Coffee with Motti on the Eve of Elections

Coffee with Motti on the Eve of Elections

Motti, a friend of the family, embodies some of the most stereotypical ‘Israeli’ attributes, for better or worse: He is notoriously outspoken on just about every single subject, and isn’t shy to let you know just what he thinks. He also, apparently, believes that it’s his job to dispense parental, sage-like wisdom to me about everything from my career choices (“Why are you wasting your time in international relations? Go find a stable job!”) to politics (“What the hell do you know about the situation here! You didn’t grow up in Israel”.); I was not amused.

But Motti never truly offends me; I always find what he has to say refreshing, even when I disagree with him about 80% of the time. Naturally, I was eager to hear and risk becoming temporarily infuriated by his take on the elections, over coffee and croissants at a Tel Aviv bakery.

“So who are you voting for, and why?” “Zionist Union, because they’re honest; compared to Bibi, of course, everyone’s honest”. 

To Motti, the most dire problem facing Israel is not international isolation, the conflict with the Palestinians, the struggle between religion and state, or inter-ethnic tensions; it is the rampant corruption and greed of election officials, and their complete lack of scruples in amassing their fortunes. “I need someone who is true to his word–we don’t have these types of leaders, anymore: Begin, Rabin…(again, a sense of longing for the past, for more competent leadership, on both the right and left).

“I always worry that they’re scaring us–they’ve been doing this since the day that I was born. Bibi tries to scare us with Iran, but let me tell you something: whatever they can do to us, we can do to them, tenfold. What scares me the most is how politicians exploit this fear to get what they want”. Having to depend on craven leaders, Motti wasn’t optimistic about fixing the economic situation, which requires, in part, breaking the monopolies: “Politicians talk big, but they have no power to change the system. They’re in the pocket of those with real cash. These families are so wealthy that they can pretty much do whatever they want”.

Nor did he have kind words for the religious right, however ostensibly modest its lifestyle. “The Orthodox are incredibly corrupt, but no one wants to touch them, because it’ll look bad to go after a religious figure. Don’t think for a second that these people are innocent. Go look up [Moroccan-Jewish rabbi] Baba Sali on Google, and read about what kind of person he was”.  Of Aryeh Deri, the current leader of Shas who was convicted of bribery in the past, Motti was especially unkind: “Deri has no right to even be sitting in the Knesset. They should create a section just for people who’ve sat in jail”.

But what of Bennett and his cohorts in the settler movement? Surely they, despite their fanaticism, are motivated by a higher calling? Wrong:

The settlers and their supporters are idol worshipers. First of all, Bennett isn’t smart enough to be a politician; he should go back to hi-tech. You think Uri Ariel [Housing Minister from the Jewish Home party] isn’t corrupt? He’s a liar with a diploma. He doesn’t really care about the idea of a ‘Greater Israel’, unless he can use it to further his own, personal ends. It’s very simple: as soon as someone is in power, his needs trump all others. Everyone has a different method to maintain their grip. With Bibi, it’s fear, and with Uri Ariel, it’s courting the settlers. The rabbinical leaders of the ultra-orthodox community do exactly the same, stealing from the tzedakeh box to line their own pockets.

Motti reiterated his pessimism: ” The monopolies can be broken, of course; it’s all a matter of will. But it seems that politicians are too scared to pass this type of legislation, since they’d be hurt by it as well”.

Motti, is, if such a thing exists, your ‘average Israeli’: He works hard (I can certainly vouch for that), and sometimes struggles to make ends meet, but always does so with a smile on his face. But he seems increasingly sick of having to put in so much time and energy, only to see his share of the pie absconded by unscrupulous politicians who claim to work for the good of the nation. His worldview is a bizarre twist on that of the left’s nightmare scenario: instead of religion and racism slowly creeping its way into society and perverting it, it’s the rampant corruption that has overtaken even the fanatical messianism of the far-right.

A center-left victory is a good place to start in finding a remedy to this problem, but it’s hardly a cure-all. This swinish, every-man-for-himself, type of greed has pervaded the highest echelons of the government long ago, and has been entrenched in society for some time now. Netanyahu, et. al, are simply symptoms of a much more deep-seated problem in Israel that will take some time to undo. The high from a possible victory on Tuesday will fade; these problems will linger with us long after a theoretical Buji-Livni government has come and gone.

By | 2015-03-14T23:27:38-04:00 March 14th, 2015|Blog|0 Comments

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