Last weekend I participated in the annual poets’ festival at Sde Boker. We convened in the local synagogue for an open and candid discussion on this week’s Torah portion: How “The Lord strengthened Pharaoh’s heart.” King Pharaoh was also a “strong leader” of a “strong country,” who inflicted terrible blows on his people.
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Is this what President Barack Obama meant in his broadside at Israel, under the leadership of “King Bibi?” And here at home they treat his words – that Israel will not survive – as if a mouse was roaring. When history wants to punish countries and nations, it anoints them with a leader who does not lead, one who insists on swimming against the tide of history.
On my way to the south I read the weekend newspapers, which were full of election coverage. But in contrast the roads were empty, with only a lone campaign poster here or there. Where was the Shimon Peres of old, such a tempting target for tomato-throwers, and what about the tomatoes whose prices have risen?
Whose election campaign was this? The supporters didn’t go overboard in their support, neither did the objectors in their objections. Nothing is sufficiently irritating enough, nor is anything sufficiently exciting. Was this campaign conducted against a serene backdrop? Hardly – the setting was murky and disturbing.
Enthusiastic candidates ran from one end of the country to the other, but the public did not come out to greet them. The stages were set, the wheeler-dealers went about their business, but where were the people? This was an election campaign without the voters. And when the voters didn't flock to the public squares, then the candidates flocked to the pubs.
And don’t tell us any stories about the continuation of old politics via new means, about the influence of social media. Never before have online communications been so open and accessible to all and sundry, but the Israeli polis has also never been so far removed from Athens. Such apathy is but one small step away from hopelessness.
Today, notwithstanding, we will go to the polling booth – what else would formal democracy ask of us – and in doing so we will complete our political involvement for now. Only the act of voting can tear us away from our couches. For a long time now Israel not been an inclusive democracy; it is a paralyzing, discriminatory democracy. A single day in which every voter is equal every four depriving years is not a sign of equality.
In seeking out the voters the elected officials have sunk low: Rather than engage in a debate about beliefs and opinions, they have been involved in a petty quarrel and haggling. What was this unsavory election about: After all, there’s no connection between the day before and the day after; the campaigning is detached from the reality. Even the conditions for joining the coalition remain blurred, and not by chance. The voter will not be happy the day after, when he finds that his vote has strayed far from his intention.
And who has sunk the lowest? The highest: our prime minister.
Tell us who your champions are, Mr. Prime Minister, and you'll tell us who you are. Of the seven billion people on this earth, two jesters have been chosen to root for the PM: Donald Trump, because Netanyahu is endeared by tycoons, and Chuck Norris, that muscle-man actor from grade B action movies, because that’s Bibi’s dream -- to act the part of the brawny man of action, but not necessarily to fill the role. It is fitting that the 2013 election campaign should be marked by two such caricatures.
A few years ago I received a telephone call. On the line was a friend from Germany. Are you prepared, Yossi, to come here for a week to participate in our election campaign? he asked. We will travel together to three or four large cities, stop at university campuses on the way, and you will also appear and speak before or after me -- it could help me. For a moment I was astonished: What would have happened in Israel had a foreign politician participated in the election campaign? What a scandal would have erupted -- foreign involvement in internal matters, and by a German at that.
It was Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, who called: The leader of the Green Party and a friend of Israel, who continued to plead with me until I gave in, despite my reservations.
Tens of thousands of people gathered for every rally, and for a Jewish Israeli like me it was not easy to hear the trumpeting of history’s loudspeakers, and the echo of its voice in the squares of shame. But I could not but envy the mass participation and readiness to stand up and be counted.
In Germany, of all places, they understand what happens when the public sphere is abandoned, when democracy is conducted by one aggressive side, which uses it detrimentally, when socialists and liberals are left to fall like autumn leaves. In Germany they also understand what type of monster an apathetic and atrophying democracy is liable to beget.