Let’s say we choose a contractor to do renovations on our home. The man arrives with warm recommendations, convinces us of his skills, fairness and industriousness, and we’re convinced that on the appointed day he’ll roll up his sleeves and start the job. But when the day comes, we hear a faint knock at the door and our friend − with a look of disgust on his face − tells us that not only has he suffered from bronchitis since childhood and that he’s allergic to dust, he has a phobia about building sites. In general, he says, he hates to do renovation work, and besides, he has tickets to the ballet.
That’s the kind of impression left by opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s interview with Yedioth Ahronoth last week. With sincerity and candor, she confessed how she finds political activity − with its lies, intrigues and efforts − repulsive, and how much she’d like all that to be “behind her.” (After she fulfills at the same time her missions of “being elected” and “achieving peace and security.”) Only then will her soul be able to rest, since right now “my soul is not in the right place” − in other words, it’s in politics.
Honesty and candor are heartwarming characteristics, but they’re not the only things that won Livni a big personal victory in the last elections. Her victory was due in part to the hope that she could defeat two axioms of Israeli politics. The first is that only a person with a killer instinct can become prime minister − someone with an obsession for the job, an unconstrained cynic, someone with a moderate dose of brutality.
The second is that anyone who can’t stand the heat must stay out of the political kitchen. So Livni’s rise to power was accompanied by the hope that this brutal mentality could be exchanged for integrity and a refined, subtler, sharper intelligence. With this in mind, her confession that she finds politics despicable is in itself a kind of defeat if not an admission of deception.
This is not merely the defeat of Tzipi Livni since, most regretfully or ironically, the public that voted for her can identify with this confession, perhaps more than with anything else she has done. After all, politics seems to most of us about as attractive as diving into a cesspool. But unlike Livni, we didn’t volunteer to do so while presenting ourselves as fit for the task.
And it’s sad to think that Livni is not alone. Other elected officials, particularly from the moderate center to the left, often express similar reservations − other delicate souls who pride themselves on saying “I am not a politician” as a kind of aside. It’s as if it’s not for them, these versatile people, to be mere politicians − to go to meetings, legislate, vote, sweat, manipulate and devise strategy.
On the other hand, just take a look at the diligent and smart politicians of the right − coalition chairman Zeev Elkin, MK Yariv Levin and others who bombard us with pro-settlement and theocratic legislation. How they love what they’re doing! How creative they are! You can also see how much their junior colleagues enjoy politics. No political action that will help them push their point of view through is too humiliating for them.
And if you say this is no big deal, they have a majority among the public − that’s not quite true. The settler community is a lot smaller than that supposedly represented by the center-left. But parliamentary strength is often the product of creative political leveraging.
In a paraphrasing of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to his ministers
about Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, (“Be Kahlons!” ), someone should tell our politicians: If you are already there, be Elkins, or don’t go into politics at all. If your soul isn’t in it, it’s a shame for you to waste your time. And it’s even more of a shame to waste ours.