Face-off time

Back in 1964, Sallah Shabati, an Israeli comedy film, had a great scene at an election polling station.

Sallah Shabati (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sallah Shabati
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The word on the street throughout the country is clear to one and all. In fact, it is one of the few cases of consensus in Israel. The national election this year has become a Theater of the Absurd. With the current passing of the gauntlet back to the president and then, likely, on to a third round of elections, we have crossed into historic insanity.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Sources commonly attribute the quote to Albert Einstein, although no one seems to be able to find the original source.) Prof. Einstein, a great Zionist, would have perhaps saved us from this quagmire by a simply thought experiment. Clearly, the repeated result is not optimal.
Back in 1964, Sallah Shabati, an Israeli comedy film, had a great scene at an election polling station. It was a wonderful setting for comedy in 1964. What does one call it when little has changed in 2019?
In 2019, Israel finds itself in need of a face-off. Hockey may not be the most popular sport in Israel, but a hockey concept may be the answer. Rather than yet another election, the country may use the NHL concept. Take the top two contenders and have a run-off/face-off. Of course, this pulls those candidates into a final race, which focuses on the prospective prime minister and lessens the cloud of parties and back room activity.
George Washington famously refused to play party politics. Both major parties wanted him but he refused to belong to either one, or to any other. Here is what he said about the influence of political parties in his Farewell Address to the nation on Saturday, September 17, 1796:
“[Even though political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things to become potent engines – by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
In Israel, we outdo the world in political party-making. It is as if the Jewish state needed to fulfill the old Jewish joke: One Jew needs two synagogues, at least. The national debate is alive and well throughout the land. The discourse is good and healthy. However, we should not make a mockery of national leadership.
TO THIS END, mature democracies have had to cobble together a process that allows for both democratic diversity and centralized national leadership. Democracies should make sure that all citizens are represented. The many voices of Israel’s many political parties accomplish this to the benefit of our democracy. However, we have reached a point where we are looking for party politics to deliver a national prime minister. This “system” does not work when the blocs and parties can only deliver a divided country for national leadership.
Of course, the hockey analogy is backwards. A face-off puts the game in play. But the political game has been played. It has been played to completion twice. We are now looking at playing the same game yet again. It is insanity, of course, to think that playing the same game yet again will yield a different score. In the political sense of a face-off, we look to validate the results of the myriad voices that make up Israel’s vibrant political landscape. The past two elections have sifted that through. The country has voted in two majority blocs of parties. Now what is sought, by way of a face-off, is the champion who will steer forward.
If the parties are asked to pull out their tired advertising slogans and sound bites for yet another run, it would truly be a re-run. Again. Hearken to the famous quote, attributed to the late Yogi Berra: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
The mandates received by the political parties should represent the breadth of opinion and needs of the voters of Israel. They would do well to maintain their positions. They were elected to do that. That is how the citizens of Israel have their voices heard in the Knesset. Those important voices need to be heard in proportion, and that is what the seats won provide.
After the smoke cleared from this year’s previous elections, we find all the necessary teams on the field. All seem to be in place for the next session of Knesset to begin the serious game of government. The question that was left is, who the central leader of the representative government will be. That is a question more of personal qualities rather than political parties or blocs.
Time for a face-off.
The writer has served in several capacities in building Israel-US trade relations, including that of director of trade and trade commissioner for the government of Israel to the United States. He now lives in Jerusalem.