Who Is the Real Israel: Its Citizens or Its Politicians?

Citizens must pressure state to change the system, or we won't regain the pride that Israel could give us.

Israel has embarrassed itself vis-a-vis the international community twice in just the last few weeks. First there was the public humiliation of the Turkish ambassador by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, an episode worthy of a third world banana republic, but not of a modern, sophisticated country.

Then there was Tourist Minister's Stas Misezjnikov's embarrassing behavior in Spain. Mr. Miseznikov's reaction to criticism was to attack the Israeli ambassador in Spain. Israel's professional diplomatic corps have a hard enough time trying to salvage Israel's image worldwide without being undermined by both the tourist minister, and by their boss, Mr. Lieberman - who recently took Israel's ambassadors to task for not being aggressive enough.

World Jewry and Israel are involved in a worldwide defensive battle to save Israel's image. After more than 42 years of occupying the West Bank, even many moderate liberals around the world are beginning to question the nature of the State of Israel.

Is it, as Netanyahu keeps repeating, a Western outpost in a Middle East swamped in Islamic fundamentalism?

Or is it, as many critics - mostly from the European Left ? argue, an apartheid state that needs to be pressured into finally adhering to international law?

Is it a flourishing, if chaotic, democracy, or is it a theocracy in disguise that tries to squeeze Palestinians out of the West Bank by making their lives impossible?

Which is the real Israel: That of its citizens or that of its politics?

I find it ever more difficult to convince quite moderate people in the West, journalists, academics and diplomats who are by no means enemies of Israel, never mind moderate Palestinians, that Israel basically wants peace.

My interlocutors keep asking: 'But what reason does Israel have to continue building in the West Bank, if it really intends to leave?' and 'give me one reason why Israel keeps up the stranglehold on Gaza when it comes to building materials, food and other humanitarian aid?'

The problem is that I have no justification for this, so I try to explain the trap of the impossible Israeli political system.

Then they ask me: 'So what do you think will unfreeze this deadlock? What will make Israel move ahead towards peace?'

The truth is that I no longer have an answer. I look at the Knesset, and I see parliamentarians busy bickering for political advantage; I look at the government and see ministers and deputy ministers, most of whom are unnecessary and some of whose behavior is a public disgrace. I no longer believe that Israel's political system is capable of moving out of its paralysis.

The contrast to most of Israel's citizenry could not be greater. Visitors who come here knowing Israel only from the political headlines are amazed by what they see here. Most of Israel to them looks like a liberal, modern and thriving country. Most of its citizens are, as they find out, decent people who care about their neighbors, the environment, and are busy creating, whether in business, the arts, academia or other fields.

There is a phenomenal discrepancy between the Israel these visitors meet when they are here, and the Israel reflected in its political system and actions, where Israel is often brutish, routinely repeating the same mistakes and devoid of anything even remotely resembling creativity.

I continue to believe in Israel's creative potential as reflected in its citizenry; and its Israel's basic human decency. I continue to believe most Israelis want this country a place where all, Jews, Arabs or others, can flourish and lead lives of dignity.

But the phenomenal discrepancy between Israel's human and cultural reality and the dismal state of its politics has driven its citizen's into apathy. We have lost any belief that they can change the charade that is called Israeli politics, in which huge sums are spent on coalition agreements that don't serve the country, on ministries without any purpose except satisfying the ego of politicians, who often have zero competence in the ministries entrusted to them.

This is a question that goes beyond left and right, religious and secular. Politician Aryeh Deri knows Israel's political system better than most, and he can certainly not be pigeonholed as a secular liberal. He has lately argued that Israel's political system makes any long-term planning impossible, and that it prevents truly gifted and decent people from entering politics, and he has criticized what used to be his party, Shas, for torpedoing any changes that would make MKs truly accountable.

We citizens need to ask ourselves how long we are willing to endure this shame that is called Israeli politics; that does nothing to ensure Israel's long-term viability; that has failed to prevent water shortage by constructing desalinization plants; that is ruining one of Israel's greatest assets, its higher education system; that has elected a miserable figure like Katsav to be Israel's president, and puts ministers into the government who make Israel look like a brutish, boorish country that it isn't. And it is undermining Israel's status as a legitimate, progressive, democratic polity.

Israel is a representative democracy, and we must no longer hide behind cursing the system; we are each and everyone responsible for what is going on here. We are all put to shame by politicians who have gotten used to playing the system and to surviving in it and have no incentive to transform it. If we, the citizens, do not pressure our politicians into changing the system, we will never regain the pride that Israel could give us.