Floating Voter / Where Have Zach, Oz and Yehoshua Gone?

Even French intellectuals - popular philosophers and celebrity authors - complain that their star has fallen in the past few years. People still listen to them, to be sure, but no longer really pay attention. Their names still precede them, but their influence drags behind. Or that's the impression, at least.

If that is the situation in France, then all the more so here. Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people are the people of the Book - except it is no longer clear exactly which book, the Bible or a cookbook.

Authors and thinkers used to have influence here, and important people at least shammed interest in the words spoken by those other important people. Sometimes, they even sought their advice; but no more.

One of the leading political candidates did not see fit to hold a meeting of "intellectuals," which was once accepted practice. The "council of leftist elders" has disintegrated, its erstwhile members scattered to the winds. Up until just a few months ago, writers and poets occasionally made their voices heard, but they too have disappeared, their voices silenced.

It's a good bet that they won't be appearing in any campaign commercials unless they agree to sing and dance and trade manly backslaps with "the leader," or play chess with him.

Natan Zach was one of the first to rally around Amir Peretz, and nothing has been heard from him since. A.B. Yehoshua participated in a single Labor Party press conference and has not reemerged.

Amos Oz, true to form, received the floor at the Meretz convention and then retreated to his study. Eyal Megged attempted, with mixed results, to serve as Benjamin Netanyahu's intellectual born-again, before fading away. That is, more or less, the final tally of intellectuals in this election campaign - a campaign that, like all its predecessors, has been termed "fateful."

This week's newspapers carried an advertisement for an intriguing series of lectures at Tel Aviv University - "Statesmen and Publicists," on Theodor Herzl and Bernard Lazar, Max Nordau and Leon Blum, Berl Katznelson and Meir Ya'ari, Ber Borochov and Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha'am and Nahum Sokolov, Martin Buber and Rabbi Maimon, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin.

Those were the days, and they are unlikely to return. Before the age of "Popolitika" and its shouting politicians on national television, among us were people who would not have presumed to compete for leadership of the country without first presenting their beliefs in a well-organized, written format.

They expected it of themselves, and we of them. Today, however, our pop politicians reveal their credos in 20 argumentative seconds on some TV program of the "I didn't interrupt you so don't interrupt me" variety.

Politicians of the past were less in need of intellectuals, but sought them out for company and inspiration nevertheless. The current generation of leaders, in contrast, are much more in need of people of culture, but treat them as if they are useless.

It's quite likely that the politicians have reached the conclusion that intellectuals are not commodities - no sellers in sight, and most important, no buyers. Perhaps the public finds writers too distant, perhaps the writers themselves feel they have nothing to say, and perhaps, sadly, the answer is "all of the above."

Writers might be better off being involved all year-round rather than descending from the mountain with their important pronouncements only in times of trouble and elections.

Meir Shalev is a refreshing example. He recently managed to complete writing a new and enjoyable book, "A Pigeon and a Boy" (in Hebrew), and he also writes in Yedioth Ahronoth every week, with no haughty pretensions.

If intellectuals were consistently involved in society and politics, we would not find ourselves in the situation in which the cannons of the copywriters thunder loudly while the masters of the muses are muted.