Opinion

Israel's Political Scene Is Drowning in the Drama

Firings on live TV, dramatic press conferences and changes in the polls have become the focus of political reporting – our own version of America under Trump

Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni at a press conference, Jerusalem, January 1, 2019.
Emil Salman

He showed her, that Avi Gabbay. He made Tzipi Livni sit there and be fired on live television. It’s not me, it’s you – a display of violent power that was all weakness. Gabbay had been hurt, so he put her down. Another moment of coarse politics. Another drama for the political reporters.

In this drama the personal was political; it was planned by politicians and advisers who sketched out the boundaries, timetable and effect. The firing lets Gabbay give Labor Party politicians a chance to make it into the Knesset because there will be no spots on the slate for Livni’s Hatnuah.

The timing: Two days after the deadline for being able to spin off a new party and still receive party funding. Behind the insult and humiliation it was basically take the money and run. Industrial peace and funding calculations were marketed as a tragedy of ego and control.

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Zionist Union didn’t break up because of ideological differences of opinion; for that you have to have opinions. It’s hard to guess what the party’s opinion is about the nation-state law, for example, or asylum seekers. The time has passed when efforts are made to give cold political calculations meaningless ideological cover. Now we have live soap operas. Characters instead of ideas.

This is even more the case with Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett breaking off from Habayit Hayehudi on the last day to avoid taking on some of their former party’s debt. We’re finished with the Bezelal Smotriches – those right-wing religious Zionists – they hinted, and didn’t bother to conceal the fraud when they said they’d join up with Habayit Hayehudi after the election. This won’t follow them to the polls, just like the debts of their former party. The drama is stronger.

Drama has always played a role in politics, but it’s hard to remember a time when it was so tailored to the audience’s taste. Donald Trump, an excellent example of the genre, has turned the White House into a dizzying platform of resignations, firings, lies and caustic remarks. Whether we watch with admiration or anger, the point is we’re watching.

Politics is apparently the only field where a person is on a continuous employment interview. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But politics is turning into a reality show. Musical chairs, lies, manipulations or simply getting rid of people is no longer considered a candidate's flaw, it’s just a character trait.

In this drama, Likud’s Ayoub Kara is comic relief, not a minister responsible for a complex portfolio linked to a bribery case. Benjamin Netanyahu is a modern Job or Nabal, but whatever the task may be, there’s no need to present a platform or keep one’s promises.

Benny Gantz can soar to 15 seats in the polls without saying a word. Borne on the wings of disgust with Netanyahu and despair over the other candidates, he’s at his best when he’s Schrodinger’s Gantz – whatever you want him to be at a given moment. It works because no one is insisting that it be different, and because changes in the polls have become the focus of political reporting.

On the same day Zionist Union broke up, MK Dov Khenin, a former Knesset colleague of mine to the left, announced he wasn’t running for re-election. Khenin never generated drama, he just worked. He was an outstanding, committed, devoted and honest parliamentarian. His departure is a blow to the Knesset and to the struggles he led, but it was swallowed up by the noise of political explosions and staged emotions.

This noise will get louder as the election draws near. We’ll get all the drama we want. We’ll drown in it.