An Israeli Tragedy

Right after the election Netanyahu, Livni and Ehud Barak must act together to heal the Israeli political system from the bottom up. We can't go on like this. Never again. We all deserve much better.

Even in the second round of the 2009 election campaign, Likud triumphed. This time, however, Likud triumphed over itself. Drunk with momentum, Likud abandoned all restraint. With one hand it chose the legitimate right wing, which is detached from reality, and with the other it chose the right that lacks legitimacy and is detached from democracy. Likud completely forgot the lessons of its failure in the last election. Instead of positioning itself as a mature and deserving center-right party it defined itself as a futile right-right party. Instead of following a leader who tried to improve himself, his party and his country, Likud rebelled once again. And for this rebellion - against reality, against the 21st century and against Benjamin Netanyahu - it will pay dearly.

You have to feel for Netanyahu. For 20 years Bibi swam against the tide, alone. For 20 years he has been impugned, slandered and dismissed. But Netanyahu is a man with ability, vision and a rare comprehension of statesmanship and economics. Netanyahu embodies the right that is not religious, not messianic and not lunatic. Netanyahu represents the attempt to create a point of convergence between the worldview of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and the world of Barack Obama. But precisely now, just as Netanyahu is ending a long, tortuous process of working on himself and making himself more moderate, Likud voters come and force the party to the fringes.

The loopy Likud primary struck a blow not only against Netanyahu. It struck a blow against Israel's democratic process. In the past 20 years most Israelis have become more moderate, but Likud's registered voters did not hear about it. In the past 10 years most Israelis voted for the center, but Likud members did not see it. Last month the world entered the Obama era, but Likud members paid no attention. The result is intolerable. Even though most Israelis are sane and moderate citizens capable of dialogue with a sane and moderate world, Likud's extremist majority seeks to drag them back to a dark and dangerous extremism.

Tzipi Livni erred in a big way when she said Moshe Feiglin and company did not weigh her down. Feiglin and company weigh on every rational Israeli. It is true that in the short term, the achievement of his Jewish Leadership Movement serves the Kadima leadership. It is true that in the immediate sphere of the Internet, Gila Gamliel's victory helps Eli Aflalo. But what was exposed this week in Likud could be exposed next week in Kadima: Israel's party system is not functioning. The party system does not represent the public, it does not serve the public and it does not give the public the leadership it deserves. Politics in Israel has become the greatest strategic threat to Israel's future.

Thus the tragedy is not only Netanyahu's tragedy, it's Israel's tragedy. In the past generation a strong, impressive free market has been created in Israel. In recent decades an open and vibrant civic culture has developed here. The Israelis have taken part in globalization and they have been pioneers of creativity and production in many fields. But during this period of progress, Israeli politics regressed. The government became paralyzed, the parties became corrupt, the public debate atrophied. As many Israelis excelled on the individual level, they were dumbed down as citizens and became dumber. They accepted a situation in which unsuitable people and unsuitable systems oversaw national policy in an unsuitable manner.

There is no need for confusion here: Feiglin is not another face in there mirror. Feiglin is a mirror that has been destroyed. Look around. Feiglin does not represent the normal Israel that you know. Feiglin represents the fact that normal Israel cannot achieve appropriate political expression. Feiglin is the weed of an irrelevant extremism that flourishes in the vacuum left behind by the indolence and indifference of rational moderation.

In the 1980s and early '90s Britain's Labor Party was paralyzed by Trotskyite cells that infiltrated it, exploited it and damaged it tremendously. Tony Blair became prime minister only after ridding his party of these malignant cells and rebranding Labor as a centrist party. That is exactly what Netanyahu must do now. He must wield an iron fist against Feiglin's cells, tissues and growths.

But this is not enough. The cancer eating away at Likud reflects the condition of the immune system of the entire body politic. Right after the election Netanyahu, Livni and Ehud Barak must act together to heal the Israeli political system from the bottom up. We can't go on like this. Never again. We all deserve much better.