An Unfortunate Nation: Israel in the Post-political Era

The roots of the disconnect between citizens and their representatives are far in the Zionist past. Today, they sprawl comfortably alongside the power from above: big business and the army.

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From left: Defense Minster Moshe Ya'alon, incoming Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, incoming Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan and outgoing Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
From left: Defense Minster Moshe Ya'alon, incoming Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, incoming Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan and outgoing Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.Credit: IDF Spokesperson

The political crisis in Israel — “governability” or “corruption” — is mainly a paradise for a political elite. A few hundred people ostensibly represent millions, with or without the right to vote, who have no chance of proper representation and the most they can hope for is some decent corruption that will offer them a better life. The parties have thrown off one heavy burden, the need to derive legitimacy from their members and voters throughout the entire term. The questions we will vote on are written by advertising experts. “Left” will continue to be a derogatory term, even though it isn’t clear what is “left” in the space between Tzipi Livni and the revolutionary thinkers on Facebook.

After the election the new MKs will bring in consultants and connect with their people in local government, in social welfare organizations, in nongovernmental organizations receiving Israeli or foreign funding, in the media and in the army. The next batch of MKs will also come from these ranks, from organizations to which they were not elected democratically but which they headed or commanded or whose organizational ladder they climbed up, the chain of command and obeyed, and they will practice democracy as though they were raised in a culture of representation.

We don’t have a House of Lords. Those who retire won’t disappear. Some will join the economic elite, others will serve on the boards of public companies and NGOs or found charities or organizations promoting peace, or security, or both. Some will appear on television as complacent commentators. Such is Israeli political society. There is no big difference between parties that have primaries and dictatorial parties. In both cases, a very small group of hangers-on hopes to be represented by “its” MKs.

The money to be distributed by the next batch of MKs will largely remain a mystery. The defense budget will remain beyond the ken of the vast majority. The hundreds of millions for the settlements will remain secret, in spite of MK Stav Shafir. No genuine misery will be seen, except in highly publicized sessions with people from charities that, because they depend on this elite for funds, are mainly in charge of preserving the status quo. They shout for the record and the camera or settle for one-on-one lobbying. These are the ruins of the welfare state.

Yes, there are differences between left and right, and shadings within the right. Not everyone is corrupt. Not everyone will join the coalition. But all is ruled by a shrunken state, to the delight of the neoliberals. The power of multinational wealth — spreads. The democratic facade, always local, celebrates only on social media, themselves a clear product of the neoliberal order.

Anyone who tries to mar the past by means of “nominating committees” fails to comprehend legitimacy from party members: members’ and voters’ trust in political intentions, in the platform, in the institution. As noted, all the parties have freed themselves of the obligation to maintain voters’ trust for the entire term. And because in a democracy, legitimacy comes from the people, every few years we have a war. The nation is called to take an active role in destroying the enemy, domestic or foreign. Israeli violence erupts in this manner because most of the time Israelis have neither power nor influence, like snakes in winter.

The roots of this disconnect between citizens and their representatives are far in the Zionist past. The majority of Jews voted in Eastern Europe, the minority were the hardscrabble pioneers in Palestine — but the representatives, the leaders of the Yishuv (the pre-State Jewish community) went between London and New York. This gap, between the masses of immigrants and those “representatives” widened up until the 1950s, and today they sprawl comfortably alongside the power from above: big business and the army. The Palestinian “demon” and the obligation to be loyal to the nation, in other words the settlements, will always be added into the mix. The front-line emergency room in distant Kiryat Shmona will remain a kind of metaphor for Israeli politics in the post-political era. An unfortunate nation.

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