Wednesday, November 24, 2004

There are actually some signs of good old-fashioned democracy at work in Israel. Sort of. This Sunday the Merkaz HaLikud held elections for its top positions. Essentially it was contest between those who oppose Sharon's hitnatkut policy but are scared of Sharon (Tzahi Hanegbi, Yisrael Katz, Danny Naveh) and those who oppose Sharon's hitnatkut policy but are not scared of Sharon (Uzi Landau, Michi Ratzon, Gilad Erdan). Avraham Hirshzon, the only candidate who actually supports Sharon of his own free will, was hardly a factor.

The scene is worth describing. The focus of the action is a giant warehouse on the Tel Aviv fair grounds. The long side of the warehouse is divided up into cavernous rooms open directly to the outside, each of which serves as ad hoc headquarters for one of the candidates. These rooms are filled with chain-smoking tea-sipping (this is Israel, not Ireland) volunteers manning phones and sharing idle speculation. The narrow side is the entrance to the polling station. To actually get in to vote one has to somehow get past dozens of teenagers paid to wear tee shirts with some candidate's name on it who are singing, shouting, littering and altogether making grand nuisances of themselves. Inside, the trail to the polling station is artificially narrowed to force voters through a via delarosa of candidates and their shamasim shaking hands and mumbling the kind of stuff candidates mumble. Needless to say, none of this activity has any purpose at all; rare is the voter who doesn't belong to some "camp".

And all around one sees democracy at work. All the Likud's Knesset members mill around shmoozing with the people who sent them to the Knesset and who might just as easily send them packing the next time around. Accountability can be demeaning. Intelligent and decent MKs like Yuval Shteinitz, Miki Eitan and Yuli Edelstein can be seen engaging in intense and earnest conversation with the kind of guys with whom, under all other circumstances, a typical conversation might begin with "you want humus and salad with that?" or "I should turn on the meter?". I, for one, fargin these guys their moment of glory.

The end of the story, for those who missed it, is that the better men lost. Uzi Landau will have his principles as a consolation prize, while Tzahi Hanegbi gets to bang the big gavel and do whatever Omri Sharon tells him to.


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