By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
At every General Election in Israel, especially in recent decades, the public has been looking for a Messiah (a term used by at least one commentator on Israeli politics) who would put right all the things that the previous government did wrong. People needed to express their disappointment with what came before by voting for someone different. It had nothing to do with ideology or new programmes, only with fatigue.[The disappointment with the current Prime Minister Netanyahu is massive. According to the polls some 65 percent of Israelis don’t want him back – and that includes many members of his own party!]
Thus, for example, when a few elections ago the Pensioners’ Party got a number of mandates and cabinet posts, it was because a lot of young people – not pensioners! – voted for it. Needless to say, the Pensioners’ Party evaporated at the next election to be replaced by another one of that ilk.
The name of the Messiah in the last election was Yair Lapid, a popular journalist and writer. He formed a party with characteristic Messianic overtones called Yesh Atid (“There is a future!). It was supposed to speak for the middle class and bridge the gap between secular and religious (i.e., Orthodox) Judaism.
It got 19 mandates and its leader became finance minister for which, by all accounts, he had no qualifications other than communication skills that enabled him to lull the public into believing that things were getting better. He joined forces with another upstart, Naftali Bennet, who was the new star of the National Religious (non-ultra Orthodox) Party. One of the pair’s achievements was to make much noise about getting ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the IDF. Of course, the two are no longer allies.
Yair Lapid followed in the footsteps of his father the late Tommy Lapid who did something similar at a previous election – and failed. Now it was to be the son’s turn. He too seems to have disappointed those who elected him and, according to the polls, won’t get anywhere near 19 mandates next time.
But don’t worry: a new Messiah has emerged. His name is Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud cabinet minister, who left the government some time ago and now is said to be forming a new political party with the usual vague programme that will attract disgruntled voters from Likud as well as from other parties.
A tongue in cheek question in last Friday’s Ha’aretz magazine warned us against changing allegiances. It asked: Why should we be disappointed with Kahlon when we can be disappointed with someone we already know (Lapid)?
I’m probably not the only one in Israel who doesn’t know the answer to this or any other question about the country’s politics. But that won’t stop me from speculating profusely and frequently. I’m glad to be back in Israel.
The only trouble is that I’ve no idea for whom to vote. For example: Tzipi Livni, who has her own party and served in the last government, is forming an alliance with Labour; two of her current political colleagues (Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna) are former leaders of the Labour Party of Israel. That should be confusing enough.
Being confused is the only thing that many Israelis have in common when it comes to party politics. Remarkably, however, the country seems to continue to function as if the Messiah had already arrived. We live in interesting times.