Much Ado About Nothing

The sickening apathy that has gripped Israeli public opinion these past few years is also reflected in the positions of its leaders and political parties.

Last week, the politicians and the commentators held their collective breath. Will there be elections? Will the government fall? Will Ehud Olmert go home? Mediators, advisers, dealmakers and lobbyists scurried about in a dizzying tribal dance, every scenario or outcome considered more fateful than the next, and some were described as cataclysmic. Early elections, deposing the prime minister, the resignation of the Labor Party, primaries in Kadima, a few more months with Olmert, replacing him with Tzipi Livni, replacing Ehud Barak with Shaul Mofaz, and, worst of all, Benjamin Netanyahu rising to power.

This was much ado about nothing. All these scenarios do not raise any specter, nor do they lower one. They only affect the work schedules of the aforementioned figures. The "good of the state" or the fate of the state has no connection to any of the above possibilities. How will our daily lives change if Benjamin Ben-Eliezer remains, or does not remain, national infrastructures minister? If Isaac Herzog is or isn't social affairs minister? Even if Olmert does or does not occupy the prime minister's chair?

True, the final result was the most logical one. Although what exactly would change if the outcome were different? Can anyone seriously claim that a Prime Minister Livni would be fundamentally different than Olmert? Can someone clearly point out the differences between the two Ehuds? And what will happen if there are elections? And what will Netanyahu do as prime minister that so scares such a considerable chunk of the political and media establishment? Heck, he was already prime minister and the sky did not fall, any more so than it has with each of his rivals in power.

Israel in recent years has been accursed with a leadership devoid of an agenda beyond surviving in office and advancing political careers. It has been accursed with political parties who no longer champion a true plan, except for succeeding at the polls. There is no right or left in Israel, but rather words that have long gone stale. Everything converges to what is commonly referred to as the center of the map, the mainstream, something that frighteningly resembles a consensus and where one couldn't find any real difference even under a microscope. If the joke at one point was two Israelis, three opinions, now you would be lucky to find three Israelis with one opinion. If at one time dinner-table conversations involved debates over the future of the territories - remember? - today the conversation revolves around where to take the next vacation. This phenomenon is also evident among our leadership.

On matters related to state and society, economy and religion, the environment and education, Israel today speaks with one indistinguishable voice, almost to the point of depression. The sickening apathy that has gripped Israeli public opinion these past few years is also reflected in the positions of its leaders and political parties. This is very bad news for Israeli democracy and public discourse.

It is indeed true that some differences may emerge. Mofaz would be an especially cruel and brutal prime minister. Livni? We thought she would be the more moderate one, until she changed her spots this past weekend, calling for a military campaign in response to a few Qassam rockets. A new justice minister is likely to change course. Barak may one day return to the relatively bold character he displayed as prime minister. Olmert will continue to speak of peace and not do anything to advance it. However, when it comes down to the real, fundamental questions, there are no differences. The siege on Gaza is acceptable to all. Each of the candidates is likely to embark on the much-desired "major operation" in Gaza. Everyone agrees we should not talk to Hamas, that we need to do something about Iran, that the occupation can and needs to continue, that building in the settlements must not be halted, that the language of war and force is our language, that security is our religion, that we need to listen to what America says no matter what the price.

Not a single one of the candidates mentioned above is capable, for instance, of evacuating 250,000 settlers, a basic condition for any real change. None will foment a revolution in the relationship between religion and state. None will really combat corruption as is necessary. The link between politics and big money will continue to be their guiding principle. On education, none of them has anything new to offer. Even on social issues they will continue the current policy - that is, if there is such a clear social policy.

None of the candidates can clearly answer the question of where we are headed. What will this country look like in another 20 to 30 years? What do we want it to look like when there is an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the sea, and the region has gone nuclear? None of them can seriously explain the meaning of the term "Jewish and democratic state," nor can they explain how to reconcile the inherent contradiction in the term. None of them can explain how it will be possible to establish a Palestinian state in the conditions that have been created.

Several people as dull and gray as can be are looking for job titles, authority and power. None has enough conviction, courage and determination to lead them and us to the true, fundamental change that is so needed. Is this what all the fuss is about? All this evokes no more than a yawn, and then some sad thoughts.