The political earthquake that shook Israel last week went almost completely unreported in America. I can put forward some explanations why it wasn't reported (in a nutshell, because the story is a lethal comination of confusing and embarrassing), but it's better just to fill you in. btw a hat-tip to volleyboy1, who made sure in 2 well-balanced diaries that at least our corner of the blogosphere is aware of the developments.
Of course, there are always those who will try to put lipstick on any pig. One fellow called Krauthammer even equated last week's "unity government" deal with Israel's first unity government, formed in May 1967 when Israel faced a siege imposed by the mighty Nasser, backed by the military coalition of 3 of its neighbors and the support of the Soviet Union. So now, according to Charlie K., just like in 1967, Israel's leaders valliantly rise above petty politics and unite for the national good.
It's a great text, that Krauthammer column, but none of it is true and it bears zero relation to reality. Just ask the Israeli public - they don't buy that crap:
Haaretz poll: Israelis see Netanyahu, Mofaz motivated by political gain
Most Israelis believe the Likud-Kadima unity deal was driven by personal and political considerations rather than the national good, and few believe the new 94-MK coalition will carry out the promises its leaders made Tuesday, a Haaretz-Dialog poll has found.
Evidently, Tuesday's lengthy press conference by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz failed to convince the public, which remains suspicious and skeptical of all their talk about national responsibility: Only a quarter of respondents said they believe the two were motivated by the good of the country.
Of course, only fools would expect anything except crass shilling from dear ol' Krauthammer. But even respectable Israeli columnists have aggressively pushed a 2-pronged message of "nothing to see here, just move right along and be grateful for what you've got".
The 2 prongs are:
1. The expanded coalition (nearly 80% of the Knesset parliament) will allow PM Netanyahu (hereafter, "Bibi") to tack back from right to center, and even embrace bold diplomatic moves. What a fine example of wishful thinking! Even the two crooks themselves, in their above-mentioned lengthy news conference, never promised anything of the like. Rather, they focused on the (IMHO) second-tier issue of imposing national service on certain sectors of Israeli society, which is roughly the domestic-politics analogue of the gay-marriage issue here in the US. They also threw in some lip-service about "reforming the system of government" - a morsel that some pundits swallowed as if it was manna from heaven. In don't understand: aren't pundits supposed to educate the public against stupid credulity? In the best of cases, nothing will come out of that lip-service - because I really don't want anyone dear to me to be subject to whatever these wackos at the government cook up under the title "reforming the system of government."
The second MSM-pundit prong to sell us the deal is 2. There's nothing unusual here. Major Israeli parties have repeatedly over the years, tried to lure smaller parties into or out of the coalition (the 1990 "Stinky Deal" was such a case), or even poach individual Knesset (Parliament) members off of each other.
This, at least, is a true statement. But that single nugget of truth is a fig-leaf for a swarm of fallacies and distortions. So... like countless parents and teachers before me, let me remind the Serious People of Israel that just because "everybody's doing it", doesn't mean it's good. Poaching undermines democracy. In fact, in order to combat the phenomenon the Knesset itself enacted a law that prevents poaching of any number of MKs smaller than one-third of a faction. This has hardly solved the problem. It only turned poaching into a big-game sport: poaching complete parties.
Right after the 2006 elections, Kadima poached the "Retirees' Party" - a highly successful fraud that managed to come out of nowhere clean out 7 seats by promising to fight against the system on behalf of those neglected old folks. Instead, that "Party" had completely dissolved itself into Kadima in exchange for two government cabinet. Of course, in 2006 too the pundits told Israeli citizens to move right along, nothing to see here. But Bibi is definitely the poaching champion: he has two parties and one half-party under his belt, just from this term.
And this leads me to the issue of quantity, frequency and manner of poaching. Yes, Knesset members have been poached before. But never before had the largest party in the Knesset and the anchor of the parliamentray opposition been poached in the middle of the night by the government, in its entirety - without the slightest knowledge of most of that party's leadership. Moments before being told of the deal, Kadima's MKs were sure they were voting for dissolving the Knesset and an early election - a motion put forward by the government itself and supported by all factions. The next moment, they became part of the government.
