November 6, 2008

Their Word is their Bond

IS THERE ANY PROMISE an Israeli politician will not break? It may be common knowledge that politicians lie, but in the last few years, this country’s politicians have reached new lows, breaking their promises on matters both large and small. Their word has become as solid as an appointment with the repairman the kind that does not inform you that he is not coming until he has already missed the appointment.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who was recently elected leader of Israel’s ruling party, Kadima, and was thus given the task of forming a government coalition. After the religious parties turned down her “final offer,” for entering a coalition with her, Livni declared that she was “sick of this extortion” and would “draw the line.” Livni said that at 2:00 p.m. Sunday she would inform the President that she could not form a coalition, sending Israel to general elections. Livni’s advisors said that by taking a stand, Livni’s image would be improved for the elections.

But when reporters waited outside the President’s office at the scheduled time, they were told that the meeting had been postponed until 5:30 p.m., because Livni wanted to make last ditch efforts to salvage negotiations, disregarding that she had made her “final offer” and had “draw[n] the line.” Unfortunately for Livni, she still failed to form a coalition.

Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz also recently reneged on statements shortly after making them. Upon his defeat by Livni in the Kadima primaries, Mofaz declared that “[t]oday my family members and I decided that it's time for a break.” News services referred to the statement as a “political bomb.” Six days later, Mofaz made another announcement: He would return to politics in eight days.

Before becoming a leading Kadima member, MK Tzahi Hanegbi was a Likud veteran of 17 years and a settlement supporter. As a member of Ariel Sharon’s cabinet in 2005, Hanegbi voted against the disengagement along with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. In November 2005, after Sharon resigned as Likud chairman to form Kadima, Hanegbi was appointed acting chairman of the Likud. Upon assuming the chairmanship, Hanegbi said that “there are roots that can’t be uprooted.” But two weeks later, Hanegbi deserted the Likud and joined Kadima, saying, “Sometimes ideological matters are diminished, it’s a personal move.”

Similarly, in December 2005, after Sharon resigned from the Likud, Mofaz announced his candidacy for the leadership of Likud, promised to remain in the party, but then left for Kadima.

It should not be surprising that Kadima leads the trend in dishonesty (and corruption as well), as Kadima’s very creation was an act of dishonesty.

Kadima founder Ariel Sharon was for almost 30 years a proponent of settlements and decried their removal as “tyranny of the majority.” In the 2003 elections, Sharon defeated his opponent, Labor candidate Amram Mitzna, by attacking Mitzna’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from the territories. But shortly after the election, Sharon proposed and executed this exact plan.

Within the Likud, Sharon faced substantial opposition regarding the disengagement. Sharon thus called for a referendum to settle the issue, expressly stating he would abide by it. Yet when Likud members voted against the plan by a 20 percent margin, Sharon ignored the results and carried out the disengagement anyway.

After betraying long held principles and often made declarations, resulting in the loss of the support of his party, Sharon formed Kadima. Much of Kadima’s membership included Likud politicians who supported settlements and opposed territorial concessions such as Sharon, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, Hanegbi, and Mofaz.

BUT KADIMA’S coalition partners have carried their load of the dishonesty burden too.

In November 2007, Shas, the Sephardic haredi party and a valuable coalition partner, made it clear that it would not remain in the government if Jerusalem was negotiated. “Jerusalem is above all political considerations,” Shas chairman Eli Yishai said, “I will not help enable concessions on Jerusalem.” But for months Olmert conducted negotiations with Palestinian officials based on an agreed recognition that Jerusalem was one of three core issues to be negotiated. Shas officials remained in the government, lamely rationalizing that Olmert had promised them that negotiations on Jerusalem would be left until the end. When reports surfaced in February that Jerusalem was being secretly negotiated, Shas still remained in the government.

Similarly, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the official spiritual leader of Shas, went so far as to declare that Hurricane Katrina was a divine response to American support for the disengagement. Yet when Olmert, a principal proponent of the disengagement, was elected prime minister, Shas quickly joined his government, with Yishai becoming Olmert’s vice premier. After the Winograd Report on Olmert’s poor conduct of the 2006 Second Lebanon War was released, Shas had an opportunity for an easy exit. But Rabbi Yosef told Olmert, “Fear not, and do not be dismayed, for I am with you.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor party–the second largest party and the most valuable of Olmert’s coalition partners–is guilty of similar conduct. During the election for Labor's chairmanship, Barak made a campaign promise: “If on March 28, I am elected chairman of the Labor Party, and the prime minister has yet to reach personal conclusions,” which Barak clarified to mean that Olmert would resign, then “I will act to form a wide consensus in my party and with the faction leaders to determine an appropriate and agreed date for elections.” Yet Olmert did not resign until September 21, six months later. All the while, Barak remained in the government as defense minister.

What is truly alarming about all these examples, however comical and ridiculous they may be, is that they are indicative of something more sinister than politics as usual: an abandonment of principle and ideology, which has taken hold of Israeli society.

This article was published, slightly abridged in The Jerusalem Post.