The second phase of the Israeli election ritual is underway with the president's mandate to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government. The first component - voting -- was the easy part.
To the American observer it must have seemed ridiculously simple and amazingly inexpensive: a couple of weeks of campaigning; several nights of torturous, albeit optional, viewing of television ads of less than Super Bowl quality strung together; and a day-off from work, part of which to spend in-line at a polling station.
But there is nothing neither simple nor inexpensive about the second phase. Two principle forms of currency -- the shekel and the seat-in-government - will each be traded in great quantity as Binyamin Netanyahu cobbles together a new coalition that will allow Israel's 19th government to get underway and perhaps, even to remain there for a full term.
But following an election marked by the rare ascension of new blood and hopeful influx of raw potential talent, what will remain unanswered even when lawmakers are sworn-in is how long it will take for the new players to emerge - if at all -- as leaders as well as politicians.
The contrast between Washington, where a new government is also forming, and what is transpiring in Jerusalem is striking. While President Obama is offering would-be cabinet secretaries the honor of serving "at his pleasure", perhaps admonishing that "I will make policy and you will implement that policy," back in Jerusalem, it's seemingly more larceny than largesse.
Party heads are seeking to leverage their list's electoral prowess into portfolios, deputy-ministerial slots and parliamentary committee chairmanships, all the while demanding budgetary bounties and other support for the party's signature issues.
Inherently missing from the Israeli side of the equation is the sense of bona fides that attaches to the American version of the cabinet selection process, where appointing men and women based on experience and expertise rather than high profile is not only do-able, it's laudable. In Israel, where the office held is the political tender that fuels the system, accounts are quickly exhausted before expert ministers can be included in the mix.
The issue then becomes what are criteria for selecting those who will be entrusted with the formulation and execution of government policy? One obvious answer following last month's election is that media visibility outranks both experience and expertise when weighing electability.
In the United States, precious little remains of the line that separates news from entertainment; public opinion polls rate media personalities beneath politicians in public trust, one source positing that over half the population does not believe that news reports are accurate. Media personalities rarely venture onto the candidacy side of electoral politics, perhaps fearing Neil Postman's 1985 reproof that "entertainment has become the supra-ideology … we are a people amusing ourselves to death."
Nevertheless, the success of the media elite in electoral politics is the big story of Israel's 2013 election. That celebrity has spawned success is not at issue; nor is the hope that with the new faces will come new ideas. The concern is over what the celebrity-fueled victories of inexperienced politicians thrust overnight into the nation's drivers' seat will mean to the country's future.
Both Yesh Atid founder Yair Lapid's and Labor party chairman Shelly Yacimovich's positions came from media. 46 out of 120 lawmakers -- including "the Jewish Home" party of non-media personality Naftali Bennett -- will weigh heavily on the success or failure of the government-in-formation.
And that concern runs deep, crossing ideological lines. An Israeli diplomat speaking off-record shared the assessment that, "What journalism does for celebrities is give them a platform. In Lapid's case, he built his party from nothing. In [Yacimovich's] case, she went into a rump of an existing party and tried to revitalize it."
One newspaper article touted Yair Lapid as "the most important man in Israel," but what the prime minister will do with him is still unclear and made more confusing by Lapid's lack of any apparent skill-sets that would establish the 19-seat winner as heir-apparent to any specific portfolio, or qualify him to ascend to the premiership - a goal he has apparently set for the next election -- before racking up the sort of experience that might support the steep demands he's reportedly already made. What matters in practical terms is that Lapid won the second-most number of seats and can now choose his spoils.
The paradigm extends to the other side of the aisle, too. Labor chief Yacimovich is apparently opting to head the opposition - a daunting obligation in the parliamentary system of democracy -- but there, too, some argue that her rise in stature resulted prematurely largely because of her celebrity, and that she has already made novice-like mistakes. Clearly, they argue, seasoning is in order there, too.
To be fair, many are also heard to say that those who do have experience have not fared all that well, either. And beyond the technocratic side of the job, service as a senior cabinet minister also entails the intangible "presence" born of prestige, a trait that is well-served by being the star of the moment.
In the early hours after the election - euphoric for some -- columnist Nachum Barnea told The Media Line that he doesn't feel Lapid "has the kind of authority [necessary] when it comes to working with the American administration," referring to being a point of contact between the new government and the White House - an assist the prime minister sorely needs that is boosted by that intangible characteristic.
From the opposite side of political thought, television anchor Yaakov Achimeir agrees, telling TML that Lapid "doesn't have the experience in foreign affairs necessary to fill that role." In American terminology, it's simply unrealistic to put a player who has not experienced minor league ball to hit against the best pro-team's All-Star pitcher and expect him to give the team more than a limited boost. Fresh ideas and the of breaking of outdated molds that stifle progress will be home runs.
In each election cycle, cynics reflexively predict the early fall of the new government with an emphasis on the inability of the person heading the coalition to perform. This time out, eyes will be on presumptive coalition first-timers Lapid and Bennett; and the opposition's near-novice Yacimovich. In a very short time, how they got there won't matter; how they perform, will.
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