Who Needs Lobbyists?

The mobilization of 3,000 motorcyclists who registered as Likud members to lower insurance fees has created a new political phenomenon in Israel.

The 3,000 motorcyclists who registered as Likud members were quick to realize where the real money is. Overnight, they became the most influential pressure group in the country after their move put an end to years-long governmental foot-dragging on lowering their insurance fees.

Irrespective of whether they are right or wrong, their mobilization has created a new political phenomenon in Israel, which is the modern-day equivalent of Mapai's "red book." Once the Histadrut labor federation membership certificate, the so-called "red book" was, back in the day, a person's key to getting a job. And in Benjamin Netanyahu's revered free market, this is the new, barely conspicuous "blue book." It is the ultimate proof that Likud has become a natural party of government, where it will clearly remain for a long time.

Like the "red book," the "blue book" is a typically Israeli phenomenon, and a key element in understanding Israeli society and its economy. Because today, just like in the merry old days of Mapai, the higher echelons of the civil service all own one; they are associates and cronies, instead of professional civil servants who should be committed to nobody except the people. On some occasions the "blue book" holder has a beard and tzitziot, on others a Russian accent. One way or another, the "blue book" is as effective as its predecessor. And it shapes the new political reality against which hundreds of thousands of formerly privileged people protested last summer, after their parents' "red book" expired.

Like the signs at French level crossings saying that "every train may hide another," it hides another element, which is much more dangerous for democracy. The Israeli public will likely remain unaware of it until it emerges and runs it over, together with its increasingly eroded civilian agenda. That element is the recruitment process, and more precisely, member recruiters themselves. Who, other than politicos, knows these shabby and skillful people? Who knows who they work for, or against? Who knows how many Likud or Labor voters they recruited for Kadima, and vice versa? Who truly knows his or her way around the complex rules that allow them to approach everybody - left, right or center - and close deals in party primary, Histadrut or municipal elections? Who is aware of the pressure groups they bring into party politics?

Over the past years, party membership has become an exercise with a tenuous relation to ideology. It applies mostly, but not only, to parties of government. The recruiters have created an independent executive committee which looks after the interests of pressure groups. Just recently, the revelation of the extent of lobbyist intervention in Israeli legislation led to an uproar. But who needs lobbyists when you have 3,000 party members?

To the motorcyclists' credit, it must be said that they acted in the most transparent way, and only when they became party members they disappeared from the public eye. But that's hardly their fault - they only sought to secure their interests in an increasingly ruthless political landscape. The true culprits are the political parties: They have long since blurred the ideological differences between them and become impresarios. And like an impresario in showbiz, whose clout grows with every famous performer he signs up, so are the parties becoming more influential with every new member. And like an impresario, they pamper their clients with work and benefits.

These are the underlying currents of Israeli politics, which have nothing to do with ideology or leadership. Abandoned by a deficient political culture, its sole driving force is the anonymous party member recruiter, holding a blue book.