Transitory Stars in the Political Sky

Why the Likud, a democratic party with strong roots among the Israeli electorate, agreed to share a ticket with a one-man party is anyone’s guess. The merger is bound to lose votes.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 1, 2012.)

It has been said, tongue in cheek, that one should never make a forecast, especially about the future. I would not dare to forecast the coming election results, except to guess that they will probably not differ by much from the recent opinion polls. But I will stick my neck out about election results in the more distant future.

The “flash in the pan” parties are going to disappear. Just like Rafi, led by David Ben-Gurion, disappeared. Just like Dash, led by Yigael Yadin, disappeared. Just like the Center Party, led by Yitzhak Mordechai, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Dan Meridor, disappeared. Just like Shinui, led by Yosef Lapid, disappeared. And just like the Kadima led by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert is now disappearing. That will be the fate of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid as well. Not only do these parties, like their predecessors, have no roots and only a fleeting appeal to certain segments of the public, but their ragtag list of candidates assembled by each chairperson stamps these parties as nothing but transitory stars in the Israeli political firmament.

They are destined for extinction, even though their list of Knesset candidates is studded with celebrities, some of whom have an excellent record of public service. But there is no hiding the fact that these candidates are looking for a shortcut to a seat in the Knesset, by bypassing the normal democratic process and being appointed to a high spot on the party ticket.

It is only Likud, Labor, Meretz and Hadash that select their Knesset candidates by normal democratic procedures: election by members of the party. But Hatnuah and Yesh Atid are not the only parties whose Knesset candidates are handpicked by the leader of the party or by some panel of “wise men”; this category includes Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Agudat Yisrael, a faction of United Torah Judaism.

Except for Agudat Yisrael – an insular collection of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox rabbis and yeshiva students who fiercely resist all modernization, which may yet survive for many years to come – the years of undemocratic methods used by Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas are probably numbered. How much longer will the many who still vote for Shas, which represents a significant segment of Israeli society, be prepared to put up with the shenanigans that are carried out somewhere at the top in the selection of the party’s Knesset candidates? From its heyday in the 1999 election, when Shas won 17 Knesset seats, they have since dropped to 11 seats. A further decline is likely to come.

Yisrael Beiteinu is another story. This party is run by one man, Avigdor Lieberman, who picks and chooses his Knesset candidates as he sees fit. Hardly anyone believes that the “selection committee” that Lieberman recently thanked so profusely for the fine job it did in coming up with the party’s list of Knesset candidates this year was really responsible for the final result. The decisions were obviously his.

It is unlikely that many voters in the years to come will be prepared to put up with such one-man rule, which runs counter to all democratic tradition and values. Even some of the stars he has placed on his list may yet find the environment in this one-man party a bit stifling. It is not a party with a promising future.

Lieberman himself may be aware of this, and that may be the reason for the bear hug with which he embraced Likud in forming a joint ticket. Why the Likud, a democratic party with strong roots among the Israeli electorate, agreed to share a ticket with a one-man party is anyone’s guess. The merger is bound to lose votes, a loss that will come at the expense of Likud Knesset candidates. It is not a marriage that is likely to last.

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