Ghost of 2015 Election Season: Israeli Politics Needs to Fill the Void

We’re surrounded by politicians spouting empty slogans about governance, corruption and the high cost of living. It’s time they fleshed out this ghost content.

 Merav Alush Levron
Merav Alush Levron
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PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Jan. 5, 2014.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Jan. 5, 2014.Credit: Dudu Bachar
 Merav Alush Levron
Merav Alush Levron

The launch of the 2015 election season produced a collection of effects and myths that are just like the “ghost events” French philosopher Jean Baudrillard spoke of. Everything is dead and yet resurrected. We have already seen the bit about “governance,” with Netanyahu, and also before him. “Get out, corrupt politicians” has always played a starring role; we met the high cost of living in 2013, and, together with the fight against the monopolies, it has become a political brand that is desired by at least three parties.

But what about the content of the things, the “meaning” itself? What about the real, tangible aspects that are swallowed up in the flood that the branding consultants create for us?

Baudrillard said that simulacra symbolized the loss of the distinction between the representative and the real – practically speaking, the loss of the “political.” It was convenient to show this loss, succinctly, in the lighthearted presentation of politicians’ selfies. Take a photograph for the sake of a photograph, presentation for the sake of presentation, which replaces that essence. A moment in which form is immortalized for form’s sake, the “political” erased. But the truth is that the great failure does not lie in the selfie. Instead, it lies in the details that are hidden from view.

In the 2013 election, Yair Lapid – more than anyone – represented the power of “hyperreality,” in which a flow of visual images was presented as more real than reality itself. He gave his virtual vision an imaginary validity that carried him straight into the Finance Ministry, on the back of Mrs. Riki Cohen from Hadera – another representation that blurred the distinction between the copy and the original.

But Lapid is not along in the representations game. The public itself is so invested, it cannot even tell that it exists.

Whirling about in the air of this hyperreality are slogans such as governance, corruption, monopolies, the high cost of living and the housing shortage, national unity, united Jerusalem, and peace and hope. To keep them from becoming “ghost content,” the public needs to receive more.

Anyone who talks about peace must explain what his plan is, and how he intends to overcome the obstacle of Jerusalem and the problem of the right of return. Anyone who talks about fighting the monopolies must say clearly which of them he plans to “deal with,” and provide the timetable for breaking them up.

In a situation where elections have been moved up, the deadline is of supreme importance. Does any politician want to break up the Tnuva food company? Or Strauss, one of its competitors? If so, let him include that as part of his platform and as one of his conditions for joining the coalition.

“We will resolve the housing crisis.” Excellent! Are you in favor of construction by the state (not by building contractors) within six months, at most? What about the narrowing of socioeconomic gaps? Legislate an inheritance tax, and post the text of the proposed bill on Facebook. Are you opposed to it? Give us an explanation.

Socioeconomic gaps? Indeed. But the fight against the monopolies is not relevant to salary inequality, and the revenue from taxing capital should have reached the public, whose wallet is being exploited directly. Where has that revenue gone? To the settlements. Are you in favor of them? Opposed to them? Both at once?

And we have not even mentioned the collapse of the welfare state, public housing, health care and jobs. Nor have we mentioned the change in areas of jurisdiction and the transfer of municipal property tax and land from the controllers of land in the regional councils to the stifled outlying towns. Nobody has done so much as come up with a slogan about it.

In the flood of images bare of content, a video produced by Habayit Hayehudi opposing same-sex marriage stood out. Its leader, Naftali Bennett, is no innocent when it comes to reality shows, but the ongoing erosion of democratic politics contributed to the blossoming of a near-fascist ideology that states its “real content” without pretense.

This is why we need an ongoing debate about “the political” that will be penetrating, meticulous and invasive. Day by day, hour by hour. Until the moment of elections and afterward, without bias.

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