Foreign Minister Yair Lapid gave journalist Ofira Asayag a description of what seems to be his view of the ideal “user experience” for Israelis in their role as citizens. “It seems to me that people are watching the news less,” he told her with satisfaction, as if he were nearing his goal. “The government isn’t a daily event in its citizens’ lives.”
It’s easy to understand what he’s getting at. Under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, politics became a reality show (Realitypolitik) and the Knesset almost turned into the house on “Big Brother.” Just like in a reality show, “colorful” characters were cast for the Knesset, people who created dramatic conflicts (Jewish-Arab, Ashkenazi-Mizrahi, secular-religious, etc.) for their audience of citizens/viewers.
In the era before reality TV, Amos Oz compared Netanyahu to a noisy compressor underneath your window. Lapid effectively told us, “Look, we turned off the compressor for you; here is the quiet you were longing for.”
He’s evidently proud of the fact that the government doesn’t intend to continue providing political entertainment. Instead, it seeks to provide political boredom – the “government of change” as a government of boredom. Now, it’s possible to go back to dealing with the truly important things, because the government is “working for its citizens.”
But what exactly are those issues that Israelis are supposed to busy themselves with while their government is “working” for them? And more importantly, what exactly is it working on that isn’t “a daily event in its citizens’ lives”? After all, the state decides life-and-death issues for people every day (such as Palestinians, asylum seekers, the poor, the sick, people with disabilities, but also soldiers).
The “citizens” Lapid envisions are apparently a very specific subsector of the Israeli population – those with a politically apathetic lifestyle (after all, they will do okay or better than that regardless of who’s in power). Now, a government has been established to which they can also be emotionally indifferent. It’s nothing like the Netanyahu government, which made noise under their windows.
From now on, they can earn a living, consume, fly overseas, and watch television series without all that business with Bibi and Bibism political culture. They can talk without screaming or using their hands.
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This government’s political eclecticism shows that Lapid merely gave voice to a desire shared by many Israelis. That was the strength – as well as the weakness – of the anti-Netanyahu protests. Those protests were apolitical – not in the sense that they were nonpolitical, but in the sense that they used political tools to promote the depoliticization of politics. Therefore, they were joined by people who had never demonstrated any interest in politics, whereas many very political people felt alienated from them.
However, Netanyahu’s politics shouldn’t be reduced to the political entertainment he provided as a way of controlling the masses. On the contrary, the protesters’ enemy is the most political person in Israel. Let us not forget that the “Netanyahu era” began with a political murder and ended with riots in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in what seems to be the beginning of a civil war. While the leader who was nurtured by the protests, Lapid, is the quintessential apolitical leader.
In his inaugural speech, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “what we agree on we’ll run with, and what divides us we’ll leave for another time.” But what Bennett and Lapid are both in denial about is that they aren’t the only ones setting the agenda; reality also has a say.
Two recent security incidents offer exemplifications of how reality breaks through the bounds that seek to contain it, whether it’s a pistol fired through a hole in the wall along Gaza or prisoners escaping from jail through a tunnel. The more afraid the Bennett-Lapid government is of real-life events that might endanger it, the more reality will keep trying to elude their grasp.
Public relations consultant Rani Rahav tweeted this week that “in a law-abiding state, people don’t escape from jail!” Rahav has an impressive ability to capture the stupidity of our times in all its glory. Lapid and Bennett must be careful not to allow this stupidity to become the key ingredient of their recipe for a politics-free politics.