Who Will Be Israel's Nick Clegg?

An Israeli Nick Clegg would first have to put together a team of people who prove their worth not by promoting themselves but by promoting a new serving elite.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

You don't have to be a political genius to know who's going to win the next election in Israel. The winner will be the person who comes up with a practical proposal for Zionist renewal - someone who takes a courageous stand against the post-Zionism of the ultra-Orthodox, the chauvinists and the left. The winner will be someone who attracts the sane but beleaguered Zionist center, someone who inspires the silent Israeli majority that loves its country and is seeing it disintegrate before its eyes. The winner will be the one whose personality, past and talents embody another Israel: vigorous, enlightened and prosperous.

Benjamin Netanyahu? He was supposed to be the perfect renewer of Zionism: secular, educated and a man of quality who lives Theodor Herzl's vision and is capable of achieving it. Netanyahu, however, insists on being Netanyahu. He behaves like a disciple not of Ze'ev Jabotinsky but of some small-time synagogue official. He believes in the free market but doesn't defend the free society. He believes in economic progress but doesn't foster cultural progress. In the way Ehud Olmert handed Jerusalem to the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu is handing them the country. He stands and watches while the Jewish state is becoming the opposite of the state that Herzl dreamed of.

Leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, speaking during a town hall meeting in Glasgow, Scotland May 4, 2010. Credit: Reuteres

Ehud Barak? Barak, too, could have been a worthy renewer of Zionism. With all his faults, Barak is an outstanding person of remarkable talents. If he took the trouble to behave like a civilian leader, he would be able to set up a promising coalition of high-quality Israelis. But Barak has vanished into his handsome office in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. He functions today as both defense minister and foreign minister, and as a supreme military chief of staff and the prime minister's Siamese twin. He doesn't seem to have enough energy left to kick-start a Zionist renewal.

Tzipi Livni? Netanyahu and Barak are working overtime on Livni's behalf. They are giving her great slam-dunk passes, but she fumbles them all. She made a great mistake when she didn't take Kadima into the government. But Livni's chances are still not too bad. If she finds a good message and puts together a good team, she could be the next prime minister. But so far, she has not responded to the deep yearning of most Israelis for profound change.

A Nick Clegg? With the national leadership fossilizing, the chances are good that some Nick Clegg will appear and reshuffle the deck. The chances are good that someone who has not been standing at the front of the stage will steal the show. Someone who offers the public what it has not yet been offered could collect all the winnings and fundamentally alter the political landscape. In the current situation, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is the leading candidate. Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar is the alternative candidate. But media personality Yair Lapid also wants it, as does Ariel Sharon's son Gilad. This week, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai also tossed his hat into the ring.

Beware: Israel can ill-afford another disastrous political adventure. We've had Dash, Shinui and Kadima. Three times the Israeli center has tried to offer something new and has failed - good Israelis trying to save the country but disappointing their supporters. A fourth failure would be one too many, a fatal disappointment. It is therefore necessary for all the candidates of the next generation to show great responsibility, do their homework, test their abilities, display maturity and show that they are really out to serve the nation, not themselves.

To get itself out of trouble, Israel urgently needs people like Shlomo Yanai, Shlomo Dovrat, Shlomo Nehama, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Ruth Gavison and Uriel Reichman. These people will not go into politics unless it is brought to them. So the first test facing each Israeli Nick Clegg is to put together an exemplary team. They have to prove themselves not by promoting themselves but by promoting a new serving elite. Only if a potential Clegg puts together a leadership for the coming generation will the star of that generation become a worthy Zionist leader.

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