He'll Be Back Some Day

Joschka Fischer will one day return, because German politics will find it very difficult to wean itself from him.

Now Joschka Fischer is also going home. His party, the Greens, did not succeed in the elections. He assumed responsibility and announced his resignation as party leader.

I know Fischer well from his "rebel days" against the German establishment. Comparisons were often made between Meretz here and the Greens there, and there really was similarity between the two.

When I stepped down as chairman of Meretz after the failure in the last Knesset elections, he tried to dissuade me from my decision. You are not to blame for the disappointing result, he said. And I told him that I might not be to blame, but I am definitely responsible. Now Fischer has reached the same realization.

Two weeks ago, I called him and expressed my sorrow over his resignation. Fischer said he was completely at peace with his decision, and I believed him.

Joschka Fischer was for many years the most popular politician in his country. He was much more than a likable politician. When he resigned, he referred to himself as the last rock `n' roll singer in German politics giving "live performances," while the typical politician today is already from the "playback generation."

Three years ago, in 2002, I joined him on a round of "live performances" in Germany prior to the election primaries there. He invited me to speak about his contribution to our region, which is truly unique.

I hesitated before consenting; after all, a scandal could erupt in Germany - here comes a foreign politician to meddle in the election campaign. Fischer provided me with an unsettling and intimidating experience for an Israeli and Jew. Of all of our joint appearances, I'll never forget the rally in Frankfurt, in the presence of about 30,000 Germans. He spoke and I spoke, and the echoes of our voices resonated throughout the huge square. I stood there with wobbly knees, thinking how a Jewish voice from Israel was blending into the echoes of history. After all, Hitler also stood in this square less than 60 years ago and delivered a speech.

Fischer is at peace with himself, but he also must be disappointed: A charismatic and charming politician, a world-renowned foreign minister, a leader of a small party that aspired to greatness, and here again the ballot boxes closed and the Greens found themselves in the embarrassing position of the fifth-largest party in the country.

Why does this happen to them and to small parties every time? Why, despite their well-developed platforms and superior operation, are they unsuccessful in making a breakthrough and replacing the large parties? They always toy with the hope that one day they will no longer be the fifth wheel, but they are always disappointed.

This is the fate of the junior partner in any government. When there is a success, it is attributed to the boss, and his deputy is forgotten. When there is a failure, the deputy is also blamed, and perhaps the failure is attributed mainly to him. Second, over time, the large parties reap the ripe ideological fruit of the small ones and become more like them. They are even saying about Ariel Sharon that he is "left of Meretz," and Social Democrats in Germany say they are like the Greens, and even the Christian Democrats are "almost like them." And the voters do not remember the ones who first sowed this fruit.

And the third reason for the fate of the small parties is the most aggravating of all: The large parties remain large only because they are big - their size is self-perpetuating. The large parties, besides their size, have nothing special and interesting to offer. An original idea has never sprouted in the broad meadow of the chief parties and they have never forged a breakthrough; and the electorate, for the most part, tends to herd contentedly in this grassy meadow. This is the reason why Fischer never had the chance to be elected chancellor, despite his talents, just as Meretz never had a chance to see its leader elected prime minister.

Despite all this, I have a feeling that Joschka Fischer will one day return. This is not because he is incapable of weaning himself from politics, but rather because German politics will find it very difficult to wean itself from him. It is true that one generation comes and another generation goes, and that a replacement can be found for every leader, but who really enjoys a performance without live musicians and singers, just with playback music?