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Global Populism Rising
Israel’s Crisis of Leadership

The tide of corruption allegations, investigations, and convictions is taking a heavy toll on Israelis’ perceptions of their political class.

Published on: January 18, 2018
Joshua Krasna, Robert A. Fox Fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East, is an analyst specializing in Middle East political and regional developments, as well as in international strategic issues. He recently retired after 30 years of government service in Israel.
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  • Gary Hemminger

    When the Israeli public feels that politics is no longer an honorable calling, and that the political sphere is one of corruption and detachment from the public, then all politicians, even the good ones, end up tarred with the same brush.

    What good ones? they don’t exist. Politicians are all evil.

  • WigWag

    With all due respect to Joshua Krasna, his essay is much ado about nothing. Which country in the developed world is populated by citizens who respect and admire their leaders and legislators? Surely Krasna could have written the same article about the United States or Canada. Surely he could have made the same points about the EU. Are the British, French, Germans, Dutch, Austrians or Italians enamored with their Prime Ministers or legislatures? What about the developing world? Are the Argentinians, Brazilians or Venezuelans impressed by their leaders? What about the Ukrainians or Georgians? How do the Iranians feel about their Government or, for that matter, the citizens of Bahrain? Whatever the author may think, the fact that the governed all over the world are alienated from their rulers, whether those rulers are democratically elected or otherwise, is not exactly a stunning revelation.

    In terms of the situation in Israel, Krasna misses the two most important reasons why Israelis are disaffected from their government; the fault for both lays clearly at the feet of the left end of the Israeli political spectrum, First, the asinine, and ridiculous “corruption investigations” agains Prime Minister Netanyahu leaves the Prime Minister with little choice but to increasingly appeal to his political base. After all, its that base who’s loyalty he needs to rely on to sustain him while he’s under investigation and potential indictment. By forcing him to increasingly cowtow to his base, it is natural that the rest of the Israel citizens will feel increasingly alienated. And what are these horrendous corruption charges leveled against the Prime Minister? The answer is as dazzlingly demented as it is depressing. Apparently the Prime Minister has committed the dastardly crime of accepting cases of free champagne and cigars. He’s also been accused of trying to obtain more favorable political coverage in the press. And to top matters off, it would seem that his wife is a bitch in the same vain as Nancy Reagan or Hillary Clinton. We might as well line up the firing squad right now.

    The second reason that Israeli’s are so fed-up with their political system is also the fault of the left. Both the Zionist Union and Yair Lapid (the airhead who leads the Yesh Atid Party) had an ample opportunity to participate in Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Yesh Atid was a coalition member in the last Government and Netanyahu practically begged the Zionist Union party to join him and he even offered the position of Foreign Minister to Labor’s former leader, Isaac Herzog. Neither the Zionist Union nor Yesh Atid accepted Netanyahu’s invitation not because their political differences were unreconcilable but because both parties are headed by the worst sort of political opportunists. If either Yesh Atid or Zionist Union (or both) had joined the coalition, the Government would have adopted more centrist policies and would have been more open to compromise about the contentious issues that affect Israel in the same way that they impact all Western democracies. But both political parties demurred and the logical outcome was a more rightwing government that was not to the taste of more centrist voters.

    With Netanyahu pulled to the right by the consequences of absurd politically-motivated criminal investigations and by centrist parties unwilling to take yes for an answer, it’s no surprise that many Israelis feel alienated from the Government.

    But that’s par for the course; it’s the way democracy works in the contentious 21st century.

    • D4x

      Krasna’s essay is a beard for America’s Wilsonian academically credentialed, scientific progressive bureaucracy perceived to be under assault by a POTUS who does not read books. Krasna gets bonus points in TAI’s quest for new subscribers, from the Wilsonian left.

      There might be a correlation with the little-remembered historical fact about Sweden. When King Charles II was out-of-country 1700-1718, losing the Great Northern War, it was Sweden’s civil service that managed the nation. Despite famine, a bout with the Plague, and the onerous taxation to sustain the War, Sweden emerged well enough their civil service became the model.

      • WigWag

        I like to read. I read a lot of books and journal articles. That doesn’t mean I would be a good president, prime minister or legislator. Intellectual curiosity is over-sold and is a much less important quality for political leaders than emotional intelligence.

        Being credentialed does not make a person intelligent. Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush were credentialed. Bush was stupid and Obama was far less intelligent than he was cracked up to be.

        Classical education did impart to politicians many of the qualities important for leadership. The form that higher education has taken in the post-War years seems almost antithetical to leadership skills.

        You are right; it is mostly the credentialed class, most of whom masquerade as intelligent that have ruined the prospects for millions of Americans.

        • D4x

          I agree with you about 1) classical education; 2) the substitution of credentials for relevant skillsets and accomplishments in both politics and business – noticeable in America since the 1980’s; and 3) emotional intelligence, which Pres. Trump has, based on my read of a year’s worth of photos with maybe one hundred other heads of state. I also like to read, but, absent the classical education, compounded by mediocre public school education, I am still surprised by so many assumptions that I am an intellectual.

