The Lure of the Strong Man

Caroline Glick has a must-read piece in the Jerusalem Post examining the platform of Ariel Sharon's new political party, Kadima—or the lack of same:
…Kadima is not a political party at all. It is merely a list of unpopular politicians who stand behind the enormously popular Ariel Sharon….

What is the basis for the wide public support for Kadima - a party that places among its leaders such despised political figures as Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert, Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik?

Kadima has two main sources of public support. First, with his strongman image, Sharon has convinced wide swathes of the public that he and he alone can ensure the security of Israel's citizenry. In so convincing the populace, Sharon has divested the Likud of its greatest asset: its reputation for being the political party best equipped to secure Israel's national security.

The second reason that Kadima is polling so well is Sharon himself. Sharon's many supporters, who are currently giving Kadima between 32-42 Knesset seats in opinion polls, are undaunted by the criminal investigations surrounding Sharon and his sons. They couldn't care less that his strong-armed political tactics make a mockery of Israel's democratic processes. Sharon's supporters are moved by the sense that Sharon can get things done.
Let us avoid asking whether such a perception is accurate (as Glick acidly notes: "Since taking office five years ago, Sharon has received Washington's support—such as it is—by abandoning Israel's national interests every time that they are challenged by the institutionally anti-Israel State Department"). Sharon's political manner has long been described, metaphorically, as "dictatorial." As time passed, that description has become much less metaphorical. During the Gaza pullout debacle, Sharon ignored the advice of the IDF, fired the Chief of Staff and the head of military intelligence for daring to disagree with him, and dissolved his cabinet. He ignored the results of a Likud referrendum that decisively rejected the pullout, claiming that such a vote did not reflect the desires of Israel as a whole; he then refused to hold a national referrendum, despite the incalculable damage this caused to Israeli civil society.

He declared Gaza a closed military zone, and had peaceful protesters within Israel proper arrested by executive fiat (just one of the fringe benefits of ruling a country without a constitution). Sharon did this all while he's been under constant suspicion of financial corruption. Now, he seems to have built a political coalition that amounts to little more than a personality cult.

My partner in crime Mitch, who first referred me the above article, commented, "Sharon's running on a platform of fascism." I see no reason to disagree. Israel has thus far been able to escape the worst pitfalls of a political environment swarming with former generals, but only because those generals have been fundamentally willing to accede to the wishes of the electorate, eventually. Not so Sharon. He is a man with a plan, and that plan is staying in office no matter what gets in his way. It is fortunate indeed that he has alienated the IDF as badly as he has, so we need not worry about an actual coup d'etat; but he is using all the raw power of his office to frustrate his political opponents, crippling Israeli society and Israeli security in the process.

At this point, I don't care who defeats Sharon, just that Sharon is defeated. Israel's political arena has long been constricted by the difficulties inherent in permanent war; but as Israel has grown more secure, its politics should have become more open and more just. The opposite has happened. Now, Israel is in serious danger of becoming a banana republic, and we cannot allow that to happen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After reading the link to Carolyn Glick and your analysis; I am struck by the fact that we are putting our hope for Israel's future in yet another morally stained and failed leader -- i.e. Netanyahu. If Sharon has built his strength on appearing strong while actually weak, and has in fact not been able to stand up to Washington; how do we justify looking to Bibi -- who failed miserably when he held the reins. It is time for Israel to look for someone new, who is morally strong and is willing to do what is right, not what is expedient. That person also needs to be able to say no to Europe and the U.S., and to say it often. If the Jewish state ceases to exist, the rest of the world will react with either "too bad -- ho hum" or joyous celebration. But, where will we Jews be, having lost our homeland yet again, and, unfortunatley, for the same reasons -- baseless hatred and a lack of faith. Sharon and his croneys are busy giving away much of the Holy Land, from Gaza and the West Bank to the Tomb of King David (I can see some strategic reasons for the first -- assuming we actually got something other than more terror in return: but of what earthly justification can they have for giving our important historical and religious sites be to the Vatican!). We need a leader who can restore Israel's moral compass, Israel's hope and belief in itself (as we are seemingly being told we have no right to be in our own land anymore, and by none other than Israel's national leaders), and Israel's strength. It is a tall order, but it must be done quickly, before we no longer have Israel.