Israel Transformed From Democracy to an Oligarchy

Those who are on the sidelines and are forced to wait their turn have only been able to substantiate half of their claims - that the current leaders are unworthy.

A lieutenant colonel reservist in the Israeli Air Force brought his car to a halt and rolled down the window, the morning after Shaul Mofaz deserted the opposition and joined the government. "Why do they lie to us like this?" he asked. "These are our commanders, people who demand complete accountability, and who send us out to battle." Then he drove on to his job in a security factory, where he produced another war weapon.

Tomorrow, at the Hatzor base, Amir Eshel will take the reins of command at the IAF, replacing Ido Nechushtan. Superiors (the Chief of Staff and government ministers ), peers (major generals ) and subordinates expect that the IAF commander will act with integrity, disclose nothing but the truth, not conceal hard facts and refrain from issuing empty promises. A pilot or air force technician would be ousted and jailed were he to act in the duplicitous manner adopted by the political leadership, those heads of state who are in charge of the army. When the government is constituted of lies, and more lies, every soldier, and every civilian, is entitled to doubt the set of calculations that motivate fateful policy decisions.

Since last week, Israel has been governed by an oligarchy. These are self-styled lords of the manor who have power over civil and military sectors, and share the spoils of rule between themselves. The subjects can talk, but have no influence. Israel has been transformed from the only democracy in the region, to a democracy where power is held by only a few. Nothing will change during the next national elections, which have been postponed.

One damaging result of the widely-felt disillusionment and sense of helplessness to do anything about the politicians' machinations is the rise of apathy. Voter turnout, which could have been a palpable reflection of social ferment and protest, is liable to decline. Many citizens, perhaps more than ever before, sense that there is no point in casting ballots. They have trouble identifying with any of the existing parties, whose leaders will strike alliances at the conclusion of the elections, to divvy up the spoils of power.

The most effective device wielded by the leaders to preserve their hegemony is the cooling-off laws, the rules barring discharged IDF officers and retired security officials from entering public service for defined periods of time. The idea behind this law is to prevent top IDF officers and security figures from taking their future political careers into account in a way that prejudices their judgment while they serve in sensitive positions. The old situation which enabled officers to leap into politics just a few months, weeks or even hours (as in Ezer Weizman's case ) after they left the army was insufferable.

Now the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction, with cooling-off schemes mandating a three-year waiting period, or forcing a discharged officer to wait for the second election season after he leaves the army. These ideas are erroneous. They leave on the sidelines a capable crew of people who could contribute to civilian life; instead of serving the country in new roles, such people will be forced to sit on the national bench for several full seasons.

Those who are legislating the waiting period rule are politicians who would not have become ministers or MKs during the past two decades, had their own new rules prevailed at the time. These lawmakers have prevented future rivals from running for office, but they can't stop them from speaking out. The waiting period is not solitary confinement, and it encourages derailed, would-be politicians to shout out from the sidelines. In fact, the fact that they are suspended lends credibility to their accusations and warnings: Nobody can say that such sidelined figures speak out of narrow self-interest, since they have no hope of running for office in the near future.

This is a group of sidelined figures who do not constitute one ideological bloc. They are not likely to end up in the same political party, and they have little in common other than revulsion for Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. Joining the group is Tzipi Livni, who has voluntarily imposed upon herself a waiting period. Their situation is akin to that of Yitzhak Rabin in politics, and Mordechai Gur in the army, in the fall of 1973: on the sidelines, they are ready to spring into action when the current leadership does its utmost to bring about a catastrophe. Netanyahu himself left the sidelines in 2002, as did Barak in 2007.

Those who are on the sidelines and are forced to wait their turn have only been able to substantiate half of their claims - that the current leaders are unworthy. Yet these politicians-in-waiting have yet to prove that they are different, and will not succumb to the temptation of stooping as low as a politician can possibly sink, in order to reach the pinnacle of power.

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