Tzipi’s Choice

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AS AN ISRAELI, I am ashamed. An incumbent Prime Minister has been compelled to resign because of personal corruption. How awful!

As an Israeli, I am proud. An incumbent Prime Minister has been compelled to resign because of personal corruption. How wonderful!

Compelled not by a revolution, not by a military coup, not by rioting in the streets, not by the machinations of a rival party. But by the normal processes of the law enforcement agencies, the free media and public opinion.

In this sordid affair, democracy has triumphed. In his delightful little book, "The Trial of Socrates", I. F. Stone (a man I knew and greatly admired) defined the peaceful removal of a political leader as a hallmark of democracy. Socrates advocated a dictatorship by the man of "knowledge". Stone laid great stress on the fact that there would have been no way to remove such a ruler in case of necessity.

IN ANCIENT Athens, major leaders were elected by all those with full citizenship (about half the free citizens, and slaves, of course, were excluded). Less prominent officials were appointed by lot – the theory being that all full citizens are equally qualified to conduct the affairs of state. Sometimes I think that this may not be such a bad idea.

However, the Kadima party thinks otherwise. On Wednesday, the party’s rank and file will elect Ehud Olmert’s replacement as Party Chairman, who will then almost automatically become Prime Minister, unless he or she fails to put together a governing coalition – in which case new elections will take place, probably at the beginning of 2009. Until then Olmert would still act as a lame duck Prime Minister.

The real choice is between two candidates: Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz. They could hardly be more different.

First of all, because it is Man against Woman. For the first time in Israeli history, there is a straight confrontation between the genders. (When the late unlamented Golda Meir was appointed Prime Minister in 1969, after the sudden death of Levy Eshkol, she had no competitors.)

Their background reflects the two extremes of Jewish Israeli society; Mofaz is an "Oriental", born in Iran, an outsider. Livni is a native-born Ashkenazi Israeli, an insider. She is also a "princess" – her father was a leader of the Irgun underground and (like Olmert’s father) a member of the Knesset.

But the real difference is between the forces they represent.

AS A professional soldier, Shaul Mofaz represents the force that has dominated Israel from its very beginning: the "security establishment".

This vast complex has unmatched political, economic and ideological power. Since all major political parties have degenerated into cynical trade unions of party hacks, without an ideology or any real political program, the army is now, in my view, the only real party in Israel.

It is not the Turkish army or the Pakistani army. It is an instrument of a democratic system, fully obedient to the civil authority. But behind this façade it is much more: it is an economic empire that consumes by far the largest share of the annual budget, a pressure group, a political lobby, an ideological center.

It is, in a way, a religion – with Security as its only god and the high command as its priesthood. Nothing trumps Security in Israel, and when its name is mentioned, everything else is forgotten. Hear oh Israel, Security thy God, Security is One.

Like almost any religion, it is connected with huge economic interests. The "security" industry, with its production of weapons and other military equipment, plays a central role in the Israeli economy and in its exports, turning the twenty or so tycoons who dominate our economy into natural allies of the generals. Dwight Eisenhower would recognize the pattern.

The immeasurable impact on political decision-making of the "security establishment" – the armed forces, the General Security Service (Shin Bet), the Mossad and the police – is underlined by the fact that the Chief of Staff takes part in all cabinet meetings. He never dictates to the government – perish the thought! – but it would be a very brave politician indeed who contradicted "the considered opinion of the army".

Since Israel was born in war and has been in a state of war ever since, there is hardly any area of Israeli life that does not lie within the scope of Security. And in security matters, it is of course the security chiefs whose opinions are decisive. Also, the army is the sole ruler of the occupied territories (as, indeed, demanded by international law).

In this connection, the settlers must be considered. They are an immensely strong pressure group. While many of them have established their settlements "illegally", no settler would be where he is today if he had not been put there by the army. In many places, the symbiosis between settler and soldier is so perfect that they are one and the same: many army officers are settlers themselves.

FOR A nation at war, it is natural that the army also shapes the national ideology. The media are willing, indeed eager, collaborators. Peace is a silly concept for effete, weak-kneed wimps. It is also, of course, a complete and dangerous illusion.

All this is reinforced by an immense network of ex-officers, the "ex" being only formal. With a few honorable exceptions, all ex-army officers belong to the same club and hold the same beliefs. Since the army looks after its own, senior officers who leave the army in their middle 40s, as is usual, generally find high positions in industry, the public services or the political parties – extending the army’s "sphere of influence".

What this means is that very many people have – mildly put – a vested interest in the absence of peace.

Shaul Mofaz personifies all of this. He belongs to this complex, he made his career there as a general, chief of Staff and Minister of Defense. No one has ever heard him voice an original thought – his whole mental world is shaped by the army. In all his jobs he has been reliable and diligent mediocrity.

When he had finished his army career and was looking for political opportunities, he had – like many of his predecessors – no party preference. Such a person can easily find his place in Labor, the Likud or Kadima, not to mention the radical right. The Likud offered the best prospects at that moment. When his way there was blocked, he jumped at the very last second onto Ariel Sharon’s bandwagon – 24 hours after solemnly promising that he would never, but never, entertain such a treacherous thought.

MILITARY DOMINANCE of Israeli affairs has one hidden effect: it excludes women. The macho, he-man atmosphere of the army has no place for them.

This was brought up some years ago by a feminist group called New Profile, which declared its goal to be the de-militarization of Israeli society. Perhaps by accident, it is this group which the Attorney General decided to prosecute this week for anti-army activities, inciting against joining the army, helping draft evaders, advising potential recruits to pose as mental cases and such.

Livni is not just a Foreign Minister, a job traditionally despised by the Security Establishment, but also a Civilian and, even worse, a Woman. That is what makes this choice so tempting.

In public, the two candidates say almost the same. They repeat the usual mantras. But there are the (almost) hidden agendas.

There is the racist angle, the sin that does not dare speak its name. Like the race factor in the US elections, the "ethnic" factor may play a far bigger role here than we like to admit. Orientals tend to vote for Mofaz, Europeans – Ashkenazis – for Livni.

There is the gender factor. Women may tend to vote for one of their own.

And there is the military factor: a vote for Livni is – consciously or mostly unconsciously – a vote against the military domination of our lives.

What kind of states(wo)man would a Prime Minister Tzipi Livni be? No one can know, perhaps not even she herself. Her basic mental world is right-wing. Her world view is centered around the concept of a Jewish State. Jewish in the old Jabotinsky way of thinking: not In a religious sense (Jabotinsky was quite secular) but in a 19th century nationalistic one. That could lead to peace based on a sincere belief in the two-state concept (to which Mofaz, too, pays lip service). But I would not count on it.

Mofaz we know. Livni we don’t know. That may lead some Kadima members on Wednesday to vote for Livni.

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