Plots, Schemes And Coalitions (JEWISH PRESS) By: Ariel Harkham 05/31/12)
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Last month we saw something historic in Israeli politics – the
largest unity government ever formed. Unlike most unity governments,
this one was born neither from a sense of national emergency nor from
an era of national euphoria, where political differences fade.
Instead, this coalition was induced by the threat of the ballot box
and is a result of Israeli politicians’ strategic dedication to
either keeping their seats or scoring the slot above them in the next
For many observers, the “surprise” that greeted Israelis on May 8 was
yet another political dance where the citizen stands on the
sidelines, half-bewildered, half-relieved, but ultimately a spectator
meant to watch, wonder, and wait for another year and half to be
heard from again.
When it comes to Israel’s representative governance, is the tail
wagging the dog? Put another way, is Israel’s citizenry merely an
accessory to the political decision-making of the day?
There is no debating the many benefits that may derive from a unity
government for Israel. With a nuclear Iran fast approaching, Syria
imploding, Turkey menacing, and Hizbullah-Hamas gaining strength
rapidly, stability is a good thing, which explains why most Israelis
don’t want early elections. Indeed, there are other benefits that
could derive from a Likud-Kadima union, such as the ability to fast-
track emergency legislation like the Tal Law, budgetary issues, and
critical electoral reforms. But as in all things, there is a subtext
to this story that cannot be expediently swept under the rug. In this
case, it has become clear that the unity government’s main ambition
is consolidating its own power, as Israelis are once again forced to
endure ad hoc-style governance in which day-to-day politicking is
more about the maintenance of power then exercising it.
Sadly, the numerous scandals and convictions of former prime
ministers, presidents and MKs are constant reminders of unscrupulous
public servants blatantly neglecting their national duties. This is
not to say there are not good, well-intentioned men and women in the
Knesset who seek to improve the lives of Israelis. There are many.
But the overall climate inside Israel’s governing class is one that
applauds – even pursues – stability at the cost of clarity in policy.
Israelis are an audaciously capable people in times of crises. The
concern is that political stability could lead to policy inertia,
which leads to a fatal sense of apathy.
To most honest observers, the Netanyahu/Mofaz marriage is one of
convenience, a mutual desire for power consolidation and political
momentum. And how can we blame either of them for mimicking the
political strategies of the day? Netanyahu has managed to
successfully navigate – even dominate – a political system, while
Mofaz – newly installed as Kadima’s head – effectively read the
writing on the wall regarding Kadima’s chances in an early election.
What is indisputable is the complete lack of effort by either leader
to court the general public in the formation of this unprecedented
This disinterest in the grassroots constituency has become standard.
Take, for example, the Netanyahu government’s response to the
hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who took to the streets
last summer to protest Israel’s centralization of wealth and power.
The Israeli grassroots finally made their voice heard, but lacked the
clarity of purpose and the sacred national symbols to unite and speak
truth to power. We should have seen a more serious response than the
appointment of the Trachtenberg commission.
Since then, Israelis citizen have been led – by delays and other
obfuscations – back into the grip of societal apathy, where they
congratulate the government for forming a coalition but fail to hold
it accountable for demands which swept the nation less than 10 months
ago. And so, demands from a broad consensus of Israel’s population
have so far yielded only minor legislative changes and a unity
government that can more easily diffuse accountability for inaction.
In looking at the current coalition, we must ask ourselves: Does
Israel get the leaders it deserves? For an ancient people founded on
the republican principles of individualism, community, and ethical
responsibility, leadership from the Jewish perspective has always
flowed upward, from the people. While the people are supposed to be
the power behind the throne, Israel’s democracy has become filled
with willing subjects. In the end, the blame lies with a public that
has abdicated its duty – to be comprised of active citizens and
advocates for a better nation that doggedly participate in their
community and politic. Until such an innervated citizenry arises,
Israel will continue to produce the leaders that reflect their own
abdication and take advantage of the power vacuum, governing ad hoc
on the basis of petty politics.
As 94 Knesset members sit on one side of an aisle, middle Israel sits
in opposition, not because they hate this unity coalition but because
they have come to hate all coalitions. No matter the size or shape,
coalitions in the mind of the Israeli voter are another tool for the
incessant plotting and scheming of the same recycled power-hording
party apparatchiks. Israelis want responsible governing; the rub is
that this can only occur once the people first govern themselves.
Rav Yosef Horwitz said of this all-too-human contradiction, “Man
wants to achieve greatness overnight, and he wants to sleep well that
night too.” Israelis want their politicians to unite and exert
themselves for the greater good, but this will first require that
Israeli citizens practice what they preach.
This means demanding reform in the face of inaction. It means taking
up the mantle of personal responsibility and civic pride, and
engaging in grassroots contributive activism. Only then will Israel’s
politicians follow suit and embrace higher political virtues that can
mold unity governments formed out of convenience into grand
coalitions guided by the duty to serve the public interest. (© 2012
JewishPress. 05/31/12) Ariel Harkham is co-founder of the Jewish
National Initiative (www.jni.co.il).
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