Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It turns out that it is possible to wax nostalgic for kitsch. Four years ago, I described Yom Haatzmaut in My Little Town, as follows:

... every Yom HaAtzmaut I awaken to the startling realization that I now live in Mayberry. Or, if I might phrase it a bit less delicately, in Israel we are the goyim. Yes, in My Little Town people actually gather in the main drag for a display of schoolkids doing funny waving stuff with flags, the mayor bashfully reads all the right cliches, youthful entrepeneurs sell cotton candy, and it's all topped off with, you guessed it, a dazzling display of fireworks.

That was then. In what I sincerely hope is not a metaphor for some more profound shift in the cosmic order, this year's celebration of Yom Haatzmaut in My Little Town was a quasi-professional "production" involving two loud, obnoxious and unctuous "presenters" of the sort once confined to game-show hosting. Somebody had the bright idea that some tenth-rate hired guns would lend the proceedings a more polished feel. Another innovation was that the usually very affecting brief autobiographical statements read by the lighters of the torches were pre-recorded; the result was less so much affecting as reminiscent of Bob Eubanks' descriptions of the contestants on The Dating Game.

If even My Little Town has to fob Yom Haatzmaut off on a producer, big trouble is brewing. I'm hankering for Andy and Opie.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Jew-hatred festival in Geneva is wonderfully symbolic not only for convening on Yom Hashoah. It brings together self-styled potentates from loser countries and snobs trading on the past glories of fallen empires. They both hate the Jews for essentially the same reason.

Jews are upwardly mobile.

This simple fact violates the vital lie by which each of these groups lives. The losers would like to believe that their fate is determined by forces outside their control. The heirs to privilege would like to believe that such privilege is pre-ordained and non-contingent. The notion of pulling yourself up, as exemplified by Jews, is threatening.

(And that's why nations that still believe in merit [USA] or have recently discovered the idea [some of the Eastern European countries that are making progress] are now our friends.)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I kept my promise to myself not to blog coalition negotiations until they ended. Everything out there during the negotiating period is disinformation, so the less one discusses it the better.

So what have we got? Some things were completely predictable from the start.

Bibi was not going to live for one moment with a narrow coalition. He did not want to function under threat from every unhappy MK, a fair number of whom sit in his own party. Also, he wanted to make his life easier by having some lefties in his government. This keeps some of the press off his back and coopts some of those who'd otherwise be undermining him. (As LBJ said about J. Edgar Hoover, it's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.)

What was not inevitable is the choice of Labor over Kadima. In the end, it is only Livni's inflated ego that kept Kadima out. I predict that it will become increasingly evident that Livni is psycho and she will cause Kadima to self-destruct. In any event, Netanyahu's courting of Barak is worrisome. Several people in a position to know have recently stated publicly what many observers have suspected for a long time: Barak has completely lost his nerve and opposes any assertive action. Not good qualities for a Defense Minister. Some have argued that Bibi can live with Barak as DM because the only issue on the table now is Iran and they are in agreement on the issue. I suspect that if this is indeed the case, the point of agreement is to do nothing.

Another entirely predictable outcome is Mafdal in, Ichud Leumi out. Mafdal is built to be in. They'd have gone in even if Bibi had offered them only chairmanship of the Dead Poets Society, so in fact they got a pretty good deal. Ichud Leumi was never going to sit in the coalition. First, because Bibi didn't want them (he regards them as unreliable and weird) and, second, because they don't really want to be in the government (they're not built to make decisions, but rather to protest other people's decisions).

The great mystery of the next Knesset is Yisrael Beiteinu. On the one hand, Lieberman seems to grasp what Livni does not, namely, that we need to shift the onus of negotiations with our enemies to the question of what they will give us, not what we will give them. On the other hand, as one MK very familiar with Lieberman told me, within two months Lieberman will have an envoy in charge of talking to Hamas and he'll be singing the "ma shero'im mikan" song. His alleged intention to appoint his co-conspirator in Martin Schlaff related criminal activity, Dov Weissglas, as a special envoy does not bode well.

As for this government's domestic agenda, don't expect much. The coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu is the key document, since the later agreements by and large reflect what is written there. First, on civil marriage, they pretty much caved. They now limit their demands for civil marriage to two people of no religion. Very lame. On easing conditions for conversion, it seems that yesterday's agreement with Yahadut Hatorah pretty much kills any significant change. Sofa Landver, newly-appointed Absorption Minister, is bad news and will try to facilitate immigration of as many Russian goyim as possible, but is unlikely to have much impact.

On systemic reform, all the talk of changing the system fundamentally is pretty much moot for now. (It was agreed to establish a committee to study the matter, which is coalition-speak for DOA.) What is left, and apparently will get done (see starting from para. 28 in the YB coalition agreement), is the following:
1. The budget will be bi-annual so that the threat of the government falling as a result of failure to pass the budget is essentially limited to once per term.
2. A Knesset vote to dissolve the Knesset will require more than 61 votes in favor. The coalition agreement calls for 65, but it appears that the number will probably be upped to 70 (as per the transition document prepared by Shteinitz's committee).
3. Right now the law on no-confidence motions is that an alternative government must be proposed and if the proposed alternative fails to get support of the Knesset, the Knesset is dissolved. The new law will be that in such a case the old government will continue as if nothing happened.

The first of these is a good idea. The second less so, but not tragic. The third will quickly become an example of the law of unintended consequences. The idea is to increase stability by making dissolution of the Knesset more difficult. In fact, however, it will have the opposite effect. One reason that no-confidence motions are infrequent is the fear of dissolution of the Knesset, something MKs generally do not want. The elimination of that threat will make frivolous no-confidence motions more frequent. Dumb.

As for the constitution, judicial reform and all that, forget about it. Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman has been badly burned by the Ministry in the past, but (or, more precisely, therefore) he is not bucking for a fight. There is a good reason that the self-Righteous Brothers (Benny Begin and Dan Meridor) fought tooth and nail against Friedmann's reappointment but support Ne'eman's candidacy. (See my post on the differences between Ne'eman's positively horrendous proposed Basic Law: Legislation and Friedmann's proposal.)

Dudu Rotem will be head of vaadat hukah and he is completely unpredictable. He has no interest in a constitution, which is fine. He is crazy in the right direction, but he has somewhat idiosyncratic views on what is important and what is not important. Conveniently, all the big shots are ministers so the committees will be staffed by back-benchers, who -- perhaps less fettered by conventional wisdom -- might do some interesting things under the radar. It's very likely that Tzipi Hotovely (that's the correct spelling) and Yariv Levine -- both people with the right ideas -- will be in vaadat hukah, so some progress is possible.