In fact, Bibi's current term at Israel's helm has - start to finish - been created and sustained via stinky back-room deals with individual corrupt party heads, in flagrant contempt of their colleagues and the voters. To be precise, 3 such deals. The first 2 with Labor leader Ehud Barak (one to set up the government, one to split up the Labor Party) - and now with Mofaz. It is easy to forget, and most people have forgotten - but Bibi's party actually came in second in the last elections, with 27 seats (out of 120) to Kadima's 28. Without all those back-room deals, he'd have to settle for a power-sharing agreement, or go to another election much earlier and under far less convenient circumstances.
For me there are two main lessons to be highlighted here. First, this is not how a democracy operates. If one party head can always buy off corrupt heads of other parties in shady back-room deals in order to grab power, then the existence of parties, parliament and elections is rendered meaningless. Even worse, the elections and party slogans become a charade that serves to hide the real machinations of power.
Frankly, it is amazing that such a statement of the obvious is even needed. But the mainstream discourse in (and about) Israel is a strange beast, and therefore you will have to search very hard to find any trace of this basic truth in the many thousands of words already spilled about the Super-Stinker Deal.
For anti-Occupation gadflies like me, the entire affair is no coincidence. It is not in the halls of Knesset that Israel's democracy was killed, but on the ground in the Occupied Territories. Stinker Deals like this are only the inevitable icing on the cake, or the nails in the coffin (pick your metaphor!). Needless to say, such a straightforward reasoning is also laughed out of any "respectable" Israeli discourse nowadays. But here's the beauty: the specific chain of events leading up to the apparent dissolution of the government and its resurrection via "the Deal", has started directly from an Occupation court case, a land-robbery case in which the government has been found in contempt of court decisions. In other words, I rest my case. This also proves, that even small activist groups in the political fringe - such as Yesh Din, the Israeli human-rights NGO that helped the Palestinian land owners fight for their rights - can affect the entire national trajectory.
And the second lesson: Kadima, the largest party in the last two Knessets, a party who controlled the government for 3 years, has never really been a party in any meaningful sense. All along, Kadima itself has been one big "Stinky Deal", a cruel hoax perpetrated upon the public by politicians and the media. There is no There There. Because you see? There was a reason why it was so easy for Bibi to poach Kadima. Most of its members were simply dying to be poached. Despite their surprise to learn about the deal, they eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and approved it. Because all Kadima has ever been about, was the meeting point between a disingenious political marketing trick, and a great shortcut for politicians to get some government jobs.
Nothing more, nothing less.
And now, the "party" was over for Kadima (lame pun intended). The pre-election polls released before the Super-Stinker Deal (h/t volleboy1 again) had forecast their mighty 28-seat faction to contract almost to single digits, and - who knows - as the campaign rolls maybe even go extinct. So it was time to join the new national sports: "Bibi, Buy Me!"
The Israeli mainstream media has a very good reason to tell citizens to move on and not pay attention. After all, they were chief collaborators in pretending that "Kadima" is a genuine political party, a party that has some sort of spine, somewhere. But it doesn't.
This is of course intimately tied with the first lesson. The vast majority of Kadima's politicians have remained Likudniks in heart and soul. The entire "Kadima" thing has been a trick to lure left-of-center voters to elect those Likudniks. This is yet another way in which the Israeli political system, since late 2000, has turned into a charade and a farce, a pretense of democracy rather than the real thing.
The sad truth is, that since 2001 there has been no real mainstream opposition party in Israel. The opposition has been relegated to the fringes, mostly outside the formal political system. Since the right-wing fringe is both rather close to power, and constantly plotting Armageddons - this leaves us, the anti-Occupation progressives (I count myself as a geographically remote member of that fringe) - all alone, trying to hold the whole thing together somehow.
You can stop reading here, or if you want to learn some more details of the affair (that "specific chain of events" alluded to above), you are invited to follow below the fold.
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