Now They Are Obama

There were periods when politicians in this country wanted to be the Israeli Jimmy Carter or the Israeli Bill Clinton.

There were periods when politicians in this country wanted to be the Israeli Jimmy Carter or the Israeli Bill Clinton: new, plain, promising and charismatic. Years later - for a while, until his initial glamour faded - they tried to be the Israeli Tony Blair: energetic, young social democrats. Nowadays the last word in political pretension is the attempt to be the Israeli Barack Obama: "social," authentic and inspiring.

Even before it becomes clear just how "Obamish" Obama himself is, image consultants have implied in our part of the world that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is Obamish, just because she is a woman (and "Woman is the Nigger of the World," as John Lennon sang). Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is Obamish - as his consultant Arthur Finkelstein will say - because he is suddenly pretending to be "social."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu are Obamish, just because they used to be young and promising. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit is Obamish because he is from the periphery. And Public Security Minister Avi Dichter is Obamish because he is sticking to the slogan "Yes I can."

Soon - with the change in fashions - maybe we will hear that our politicians are the Israeli Sarah Palins (because Barak, Netanyahu, Dichter and Mofaz know how to shoot a rifle, Livni is a woman, and Sheetrit can hypnotize animals). There is only one problem with these analogies: In Israel it is always a story of the same party hacks and military men, or their doppelgangers lacking imagination and vision.

These leaders, even if their candidacy is fresh, do not have any daring or ability to propose a message or innovations, and if they do have some sort of agenda, it's mostly obsolete and musty merchandise last relevant in the middle or beginning of the last century.

Let's put it this way: It doesn't exactly smell like teen political spirit when the agenda of the leading candidate in the opinion polls, Netanyahu, consists of ancient Revisionism and promises of "putting into the history books" not only Ze'ev Jabotinsky's political writings but also the "don't give an inch" heritage of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

(This week Netanyahu defined this as "a fundamental plank in the heritage on which we must educate our children.") Perhaps this is akin to "the bedrock of our existence" found under the Western Wall Tunnel.

The other candidates, who are trying to be considered "centrists," are resting on two other fundamental planks which for some reason are considered consensual if not winning cards: "security experience" and "the unity of Jerusalem." Generations of leaders in Israel have learned to strum these withered strings, and now they are playing these tunes again without noticing how much these sounds have lost their effectiveness and attractiveness.

The halo of the "security background" after the Second Lebanon War and the disengagement isn't what it used to be, and as for united Jerusalem - now even Jerusalem goody-goodies know how hollow this declared "unity" is, as is the alleged urban vibrancy of this half-ultra-Orthodox, half-Arab city.

But different agendas or messages simply aren't much in stock these days - not a single candidate is prepared to let it cross his lips. (Except perhaps Barak, who here and there dares to say true things having to do with Jerusalem and things in general. But look how low the ratings are in this country for this sort of reality).

Nevertheless, everyone wants to be an Obama, only without the message, hope and innovation. However is it exclusively their fault - or the fault of our side in the conflict - that there is no longer much demand for innovation and hope in our region? Our leaders are selling us old junk, but the region we live in isn't exactly the Galeries Lafayette, either.

This week three former prime ministers gathered to pay their respects to Shamir on the publication of a book about him and his legacy.

Each of them praised - through his own personal filter - the determination, refusal to compromise and "stony," "rocklike" staunchness of the man who thwarted any movement toward peace and who coined the phrase "the Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea."

They may have admitted in this that in Israel even if someone starts out as Obama, we end up with the same Shamir and the same stones and rocks. And this in the rare case of a happy end.