Israel's Winter of Political Emptiness

A new political species has arrived in Israel, the celebrity-politician, and this is bad news. It doesn't say much about them but it says a lot about us.

It's a political upheaval - a bunch of celebrities are going into politics. A high-profile broadcaster, a high-profile father and a high-profile widow have announced their intentions, and maybe other people like them will join in. Maybe they want to do good or are bored with their lives and are looking for something else to do. Maybe they want to achieve (even ) more fame or want a change. Whatever the case, let's not complain about them - they have a right to do what they're doing.

Yair Lapid, Noam Shalit and Karnit Goldwasser will certainly liven up the dull political map with bright new colors. But adding water to rotten soup won't change its taste. Basically we know all three of them well. They were frequent visitors to our living rooms. Lapid made our Friday evenings more pleasant with an entertainment program dressed up as a news broadcast and a mushy personal column dressed up as commentary. Shalit touched our hearts as the father of the national prisoner of war, as did Goldwasser, a charming war widow.

The attitude toward each of them was emotional - and nothing more. Lapid created a pleasant atmosphere and amused us, Shalit and Goldwasser touched our hearts, and all three roused in us a bit of identification. In a country where almost everything is emotional, they were the heroes of the hour, the heroes of the time. We laughed with them and cried with them. We followed them and identified with them; they took us into their lives and the lives of their families in good times and bad, but - oops - we really didn't know them at all.

What we know is the image built around them, and that's enough to make them celebrities. But we don't have the slightest idea about their positions, and that's not enough to make them politicians. No one in this country but their family and friends knows anything about their opinions. Maybe they have opinions and maybe they don't. (My suspicion is they don't. )

Is Lapid for or against continuing the occupation? Is Shalit willing to fight for minority rights the same way he fought for his son's rights? And what about Goldwasser? Nothing. We don't have the slightest inkling. After all, they've never expressed a word on the subject, and we can assume they never will. Like foam on the waves, the ripple of an exciting celeb.

A new political species has arrived in Israel, the celebrity-politician, and this is bad news. It doesn't say much about them but it says a lot about us, the Israelis. If Shalit and Goldwasser merely have pretensions to adorn party lists, Lapid sports much broader political pretensions. Their repercussions have already shown up in public opinion polls. Surrounded by others of his ilk - a reserve major general, a woman mayor, an industrialist, a high-tech expert, a token religious person, and a social activist for good measure, he'll create a movement.

There is no greater proof of the emptiness of the public discourse and the shallowness of Israeli politics - the hope for change and the desire for salvation by a celebrity. This is an unprecedented discouraging phenomenon - the people don't want anything. Neither revolution nor change, neither positions nor opinions. Just make things pleasant for us. Let's forget the summer, autumn has already passed, and here comes the winter of emptiness.

This may have been reasonable in a country where there's order - but in Israel? Who will stand up to the threats and dangers - to democracy, to the rule of law, to human rights? Who will stand up to the worsening racism? And who will end the curse of the occupation?

A nationalist-racist is preferable to a hollow celebrity - Avigdor Lieberman rather than Lapid. At least there are no illusions about the nationalist, and maybe one day he'll even spark an active opposition and struggle. But to oppose Lapid? To fight against him? What is there to oppose and what can one fight? After all, he's so "Israeli," the most "Israeli," and he wants a better education system. Who knows, maybe deep down he also wants a better health system. And he wears a leather jacket.

It's a new kind of Israeli blindness. If until now Israelis closed their eyes to what was happening, now they'll enjoy themselves with the celebrities. If until now it was cynical and deceptive politicians who pulled the wool over Israelis' eyes, the people they loved to hate, now it will be the heroes of their TVs and living rooms, the people they love to love. How good and pleasant it is: The celebs rule (or will soon ).

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