Published in The Jerusalem Post on January 3, 1999
Just about the only ideology alive and well in our political system is “kisayology” — musical chairs of a sort — the ceaseless, desperate shuffle of our elected representatives for position, prominence and glory.
Never before have we been witness to such a wholesale reorganization of the political map, almost without relation to any set of beliefs – diplomatic, social, religious or otherwise. Jumping ship, trading places, swapping party allegiances. Without Yaron Dekel or your own Cray super-computer it’s impossible to keep track of the dizzying political ping-pong.
One minute you’re an arch hawk, cause the political alliance is right; next minute, you’re joining Labor or some new, ill-defined ‘centrist’ grouping because there’s a better position available. David Levy, who once did an end-run around Yitzhak Shamir from the right, might move to Labor (if the price is right). Limor Livnat, who considers Bibi too weak-kneed towards the Palestinians, is flirting with Dan Meridor and Meimad. Yitzhak Mordechai is waiting to see where his chances are best.
Amnon Shahak is so enamored of himself and charmed by the polls that Labor isn’t good enough for him. Chaim Ramon, Avram Burg and other slippery guys are preparing to bolt too — to wherever is best…. for them, that is.
Some of the Labor and Likud back-benchers are so scared stiff of losing their Knesset seats — and rightly so — that they travel to the parliamentary lavatories with their seat figuratively glued to their behinds, quipped one MK this week.
Then there is the holy public opinion poll. Ah, the polls. They decide all. Popularity surveys will decide who plumps first, Meridor or Shahak; whether Mordechai should cross the floor; whether Nissim Zvilli jumps ship, and so on.
Our politics is all about personal gain. For the (dis)honorable representatives who have the ability to pass judgement on our national fate, the key questions are ‘who you hate more’, and ‘with whom your personal political career will best advance’. Doctrine, dogma, conviction, belief, ideals, deeply-held personal opinion – these things have no role to play at all. We’ve reached the end of ideology.
It wasn’t always like this. Shimon Peres didn’t set up a ‘third way’ when Yitzhak Rabin topped him in the polls. Menachem Begin spent 29 years in opposition, in the same party. Golda Meir didn’t seek a new political home when things got sticky. Real ideological differences stood in the way. Loyalty to a perspective and a party was important.
Now one might think that the vaporization of ideology, the fading of doctrinal combat, would occasion a welcome break in our heated political rhetoric. If dogmatic differences are in decline, the heat can be turned down, right?
But the language of Israeli politics has become even more florid and vicious over the past month. This, because of the *sinat chinam*, the gratuitous hatred that comes from power- and glory-driven politics. Hateful rhetoric and inflammatory demagoguery increases in inverse proportion to the degree of ideological disagreement between the warring parties.
ON THE OTHER HAND, you could argue that the blurring of ideological differences in Israeli politics is not such a bad thing. Isn’t this what we have prayed for – the messianic era when the heirs of Ben-Gurion and Begin lie down together? After all, the big West Bank issues have more or less been settled: there’s going to be a Palestinian state; and we’ll hold on to most of the critical security and settlement areas, give or take a settlement or two.
It almost doesn’t matter who the next foreign and defense ministers will be. Can you discern any difference between Ehud Barak, Shahak and Mordechai? Could it be that the ‘silent majority’ is finally coalescing into one center bloc, where integrity and good management matter more than uncompromising doctrinal fealty?
Well, I guess that’s possible. There are a few public servants and maybe, maybe a few politicians for whom centrist positioning is an ideological first choice. I’m speaking of Maimonides’ “golden middle path”, moderation that constitutes a way of life; centrism as a belief system, not just a place of political refuge at moments of cynical opportunity. But I find that hard to believe about most of the cheats who dot our current political map.
But I am willing to believe that the public is attracted to the Center out of simple weariness. Israelis are tired of being conned and propogandanized by our so-obviously-hungry politicians, on all sides.
We are so repulsed by the bombastic, exaggerated rubbish that has become political staple around here that we’re prepared to vote for someone almost laconic in appearance, ideologically-elastic, politically-pareve. Skip the ideology. Just find me somebody calm, polite, experienced and trustworthy — just for honesty’s sake. Someone without too much fire in their belly or a sharply-angled agenda.
Give me a mild-mannered, middle-of-the-road man.