Plane Trip to Nowhere

Did the Israeli voters care to know anything about the candidates who stood in the shadows behind their party leaders?

The world is holding its breath: Is Naftali Bennett, head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, in or out? The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. One moment it swings in the direction of Habayit Hayehudi being included in the coalition government that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also leader of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, is seeking to form. However, the next moment the pendulum swings in the direction of Bennett's party being left out in the cold.

Everything depends on Sara. Although the leader of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu has announced that he wants as broad a coalition as possible, the limits of his options are apparently influenced by what his wife thinks. Thus, the national election that was held here last week has taken on an unprecedented, absurd character.

In most instances, the voters did not show much interest in the platforms or worldviews of the competing political parties. Nor did their voting reflect organizational or partisan loyalties. Primarily, they voted for specific individuals. The election campaign focused on the leaders of the rival political parties. The voters cast their ballot for Netanyahu, Tzipi (Livni, chairperson of the Hatnuah party ), Shelly (Yacimovich, chairperson of the Labor Party ) or Yair (Lapid, chairperson of the Yesh Atid party ).

OK, so the voters did not bother about such things as ideology, but did they care to know anything about the candidates who stood in the shadows behind their party leaders? The voters seemed to be totally unaware of the respective identities of these "candidates in the wings." Thus, for example, the public attached little relevance to the identity of any of those candidates who stood in Bennett's shadow. (The faces and positions of two candidates from his party, Orit Strock and Jeremy Gimpel, were exposed only in Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu campaign broadcasts or by the press. ) Similarly, the public showed little interest in the identity of those who marched behind Lapid or Yacimovich.

It was only after the election, when the festive victory photographs were taken, that Israel's citizens became acquainted with the people they had voted for. Now the faces and names of people who up until that moment had been by and large unknown to the general public suddenly came into focus. People from Yesh Atid such as Yoel Razbozov, Lapid's judo instructor; Rena Frankel, an employment bureau official from Nahariya; and Dov Lipman, a rabbi and educator from Beit Shemesh. Or people from Habayit Hayehudi such as Zvulun Kalfa, secretary of Kibbutz Shomria, and Avi Wortzman, an educator and Deputy Mayor of Be'er Sheva. All in all, 47 names.

Most of these people who, as already noted, were unknown figures to the general public and who were elected to Israel's parliament as representatives of a variety of parties, will constitute more than a third of Knesset members. It must be admitted that this is a bizarre application of the rules of the game of democracy: A country that elects its legislators without really knowing who they are, without demanding to see their credentials and their positions on key issues.

The election campaign was so weird that when former Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, who had already announced that he was bowing out of political life, was rumored to be considering running at the head of his own political party, the media lost no time in publicizing a survey according to which he could easily net at least 20 seats with his purported party. Do you, my readers, realize what this means? Although Kahlon had not even declared his decision to present his candidacy and although, after making such a declaration, he would have needed 80,000 votes to gain entry into the Knesset, the public was signaling to him (according to the survey ) that, quick as a flash, he could also bring 19 other candidates (representing 550,000 voters ) with him into parliament.

The public did not care a fig about who would be in the party Kahlon reportedly would establish, or about its platform or the identity of its members. The public was willing to grant this popular cabinet minister (whose popularity stemmed from his successfully lowering mobile phone rates ) 20 tickets of admission to the Knesset and to allow Kahlon and the members of his party to do whatever they please as legislators.

In such an electoral environment, Netanyahu refrained from presenting his party's platform to the voters. Similarly, the leaders of the other parties did not more than brandish empty campaign slogans and hollow promises. It is now apparent that even those who voted for Netanyahu did not hit the bull's eye; they should actually have aimed for the party his wife, Sara, really wanted to see in the coalition.

Now what does all this say about Israel as a mature society?