Going Forward by Moving on

There wasn't even a press conference. MK Isaac Ben-Israel announced his resignation from the Kadima list for the Knesset into a tape recorder at a small cafe on the outskirts of Gush Dan Monday morning.

"I have decide not to run for the next Knesset," he said. "I have informed [Foreign Minister and Kadima party chair] Tzipi Livni that I request that my name be taken off the Kadima list because the political scene and the political system seem irremediable to me. In the existing situation, even if Kadima wins the election and I get into the Knesset I don't see what I could do there. Kadima was established, among other things, to change the rules of the political game in this country. But what has become clear is that the old politics are stronger than the attempt to create a different politics. Kadima has not succeeded in changing the rules of the game."

Maj. Gen. (res.) Isaac Ben-Israel is a mathematician, physicist and philosopher who became one of the most important officers in the Israel Defense Forces. Already a first lieutenant by the age of 23, he advised the commander of the air force, Brigadier General Benny Peled, during the Yom Kippur War. As a 31-year-old major he was one of the planners of the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq. Ben-Israel was awarded the Israel Prize in Security Studies twice, once for developing an aerial bombardment system and again for developing a strategic weapons system that has changed the way to fight.

In 2002 he was appointed head of the security studies program at Tel Aviv University and two years later he was appointed head of the Israeli Space Agency. At the end of 2005 he agreed to former prime minister Ariel Sharon's request and joined Kadima.

"When Arik [Sharon] called me in, he spoke about a new party, new ideas and a different politics," he said. "He did not want a party of petty politics but rather a party of excellence. Therefore, in addition to the 14 Knesset members from Likud and the three Knesset members from Labor, whom he brought as a dowry, he added Professor Uriel Reichman, Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson and me. Then he added Professor Shlomo Breznitz to us. Thus from the very beginning there were excellent people in Kadima - first and foremost Tzipi Livni - alongside people who had jumped on the bandwagon not because they wanted a different kind of politics but rather because they were looking out for their own interests.

"During the years that have passed we have been stricken by some of the plagues of Egypt. Sharon fell ill, Kadima did not win a decisive victory in the 2006 elections and the Second Lebanon War was dismally managed by the government. As a result of this Kadima did not have enough strength to implement its platform. However, throughout this period I was hoping that ultimately the quality people would be be moved forward and rise to the top while the people of lesser quality would sink down. What I have discovered in recent months is that the opposite is happening.

"The problem is not only a Kadima problem. It is also a problem of Labor and Likud. But I will give you a description of our situation. The cross-section of registered party members is entirely different from the cross-section of voters in the general election. I estimate that at least half of the 80,000 registered Kadima members are motivated by their own interests. Among the voters in the primaries, the proportion of voters who are motivated by specific interests comes to about 80 percent. The interests could be ethnic, local or personal. Sometimes this is legitimate and sometimes it isn't legitimate. Ultimately, however, the question that most voters in the primaries ask themselves is not who will extricate the country from its problems but rather who will serve my interest.

"If you were to ask the registered party members who is more suited to running the country, [Kadima MK] Yoel Hasson or Isaac Ben-Israel, I would get the vast majority. But when the question is who is more effective in promoting their interests, Yoel Hasson wins. Menachem Ben-Sasson and I get pushed down to the bottom of the list while [Minister Without Portfolio] Ruhama Avraham [Balila] and Yoel Hasson are at the top of the list because they are better wheeler-dealers. And this how the Knesset looks. The process of negative selection means that there is hardly any place for people of quality in a distorted political system that advances deal makers and fills up with party hacks.

"Personally, I have no problem. I have what to do in life. In a certain way, it is even a relief. But what worries me is the phenomenon. Notice that Reichman, Breznitz, Ben-Sasson and I have all been ejected from the Kadima Knesset faction. Tzipi Livni is an excellent person, intelligent and of high quality. She also understands the problem and is putting solving this problem at the top of her agenda. But even if the prime minister is an excellent individual, it is hard for him to function in an environment that isn't high quality. This is true with respect to Livni, with respect to [Defense Minister and Labor Party chair Ehud] Barak and with respect to [opposition leader Likud MK Benjamin] Netanyahu. All three of them are far better than their Knesset factions but all three of them will have difficulty governing if they are surrounded by the same uninteresting people whom the system rewards.

"During my two years in politics I have learned that there are two ways to get ahead: to make promises to the people who have interests and to engage in unrestrained media exposure. The networks of interests are one problem but the media are another problem, a problem that is just as serious. Is there anyone who knows what Ruhama Avraham Balila's opinions are on the issues of security and the economy? No one knows because no one has bothered to ask. The newspapers write gossip and don't write about fundamentals. They are occupied by the esoteric, the sensational and the piquant. They do not take an interest in achievements and content but rather in politics and celebrity. Therefore not only do the networks of interests in the political parties corrupt politics, the media also corrupts politics in a fundamental way. The shallowness of the media contributes to the process of the decline of the Israeli spirit. The dilution of the spirit of both the leaders and the governing institutions.

"What brought Hitler to power wasn't the inflation. What brought him to power was the loss of faith in the Weimar democracy and its leadership. If there is an issue that is worrying me today more than anything else, it is this issue. I see a Weimar-type crisis of confidence developing in Israel. I see the public losing faith in the government, the Knesset, the media, the court, the army and the police. This lack of confidence is devastating. It is a snowball that is growing in size. There are very good people in this country but the very good don't go into politics. They don't even become registered party members, they don't participate actively in the democratic process. The result is that those who rise to the top are people whose strength is in wheeling and dealing or in the media. In the end, these people become cabinet ministers. And then, even though the prime minister himself is a person of quality, he is dependent on people who are of high quality.

"[United States president-elect Barack] Obama has just tapped a Nobel Prize laureate for energy secretary. Could it happen that here a Nobel Prize laureate would be national infrastructure minister? We have Nobel Prize winners. We have talents of the first rank. But the parties and the media, the wheeling and dealing and the superficiality, are causing it to happen that these talents are not involved in the top echelons of government. They are not participating in determining the country's fate. Therefore the state's performance is far below the ability of the aggregate of its citizens.

"During the two years I have been in the Knesset I have realized that the dilution of the intellect and the spirit in government is our number one problem. The real strategic threat to Israel is the situation in the political arena. This threat is more dangerous than the Iranian bomb or the economic crisis. If there is not quality government and there is not confidence in the government, we will not be able to deal with the external threats, all of which have a solution. If we repair the system there will be no problem that we won't be able to solve. But if the government continues to concern itself with image and not with content, with interests and not with policy, we will get a post-modern government that functions in face of existential threats the way we functioned in the Second Lebanon War and the way we are functioning in face of Gaza.

"We will get a country that isn't run like a state but rather like a reality show that makes ["Big Brother" runner-up Yossi] Boublil a national hero. My conclusion as I leave active politics after a year and a half in the Knesset is that immediately after the elections we have to change the electoral system and the system of governance. It's impossible to go on this way any longer. The giddiness in the systems and the dilution of governance are disastrous for us. The current state of affairs is untenable."