Leading Israel to Post-partisan Politics

Eithan Orkibi
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Lawmakers Gideon Sa'ar and Yair Lapid shake hands as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits behind last month.
Lawmakers Gideon Sa'ar and Yair Lapid shake hands as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits behind last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Eithan Orkibi

“I congratulate Gideon Sa’ar and the New Hope party, in honor of the first party convention,” was the celebratory tweet from Yair Lapid, who added: “Good partners create a good home.” How pleasant that Sa’ar will soon have a reason to congratulate his counterpart from Yesh Atid in return. Next month the first internal elections for the party leadership will take place, and Lapid will compete for his position as chairman in a free and open contest.

Two mature, experienced politicians are playing games of make-believe: They are assembling courts of advisers under a catchy name, and in order to endow these centralized PR groups with the appearance of a party, they are adding, after the fact, “party institutions,” henceforth: a convention. And the question is, why bother? After all, beyond the dry regulatory-legal definition, nobody deludes himself into believing that these are parties, in the profound and original sense of a collective organization for the purpose of fulfilling a shared ideological vision. Just the opposite: It’s an exit for advancing the personal ambitions of their founders.

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of Yesh Atid find it difficult to point to a diplomatic, economic or social vision that stems from a consolidated ideological identity. Lapid has yet to commit to a consistent and orderly viewpoint regarding one of the core issues of Israel’s political debate. He has surrounded himself with “worthy” figures, reasonably photogenic and with a “convincing record,” who are required in exchange to demonstrate loyalty and leave their worldview at home.

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Is there anyone, except for him, who believes that the coming election will reflect an expression of authentic confidence by a movement in his leadership or his “path”? That’s a joke. To Lapid’s credit it should be said that that’s how he entered politics: with distinct personal charisma – saccharine and populist, but still charisma – and waited for the day in which the stars aligned themselves somehow or other in favor of his initiative. His victory, if we can call it that, is not a victory of “a path,” but a successful strike by a political tactician with enough patience.

Sa’ar, in that sense, is a mimic, and not a particularly successful one. After despairing of the effort to mobilize support for leadership of Likud, he formed his own Yesh Atid – only without the personal charisma.

It’s true that the ideological identity of New Hope is less amorphous than that of Yesh Atid. Its members like to quote Ze’ev Jabotinsky and honor each other with the blessing of Tel Hai, but even the neo-Betar branding won’t blur the reason for the party’s existence, as explained by Haaretz journalist Yossi Verter a year ago: “To start a second Likud. Free of Bibi-ism … without phenomena like [David] Amsalem, [Miri] Regev, [Amir] Ohana, [Miki] Zohar, [Shlomo] Karhi and [Osnat] Mark.”

But that’s precisely the issue: Phenomena such as Amsalem, Regev and Ohana are what turn Likud into a party in the entrenched, important sense of an ideological organization, based on competitive participation and dialectics, with an active electorate, out of commitment to a distinct worldview.

Yesh Atid and New Hope don’t even begin to have such pretensions, and therefore institutions such as a party convention or internal elections are fake scenery designed to maintain an illusion of movement and commitment to a path without dirtying their hands. Or, according to Lapid: to create a pleasant feeling of good partners and a good home.

But there is no partnership and no home because the landlords flee from a polemical ideological discussion, and shy away from competitive partnership. They can be talented politicians as well as effective ministers, but that won’t change the basic fact: They are leading Israel to the post-party era, and even worse – to the post-ideological era. At their fake conventions there won’t be stormy debates as at the conventions of the Likud Central Committee that we tend to ridicule, but you will probably find vegetarian hotdogs there.

Dr. Orkibi teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ariel University.

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