Heading into 2008

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IDI Former President and Founder Dr. Aryeh Carmon writes about the emerging anti-political sentiments in Israel, reflected in the continuing erosion of public trust in the cornerstones of democracy. Dr. Carmon calls upon the Israeli public and media to show their sense of responsibility to politics by renewing their participation in its processes, with a strong turnout in the municipal elections and candidates' political integrity.

As we enter the new year, the signs are clear that Israeli democracy is plagued by fierce anti-political sentiments. Politics is the life blood of a regime, and in a democracy the true test of a healthy body politic is the level of public trust and involvement in the political process. But now more than ever, "politics" has become a dirty word. The aversion to politics and its practitioners only strengthens the public's tendency to turn its back on the entire enterprise. This sense of disgust, even revulsion - an expression of anti-political feelings - is reflected in the continuing erosion of public trust in the cornerstones of democracy: from the army and Supreme Court, through the Knesset, political parties, Cabinet and prime minister, to the institutions of law enforcement.

The ramifications of this anti-political sentiment are many and diverse; but above all, they are threatening. Turning our back on politics has led to a real drop in voter turnout at election time and a decline in the quality of public servants. But first and foremost, the rejection of politics harms the public legitimacy of the decisions made, under law, by our elected representatives. Legitimacy in the eyes of the public, it must be noted, is the oxygen of democratic politics.

In 2007, the consequences of anti-political sentiment reached new heights. Among the reasons: escalating attacks by a spin-obsessed media that is abdicating its responsibilities and sacrificing its professional ethics on the altar of higher ratings; "guardians" of public integrity who have turned into "veto players," crippling the functioning of the public sector; and the deepening rifts in Israeli society, causing the breakdown of social cohesiveness and the weakening of solidarity.

As always, there is a great deal of curiosity, pondering, and speculation as to what awaits us in the new year. But in our local democratic arena, one event is certain; in November 2008, the legitimacy of Israeli politics will face a major test: the municipal elections, held every five years. Granted, a local agenda is not the same as the national one; but the choices made at the ballot box will determine how residents of the different municipalities wish to shape their lives, and whom they see as legitimate representatives of the public interest. November 2008 will be Israeli democracy's routine blood test.

In the meantime, the infection in our system is starting to emerge: Instead of political parties and other legitimate forums devoted purely to public interest, we are witnessing the ominous outgrowth of anti-political sentiment - the Gaydamakization* of Israeli politics. To us who oppose it, this process channels our abhorrence of wealth that is used to leverage a hostile takeover of the public interest through manipulation, spin, and lack of substance. These are the polar opposites of democratic politics. To us who oppose it, Gaydamakization is merely the illusion of politics - without the politics. It is the true threat to Israeli democracy. And the threat is a tangible one: Gaydamak has announced his participation in the November 2008 municipal elections.

As we head into the new year, I offer us all the following wish: In the (ten) months to come, may the Israeli public and the media show their sense of responsibility to politics by renewing their participation in its processes; may there be a strong turnout in the municipal elections; and may our system be cleansed of the cancer of Gaydamakization.

* Arcadi Gaydamak is a wealthy Russian-Israeli businessman who, in April, announced his intention to run for Mayor of Jerusalem months after founding Social Justice which has since become a political party. Gaydamak is a controversial figure in Israel. On the one hand, he supports many Jewish charities, and donated much money to relief during the Second Lebanon War. On the other hand, the Press claims that there is an international arrest warrant issued against Gaydamak in connection with an arms-dealing scandal, which is the assumed reason he left France and came to Israel.