Here are a couple of stories for those cynics who are sure that politics is something for the uncivilized, and enjoy occasional proof.
In the last Israeli national election, large numbers of voters turned up their noses at all the established parties. Predictions were, and eventually realized, for record low turnout.
Close to election day, a sizeable number discovered the Pensioners' Party. It had run several times in the past, but never got enough votes to make it into the Knesset. Now, however, it seemed to have an energized leader.
Rafi Eitan is a wizened 80+, with eyeglasses that look like the bottom of coke bottles. But he has an impressive record, and remains vibrant. Not all of his accomplishments are widely viewed as positive. The best was his leadership of the team that snared Adolph Eichmann. Less popular was his management of Jonathan Pollard, and according to Pollard and his supporters, abandoned him to capture and a life sentence in the United States.
Pre-election predictions were that the Pensioners' Party might win enough votes to get over the threshold for entering the Knesset. As a result of publicity on the news programs, more and more Israelis, including young adults, saw it as a way to cast a protest vote that might just improve the condition of the country's aged and other poor folks.
The results gave the Pensioners seven seats, and made them an attractive target of Ehud Olmert's efforts to construct a governing coalition. He made Eitan the head of a new program to deal with pensioners, gave another new old MK the Ministry of Health, and passed out some other goodies.
After the election, commentators wondered what would come of the Pensioners' Party. Except for Eitan, people knew very little about its Members of Knesset. Would they demonstrate parliamentary skills, and do something that would allow them to repeat their electoral success?
Eitan has enhanced his reputation as a wise man who speaks frequently and intelligently on national issues, especially those concerning security. He has shown himself to be a good soldier, loyal to Olmert. The Ministry of Health never was very much. It usually caves in to the more powerful Health Maintenance Organizations and hospitals, and enforces few of the regulatory powers at its disposal.
A year and one-half after the election, there is no evidence that the condition of the country's aged has improved as a result of the Pensioners' Party's activities. But the party has provided us with a couple of juicy stories. For a month, the police have been investigating a charge of sexual harassment. The wife of one Pensioner MK accused another Pensioner MK of enticing her into a bedroom, and of telling her that she had a nice ass.
Now there is a financial scandal. The police are being asked to look into a conspiracy among party leaders to remove from one of their number the authority to co-sign party checks, and to put another person's name on the authorized list without following normal procedures. Party leader Eitan is claiming that all is well, but he is refusing to answer questions of a well-known radio personality.
One public opinion survey showed the Pensioners' Party likely to get three seats in the case of an election, down from the seven won the last time. An even more recent poll showed them barely at two seats, and marginal to the minimum percentage that would entitle them to any seats.
For those following the activities of the Palestinians, there is a story to match that of the Pensioners. It is not a case of corruption, insofar as that is so common among the Palestinians as not to warrant news coverage. What we are seeing is a community leader once again scuttling his own people's chance of any progress.
Last week the media made a big point about a new declaration of policy by the Fatah Party, which used to run everything and is now in charge of a rump polity in the West Bank. The declaration omitted the customary endorsement of an armed struggle to liberate Palestine from the Zionists.
Hopeful Israelis and others saw this omission as a good sign. Maybe the Palestinians, after 60 years, were recognizing the limits to their power and getting ready to deal.
Not quite. After a few days of criticism from unreconstructed Palestinians, the Fatah Prime Minister announced,
"Palestinians have a legitimate right to resist the Israeli 'occupation' . . . 'What is the essence of resistance, especially in light of the current occupation? . . . Does is not begin with all possible efforts to strengthen the permanence of the Palestinian citizens on their land? That is precisely the government's agenda.'"
Such backtracking is not going to increase the enthusiasm of Israelis for helping Fatah hold onto the West Bank. Without that help, the prime minister and others may, before long, be hanging from the lampposts, with Hamas ropes around their necks. Israel does not look forward to the West Bank in Hamas' hands, but it knows what to do. Should that happen, I would not expect that many lampposts will remain standing, or that there will be enough electricity to light those which are.
In my eyes, politics is the greatest hope of maintaining civilization. Disagreement and argument is the essence, followed by voting to select leaders, and among leaders to select the policies to be followed.
Politics is also a profession to be learned. The untrained can ruin it for the rest of us. Clowns may win an election, but are not likely to do more than provide a circus afterward. Those who vote for an unknown entity may get what they deserve.Posted by Ira Sharkansky at July 31, 2007 02:33 AM