Sunday, December 28, 2014

Israel's 2015 Knesset Elections -- Our Own House of Cards Moment

It is way too early to hazard a guess as to which party will be asked to lead the next Israeli government.

Right now, though, Israelis are experiencing a House of Cards moment.

What I can't figure out is who our Frank Underwood or Francis Urquhart is. I wonder if we should, perhaps, be thinking along the lines of a Claire Underwood or Elizabeth Urquhart.

Just as the marriage of convenience between Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu shattered and Lieberman positioned his Yisrael Beiteinu Party as a potential coalition partner to the ideologically malleable Labor Party (starring former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as... herself) police began arresting or interrogating one top official of Yisrael Beiteinu after another.

More than a dozen party pols and hangers-on have been questioned (some arrested) by police as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation.

No one who follows Israeli politics imagines that Lieberman is a paragon of ethical behavior.

Still, were one suspicious, one might say someone waited until Lieberman was no longer of any use to them politically before allowing police investigators to go public with their suspicions of wrong doing – graft, nepotism, and patronage that crosses the line into breach of trust – even in Israeli political culture. 

You might say that, but I could not possibly comment.

It's worth recalling that Netanyahu held Lieberman's foreign ministry portfolio open while the Yisrael Beiteinu chief was enduring the long culmination of an even longer investigation into charges of corruption. 

But that was when Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud were talking about a formal merger.

Now, public money often winds up serving political or parochial interests in Israel. That's because the political system is broken and is hyper-pluralistic.

Whenever a politician or party is targeted in a corruption probe the natural questions arise: why now? And, cui bono?  

Quite justifiably, Lieberman is asking just that: how is it possible that when it comes to my party there are never elections without police investigations?

Lieberman had purportedly been making plans to jettison several principled politicians who lent his party a less sectarian (read Russian) and more hawkish tone – Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau, and Shlomo Aharonovitch.

Some of Yisrael Beiteinu's base will dig in their heels in the conviction that "Russians" are being picked on by the entrenched Israeli establishment. Other voters will take a pox on your house attitude and move on to Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party, I imagine.

Meantime, Israel's tendentious press – led by the anti-Netanyahu tabloid Yediot Aharanot and Channel 2 -- is trying to connect Netanyahu to the Lieberman scandal. Barking up a wrong tree, there; but part of their unrelenting efforts to channel votes away from Netanyahu toward anybody but him.

Bottom line: there are no heroes, no princes, no shinning lights in Israeli electoral politics.

We have a fundamentally broken political system. No constituency representation. No individual accountability to voters. A low threshold to all fringe parties a disproportionate influence.

No politicians stands out as deserving of support – though some are less bad than others.


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