Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Guest Post by Michael Fenenbock

Michael Fenenbock sent me his thoughts:


Israel stands today in political shambles. Divided, in disarray and staring at gridlock.

The right wing advocates shout, “We won! Yeah for our side!”. Left wing advocates shout, “We won! We stopped Bibi!”.

Please. It’s a shambles. And now the real circus begins.

The focus of my concern is the Israeli right. The left, presumably, has its own problems, but my concern is the Israeli right.

It’s my take, but I view Israeli politicians as most adept at insider maneuvering… and posturing. In America we call it top-down politics. When it comes to election campaigns – bottom-up politics – Israeli politicians are mostly without a clue.

The election is over – no longer troubled by the need to consult the people – they return to their element. Now the real circus begins.

Spin the results. Make deals. Posture. This is “real” Israeli politics, not that business about go out to the voters.

In light of the election, what do we make of the Israeli right.

I confess I do not know what the heck defines the “Israeli right.”

If Likud is partnering with Kadima, then is Likud still right? Or center? Or left? From day one Bibi and the Likud campaign rejected the right and positioned itself as far away as possible. They were ruthless in denying any and all association with the right.

How did the Moshe Feiglin experiment fare?

Call it centrist if you wish, call it smart political maneuvering if you like, call it political necessity, but for heaven’s sake don’t call it the Israeli right.

So, moving on. Is Lieberman the face of the Israeli right? Is there substance to Israel Beiteinu other than Lieberman? Is it anything more than just a cult of personality? I refuse to accept the idea that the fate of the Jewish people depends on the availability of pork chops in the market.

Still, Lieberman at least had a campaign message. And a compelling one. Why do Israeli Arabs receive such tender treatment while they betray the country?

Is Shas the Israeli right? Because they hang a “for sale” sign around their neck and they’ve never been shy about doing it.

United Torah Judaism? Jewish Home?

No, I think the closest thing to an Israeli right is NU and they deserve harsh criticism because they held the most promise and delivered the least.

The National Union folks are addicted to circular firing squad activities, personality clashes, and top-down backroom maneuvering. They ran a woeful campaign. “Look backwards in anger” should have been their slogan.

Serious political movements are forward looking. Most often elections are about the future.

And what bright light at the NU thought up the idea of an electoral list a mile and a half long with no women on it?

For the Israeli right in general the connective tissue between the people and politicians is severed. Posturing is not power. Posturing is bluffing. Being able to energize thousands of people, now that is real, not imaginary, power.

In the end, without working to achieve some semblance of “ground up” popular support, the Israeli right can do nothing but flounder like a carp out of water. Without people power the Israeli right is running on empty.

There has been a sea change in political campaigning over the last eight years or so. Defined by it’s willingness to utilize 21st century technology, it’s still in its infancy, but it has brought populism back and its adherents have great success. The best example of this success is President Obama’s political campaign.

Remember, President Obama’s election was not foreordained. It was in fact a big long shot. Mrs. Clinton had all the names, all the money, all the endorsements. She was a “done deal,” the insider candidate with a top down, big name, political machine.

Obama, the outsider, had only one advantage – an unseen ocean of people connected via the internet. People power.

He restored the connective tissue between voters and their candidate, and he swept Clinton’s top-down insider campaign aside like yesterday’s flotsam.

In Israeli political circles lip service was paid to these new, but very old bedrock ideas, but they didn’t get it. Besides, old habits die hard.

You know who I like? Ilan Cohen. He instinctively understands people power. He turned Shop Sderot into thousands of crusaders. But he isn’t an insider.

Fans of democracy should know it’s here to stay. People power will reinvigorate your cause, bring new faces, energy, zeal, money, and real power.

Listen my time is about up… so I’ll end with this. If the “Obama style” model doesn’t strike as quite right as a people power model, what about this. Lubavitch Chabad. Bottom up, fresh energized thousands of young Jews…the most decentralized “people power” force in Judaism.

I’m suggesting that the Israeli right start over with this premise in mind. A new beginning. Not just for a distant election cycle. Start now.

The truth shall make you free…“as a bird.

Michael Fenenbock

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