          My intense curiosity is not intellectual, but it is a quality that is highly useful. In my experience, it is also considered inappropriate in the America we have, really noticeable past twenty-five years; deadly past ten+.

          Your question? Netanyahu’s Israel. Closing with good news: “Israel confirms deal reached with Jordan over
          last year’s embassy shooting, says Amman mission will return to full activity ‘immediately’ ”

          Liveuamap became my favorite website a few months ago. They do not provide their source, but it is a good place to follow news, then look for more detail/confirmation. Mostly, I follow kurdliveuamap. The comment threads are either vacant, or full of nasty Turks, but there is a cohort of sane commenters, who are pro-Kurd, and not anti-Zionist.
          Today has been gripping – Turkey bombed a Kurdish village in the OIR part of northeast Syria, near the KRG border, just before our State Dep’t issued a warning to Turkey to not bomb Afrin in the NW, with artillery bombing already started, while no one knows what the Russian military told the Turks today about airspace & Syria stated they will shoot Turkish planes down. Al-Monitor, Arab News, AFP, and the BBC are covering the broader story, while the USA is almost MIA in noticing what is headed to the UNSC, perhaps by Friday. My read is no one can talk Erdogan down on a bilateral basis, so, time for the UNSC. Kazakhstan chairs this month, and had quite the Official WH Visit on Monday.

          It is truly an American tragedy that no one is seriously covering American foreign policy, which finally got interesting after twenty-five years. The Wilsonians and the neo-cons refuse to acknowledge the return of realism, principled and transactional.

          The American Interest is a habit that is no longer fun, or interesting, but, still a pleasure to read you, WigWag.

          • WigWag

            Thank you for the kind words D4x. I agree, TAI hasn’t yet found a way to right the ship since they hustled Professor Mead off their property. I keep hoping that they will.

          • D4x

            Hope your optimism bears fruit WigWag.
            I am still mourning the transformation of The New Republic, The New Yorker, and, in 2016, The Atlantic, all with far more storied legacies. than TAI.

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  • Angel Martin

    “Elitism,” expertise, and education are under attack.. .”
    “Utilize the civil servants. They are the real government,… ”

    This sort of elitism might be defensible if the educated elites actually had a record of success and achievement.

    On the contrary when you look at a multi-trillion dollar fiasco like the financial crisis, only a “highly educated” “elite” could have produced financial structures so complex that their creators didn’t understand the risks they were creating.

    “We don’t need average people, or those who brag that they don’t read books. ”

    Average people were not the ones that created the tech bubble, the housing bubble, the financial crisis, Obamacare, the Iraq War… etc.

  • Micah718

    Interesting essay. Mr. Krasna is obviously a man of the Left. But his reporting is fine. It seems to suggest that Israelis, like most of the world, are dissatisfied with their government. Who is? I think the fault lies with the way media portrays the world. Take US for example. ISIS is pretty much done, the two Koreas are talking, Dow 26000, lowest claims since 1973, companies falling over themselves to invest into US and increase wages. What do we hear? How we are all about to die (from tax cuts this time). How much does Trump REALLY weigh. How everything is awful.

  • Tom

    It is rather unfortunately telling that among the list of ways to cover the gap between politicians who can get elected and politicians who can govern, one of the things that is not listed is trying to find candidates who will put the interests of the country before their own personal interests.
    It seems that we are supposed to trust that intelligent people are also people of good character. Having known many intelligent people, and having some pretensions to being one myself, I can safely say that this is not always the case.

  • Ellen

    There is a major corruption problem in Israel, but it is mostly petty corruption, not the sort of massive bank failure that happened in the US or endless lending to bankrupt countries that you see in Europe.

    Wigwag makes the most important point. For all the corruption in Israel, Netanyahu has presided over an economic, military, cultural and diplomatic boom over the past 10 years. Unlike his counterparts in Europe or the US, when he retires he will leave a country vastly better off than when he came to power. Other than Modi of India and Xi of China, no other leader in the world will be able to say that. Israeli per capita income has now surpassed that of Japan, UK, and France. Thirty years ago it was 50% or less of those countries. And this happened in spite of the fact that Israelis have lots of children, which is vital for the future, but depresses the per capita income statistic.

    Netanyahu should retire soon and let a new generation of Israeli leaders come to the fore. The next generation will be less corrupt, because most of them have made money before they went into politics, and that will make a big difference.

    • WigWag

      What makes Israel’s per capita GDP growth even more remarkable is not only the fecundity of Israeli women. Israel has been able to outpace France, Great Britain and Japan in spite of its Harrdi population and it’s Arab citizens. The ultra-Orthodox lifestyle is a choice and Arab Israelis have a lot of catching up to do (though they are making progress). Discount Israeli fecundity, and the relatively poor performance of Israeli citizens not fully participating in its modern economy and per capita GDP growth is even more remarkable than it might seem at first blush.

