Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Political Notebook, Wednesday 17th January, 2007.


How Kadima Killed Israeli Liberalism
The Financial Times reports today that the Kadima (Forward) led government is struggling, as the Army Chief of Staff has resigned over the conduct of the Lebanon incursion, and the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces inquiries into alleged corruption in has past. The resignation of the head of the head of the armed forces clearly raises the question of the responsibility of political leaders, particularly the Prime Minister.

Kadima serves as a weakly defined centrist gathering, dominated by ex-members of Likud and then Labour, dominated in the first place by the very strong personality of Ariel Sharon and then the rather last imposing personality of Olmert.

A third party was all but completely absorbed into Kadima, the Israeli Liberal party Shinui (Reform). Shinui was the third party in the 2003 Knesset election, standing for a healthy mix of free market economics, and progressive social values. In the latter field, it particularly emphasised secularism, strongly and resolutely challenging the privileges of ultra-orthodox religious Jews. Sadly Shinui leaders and Knesset members were sucked into the personalised vague populist centrism of Kadima. The remainder of Shinui split into two parties, both with no influence whatsoever, and certainly no representation in the Knesset.

Likud are now making a come back under the brutally suave charm of Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever one might think about Israeli politics, Israel needs stable well defined parties to face its very considerable challenges and to make the decisions which will guarantee Israel's future.

It's important that Israeli democracy works well. Even those who are most critical of Israel must understand that Israel has a genuine functioning democracy and market economy. If these things cannot survive and work well in Israel, how can they work in the other Middle Eastern countries? In the long run, Middle East peace and co-operation must make positive use of the example of Israel as a Middle Eastern nation, rooted in common Arab and Jewish culture. Even those who question the origins of the Israeli state must recognise its real political and economic achievements, and must seek benefits from them for all the peoples.

Unfortunately the unnecessary death of Shinui has left Israeli democracy bereft of a strong force for individualism and secularism at the heart of its democracy. A lesson to be learned on sticking to politics of meaningful choice and meaningful alternatives, I believe.

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