A Brief History of Israel’s Political Drama

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Giant inflatable heads of Benjamin Netanyahu, left, Ayelet Shaked and now-former politicians Moshe Kahlon and Avi Gabbay.

This will sound strange but I’ve developed a literary fondness for all the characters in our ongoing political saga, even for those I “hate.” Maybe the reason is the density of seminal events over the past two years that lend themselves more to literature than reality. It’s a density we know from the events leading up to a big war and its developments, as recorded in history books and films.

Try to place on the time line everything that happened in Israel: four jam-packed elections in less than two years and everything this implies for the political drama. And if this weren’t enough to conjure up more than enough heroes, supporting characters, conflicts and ethical dilemmas, weaving around them a plot and numerous subplots, the author added a criminal investigation against the prime minister that led to indictments and a trial. It starred Roni Alsheich as the sly police commissioner and Avichai Mendelblit as the enigmatic attorney general.

At the same time, a pandemic broke out, without even mentioning what happened around the world or the “superhero” Donald Trump.

The affection for the protagonists is linked to the feeling that you know them, almost intimately. We’ve been through so much together, and the political goings on were and still are so intense, and ultimately – we have to admit – we’re all human beings, largely trying to do our best and always subject to external and internal forces that drive us.

In the movie “Chinatown” it was said that “politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” Let’s sit in Tel Aviv’s (ugly) Atarim Square and get all nostalgic, because where can we find people like they used to have in Likud and the National Religious Party of yore?

Just for the mental exercise, try to answer quickly (no Googling) which parties ran in the first of the four elections, in April 2019, who headed which and how well they did. Cross your heart: Did you remember that Avi Gabbay, who was crucified because he dared agree that the left had forgotten what it was to be Jewish, led Labor, which won six seats?

Did you remember that Moshe Kahlon headed the Kulanu party, which won four seats? You have to admit that in retrospect the advice “Be Kahlons” turned out to be a kind of curse Benjamin Netanyahu casts on gifted Likud politicians who threaten him. Be Kahlons; that is, jump for the brass ring and crash-land on reality’s floor.

Do you remember that Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, who this round was touted for weeks as a possible prime minister until Gideon Sa’ar appeared with his New Hope party, didn’t cross the electoral threshold? And that Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan won the same number of Knesset seats as Likud, 35?

To me, Gabbay is a character who belongs to another historical era, before it all happened. But what exactly happened? Does everything that happens really have to do with Netanyahu’s trial? Or is it merely a chain reaction to the explosion in the right-wing bloc between Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu?

Is the tension between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular community the energy pressing from underneath the surface – and above it – during the past year? Did the inter-ethnic tension bog down Israeli politics? Was Miri Regev’s appointment as culture minister in 2015 the meltdown point of Israel’s political reality and the outlook on Netanyahu?

Is the occupation the root of all evil, and so denial of it (during the Trump years) has blocked Israeli politics? Could the skeleton in the Israeli closet be the Nakba, which is now bursting into the Israeli reality via candidate Ibitsam Mara’ana on the Labor ticket? Or is it Netanyahu himself – his personality, his image – the reason of all reasons? To be continued.

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