In 1967, 30 years ago, I was a rookie Knesset member who lived in Kiryat Shmona. One day, a very important person took the trouble to come north and visit me. This was Yigal Yadin, who in those far-off days embodied great public promise. He was spoken of with respect, and his visit brought honor to my home.
At that time, Yadin was on his way into active politics, and many saw him as a savior. The earth was still shaking after the Yom Kippur War; Yitzhak Rabin had been compelled to resign as prime minister because of a bank account; and as usual, Israeli politics was desperate for a redeemer and lifesaver. And now, the redeemer was here, knocking at my door.
He came to persuade me that there was no way of saving the country without changing the electoral system: No more proportional elections; constituency elections must be instituted in their stead. Every candidate for the Knesset would determine his own fate in his own district, and obligation to the party would be replaced by direct obligation to the public.
The renowned archaeologist - a former general and a future leader - was in the grip of enthusiasm, and the more he held forth with his explanations, the more his enthusiasm waxed. How profound was his disappointment when, at the conclusion of his learned lecture, it became evident that I had not been infected.
Yadin believed with all his heart that if only the system were changed, the face of the country would change beyond all recognition. In my heart, I scorned him: How could a serious person like him be seduced into believing that changing the system of government would really cure illnesses that are developing into epidemics? It is possible and even important to fix distortions and flaws: It is possible, for instance, to raise the electoral threshold and to designate the head of the largest party as the one who forms the government. But it is forbidden to pin illusory hopes on heaven, as though the perfect system were hiding in the skies, as though there were such a thing in the world as a country that is satisfied with its system, as though a house could be stabilized and cleansed just by moving furniture from one room to another.
Yadin forged ahead thanks to the force of his personality and his belief. Hundreds of thousands of citizens were captivated by him, and his party, Dash, won 17 Knesset seats. A short while later, it disintegrated, and since then, it has served as a metaphor for a political dud. This is what happens - and must happen - when a political party confines its whole Torah to one foot: It will inevitably collapse rapidly. Yosef Lapid's Shinui provides additional proof.
Every generation has its Yadin heirs; every generation has those who demand a formative change. One gets the impression that Israel's public arena is totally demented and its mind has become frayed - yearning for a dead-end future and forgetting clear lessons of the past. When the second Lebanon War ended in disgrace, it was only a matter of a short time until a group of the best of our aging youth would arise and renew as of yore the struggle for "far-reaching reforms."
And indeed, not two months have gone by, and businesspeople, retired generals, respected academics and basketball coaches have arisen and laid the foundations for a new movement - Yesh Tikva ("There is Hope"). Time is short and the tasks are many and urgent, and therefore, friends have recruited their friends and have hastened to put a "revised movement platform" on the table. The document is jam-packed with ideas, a minority of which look like ideas from the head and most of which look like ideas from the hip. It is completely clear that the founders are determined to "do something," but it is not at all clear what the specific something is that they intend to do.
They are not alone in their confused struggle. They are being joined by personalities and movements that, like them, are devoted to that same inexplicable something. It sometimes seems as if a slops bowl has been placed on the public table, and everyone feels compelled to throw his own dry bone of initiative into it. Kadima has its own proposals, and so do Labor and National Union and the rest of the parties, and the parade is being led by Yisrael Beiteinu, with MK Avigdor Lieberman - the great reformer - at its head.
The social leaders of Yesh Tikva - so it has been reported - are proposing, among other things, "appointing professionals to ministerial positions." For the umpteenth time they are taking this piece of junk - professional ministers - out of the shed and polishing it up so that it looks like new. One would expect educated individuals to be familiar with the countries from which they have borrowed the confused idea of a government of technocrats: All of them are either totalitarian or authoritarian states, which for the most part are run by their armies. Developed countries, in contrast, choose politicians for ministerial positions, though the recommendation that a minister know something about his area seems eminently reasonable to me.
I am unaware of even a single democratic country that has yearned for a government of technocrats. And even if people who disagree with me should arise, object and cite the American example, I will reply that Israel is not America, that even at the end of days it will not be, and that it is very doubtful that it would be desirable for Israel to be America.
