter could conceivably have come up with a more stinging satirical spoof. The fact that it happened in true life appears to blur the boundaries between lampoon and reality.
But are we Israelis any better? Did we not entrust a hefty segment of our Knesset representation to a totally inexperienced political outsider as well? Their outsider is called Beppe Grillo and ours is Yair Lapid. Though not a TV jester, Lapid won his fame as a TV anchor which puts him firmly in the ranks of showbiz celebrities. Overnight wonder and ex-broadcaster Lapid enthralled and mesmerized the electorate to the point of ushering in the second largest Knesset faction. Analysts believe it bit into the support of both the rightist and leftist stalwarts. It now remains to be seen how this unknown entity will behave in the actual arena.
Laughs aside, fundamentally the Italian and Israeli phenomena are too similar for comfort. In both cases, members of the public treated the electoral process as something of a lark and opted to cast their ballots for unknowns with facile and fetching slogans. In both cases, this was a gamble whose longerterm consequences are yet to unfold.
This, of course, isn’t the only similarity between the two elections. In both cases an essential deadlock has emerged which can only be broken via some coalition deal or another. In both cases – it’s basically a mess.
Israel’s election returns gave rise to shallow commentary abroad that mostly missed the point. The Italian gridlock clearly set off great shock waves.
Italy is the eurozone’s third-largest economy. The Italian electorate evidently rejected pro-austerity tickets. That, alongside the ensuing impasse, could well spell big trouble for Europe and rekindle its debt crisis. Secondary fallout, should Europe slide deeper into recession, might indirectly harm Israel’s economy too.
The Italian cliffhanger epitomized the European nightmare as outgoing Premier Mario Monti – who steered Italy through the worst that 2012 had to offer – trailed in fourth place. At the same time, the irrepressible Silvio Berlusconi did better than expected, snapping at the heels of the center-left Pier Luigi Bersani.
But despite the shivers sent through the eurozone and despite the fear struck in the hearts of financiers around the world, on the whole Italians took lesser risk with their votes than Israelis did.
The by-now perennial laid-back recklessness of the Israeli voter incomparably exceeds any faddish ballot-box hijinks anywhere else. Israelis, after all, face existential threats that far eclipse whatever hypothetical economic mischief the Italian fiasco might activate or accentuate in the eurozone.
The dangers which surround Israel involve our very physical survival. From among all voters in all democracies, Israelis can least afford to mortgage our most vital self-preservation concerns to a set of catchy sound bites. We haven’t yet achieved anything like the strategic safety which allows Italians the luxury to regard their political choice as a joke.
With mounting instability and uncertainty in the neighboring “Arab Spring” countries, with civil strife and rising forces of Islamic fanaticism, with unpredictable rogue states like Iran persistently pursuing nuclear ambitions, with terrorist machinations and incitement to hate by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, can we really afford to divert attention even to such emotive issues as “sharing the burden?” Are squabbles over the procedural minutiae of rival plans to conscript haredim truly worth the damage that the prolonged coalition wrangling causes? Can we afford Italian idiosyncrasies? It is time to own up that no change in our electoral system could cancel out the carelessness with which too many Israelis treat their ballots. Voting for the trendy and unfamiliar as a hoot constitutes the root aberration that stymies coalition construction, boosts the extortion potential of marginal factions and condemns the mainstream to an Italian-like stalemate.