Democracy on a Long Vacation

The Kadima phenomenon is unprecedented - not only in Israel, but in the democratic world in general.

The Kadima phenomenon is unprecedented - not only in Israel, but in the democratic world in general. First came the split in the Likud, a common occurence in party politics. And immediately thereafter, the corruption began. Shimon Peres' defection showed the way. Then came Shaul Mofaz, who just a few days before fleeing the race for the Likud leadership accused Ariel Sharon of exploiting the army for his political needs - an accusation that irrespective of Mofaz's personality could definitely have been correct. Both Peres and Mofaz lowered the threshold of what is permissible in politics to the level of a street sidewalk.

From that moment on, Kadima and its list for the Knesset began filling up with people who have nothing in common, no common goals, no ideological commitment. Thus a new chapter began in Israeli politics: On the one hand, ideology, any ideology, became not only unnecessary, but ridiculed; and on the other hand, if the polls are accurate, a third of the next Knesset will be comprised of people who did not go through even a minimal process of being elected. The infamous appointment committees of yore were comprised at least of people who represented real interests, social sectors, party institutions and, in one way or another, were themselves chosen by someone. This time we didn't even get that.

What would happen if Israel had regional elections? Who among the first 40 candidates from Kadima would be able to win the trust of 32,000 voters? If there was ever a need for further proof to show just how urgently we require a change in our electoral system, Olmert's list is it. Even the Likud Central Committee - cleaned of its criminal elements - is preferable to what took place under Sharon and Olmert.

And let's not forget that Olmert himself, a former mayor whose deeds were not always impressive, was a full partner to all the disasters that have taken place here since 1967, in all aspects of national life. But above all, one must never forgot for even a moment that together with Ariel Sharon, he was a full and enthusiastic partner in the formulation of a destructive economic policy that was unjustifiably identified only with Benjamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile, as of this writing, Kadima has yet to present any real economic policy for the future.

Against such a backdrop, the fact that the vast majority of the media has failed to respond to Kadima's Knesset list being made up of a gang of opportunists is sevenfold more grave. Apparently, it is convenient for many - as the saying went in World War I - to send democracy on a long vacation. For them, democracy is not a principle, it is a function of changing conditions. The cries of amazement that greet Olmert in the media ("a leader is born") ignore the fact that he has yet to declare any new and original idea regarding the future. The only thing certain is that Israel will continue to build the wall and behind it implement the economic policies that benefit those who already are well off.

By what right do they now ask to be allowed to rule, what do they intend to do, what is their overall outlook on the world - apparently, none of these issues are deemed to be of much significance. Thus, the prevailing concept of the initial years of the state is gradually returning: For the system to be called democratic, all that needs to happen is for elections to take place on time. But democracy is far more than this: Its purpose is to fulfill the rights of human beings and their liberty. And liberty is not only protecting the individual's space from government intervention, but also making the citizen an active component in shaping collective life.

A citizen who is only asked to drop a ballot into a box once every few years easily gets used to giving up the rest of his rights. A living democracy is a democracy of partnership in the daily life of society, ongoing political activity and the upholding of a permanent connection between the voter and his or her representatives.

In contrast, Kadima has set the dangerous principle that the elected representative doesn't owe anything to anybody and doesn't have to be beholden to anybody - aside from the head of the party. Even if there wasn't any other option available at the time, the press should have done its job as democracy's watchdog, and barked loudly, rather than wag its tail with glee.