Shaul Mofaz working the phones ahead of the primary.
Shaul Mofaz working the phones ahead of the primary, explaining why people should vote for him. Photo by Moti Milrod
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If you think Knesset members live a life of loafing and luxury, you don't know any Knesset members. Just ask elected representatives of Kadima as they prepared for Tuesday's party leadership primary.

I don't mean the party leaders, whose public appearances, long years in politics (mainly in other parties: Kadima was only founded in November 2005 ) and close ties to the machers who really call the shots in the primaries have made them household names.

I mean the other 20 or so lesser-known Kadima MKs who are fighting tooth and nail for an electable position on the party's candidate list. (There are 28 Kadima MKs in the current Knesset session, who are there because they were among the top 28 vote-getters in the primary that preceded the the 2009 general election. In the next election Kadima is expected to get fewer Knesset seats. )

Tuesday's primary this week is for the party leader, but one may assume that Kadima's MKs can see the future as well as anyone else and know a general election cannot be that far off. Kadima and its candidates will again face the will of the people. And so, in anticipation of the poll on Tuesday, the party's MKs have spent the last few months scurrying among the party faithful up and down the Land of Israel, wheedling their votes. They have made and received countless phone calls and have met countless people. (Even though the party rank and file are ostensibly doing the legwork for their respective chosen candidate, either Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni or her challenger, MK Shaul Mofaz, the two candidates for party chairman, naturally the MKs have taken advantage of this effort to promote their own greater good. )

But in all these meetings and phone calls, what do these Kadima luminaries have to talk about? Their political achievements in the past year? The laws they sponsored? The social-justice protests? The state of the nation?

Of course not. There is only one burning topic - why you should vote for them. They will promise to always take your calls. They will promise to love you and will tell you why you should love them.

Who, at the end of all this, will actually attend the primary? Who will vote? Plenty of party members, most of whom expect a reward for their effort. There will be representatives from trade unions and local governments, as well as businesspeople whose ties with government affect their livelihood.

There is nothing special about Kadima in that. The candidate lists of Israel's three main parties - Likud, Labor and Kadima - are all shaped in the same ecological system, in which the media has become biased toward the interests of big business, big labor and other powerful groups.

You aren't there

Who has no influence over the composition of the Kadima, Labor and Likud party lists? The millions of Israelis who aren't connected, even though their welfare depends on political and public activity.

The upshot is that the status of Israel's elected officials, the Knesset members, has never been so low. The public feels contempt for most of them, yet for all its scorn these ordinary citizens have yet to ask themselves what would motivate their representatives to do their jobs properly, or to ponder the fact that under the regime of the unions and the business tycoons the reward for being a good MK is very small.

A small number of Knesset members - perhaps 10 or 20 of the 120 MKs in the Israeli parliament - do take their jobs seriously. But at the center of the political system are Knesset members who obey the rules of the primaries, which are very clear and have very little to do with professional political work.

People moan that serious professionals scorn the political life because of various fears, or because they can't be bothered. In some cases that's surely true. But the real reason is that people accustomed to doing serious work wouldn't survive Israel's political system. Knesset members need to learn to work with machers, unions, party powers and the levers that move the newspapers belonging to the tycoons, or they are doomed.

So the newly elected head of Kadima will face the television cameras and, shortly after that, will announce the composition of the next party list. Israelis will watch the show and, again, will utterly fail to understand why the same old tired motley crew of politicians who seem to have achieved nothing whatsoever in living memory are there at the head of the list.

Among the many crucially important things the "social justice" protest movement neglected to address is the ecosystem that creates these tatty parties.

Once the public realizes how the system really works, and who really determines how the party lists are shaped, it would cease to be surprised that nobody cares what it thinks, or why the execution of the political echelon is so appalling. When the people with the most influence on the process of political choice are the least professional, the least clean and the least creative elements of society, that's the result.