There was a time when people went into politics with the intention of serving their community, and making a difference to society. The main imperative was public service, and offering personal skills and talents for the benefit of the country. Unfortunately, those days appear to be long gone. These days, politicians seem more interested in the power that their position brings, and the personal benefits that can be gained by entering office.
This is seen in many, if not most countries around the world. Israel is no exception. This has been very clearly demonstrated over the past week with the announcement that Tzipi Livni has formed a new party to contest the upcoming election. The new party, Hatnua (the movement), seems to bring nothing new to the political arena. So why would Livni form the new party? When the press announcement of the new party was made, the main subtitle under the name of the party on the publicity boards was the tag line “under the leadership of Tzipi Livni”. This is the main point which supports the new party. It is a place where Livni can be the leader.
Livni has already been a Member of Knesset representing two parties in the past, Likud and Kadima. When she was ousted as leader of Kadima, she decided to leave the party. It demonstrated what was important to her as a member of Kadima – the fact that she could be the leader and have control over the party. As soon as she was voted out of the leadership position, there was nothing left in the party to keep her there. The election platform of Hatnua looks remarkably similar to that of Kadima, which is also not too far away from the ideologies followed by Labour. The centre left space in Israeli politics is an incredibly crowded area, and the addition of a new party serves to create even more congestion and probably reduce the number of seats that they can collectively win at the election. The only real difference between the parties, is the people who lead them. Perhaps this explains why Kadima has gone from a party with nearly 30 Knesset seats, to predictions of only 2 seats in the next election. The original leader, Ariel Sharon, is no longer there. Without him, there is no real substance to the party. Perhaps there was no real substance even while he was there?
The electorate would like to believe that Tzipi Livni is in politics to progress the cause of the State of Israel. This is not an easy task at the current time. Instead, we find that she moves from one party to another, seemingly dependent on how well each party serves her personal interests. Getting lost in this pursuit of personal glory, are the interests of the State of Israel and her citizens. One of the members of Kadima was fully justified when asking what Livni thinks she can achieve with her new party, that she failed to achieve with Kadima’s 28 seats when she was at the helm. I suspect that whatever she failed to achieve with Kadima will probably also not be achieved with Hatnua.
What is even more remarkable in the politics of personal egos, is the fact that the centre left parties were unable to find a way to unite their lists for the purpose of progressing their policies and platform in a more effective way for the election. Egos once again got in the way of sensible politics, thereby diluting the real message that the centre left groups are trying to promote.
There are some who would say that the aphrodisiac effect of power is not such a new phenomenon. Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This seems as true now as it was then, and is clearly evident in these latest moves by Tzipi Livni and others like her. Nobody expects politicians to do their job for free or without personal remuneration. There is, however, an expectation that, in return for reasonable pay and reward, they will carry out the requirements of their office which expects them to serve the people by whom they were elected. This is in short supply at this time.
While the new Hatnua party may well succeed in securing 8 or 9 seats in this election, the longer-term prospects seem slim. Any party that is built on the strength of individual personalities rather than on the basis of solid ideologies and policies, seems destined to land on the rubbish heap of failed political parties. Hatnua will almost surely end up in this junk pile in the fullness of time.
Despite Lord Acton commenting on political corruption all those years ago, there was a time not too long ago when politicians had a completely different and more modest approach to their work. Names like David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin seem to be from a bygone era, even though they were both people who some of us still remember with fondness. They were happy to live in a small apartment, and to invite members of the public to their official residences whenever they could, even while they were serving in a lofty public office. Somehow, the office in which they served never allowed them to become corrupt, or to stray from the values that formed their character.
I have considered the possibility that the general public demand too much of politicians when we expect them to behave selflessly in the interests of the electorate. The more I think about it, the more I seem to convince myself that this behaviour is the minimum expected of politicians. Tzipi Livni has not only disappointed the public by her behaviour, she has let herself down and many others who do behave appropriately. We cannot help tarring all politicians with the same brush.
Image from Tzipi Livni