And so once again, only two years after the previous election, Israel’s long-suffering population has been thrown into the maelstrom of another election campaign. Though perhaps maelstrom is too strong a tem to describe the boredom and drudgery of being exposed to another round of groupings and regroupings among the various parties and personages concerned.
The constant rearrangement of alliances and allegiances within and between Israel’s political parties – with new ones emerging, old ones disappearing and existing ones undergoing a sea-change, so that individuals formerly associated with one of the opposing parties are accepted into a new fold with open arms – is disturbing if not downright confusing.
It reminds me of nothing so much as the way in which amoeba once emerged from the primeval slime, grew excrescences and limbs, incorporated foreign bodies, and eventually became more complex life forms.
Israel is still under the influence of the longest-running show in town, the trial for corruption of the former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his right-hand-woman, Shula Zaken. The latter is currently serving a much-abbreviated prison sentence in return for her help in incriminating her former employer. Olmert has so far managed to use the judicial system to the best advantage and has not yet spent a single day in jail. Nothing of all of this inspires confidence in either the justice system or the people who seem to rise to the top, like scum on the surface of standing water.
This unfolding story, together with the relentless mud-slinging and mutual recriminations that is at present prevailing among the former ministers of Bibi Netanyahu’s cabinet, with Bibi leading the pack, baying for blood, no matter whose, is not designed to foster the confidence of the general populace in its politicians either. Not only are allegiances easily switched in order to attain positions that appear beneficial, but party ideologies are adapted to changing circumstances, and those who seek to appear as leaders are shown to have feet of clay, and possibly even more than feet.
Proportional representation, the electoral system that was adopted when the State of Israel was founded, largely because it was already there, suited those who were then in power and little effort was required to amend it, has caused Israel to be plagued by splinter-groups, mini-parties and endemic instability. Government by coalition has never been the most stable of systems, and provides fertile ground for the blackmail and/or bribery of coalition partners in order to remain in power. Recently the threshold for entry into the Knesset has been raised, and it remains to be seen whether this will have the hoped-for benefits.
The ‘first past the post’ system that is used in the U.K. has its disadvantages, but tends in the end to create a more stable government, and one that is less vulnerable to threats from within. It also means that minority groups and interests tend to be less well-represented, though bearing in mind what this has achieved in Israel that might not be such a bad thing.
I, personally, am pessimistic, despite the predictions of the pollsters, and believe that the political picture will remain pretty much as before, with a further shift to the right. I think it was Churchill who said that democracy is a terrible system, but the alternatives are even worse. It’s a depressing thought.
(This article appeared in my ‘Letter from Israel’ column in the AJR Journal of February 2015)