In the beginning of November, when millions of US citizens were electing their leadership, Israelis were remembering the murder of one of its leaders, Itzhak Rabin, 13 years ago. In one of the official events commemorating that day, Rabin’s grandson was quoted saying that Israel should “stop compromising on the quality of its leaders”. I have no idea what else he was saying, as it was not reported in the media, but that was one powerful quote, which I tend to agree with. Unfortunately, none of the potential Prime Ministers (PMs) in the current race has the star-quality image of a leader (HE). Yet they all are going to try prove me (and the Israeli voters) wrong, at least rhetorically.
On the right.
In the meantime, the “business is as usual”, as suggested by an old Hebrew saying. It seems that Likud, is continuing gaining momentum as more an more “stars” are coming back to the party or are joining it for the first time. In a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy, it looks as if they smell that Likud is going to reign and everybody now wants a piece of that power. Perhaps this movement becomes more obvious as it starts attracting criticism from the media (HE) and also from within the party (HE).
Michael Eitan, one of the current Likud MKs (who has been pretty good about maintaining online presence already for a while and is very much involved in technology related issues) had a very sarcastic post on his blog (HE) complaining about lack of media attention to devoted Likudniks, while the newcomers and returners are getting all the air time (so needed in the primaries). Same sentiment was heard prior to the assembly of the party (HE1, HE2) to approve changes in its constitution to accommodate the newcomers and set the deadline for primaries (HE). The internally-generated criticism in Likud is particularly interesting, because it helps illustrating how unnatural the migration to the party seems even to its members and to what extend it is all about power grab. For those who paid attention, this may remind what happened to Kadima when it was established and it was clear that it is heading towards a swiping victory. Everybody likes being on the winning side.
Yet, the “noise” does not seem to bother Netanyahu, who continues his efforts to assemble “stars” and recently was even spotted trying to recruit people from the traditionally-liberal celebrity scene of Tel-Aviv (HE). This happens at the same time as he is trying to recruit a former Chief of General Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, who was also offered to head the new right wing party (HE1, HE2). On the flip side, Uzi Landau, another prominent figure in the Israeli right shifted even more to the right and moved from Likud to Yisrael Beiteinu (HE) thus further blurring the distinction between the two parties.
On the left.
While the carnival of new-old faces in Likud continues, Avoda seems to slowly sink into a chasm (HE1, HE2, HE3). On the one hand, people who could potentially uplift the public face of the party and signal the so needed change, are leaving. Ami Ayalon, has recently announced that he is leaving Avoda and is looking for an alternative on the left side of political map (HE1, HE2, HE3). On the other hand, the party demonstrates that it is true to the “good old” rules of “political kitchen” where deals are being “cooked” and places on the ballot are being saved for the veteran politicians based on really unclear and not transparent criteria. The latest stunning example was reserving a spot on the ballot for Fouad Ben Eliezer who is a veteran politician, but does not have an outstanding record of parliamentary activity or an electoral appeal, which would somehow justify such a decision (HE). The only concern though, is for Avoda to receive enough votes that Ben Eliezer would make it to Knesset even with the reserved spot on the ballot. The party is being criticized on any possible grounds starting from loosing its ideological grounds (HE) to the way its internal politics is done (HE). Avoda may currently be the best example to why it is so difficult to initiate change in Israel through the traditional political system. The apparatus is so convoluted and is dense, that people with their best intentions at the beginning of their way are getting lost as they fight to climb the party ladder. It is hard to see the next leader coming from Avoda at this point.
Identifying the vacuum on the left side of the political map (HE), a new left movement has been recently launched (HE). It is based on a series of famous names in the Israeli cultural spheres (such as Amos Oz) and former politicians, and as of now it backs Meretz, which is trying really hard to reinvent itself (HE). They lost a lot of their leading role as a social-democratic party in the last decade, and decline of Avoda seems like a good opportunity for their comeback. Unfortunately, Meretz has a label of being too far to the left to actually lead political processes in Israel. I remember in the past reading somebody calling them an eternal opposition party, which cannot shad off the opposition mentality, even when they are in the coalition. Even if currently Meretz is on the rise, it is going to be too busy rebuilding and reinventing itself, to take a leadership role in this election cycle.
Other parties do not seem to make any outstanding steps either. Shas has declared about the beginning of their campaign aiming for 18 seats in the Knesset and the Ministry of Education (HE). With all the tolerance in the world, I don’t think the latter is a good idea for Israel regardless of ones political affiliation or worldview. Besides, all this happens when in the background more of people affiliated with Shas are going to jail for corruption allegations (HE).
And there is of course Kadima, which still seems to struggle for its identity, which to a degree reflects kind of identity crisis within the Israeli society itself (HE). For some reason, Olmert, facing with corruption allegations, decided that in his last days he can say things he could not as long as he hoped to continue in politics. It reminds the last days of Bush before the electio in the US, when he was eager to leave a positive historical mark (such as pushing for whatever results in the talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as long as those could be presented as results). This definitely hurts Livni, who is being aggressively portrayed by Likud as ultra-leftist.
As if adding to Livni’s “leftist” trouble, one of Kadima MKs announced on leaving the party declaring that Livni is too far to the left (HE). Frankly, I have not heard about this MK before, neither have people who commented on the news item about his announcement. Nevertheless, he did manage to further harm the centrist image of Kadima.
And if that was not enough, the gender issue starts coming out more aggressively. In Jerusalem, Kadima ads with Livni’s portrait were removed in order “not to harm the feelings of the religious community” by showing a female face in public (HE). I am not sure I have colloquial vocabulary to react to this. Even if Livni is the only new leadership-face in the Israeli politics in this election, this environment isn’t really welcoming her.
Closing comment on leadership
So what is the bottom line for now? I think it is rather gloomy. The current picture is of the Israeli political scene being busy with its own survival (as usual) instead of thinking about the larger national and regional goals. In this environment, which is on one hand caught in old-fashioned, bureaucratic party regimes and on the other is driven by a celebrity approach to individual politicians, it is really difficult for a new kind of leadership to emerge. If you want to make it though you have to be both, a celebrity and a party go-getter, which leaves little to no space for vision or sincere conversation between the public and the political apparatus. There are talks about need of changes in the government system (HE), and there were attempts to do that in the past, but none of the new ideas will be tried in the three months before the election and I am sceptical that this topic will even constitute a debate item for the running parties.
Maybe I am setting the the hopes/expectations too high, but right now it seems that the chances of change in this elections are small. It looks like the Israeli public is going to compromise on leadership again.