Opportunism is a part of Israeli culture. There are times when it might be muted and one can imagine it to be a minor annoyance, and times when it is unbearable. Israelis build their personal and professional lives around piecing together personal networks of friends and acquaintances who can be counted on as reliable, in order to limit their exposure and vulnerability to opportunism. Sometimes this works and helps provide stability to communities and social groups, sometimes it doesn’t and entrenches inequality and exploitation.
Wikipedia defines this phenomenon bluntly: “Opportunism is the practice of taking advantage of circumstances – with little regard for principles or with what the consequences are for others. Opportunist actions are expedient actions guided primarily by self-interested motives. The term can be applied to individual humans and living organisms, groups, organizations, styles, behaviors, and trends.”
For the past few years, frustration with opportunism has become one of the key political platforms against the right-wing multi-party government of Netanyahu. But this frustration has already been part longstanding tropes used to denigrate every part of the political spectrum, as well as groups across the social and cultural spectrum. Ultra-Orthodox politicians are often pilloried as economic opportunists who use their block voting power to ensure a healthy share of budget allocations to their institutions. Left-wing parties attack right-wing parties as extremist territorial opportunists with unworkable geo-political strategies. Right-wing parties denigrate left-wing parties as virtue-signaling opportunists who are also traitorous global-integrationists with failed local national strategies. Center-right parties castigate each other as stumbling blocks, pursuing opportunistic politics that highlight particular interests and constituencies.
The complicated balancing act that this country has managed to maintain has managed to create some form of representational governance until recently. Governments have been established one after the other, flourished for a time, then became unworkable and were replaced. In spite of the constant soap opera that is politics and the continual earthquake that is the security situation, there is enough about the country that functions well, so that even wide-spread opportunism has not sunk the country into a morass of corruption. A continual blooming of talent has leavened the sourness of opportunism with hope, dreams, and a spirit of adventure, and Israeli society has managed to emerge from the grittiness of itself and find wings. But over the past two years, that has changed, and representational governance has become unachievable.
It is not just one person whose opportunism has managed to cripple the country’s political processes, but rather a series of important figures in roles both visible and behind the scenes. Recently I read an article about Rafi Eitan, which described him as a life-long opportunist conducting shady business deals throughout his many years of service, and this underlined to me a key problem with this country, where opportunism and self interest are wedded and privileged at the highest level. I understood then the contempt leveled at Gantz and his military approach underpinned by respect for selflessness or ‘jumping on the bomb.’
Why save others from danger and be abused? Instead you are expected to show that you are willing and ready to abuse and exploit others, and that is how leadership is actually defined. When contrasting these approaches, I had an ‘ahah’ moment. If the ultimate heroes of this country are free to be immensely opportunist, and are viewed as being rightly powerful for doing so, why bother with a more moderate approach? Why care that it creates so much instability and intolerance, and makes people unable to stand each other? Israelis claim that they hate opportunism, but in fact they love it. What they hate is each other. Why respect other people rather than power? Why get along with other people rather than harass them? If the country wastes its cultural heritage of humor and tolerance, well right now people just want to be mean and express contempt.
Opportunism and lack of higher social values has made representational governance at the national level unstable and unworkable with competing power centers undermining decision making processes. Opportunism has been wedded to a country-wide lack of transparency, to intransigency on the part of those opportunists in power, to cronyism to entrench power, and to the destruction of independent and talented individuals who do not support opportunist’s power centers.
Gantz’s sacrifice has actually changed that by creating the opportunity for talented individuals to enter government and prove that talent can create professional value. He has not been a brilliant politician but he has created ministerial roles in the Knesset which provided the chance for talent to emerge and test the waters, creating alternatives in the top arena of public power. He has also created chances for people outside of his party with lesser power to show their value as alternatives to an opportunistic power sharing government based on pay-outs and purchased favors.
But people are furious at him, as if he has single-handedly destroyed the left-wing parties of the country, by showing how unworkable governance has become, rather than opportunists doing so. It’s sloppy thinking.