By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Purim is in the air and with it countless opportunities for Purim-shpiels of one kind or another. The most watched spectacle at the moment in Israel is the effort to form a new government. The humor is particularly biting because we still remember the promises the various parties made before the elections and how few, if any, they’re likely to keep now. And like all humor, it’s of course deadly serious.
The first person to deserve ridicule is Tzipi Livni and her party. Having been the most vociferous opponent of Binyamin Netanyahu during the election campaign – the woman who had squandered her opportunity to make an impact last time when she was the leader of Kadima and a force to be reckoned with – she has been the first to sign a coalition deal that’ll give her titles but no power: another dimension to humor.
Her sidekick Amir Peretz, one of the two former Labor Party leaders on her list, had vowed never to be part of a Netanyahu government. He’s now likely to become a minister in his cabinet.
In a good spectacle, even minor characters can catch the limelight. Hence the reported negotiations between Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the decimated Kadima (from 28 mandates in the last Knesset to only two this time.) He’s probably in.
Another actor in this Purim-shpiel is Naftali Bennett. He campaigned as Netanyahu’s natural ally and even had election posters depicting the two of them. But he hasn’t signed on yet – and it’s not clear that he’ll ever will. Whether that’s because of his alliance with Lapid’s Yesh Atid or the bad blood between him and Mrs. Netanyahu is anybody’s guess.
Lapid, too, told voters that he’d be part of a Netanyahu government in order to bring about the urgent changes promised in his platform. Together with Bennett he now appears to stall, perhaps because he read a poll (I don’t know who commissioned it) that suggests that he’d do even better should there be new elections because of the stalemate.
A good spectacle also has a jester everybody loves to hate but who ends up outwitting the seemingly good and serious guys. This part is being played by Arie Deri, ostensibly one of the three leaders of Shas but de facto the only one who matters. He and Netanyahu may very well devise a meaningless formula for national service for haredim which both will try to deceive us with by hailing as a great victory for the country.
The serious matter behind it all is, of course, that the social and economic issues that brought Lapid and others to the fore in the last elections are being ignored once again. Zygmunt Bauman, the famous sociologist, lecturing in Jerusalem earlier this week pointed out that years of occupation have enabled Israeli politicians to ignore internal urgent issues for the sake of stressing security; to maintain that situation social reform will again be set aside. The latest report by the International Atomic Agency about Iran’s accelerated nuclear program is therefore grist to the mill.
Unless Lapid or Bennett blink and/or unless Labor relents and joins the government, new elections will be held in the summer with an interim government limping along until then – and Obama’s visit probably postponed. But blinking comes naturally to politicians. Therefore, I dare predict that a government will be formed with several of the characters in the present charade now acting as statesmen/women.