Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Israeli Political Primer

Watching the political war of succession being waged in the United States these days, it's easy to forget that Israel also has a battle of its own in the making. It's nothing scheduled, of course, but in a parliamentary democracy in which the prime minister (PM) is responsible for keeping a coalition of small parties with divergent interests behind him, the government tends to collapse long before the next scheduled election. Israel has experienced 31 governments in the last 60 years of statehood, and while nothing is codified, the election cycle has actually become quite predictable.

The Moshiach Year

There's a saying that whatever a PM will accomplish during his tenure, he will have to accomplish within the first year. This is what I think of as the "Moshiach" (Messiah) phase, where everyone knows that the PM will not solve any of society's ills, but the voter can still hear that small, soft voice at the back of his subconscious whispering that maybe he will. At any given point during the "Moshiach" year, any election results would probably be roughly the same as they were on election day, so parties have no interest in going to new elections. Most ministers sit tight in the coalition at their various government ministries, milking their positions to feed the party bosses who put them in power. The real estate developers make their inside deals for government land, labor suppliers get their relaxations on worker's visa restrictions, all the business of running a country gets done. Meanwhile, an investigation is reflexively opened against whoever happens to be PM a day after he takes office to prepare a case against him for accepting the illegal campaign contributions from these same real estate developers and captains of industry that every politician requires to win an election. These investigations provide the attorney general with much-needed press exposure, as his position is seen as a stepping stone to the supreme court, which holds the real power over Israeli society.

Things Get Shaky

After his first year as PM, as the population grows dissatisfied with whoever happens to be in power, and public opinion polls start showing that one of the parties in the coalition would stand to gain a few seats in the Knesset (parliament) by bringing down the government and going back to the polls. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, this party begins to push and shove for more of the public revenue, a bigger spot at the trough. Meanwhile the other little parties get anxious that the PM will begin to favor the threatening party and take away their own money supply, and so they begin to threaten to bolt the coalition as well. Often the PM's leash-holders in the American administration shake things up as well, demanding Israel reduce the burden on the "Palestinians" by removing checkpoints and reducing security, which invariably results in some sort of terrorist atrocity and further reduces the credibility of the PM and his party.

The Death Spiral

In stage three, the "Death Spiral," one of the parties in the coalition, having extracted every last shekel possible, bolts, or an investigation comes close to fruition. At this point, the PM begins flailing like a drowning swimmer, throwing promises and benefits in every which direction as the vultures swoop in for a piece of the carcass. Sometimes the PM can bribe a smaller party to shore up his coalition for a few months with all sorts of political and financial goodies. Whichever parties remain in power demand greater influence until the system comes crashing down and new elections are called.

During the elections, the media anoints a new leader as Moshiach, who is promptly elected. All investigations against the outgoing prime minister are dropped, and the now ex-PM travels to America to make millions in various business deals before returning in a few years to plan his political comeback. Meanwhile, corruption charges are filed against the new PM.

I used to be enamored of Israeli democracy before I knew better. I even imagined getting involved on some level. But Judaism teaches us that when one enters a position of political power he loses his free will. The leader may feel like he is making his own decisions, and he is still held accountable for them, but in reality he's just a tool of higher forces. The politically powerful person becomes something like a caged animal, so enchanted by the trappings of office he is willing to do anything and forgo all his principles to hold them.

But the one who steers the direction of society, beyond the Supreme Court, is the interest group. These small groups of dedicated people can focus all their energies on one agenda and slowly chip away at the body politic until they have created an entirely new reality. Peace Now, for instance, has managed to take positions such as negotiating with terrorists and establishing a Palestinian state, which thirty years ago were considered so odious and treasonous they existed beyond the fringe of civilized discussion, and has now turned them into positions so cliché they bore you to tears. Likewise, the Hareidi parties have built extensive yeshiva systems, permanent army exemption for themselves, and managed to create the relatively sheltered existence from Israeli society. The National Religious have managed to create a network of Jewish settlements across the land of Israel despite worldwide political protest, perennial Arab violence, and the determined domestic opposition of the more liberal parties.

But to have a real effect on society, at a most basic level, most important thing a Jew in Israel can do is live a kosher life, raise a decent family, and pray three times a day for a real Moshiach to get us out of this mess.

1 comment:

cameron cole said...

I know of Moshiach. It is plain to see of the greatest attempt to correct certain aspects of life not otherwise beneficial for whom is the rightful people of the Lord. With understanding there also comes a greater confusion and certainly more questions. So the clear way to bring Moshiach is to present a nation suitable for the Lord G-d to dwell within. In the beginning there was one temple, and so shall the end be, the dissemination of information brought a worldly knowledge of G-d though not one Temple remained for the Lord and so the shame of nations is Thus: Israel without G-d is no Israel of mine. A "rightful Heir" will know me, as I will also know them for those who are blameless know nothing. What is revealed in them is also revealed in you, this time, so challenging for a good man, must be met by the coming of a representative of the will of G-d for the discernment needed to establish a better way. How will you recognize the Lords servant? When you are curious about his word, when you finally allow yourself to desire G-d more than others. When you desire change but change in the Lord, by the Lord, appointed by G-d, forever in his word. The worthy will seek and will find very little until an opening is made for them to fall upon a solemn man in exile stricken. And he will not receive you quickly.