Much has been said and written about the stupendously cynical establishment of a unity government in Israel earlier this week. I don’t intend repeating what has already been said, but there are two points that I think are worth making.
(Background for the uninitiated: Kadima, the official opposition, has joined Netanyahu’s coalition, creating a ruling bloc that controls 80% of the seats in the Knesset. The move, which was cooked up in secret, came as the country was preparing for early elections and despite repeated public statement by Shaul Mofaz, the new leader of Kadima, that he would never join the coalition.)
The first point is that the process that led up to the establishment of the new coalition was corrupt and therefore the coalition is illegal. Mofaz is on record as proclaiming, while the secret negotiations were underway, that he would never join the coalition. In other words, he lied. In addition, Mofaz will gain material benefits – a ministerial salary and other perks – from joining the coalition.
Misinforming the public to gain material benefit is a corrupt practice and is illegal. Sure, it is also cynical, hypocritical and all the rest, but, above all, it is illegal. Politicians in a democracy, even one as debased as Israel’s, are not allowed to lie to the public in order to enrich themselves. That is exactly what Mofaz did. It is the time for the law, such as it is, to step in and do its job.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation as being Netanyahu’s lackey. He was, after all, the person who just last week represented the government in its defiance of a Supreme Court ruling and had the hutzpah to go back to the court and ask it to rule again. (Which, to its credit, the court refused to do.) I’m not sure if the man has any dignity left at all. But if he does, he will freeze the formal swearing-n of the coalition and order the police to investigate Mofaz on suspicion of corruption.
The second point regards the tsunami of outrage and surprise that greeted the announcement of the unity government. Outrage I can understand, but surprise? Are we really surprised that such a thing can happen?
When I look into the mirror these days, I’m pretty outraged by what I see. But I’m not surprised; I know very well who I am looking at. Likewise in democratic politics. The government is the mirror of the people – and, with 80% of the Knesset now in the ruling coalition, Israel’s unity government is a particularly faithful reflection of who we are. We have no reason to feign surprise when we witness their antics.
Like Mofaz, Netanyahu and associates, Israeli society as a whole is hypocritical, devious and dishonest. We ignore what we don’t want to see, disregard rules and regulations if they don’t suit us, lie whenever we think we can get away with it and get deeply – and very loudly – insulted when we get caught out. We are, in short, a self-serving and immature tribe with only a veneer of social cohesion.
The Hebrew vernacular for the political maneuver that created the unity government is kombina (ruse is the closest English equivalent I can think of) and the kombina is a time-honored Israeli tradition. Everybody has a kombina or two; it’s the way we get around the niceties – not to mention the legalities – of civilized existence. It’s how we cope with the unbearable constraints imposed on our freedom to do whatever the fuck we want to do by communal living. As my friend Mikey Eilan puts it, we are still living in the shtetl, with all its intrigues and shifting allegiances.
Just last weekend, three people in Israel were killed in separate stabbing incidents. Media commentators expressed their shock at such random violence and brutality. Why are we all so shocked? We couldn’t see it coming? Did we really think we can send our children out to brutalize Palestinian without it filtering back into our homes and streets? Are we so obtuse that we don’t understand cause and effect?
The answer is that we didn’t think about it. We don’t think about anything that isn’t of benefit to each of us individually. We think only of ourselves. Even when we manage to get together for a common purpose, like last summer’s protests against the high cost of living, it doesn’t last long. Our nature is to be selfish and we very soon revert to type.
So, let’s not be shocked by what happens in Israel. All we need to do is look in the mirror and remind ourselves who we are looking at. What’s shocking is what we have all become.