Zeev Sternhell
Haaretz (Opinion)
July 9, 2010 - 12:00am

Among the regimes in the Western world, Israel stands out with certain characteristics that generally do not indicate a strong democratic system. Its parliament is paralyzed, the opposition is nonexistent, and contempt for the law is becoming more pronounced. This not only refers to the unrest caused by the ultra-Orthodox, but also to something much more dangerous, the unrest caused by the settlers. The "respectable" right has chosen leaders of the most dangerous kind, like Moshe Ya'alon, who erases the line between Likud's level-headed elements and the extremist "Feiglins" and far-right National Union party. In the not-too-distant future, they will replace Likud's current leadership, which itself is much less restrained than the veteran Revisionists.

Moreover, the political leadership and the ruling elites, including the military elite, evince a worrisome lack of talent. From the Second Lebanon War to the Gaza flotilla - and this period includes Operation Cast Lead - Israel's failures have been much greater than its successes. Against this backdrop, Israel's moral crisis is getting deeper all the time. Israeli society is disintegrating into layers and blocs that have totally different worldviews and historical visions. More and more, these hostile blocs lack a mutual national objective.

The moral and intellectual disintegration also contributes to the gradual loss of social solidarity and mutual responsibility. Notwithstanding the vital struggle TheMarker is conducting against the tycoons and the enslavement to big business, this is not a comprehensive economic alternative for reducing inequality. The alienation between the sections of society that differ over the country's political future is increasing, no less than the alienation between social strata and population sectors whose ways of life are as different as east from west.

All these phenomena must be dealt with, first on the political level. Therefore, for change to be possible, a political engine is necessary. Regrettably, this type of machine no longer exists here. Led by Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, the Labor Party betrayed its role; it is heading toward liquidating itself. Peres' desertion in the 2006 elections to Kadima was merely a symptom of the illness, but on that occasion, the depth of the degeneration was revealed.

Have there been many instances in the democratic world over the past 50 years where a party leader deserted his party for a rival merely because he was defeated in the primaries on the eve of an election? Peres the deserter, who became president, and Dalia Itzik the deserter, who was Knesset speaker until the last elections, taught the average Israeli not only that politics is a realm to avoid if you want to save your soul, but that political life is nothing but a web of fraud - without ideology, principles and truth.

Peres' heir, Barak, is contributing to this feeling; he is relinquishing what remains of his party's right to exist. We can thank Barak for the huge disgrace of Operation Cast Lead, which scraped off another layer of the old Israeli identity. And we are indebted to him for the humiliation we suffered in the Gaza flotilla incident. In addition, Barak is a supporter of neoliberalism and privatization, is opposed to raising the minimum wage and, by his very membership in the government, supports religious instruction in secular schools. If that is so, who needs him or his party?

It is worth mentioning that Barak, by virtue of his position as defense minister, is also the West Bank's military governor. Viewers of the Channel 10 news last Friday were amazed to see a scene that seemed to belong to the world of sick imagination: To shorten the route to the Cave of the Patriarchs for the Jews of Hebron, the windows of Arabs' homes that the worshipers pass were sealed off. You had to rub your eyes to believe how the colonial power allows itself to make life so unbearable for the natives. Not only were their windows sealed, but access to their homes was made especially difficult - just for the convenience of the occupiers.

It was not the worshipers who sealed the houses but the army that stands at attention to serve them, and the army's chief commander is the leader of the Labor Party. Many people will refrain from supporting the Labor Party in the next elections, but it is doubtful whether this will scare Barak. Like Peres in his day, he too will not retire. Rather, it is reasonable to expect that he will continue in the same profession - only from the opposite side of the street.


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