Today marks day 333.
Over 300 days during which Israel has been led by a series of caretaker governments.
A period during which ministerial portfolios have been jockeyed around as thinly disguised political favors, during which Likud loyalists such as Amir Ohana were wedged into the head of key departments, and when a succession of ministries (four, soon to be one) were seized by the country’s indefatigable leader.
Almost an entire trip round the sun during which Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has passed no legislation — save for the legally mandated acts promulgating its dissolution and fixing the date for the elections for its short-lived 21st sitting.
A year during which countless projects have been put on budgetary ice — ranging form major infrastructural ones to proposed bus routes in Ashkelon — and public sector workers remain in a kind of indefinite hiatus, never quite sure who will remain at the titular helm of their department — or from which party, or for how long.
It’s been 32-days-short-of-a-year worth of endless media speculation as to whether Likud or Blue and White would get the first go at forming a coalition.
A year of op-eds, incessant media commentary and radio debates, and the endless rumor of “coalition negotiations” that forever seemed to portend the arrival of a stable government.
Except that, almost a year later, we’re still no wiser as to when that day might come.
It’s been a year which has seen Israel’s diplomats take their grievances over remuneration to an unprecedentedly worldwide audience.
A year during which we learned that many of Israel’s diplomatic missions do not have budget to throw Yom HaAtzmaut celebrations (Israel’s Independence Day); that the ambassador to Brazil apparently sleeps on a mattress on the floor; and during which envoys in far-flung corners of the world even went so far as to threaten to subvert the state they represent.
It’s also been a year during which Israel’s leadership has seen fit to spend billions of shekels on elections, re-elections, and (in all likelihood) re-re-elections — all of which could have been avoided had Netanyahu not made a calculated gamble to “improve the lives of the public and the State of Israel,” as Yariv Levin, who introduced the bill dissolving the 20th Knesset, then promised.
It’s been a year during which — quite literally — the country’s supply of butter has run out, as Israel’s customs authorities find themselves bereft of the authority to institute the emergency measures necessary to ensure that Israelis have something other than humus and labneh to spread on their breakfast pitot.
And a year during which anybody (or anybody that hasn’t yet given up on following the news, at least) has been forced to listen to an unending litany of negative campaigning and ad-hominem attacks which have often explicitly targeted entire segments of Israel’s population for ridicule.
Avigdor Lieberman, we heard from MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) just last week, is a self-hating Jew who is apparently employing methods from the playbook of the anti-Semitic Russian czars of old in an alleged attempt to divide and destroy the Jewish nation. You couldn’t make some of it up.
But above all, it has been a year of relentless factionalism, of petty in-fighting, and childish name-slurring that has led to what President Reuben Rivlin — invoking a never before used prerogative to hand the power to form government directly to any of the Knesset’s members — rightly described as “a time of unprecedented darkness” for Israeli politics.
Israel’s unlikely ‘kingmaker’ and former Netanyahu ally Avigdor Lieberman effectively ends Blue and White’s coalition-building mandate by announcing that his party will lend it support neither to Likud nor to Blue and White.
Netanyahu — who, if he goes down, will apparently not do so without a fight — comes out with all guns blazing and lambastes what he sees as a ‘coup’ attempt by the triumvirate of Israel’s judiciary, police service, and (of course) its media, adding that “we need to investigate the investigators and the state prosecution”.
And Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, for his part, warns that Netanyahu is holding the people of Israel “hostage” to his desire to stay in power.
Conspicuously absent from the statements and talking points of any of Israel’s “leadership” have been two pivotal words “we’re sorry.”
Because in truth only their factionalism, hatred, and inability to put ideology (or personal expediency) before the interests of the State have stood in the way of forming a stable government and have brought Israel to a nadir that feels a lot like the political equivalent of bankruptcy.
It’s hard to imagine that — were they alive today — Israel’s founders would not look at this ugly, protracted political stalemate and year-long marathon of negative campaigning, finger-pointing, and recrimination-throwing and not feel like giving up on the whole initiative of building a Jewish state.
Many Israelis feel justifiably disenfranchised and alienated by a year of electioneering that has been virtually bereft of any meaningful treatment of issues that affect them, the average citizen — more saliently socioeconomic ones. The average citizen whose needs the finger-pointers seem to have forgotten that they are in power to represent.
Voters have heard plenty about how “King Bibi” is in a “different league”, how Benny Gantz will put “Israel before all” — but precious little about what anybody will do for them.
It is high time that Israel’s politicians stopped playing their jaded blame game and campaigning solely based on ideology and macro issues such as national security. It is time that — in a spirit of humlity — they explain to the public what they intend doing for them — and their country.
Israel undoubtedly sits at a critical juncture and the coming weeks and months will provide pivotal answers for questions of far greater importance than how long Benjamin Netanyahu can resist corruption charges and public pressure by remaining at the country’s helm. The country’s very national character is at stake.
The least its citizens deserve for enduring the mess that got them here is an apology from their leaders — if they even still remember who they are.