Politicians out, spokesmodels in

Parties focused on adding exciting faces to their lists at the expense of candidates who will know how to govern

Israel’s political parties submitted their final Knesset slates, thus bringing to an end a mad frenzy of reserved slots, candidates bumped higher on their lists and assorted rabbits being pulled from politicians’ hats.

It looked more like a casting call for the newest reality TV show than a mission for choosing the women and men who will make the decisions that impact our lives. Journalists, beauty queens and soccer stars popped up for a spin of the latest prize wheel, some coming away with a realistic chance of being elected to Knesset, while others got dragged through a humiliating public hazing that was not racism-free.

It was all brought to you by the spokesmodel system, a questionably-democratic method in which candidates hop from one party to the next, or are parachuted in without being elected. Television’s victory over democracy. The next Idol, the Great Race to the party slate – whatever you wish to call it. The party chair phones to tell you you’ve been cast, and texts you to say you’re being sent home. The hunger for new, exciting faces is insatiable, and in a minute they’ll be replaced in the next round.

The method was not invented just now. Neither Eli Ohana nor Linor Abargil could perfect it as an art form the way Yair Lapid did. In today’s cruel reality-TV-shaped environment, he has begun to take on the appearance of a seasoned politician. But this TV brand ambassador – who made a career as a bank’s promotional model, whose only expertise is to bandy about empty words that sound nice until you start to ask what he actually said, whose statements are full of embarrassing errors and pathetic zigzags – has brought to an all-time high a social phenomenon that might rightly be called ‘Lapidism’.

It worked in the last elections, so it should come as no surprise that so many parties are trying to emulate that success. A feel-good party is no longer enough: welcome the imported feel-good candidate.

The truth is that the blurring of the lines between spokesmodels and politicians holds a greater danger than one might imagine. Politics is a job; it’s a profession with its own rules and regulations, where aptitude, experience and hard work are important. As with any other profession. We need to aspire to having the best people at this profession doing the job. The fact that the word ‘politician’ has become a derogatory term is bad news for a public that dispatches us to safeguard its interests.

Politics, in a nutshell, deals with apportioning resources based on a certain ranking of priorities, which are determined by a scale of values. Instead of holding a debate over our outlooks, we have gone over to discussing the face on the billboard poster. Who will sit on Knesset committees, who will wage campaigns on behalf of the public, who will vote in the plenum, and how he or she will determine their vote – these important questions will apparently have to wait until the prize wheel spins again.

This post was translated from Hebrew by Ron Skolnick.

About the Author
Tamar Zandberg is a member of Knesset in the Meretz party.
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