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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The End of Idealism?

We made aliya in 1991. When we came to Israel, this was a country of idealists. Right or left, religious or anti-religious (because there didn't seem to be any such thing then as 'non-religious'), Israel was a country where everyone cared passionately about everything, everyone had an opinion about everything and any issue you raised could be argued back and forth for hours by people who really cared about it.

Sometime in the mid-90's that all changed. Suddenly, with the arrival of the 'Oslo accords,' it seemed that what many people wanted most was to be a 'normal' country. To be 'like all the other nations.' To be able to go into shopping malls and movie theaters without having your bags checked. To go on vacation without having to re-arrange reserve duty. To come and go as we pleased. To pay a (semi) normal tax rate. Some people warned that being a Jewish state in a sea of Arabs, we could never be a 'normal' country. But those people were dismissed as ideologues - mostly of the right. Then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin dismissed them as 'propellors.'

With the onset of the Arab terror war against Israel, the failure of Camp David and Ehud Barak's subsequent pre-election attempt to give away the country in late 2000 and early 2001, with the realization that the Arabs really would not let us be a 'normal country,' many of us thought that the anti-idealism was gone and that people would go back to caring passionately about things. And in fact, one still sees that at the right and - l'havdil - the left fringes of the electorate.

But in this election, despite their decline in the polls, Kadima Achora continues to lead. It leads despite not having any ideology. It is all things to all people. No one knows what it stands for other than being 'normal,' being tired of fighting and being ready to surrender. No negotiating partner? Kadima - withdraw unilaterally. No economic plan? Kadima - we'll decide that later. Make the country more religious or less religious? Kadima - let's see who's in the coalition and then we'll decide.

How has Israel come to this? How have we reached a situation where the party that is leading in all the polls (assuming that the polls can be believed) is a party that stands for nothing? A party that is a shell into which each person inserts whatever content they deem desirable? In today's Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick tries to find out:

Israel's election campaign presents an unparalleled challenge to Israelis on both the Right and the Left who care about the issues challenging the country. Today, not only do that have to defend what they believe, they also have to defend their right to believe anything.

Last Friday, Makor Rishon published an in-depth report on the growing isolation and demonization of the religious Zionist camp. Hebrew University sociologist Tamar Elor explained that the front running Kadima Party presents an impossible challenge for the religious Zionist sector, represented most prominently by the settlers in Judea and Samaria.

"The settlers are an ideological sector. Kadima, as a party devoid of an identity, a face, a name or a path, is their polar opposite," she asserted.

While it has made expelling Israelis from their homes in Judea and Samaria its flagship policy, Kadima has no ideology with which religious Zionists can clash. As a result, Elor maintains that religious Zionists "cannot do anything against it. They prefer [former far-Left Meretz party leader] Yossi Sarid the idealist, ten times more than Kadima which lacks any identity."

For his part, Sarid bemoaned the superficiality of the political climate cultivated by Kadima in a column in Haaretz on Friday. Sarid exhorted Israel's intellectuals to make their voices heard arguing, "With men of letters consistently involved, it will be impossible for a reality to emerge where PR men's cannon shells roar out while the muses and their servants are silent and silenced."

Kadima's basic sales strategy is to be a party unfettered by content. Being a party that stands for nothing means that it can stand for anything any voter wishes to believe it stands for. An empty shell can be filled with anything and so can be all things to all people.

LIKUD AND Labor, like the smaller parties across the political spectrum, are at a disadvantage in campaigning against Kadima because they all stand for something. And since Kadima is not bothered by principle, it has based its campaign plan on mocking its rivals for having ideological, political, religious or social essences around which their policies are based.

The fact that Kadima, which seeks to represent itself as a party of grown-ups has more in common with Jerry Seinfeld than David Ben-Gurion was made fairly clear in a series of interviews and profiles of its prominent leaders published in the weekend newspapers. Three such articles were published in Ma'ariv.

First there was a rather creepy interview with Kadima's Deputy Minister of the Interior Ruhama Avraham who first rose to prominence in the late 1990s as then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's secretary. As the interview noted, the most consistent characteristic of Avraham's career has been her willingness to exploit, betray and undermine anyone in order to advance her career. Avraham makes no bones about her blind ambition. In her words, "No one who can't push me ahead is allowed to play to game."


ASIDE FROM the interview with our dear mother with honey colored hair, Ma'ariv published a profile of the founder of Kadima, advertising executive Reuven Adler. Adler, a graphic artist by training, served as one of Sharon's closest political advisors. His competitors denounce him, noting that during Sharon's premiership, Adler's PR firm, Adler-Homsky, won the advertising contracts of such plumb state-owned companies as the Electric Company, Israel Railroad and Bezeq Telecommunications (before it was privatized). His main rival, Ilan Shiloah, was quoted stating, "In the world of advertising there is no parallel to the phenomenon of moral corruption called Adler-Homsky."

As the profile notes, "Adler is credited with the transformation of Sharon's image from an extremist, aggressive right winger," (is there any other kind?), "to a warm and doting grandfather who extends his hand in peace." His advertising partner Eyal Homsky brags that Adler "created Kadima - the name, the logo, the slogan…. It's his baby."


Finally, Ma'ariv - like every other newspaper in the country, led its Friday edition with its "exclusive" interview with Kadima leader and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Although Olmert told Ma'ariv, as he told every other newspaper in the country, that he is planning to destroy many, many Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria if he becomes elected and surrender the vast majority of the areas, as well as a number of neighborhoods in Jerusalem, to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, he did not once explain how doing so would advance Israel's national interests or thwart the global campaign of jihad.

Olmert said nothing about what Israel represents to him or how he came to believe what he says he believes in today. Indeed, one of the main qualities that he seems to want the public to value in him is his intellectual shallowness. As he noted to an over-solicitous, pandering interviewer, "There is no subject that justifies a three hour meeting."

Rather than contend with the serious issues that one would expect a prime minister to concern himself with, Olmert's most heated, impassioned comments related not to policy, but to his rival, Netanyahu.

His criticism of the Likud leader again, did not relate to a policy matter. Olmert's attacks on Netanyahu were a page taken from his deputy Shimon Peres's playbook. Netanyahu, he insinuated, was responsible for Yitzhak Rabin's assassination because he spoke at an anti-Oslo accords rally. Now, by criticizing Olmert's decision to transfer tax revenues to the Hamas-led PA and his plan to destroy Israeli communities in order to give the land they are sitting on the Hamas, Olmert alleged that Netanyahu is inciting his murder.

ISRAELIS ARE a people filled with contradictions. On the one hand, we are one of the most ideologically and historically driven people in the world. Jews came here from over one hundred countries, inspired and awakened by leaders of a different era who sent out the call to return to our ancient homeland. We have built this country up from the ruins of millennia of neglect and turned it into the most prosperous, advanced, open and free society in the Middle East while defending it against acts of aggression and war that have continued without interruption for over 120 years. We could never have accomplished any of these things if we didn't have a deep seated belief in ourselves and in our rights and responsibilities as a free people in our land.

On the other hand, we are driven by fads. Stars are elevated to the level of near deity one day, only to be forgotten the next. The same goes for everything from fashion lines, hair colors, investment priorities, marriages, politicians, nightclubs and professions. Since Sharon brought ad men like Adler in to run our politics, the same has held true for ideologies and values.

Read it all.


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