The feeling is surreal. I am in New York with an amazing group (mostly Israelis) discussing topics such as Jews, history, power and politics. We are investigating the contribution of Jewish leaders down the ages to the debate around Jewish sovereignty, and in contrast how the Jewish people coped during the long periods without self-rule. We are trying to tease out the lessons that events and texts teach us about the current situation of the Jewish people today, if not to say its predicament.
Within the group we have academics of note in the fields of history and political science, ethics and philosophy, and in many cases people who have multiple degrees combining different aspects of these subjects. In addition there are those engaged in the more practical aspects of life such as Jewish education, media and social activism. Whilst the group is not the most heterogeneous group on the planet, it nevertheless represents differing academic and historical schools of thought, and certainly varying shades of political thought in the most practical sense of the word.
As we are discussing Esther, Joshua, Mendele Mocher Sfarim, Jabotinsky and others we are watching from afar the unfolding circus that is the current state of Israeli politics and in between sessions of the seminar we rush to Twitter and online news in order to see who has been fired, who has resigned and catch the analysis of the electoral prospects of the existing and yet to be formed political parties.
Irrespective of the spectrum of personal political positions held, there is a wall to wall consensus that we are about to go through a very expensive waste of time and money, at the end of which there is no confidence that the type of political deadlock we have faced over the last several months will be resolved.
Nobody here is smiling, and if they are, it is a slightly embarrassed smile that these are our political representatives. Many here have intimate personal knowledge and experience of the political process and players on this rather grotesque political stage.
What a paradox. The Jewish people waits 2,000 to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. We wait to continue the great and historic project that is fulfilling the promise made to Abraham “And through you all peoples shall be blessed.” Indeed as we discuss the historic contributions to the Jewish people in the 20th century of Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky we see the political equivalent of squabbling in the kindergarten sandbox between those who deem themselves the inheritors of their political tradition and leadership. Only in the last few weeks we have seen these names used (in vane) to make arguments about the importance or danger of current legislation.
Perhaps it is a function of age, but I am becoming disillusioned about any expectation that the regular political track has the power to tackle the long-term challenges that we face. I know that this may be due to a lack of sleep (it is a somewhat ungodly hour here in NY as I write this) and also straightforward anger at the complete lack of maturity that has led to this situation. However if I peel away tiredness and the instinctive desire to throw up hands I am concerned at a deeper level.
Since the elections in Beit Shemesh (which I had the misfortune of losing twice) I have re-doubled my efforts to contribute to the changes that I see as important non-political tracks. Even in good times politicians are the equivalent of day traders in a society that requires people with long-term investment goals in order to drive societal change. I know that outside of mainstream politics it is possible to think in a more rational and longer-term fashion, developing programs, partnerships and relationships that can have a meaningful impact, not through the life-time of a parliament but through the course of a generation.
In spite of that confidence it is clear that without a minimally functioning political system those changes will be hard to realize. Let us consider the sheer waste of time that is a government has lasted 22 months, the governance equivalent of not getting out of nappies, and barely finishing breast-feeding. Reforms initiated, but not implemented, budgets approved that will not be used, government decisions freshly made, that will probably be overturned before the ink is dry, and the list goes on!
Someone I respect greatly posted last night on Facebook that we should make sure that the current generation of political leaders be punished for their stupidity by making sure that they do not receive our mandate in March when we return to the polls. This may be an understandable reaction, but I do not see it as a practical plan. Part of our problem is the enormous churn and revolving door syndrome at the higher political levels, with frequently changing “pretenders” to the throne on the one hand, and Bibi on the other who seems content to stay away from the big decisions under the assumption that no matter what happens there is nobody who can replace him in the Prime Minister’s office.
There are no easy options and the leadership vacuum that we feel must be filled, and filled by quality people from all sides of the political spectrum. In order to fulfill our mission we must strive for a higher quality of political discourse. We must focus on the important and not the urgent matters or state. We have to give our politicians the chance to lead, but they have to find the courage make serious decisions.
In a political reality characterized by many medium-sized Knesset factions, the art of political consensus (as opposed to compromise and horse-trading) must be what we demand. In the aftermath of the sense of unity created during the summer, we have to demand that our leaders pay attention to us, the citizenry, most of whom desire that our leaders act in a civil manner when they debate their disagreements. Perhaps most of all we beg them to reduce the level of ego politics and the politics of personal political survival and try, just a little bit, to live up to the minimal expectations we have of them as our elected representatives.
I continue to be immensely proud of being an Israeli and what Israel stands for. We can look at the incredible achievements of current and former generations of Israelis. We are right to be moved by the sacrifice made by those who put themselves quite literally on the line for the greater good. But we must demand from the politicians that they find the courage to live up to this legacy and lead us in a way that fulfills the incredible potential that Israel holds as a country and as a people.