There’s hardly a better, more cynical analysis of political power relationships than the Who lyric, Won’t Get Fooled Again, which closes with the words: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” That’s about the size of today’s announcement that Bibi Netanyahu has called new elections for three months from now. Ostensibly, the reason was that none of his coalition partners could agree on how much political patronage money and legal graft they would allot each other (i.e. they couldn’t pass a budget).
But Bibi always has his reasons for doing things that aren’t apparent to the naked eye. For certain, there is no real leader of the Opposition, thereby no political threat. That makes this as good a time as any. He may’ve possibly worried that the resolution of Ehud Olmert’s legal woes (by no means a given) would allow him to make a run at the prime ministership under the banner of the Kadima party he once led.
The biggest gainer from this aside from Netanyahu will be Shelly Yachimovitch’s Labor Party, whose representation should rise dramatically. The only problem is that even an exponential improvement for Labor won’t put a dent in the far right domination of Israeli electoral politics.
The latest Globes poll says Likud will pick up one seat (to 28), as will Yisrael Beitenu. Kadima will fall from 28 to 4. Its seats will move to Labor, rising from 9 to 18 and TV personality Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) will garner 11 seats. Ironcially, Lapid’s ostensibly centrist party has no future, as all such celebrity-driven parties have died after one election cycle. Barak’s Independence Party will fall from 5 to 2. It should be said that Israeli election polls are notoriously fickle and changeable. Results on election night could look different. But the overall calculus will not change. A far-right firmly in control of Israel will become even more entrenched.
As I’ve written here all too often, Israeli party politics are a sham. The Knesset is a showcase for the nitwits and fools of the ultra-nationalist camp. Those in the center or on the left are at most comic jesters who get to comment, as Lear’s Fool, knowingly and ironically on the action. Almost all the business of state is transacted behind closed and not so closed doors, and involve Bibi and a few senior ministers. They make the most critical economic, domestic and foreign policy decisions, which are then dutifully ratified by the Knesset automatons. The über-right has its hands on all the major levers of power. There is no party or person who can gainsay them.
Unlike in this country, there is no separation of powers, so the Supreme Court cannot apply a meaningful brake to the most outrageous behavior of the other branch (the Knesset and cabinet).
If you read the lyrics of that Who song again you’ll see that they apply remarkably well to Israel’s predicament. All of us had such high hopes for a democratic Israel just as the narrator of the song celebrates his “revolution” and “new constitution.” But we’ve all been fooled one too many times. Which leaves anyone who cares about Israel in the direst of straits facing another four years of Bibi at the helm.