The Pale Sister of a Smile

Let it be stressed again: Amram Mitzna is not the disease, nor even a symptom of it. He is only the allergic rash that indicates both of them. The symptom is addiction to instant leaders, media stars for a moment.

To remove all doubt: Amram Mitzna, the mayor of Haifa and newly-declared candidate for leadership of the Labor Party, is a nice man. The Hebrew he speaks is quite good. The few positions he has revealed so far are likable. And he has a beard. It could be that had he been patient, made a bit of effort at the party branches and got into the Knesset and then, say, been a minister (Health? Social Affairs?) and only afterward decided to run for prime minister - it would have been possible to discern whether or not he is suited for the job.

But how can we relate seriously to someone who says that in times like these the lack of experience is an advantage? Who would put his health into the hands of a doctor who has not completed medical school but takes pride in his charisma, or put the planning of his house into the hands of an architect who has never laid the foundations of a building, but takes pride in his wonderful creativity? The first will argue that medicine has declined, that the doctors are corrupt and that he is bringing with him a breath of fresh air, and the second - that everything that has been built thus far in Israel is ugly, and that it is worth giving a chance to someone who knows nothing.

The episode of Mitzna, who won sweeping support in the public opinion polls even before he opened his mouth (and it turns out that 75 percent of his supporters have no idea what his opinions are), could have been funny had it not represented a worrying phenomenon. Let it be stressed again: Mitzna is not the disease, nor even a symptom of it. He is only the allergic rash that indicates both of them. The symptom is addiction to instant leaders, media stars for a moment. The disease is the herd behavior and profound, impatient despair of the camp that comprises those who vote for the Labor Party and the changing satellites of the center, from Democratic Movement for Change to the Third Way and the Center Party.

The less the star of the moment's followers know about him, the more enthusiastic they are about him. The formula - vagueness, not commitment, suited to every man and all seasons - is standard and Mitzna, like Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Ami Ayalon and others, repeats its two essential components.

The first component, as the new candidate sees it, is making the terminal diagnosis: Corruption has destroyed everything good in politics, people do not have anything to eat, terror is striking at us ceaselessly - in short, the state is done for, or falling into the abyss, and people are not smiling and they do not have hope. The second component, which goes along with the first, is supplying the saving remedy. The candidate himself is the remedy and the solution lies in the fact of his personality: I will bring the smile back to people's faces, or the hope; I am not part of the old politics, I will speak in a new language. Why? Because I am clean and nice. I happen to be a general - but one who pursues peace. And I also understand what you want.

Of course he understands, say the disciples of Mitzna-Shahak-Ayalon, bright-eyed with yearning. He is one of us. Not like Fuad (Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, current chairman of the Labor Party), who speaks with the accent of Jews from the Muslim countries, and not like all those Shasniks, that terrible disaster that has somehow taken over all the government ministries. This good fellow understands that we want things put right fast, bang-bang and we won. Just like former prime minister Ehud Barak, when he asked forgiveness from the Jews with origins in the Muslim countries and thought that was enough to close the gaps, and when he offered the Palestinians a total agreement within 24 hours.

The left, which argues scornfully about the right that "even if they put a broomstick at the head of the Likud, they'd vote for it," is acting in exactly the same way, if not worse.

The new messianism has parallels on the right. In this way former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded in taking the Likud by storm, and in this way the National Religious Party has fallen captive to a newly-pious visionary general. In all cases the starved disciples dream of a supposedly new order, and in fact are basking in the notion of an old, secure and familiar world. All the stars du jour represent values that are outdated, and their style is battered and embarrassing. Netanyahu marketed the bedrock of our existence, Eitam is hawking the Messiah's donkey who will carry out transfer and Mitzna is selling hope, the pale sister of Shahak's smile.

The dangerous part of this messianism, which operates by the laws of television ratings and does not make a move without the advice of media and image consultants, lies in the worsening addiction and the need that it conceals. Like every false enchantment, the new messiahs also fail and vanish as if they had never been. Most of them do this even before they have managed to reach the government compound. And like every addict, the public that consumes these false enchantments needs a faster and stronger overdose each time, and the intervals at which the new messiahs appear grow shorter.

But these are just warm-up performances. The intensifying need for a total leadership, which will change the harsh reality with the wave of a hand, leads to the murkiest realms of political shortcuts. Mitzna is definitely not this dangerous individual, but in his pathetic statement that his personality is the solution to everything - he is adding a supporting pillar to the dubious legitimization of the real strongman. Of Mitzna himself, like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat of which only the smile remained, apparently only the beard will remain.