Israeli legislators avoid any personal accountability, as there are no districts and voters nationwide only pull the lever for one party. Thus no one in the Knesset specifically represents the interests of, say, wineries in the Golan Heights or the beleaguered residents of Sderot, the development town near the Gaza border that has been the target of thousands of rockets in recent years.
Much like a child left unsupervised, politicians who risk minimal consequences for their actions cannot be trusted to behave responsibly. This is probably as much to blame as any other factor for the disconnect between the Israeli electorate and the people they’ve put into power.
One of Israel’s savviest pollsters, Keevoon CEO Mitchell Barak, believes that Israeli voters will be in a funk for a while. Pointing to extensive polling and focus groups he’s conducted, Barak says, “Israelis feel that this is a leadership crisis. They see no real leaders. What compounds their frustration is that they see no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no next generation of leadership in the wings being groomed to take over in 5 or 10 years.”
Here’s the way many Israelis view their two main options for the next prime minister: either a former head of state whom voters simply don’t like very much or an untested woman who promises to defend the nation, but without stating how. As for the head of the Labor Party, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (no relation to the pollster), is remembered for offering Yasser Arafat the world—and getting nothing in response but the campaign of suicide bombings called the intifada. Barak has no chance at becoming the next prime minister.
Despite a relatively secure and economically fruitful three-year tenure as prime minister from 1996-1999, Netanyahu suffers from reminiscence in reverse. Life under past leaders often ends up being remembered more favorably than it was seen at the time—think of President George H.W. Bush. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, the opposite has happened to him.
Netanyahu actually has two factors working in his favor: 1) he correctly predicted the dire consequences of the Gaza withdrawal, and 2) he’s broadly seen as having rescued the national economy. Tainting most of his political capital is the fact that most Israelis just don’t like him as a person—and that includes even many of his supporters.
But at least Israelis know what to expect from Netanyahu. Not so with Livni. Not only has does she have no track record running the government, but she’s pointedly refused to give specifics on how she would protect the Jewish state from terrorism or the looming threat of a nuclear Iran. Channeling Frank Sinatra, she has said repeatedly, “I’ll do it my own way.” Absent is any mention of what, exactly, that means.
Then again, security is almost a non-issue in Israel these days—rather odd considering the daily threat of suicide bombings in cafés and buses is barely in the rearview mirror. In light of the military failings against Hezbollah and the constant futility of “peace talks,” many Israelis feel that Livni could do no worse defending Israel than someone with a security background or a former prime minister.
Of course, such sentiments could be right. But if they’re not, who becomes the next prime minister would very much matter.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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