      One explanation for all of this is the phenomenon of hormesis. It simply means that things that are bad for us in large doses, strengthen us when delivered in smaller doses.

      Nassim Nicholas Taleb, most well known for his book, Black Swan, calls hormesis “antifragility.” His thesis is that antifragile systems benefit from disorder and they also benefit by having skin in the game.

      His idea suggests that Israel has become much stronger not much weaker because of the severe but tolerable disorder that surrounds it. Certainly, Israelis have skin in the game. Taleb would suggest that the necessity for Israel to adapt to the chaos that surrounds it and even the necessity to adapt to the BDS movement and European and Muslim anti-semitism has made Israel far stronger not weaker.

      Understanding the revolutionary qualities of hormesis or anti-fragility provides an entirely new perspective on how the world works.

      Taleb’s book is well worth a read. It can be found here,

      By the way, Taleb has also suggested that the chaos and disorder surrounding the Trump presidency is paradoxically bound to make the United States much stronger not much weaker.

      It’s counter-intuitive to crave disorder but if Taleb is right adapting to disorder is the secret to success. It certainly seems to have worked for Israel.

      By the way, Taleb is a Christian Lebanese American. I follow his twitter feed. He’s currently in Lebanon. There sure is plenty of disorder there.

    • Marathon-Youth

      Israel’s economy is heavily subsidized by America ranging between 3 to 5 billion dollars per year. (Forbes “U.S. Should Stop Subsidizing Bad Israeli Economic And Occupation Policies)

      • Micah718

        The number is less than 1% of Israel’s economy. The money is spent exclusively in the US on products US makes. It is an elaborate form of corporate welfare that benefits Israel. Are you against Corporate welfare.
        Also, the numbers are so small as to be laughable. Look at what Apple, just one American company just did.
        These numbers that you think are scary are not. Your hatred of Jews blinds you to that fact. That sucks. Mostly for you.

        • Marathon Youth

          You replied to me in this forum on the same topic where I quote Washington Report. That comment is below this one. In that comment I quote WR as stating that US aid to each Israeli is higher than aid to each American.
          Whatever reasons you have this blinding love for Israel it is not in our Constitution or founding documents. We did not break free from England in order to support some Jewish nation for perpetuity or more than we would our won people.
          Nor was it stated that when Israel is born that America is beholden to support her more than any other nation on the planet or even more than Americans get. Your slavish love of Jewish people goes far beyond their claim as chosen ones.

    • Anders Aviel Fahl

      “Israeli per capita income has now surpassed that of Japan, UK, and France.” Where did you find this data? I’m viewing World Bank data and Israel is still well behind those countries.

  • Jonathan Dembo

    Krasna complains that Israelis are losing faith in government and their political leadership because of corruption and partisan politics. But the charges of corruption come from government investigations and police charges. And partisanship affects all the parties, not just the governing parties. If Israelis believe the charges against the government, they are believing in the government; and if they believe that it is political partisanship that underlies Israel’s problems, then that, too, is the result of political partisanship. If Israeli’s want to believe in their government all they have to do is to stop believing in the charges against the government; and if they want to avoid political partisanship all they have to do is stop believing in politically motivated assaults on the government.

  • Marathon-Youth

    Israel’s government is suffering from the same ill effects of subsidized state governments in America. The more subsidies a state gets from DC the greater the chance for corruption and inefficiency. I quote from the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs:

    -Total U.S. aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001 percent of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita income”

    -“Most Americans are not aware how much of their tax revenue our government sends to Israel. For the fiscal year ending in September 30, 1997, the U.S. has given Israel $6.72 billion: $6.194 billion falls under Israel’s foreign aid allotment and $526 million comes from agencies such as the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Information Agency and the Pentagon..”

    -“When grant, loans, interest and tax deductions are added together for the fiscal year ending in September 30, 1997, our special relationship with Israel cost U.S. taxpayers over $10 billion..”

    -“Since 1949 the U.S. has given Israel a total of $83.205 billion. The interest costs borne by U.S. tax payers on behalf of Israel are $49.937 billion, thus making the total amount of aid given to Israel since 1949 $133.132 billion. This may mean that U.S. government has given more federal aid to the average Israeli citizen in a given year than it has given to the average American citizen.”

    • Micah718

      Now do Pakistan.

      • Yes, although the U.S. has begun to cut back on aid to Pakistan.

      • Tom

        Also, is now a bad time point out how much of that foreign aid has gone directly back here to the US?

  • Honestly, I think any Israeli leader would be preferable to Netanyahu at this point (except maybe Ayelet).

    Bibi is simply far too weighed down right now by corruption allegations and scandal. What is more, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians does not seem to have greatly advanced under his government.

    • Micah718

      “What is more, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians does not seem to have greatly advanced under his government.” And how is that Bibi’s fault exactly?

      • Because of his ongoing settlement expansions, which to say the least, America has objected to on multiple occasions.

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