How to Explain Israeli Politics to a 10-year-old

Someone else should get a turn at ruling the playground, my daughter said as I gave her a simplified explanation of Netanyahu's rationale for early elections.

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Israeli politics and playground politics are not all that different.
Israeli politics and playground politics are not all that different. Credit: Dreamstime

The State of Israel woke up on Tuesday morning with a massive hangover, the kind you get when the events of the previous evening are blurry and unclear but you have an undeniable feeling that nothing good happened. Indeed, after we drank our coffee, we realized that the night before, in a rapid-fire hyperactive frenzy of political activity, not only had the epitaph been written for the current government, but it also became evident precisely when the early elections are going to happen - sometime in mid-March.

All of this unfolded after 9 P.M. - anyone who went to bed early was out of luck and had to sort things out afterward. As a responsible parent, as I drove my 10-year-old fifth grader, Tamar, to school, I made an attempt at a quick current events lesson. I informed her that while she was tucked in her bed, dreaming about Hanukkah presents and the Disney Channel, decisions had been made which pointed to elections, and that she should get prepared for politics around the dinner table and campaign signs on the street.

“Elections for mayor, you mean?” she asked.

No, I told her: “We’re going to have elections for prime minister and the Knesset.”

“AGAIN?” she responded. “Didn’t we just have those?”

Yes, in fact, I explained to her - we did elect a prime minister and Knesset less than two years ago, in January 2013, when she was in third grade. When I was growing up, the four years between presidential elections always felt like an eternity. Considering how slowly time goes by when one is a child, the fact that even children my daughter’s age are stunned that another election is happening so soon is telling.

And then came the hard question I was dreading and had made me hesitate to even raise the subject. “Why?”

Trying to explain the nitty-gritty of the deal-making between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties, the under-the-table agreement with Naftali Bennett to be defense minister and the possible behind-the-scenes interests of Sheldon Adelson wasn’t really an option. None of that is comprehensible for a 10-year-old. It is barely comprehensible enough for an educated adult, even one who has been following the calculus of Israeli politics for a good long time.

So I took a breath - and went with a simplified explanation grounded in elementary school politics.

“You know that kid on the playground who decides everything, who tells everyone what to do all of the time? The one none of the other children really likes, but who's been in charge of everything forever so everyone just lets him call the shots? Well, Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister - is like that kid. And right now, he feels like all the kids are yelling at him and mad at him and giving him trouble and they won’t do anything he tells them to. So he decided yesterday that he was going to say to everyone: Okay, you don’t like me? You won’t do what I say? Let’s vote for who should be the leader. And he’s doing that because he knows they will pick him. Because even though no one likes that kid in charge - the other kids can’t decide who the new leader should be. And when they try to talk about it, they just fight among themselves and can’t decide. So Bibi is sure if all of us vote, we are going to pick him again and then everyone will have to be quiet and let him be in charge.”

She looked at me in disbelief.

“Really? He thinks that? What about you? Mom, do YOU think he’ll get elected again?”

“Yup. Everybody does,” I said, wishing it wasn’t true.

“So then, isn’t this all just a big waste of time and billions of shekels?”

“Yup,” I answered, impressed by her awareness of the public spending angle.

She paused. I saw her trying to puzzle a way out of the situation (aren’t we all?).

“Well, how many times is Bibi allowed to get picked to be prime minister? Three? Six? Ten?”

“As many times as he wants.”

She rolled her eyes Sasha and Malia Obama-style. “Come on. That just isn’t fair.”

I told her I agreed but until the law was changed, that’s the way it was: Bibi could stay in charge of the playground as long as the other kids let him.

“Well, that’s stupid. Someone else should get a turn,” she said as we approached the school and she pulled on her backpack. Her political analysis would have to stop here for now. But before she slammed the car door, she stuck her head back in and added: “And you know what? I really think that next time, they should pick a nice girl.”

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