Israel’s Political Drama Is Actually a Top TV Show

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launches his election campaign in Jerusalem, January 21, 2020.
Emil Salman

If we imagine the political system as the thyroid gland, which is responsible for producing hormones essential to our cells, we might say that three elections one right after the other are like a hyperactive thyroid. The excess production of political hormones could be the cause of the “disconnect” between the markets and politics that was noted by my Haaretz colleague Sami Peretz in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last week.

Peretz wondered – rightly – how it was possible that the economy didn’t responded negatively to the political crisis. The labor markets, the capital markets, the housing market and the shekel haven’t suffered; quite the contrary. At the same time, the political arena has become “the best performer of the year.” Peretz offered no clear explanation for the gap between the markets’ apathy to our political drama and the intense interest shown by the media and entertainment worlds.

The explanation might be that the body is smart. Three elections in a row impose on Israelis an endless campaign environment, but the state can’t allow itself to neglect its day-to-day activities in favor of a year of binge watching the Israeli version of “Borgen” or “House of Cards” until the elections finally produce a winner, God knows when.

So the systems take charge and work. One might say this is another face of the “deep state,” that “state within a state” that’s often accused of seeking to subvert the elected government. But now it seems the deep state has been running the country for the past year like an emergency generator during a political short circuit.

“The major markets are strong and stable, as if this political situation weren’t even happening here,” Peretz wrote. But the conclusion that Israelis don’t care about corruption or about all the other ills of the Netanyahu era, as long as they have security and can earn a decent living, doesn’t necessarily follow.

Instead, one might say this is actually the deep state’s shining moment. It has kept the markets stable and maintained security despite the corruption alleged against the person at the top, and even though our political institutions are mortally ill.

The disconnect that Peretz noted, coupled with the fact that the political system has become nothing more than a content provider, allows us to examine this content cold-bloodedly. Indeed, the “content package” that the politicians offered the viewing public last week could keep us all glued to the couch. But while a high level of excitement has been maintained from one news item to the next – with each producing sky-high ratings – this isn’t enough to affect our daily lives.

So what did we see on television last week? We saw an Arab Knesset member portrayed as plotting to plant herself as a delayed-action bomb in the parliament of the nation-state of the Jewish people and destroy the Jewish state from within via collaborators / Israel-haters / useful idiots from the left-wing Ashkenazi elites. (Though most likely, the High Court of Justice will justly reject the demand to disqualify her from running.)

We saw a so-called historic window open for the Jewish people because the world’s policeman is a colorful businessman willing to look the other way while Israel exploits this window and bursts in against international law to steal – sorry, “annex” – the Jordan valley. (But most likely, what hasn’t been annexed in the last 10 years won’t be annexed now).

We saw a Soviet takeoff on the movie “King Kong” in which an anonymous young woman from Israel is taken (political) hostage by the Russian bear who’s terrorizing the world. (And we’d better shut up lest we’re abducted, too).

And for dessert, we have Benjamin Netanyahu’s feast – an orgy of Holocaust with no heroism, featuring dozens of leaders from around the world who made their way to Jerusalem to gorge themselves and never forget who the chosen people are. But has anyone read the writing on the wall? No, we’re more interested in what’s written on Culture Minister Miri Regev’s hand.