Opinion

Israel’s Summer Vacation From Political Lunacy

On December 24, at a meeting of the heads of the coalition parties, a decision was made to dissolve the 20th Knesset and hold an early election for the 21st Knesset on April 9. Yada yada yada, and the election for the 22nd Knesset will be held on September 17. That means a new government won’t be established, in the best-case scenario, until the middle of October. And that means around nine months with no legislative branch. Nine months without the deafening din of lawmaking.

De facto, Israel went on summer vacation from legislating. The gags of the high school students trapped in the bodies of the 60- and 70-somethings who are competing to be prime minister on the social networks can only be treated as symptoms of summer vacation boredom.

It’s hard to overstate the critical importance of this vacation. For some reason, Israel has been caught up in the fiction that being a Knesset member means passing as many laws as possible.

I’m not talking only about the attacks of passing anti-democratic laws of which the right-wing MKs are so fond. In general, MKs have expressed themselves by submitting bills, as many as possible as noisily as possible.

Just as it’s said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, it seems there’s no such thing as bad lawmaking, as long as people talk about you. The public has become a captive audience to a battle between the legislative and the judiciary branches over which is more activist. In that respect, it’s hard not to be impressed by the anarchistic message of the 21st Knesset. Wikipedia in Hebrew describes it as “the only Knesset that voted to dissolve itself before passing a single law (except the dissolution vote itself).” It was a genuine punk Knesset. I came, I saw, I dissolved myself.

The feeling of anarchy in the streets – the protest by Ethiopian Israelis, the protest against violence at day care centers, the burning of the home of the day care teacher and even the assault on the political activist Jonathan Pollak – isn’t detached from the political context. Something of the energy on social media, of the shaming and the violence that can’t be traced, has spilled out onto the street. People have begun to take the law into their own hands, literally.

Something strange is happening in Israel. It’s hard not to attribute it to the prime minister’s legal situation. The fish stinks from the head. There’s a sense that all the talk about Netanyahu’s prosecutorial persecution has lost some of its momentum. Israelis have taken a break from the corruption cases against the prime minister. No one has the patience for it anymore. It seems everyone is passing the time, from one election to the next, until the hearings and the start of the trial, or the closure of the investigations, whatever happens as long as it happens already.

The current election season is also a bit odd. At this stage of the relationship, what can the candidates tell the voters that the voters don’t already know?

We all know each other. Do Benny Gantz and his gang really have to break their silence for us to know exactly what they’re made of and what they’re capable of, for good and for bad? Do Israelis really need to hear about Ehud Barak one more time to know who he is? Does the public need Amir Peretz to publish his agenda for the Labor Party? Is there something that Nitzan Horowitz has to tell us for us to know Meretz’s values?

Not to mention Netanyahu and Likud. Summer vacation is at its height and the entire country is sitting around outside. It’s like in high school: Everybody knows exactly who’s who, and everybody has his or her clique. The school year starts again in September, everybody’s assigned to a class.

Ethiopian Israeli mothers in a protest against police brutality, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 8, 2019.
Moti Milrod