And think about whom they appoint there, in the American dreamland: At the Pentagon, a worthless individual was appointed who has thrust the empire into the mandibles of civil war in Iraq. Compared to that, our own failed Lebanon War looks like a stunning victory. And at the Justice Department, a kind of presidential errand boy was appointed, a kind of American Roni Bar-On (now our interior minister) - who, were he the justice minister here, would have decapitated the corruption with a single stroke of a sharp sword and made human and civil rights our chief delight.
And at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a cornerstone of the Department of Homeland Security, another toady was appointed, whose tongue was too long and whose arm was too short to save the drowning New Orleans; before he was recruited to the service of his country, he raised Arabian horses and traded them for his living. This is how they make appointments there, in the land of licentious opportunities, and this is the system that they are eager to imitate here. All of the prime minister's cronies can line up at the starting line.
And the president himself - a fellow stalwart as a cedar who must not be cut down and impeached - will lose his majority in Congress three weeks from now, in all likelihood. And then, the most powerful man in the world will be lamed, will limp until he sinks in the duck pond, and will be remembered only for the disasters he inflicted on his country and on the entire free world. And this is the model they want to adopt here, heaven help us.
And the excuse is always the same: We must strengthen the prime minister against those who rise up against him every day in order to overthrow him. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not even know that he was so weak. He was not like that when, in a corridor fit, he decided to go to war, supported by all his ministers and advisors, and by the Knesset in its flabby majority, and by more than 90 percent of public opinion. Olmert himself no doubt looked at the surveys during the first week and found it hard to believe how strong he was: the man who was too strong.
And Avigdor Lieberman is throwing his presidential regime into the slops dish - another emaciated variation on the same theme: Israel needs a strong man. I am trying to encircle the world with my glance, and I see only strong rulers who are making their countries miserable with their caprices and their madness: Who is the strong man who does not abuse the weak? When Lieberman wants to anoint a strong man to rule over us, it is not entirely clear what he means, but it is entirely clear whom he means.
He means the man whose piercing look is blue steel, whose determined jaw is burnished copper, whose jawbone can smite a thousand people, at least, and above all - who speaks loudly to Damascus and Aswan. It seems strange to me that many people who came from the Soviet Union, who experienced on their own flesh the way the arms of the strong land, are precisely the ones who are flocking to him - though not only they. Israel must beware of the wrath of this icy individual, because its democracy is still fragile, its roots are still short, its parliamentary tradition is superficial, it has no checks and balances and its constitution is a vision for a future yet to come. The state of Israel is more a porcelain democracy than a nightclub that must hire a tough guy to eject unruly drunks.
A stupid question came from the prime minister's bureau this week: Is anyone entitled to disqualify for marriage an entire political party, and a "Zionist party" at that? Of course one is entitled, and even obligated, under certain circumstances. Zionism has 70 faces, and sometimes its face is that of a monster. Zionism is not a disinfectant that wipes away any blemish that has stuck to us. And if a wild party is growing here that endangers the entire Zionist flower bed, and it is very difficult to uproot it, then at least it should not be watered with sweet government water.
That is how it is here: In embarrassing and dark times, we look for the big lantern, but we do not look at everything that lies in the murk beneath it. We worry about repairing the flask, but we do not worry about everything that is inside it. Conspiratorial politicians and malevolent experts offer us witch doctors' remedies. The doctors seem to have given up, and there is no alternative but to resort in alarm to all kinds of quacks. Some pulverize unicorn horns for us, and other boil flea eggs into an ointment for us. But the sore remains open, the bruise still hurts and the blow is still fresh.
It is not through laws and amendments and amendments to amendments that we will be saved; this is not the way. Good laws do not improve a bad culture. Better people, who have received a better education, are what improve. Instead of amending words, an amending of hearts is needed first.
A rake of opportunism will not clean the stables, and our national stable is filthy from bottom to top. And how will we clean our stable if the horses themselves are depositing their droppings there? It is neither the system of government nor the structure of the administration that is our main problem, but rather the culture of government and the culture of "the important people." Without culture, a nation will run wild and a state will run wild, and the horses will continue to defecate on us.
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