To catch a society
The chessboard of the Likud leadership is now crowded with several figures who long ago realized that a majority of the Israeli public is not really interested in issues of army and defense, and not even in weighty diplomatic matters, even though these supposedly affect that public's fate.
Sunday night, while the evening news was reporting on what was happening in the Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was delivering a speech before an invited audience. The speech lasted 40 minutes. Ten minutes were devoted to diplomatic affairs. Thirty, to education and society. The listeners were far from amazed. Everyone knew that Mofaz was speaking about what he cares about most. Security, Mofaz reiterates to his close associates, is rooted in education. Which is why he is now assiduously at work on establishing a new division of the Ministry of Defense, to be called the Division of Social Defense.
The director of the new division, Colonel (res.) Yitzhak Turgeman, already heads the Israel Defense Forces Atidim (Futures) project, pioneered by Mofaz in 1999, when he was chief of staff. The project, designed to prepare teenage boys and girls from the periphery prior to army service and refer them to subsidized higher learning frameworks in high-tech, currently includes about 1,300 young people. In 2003, 23 students of Ethiopian descent and a first class of Druze youths completed the pre-university preparatory year of study at the Technion. Mofaz himself presents each graduate of the course with a present: a laptop.
Mofaz does not stop at the old style of the politician who offers a personal example. The story of his tough childhood is not enough. He makes a conscientious and seemingly genuine effort to persuade the public that he is preparing to build himself as a political leader in civilian society. An excellent move for the ambitious general.
Mofaz is not alone. The chessboard of the Likud leadership is now crowded with several figures who long ago realized that a majority of the Israeli public is not really interested in issues of army and defense, and not even in weighty diplomatic matters, even though these supposedly affect that public's fate. It is no coincidence that Limor Livnat insisted on receiving the education portfolio in her second term, and has hastened to make her mark on the system, and it is no coincidence that she chose Shlomo Dovrat, the quintessential professional, who is identified with the leftist elite. The reform that the two are recommending is now being portrayed by the media, and by extension the public, as businesslike and statesmanlike, and offering serious treatment of Israel's education problems. All in all, a superb move for Livnat.
Nevertheless, the Likud leader who will evidently checkmate all his adversaries, once again, is Benjamin Netanyahu. As early as his election campaign in 1996, he iterated the main points of his rightist social-economic doctrine before various population groups, and captured the hearts of most of them. As prime minister, he made nearly every possible mistake, mainly radiating confusion and lack of credibility; as minister of finance he radiates happiness, as he is doing exactly what he believes has to be done and is doing exactly what he wants and likes to do. His resolve impresses even those who despise him.
This group of politicians, whose members vie to score points (Mofaz declares that he is prepared to give up NIS 200 million from the defense budget for the sake of education, Netanyahu agreed to allocate funds for preschool education), reaps success not only thanks to its diligence, but also due to the absence of any real political rival on the other side of the board. A few well-meaning professors and a few non-profit associations promoting education may be holding gatherings to discuss the collapse of education and the welfare state, but the left is not offering any alternative to economic privatization. As for the public, it accepts it as if it were the weather.
The Israeli public mainly wants quiet and comfort and a normal life, according to recent polls. This is, in fact, not bad news. When all is said and done, that is precisely what Zionism wanted. Mofaz, Livnat and Netanyahu are busy designing this civil normalization, but the political-ideological void in which they operate is bad news for democracy. Even worse: Their diplomatic position, stirring up war and continuation of the occupation, behind the smoke-screen of concern for education and welfare, is liable to destroy the entire foundation of Zionism. Faced with these politicians, the peace camp must wake up and find a way to translate its political message into a language clear to all of society.