Sunday, November 13, 2005

Election Countdown: Upper Lips and Hissy-Fits

And so, a new week begins. Shimon Peres, as I didn’t predict (but did accept as a possibility, sort of) managed to lose last Wednesday’s Labor Party primary after all; the new Labor leader is Amir Peretz. Until now I’ve never bothered to learn much about what Mr. Peretz stands for. Now I suppose I’ll have to study his policy positions and his record, so that I can write conscientious, detailed analyses of the prospects of a Peretz premiership. I'll do it as soon as I can figure out how to whip up some motivation to do so.

Not yet having done my homework, I really have no right to snipe at Peretz. I’m not actually promising to be well-behaved, you understand – I’m just admitting in advance that for now, anything derogatory I say about our new Labor leader will be a cheap shot, “cheap” in this case referring to making points at someone’s expense without investing any effort in learning about the victim. (Actually, now that I’ve defined what a cheap shot is, taking cheap shots sounds like a pretty good idea. This is how yet another blogger succumbs to the temptations of the Dark Side...)

While I’m admitting things, I’ll tell you, Beloved Readers, one of my dark and dirty secrets: When contemplating Amir Peretz, I suffer from severe moustache envy. I’m not normally prone to feelings of inferiority, but viewing the luxuriant moustaches of Middle East figures like Mr. Peretz and Saddam Hussein has always made me feel like a lesser man. I write about these giants of the upper lip with trepidation, then, for I fear my objectivity will be compromised. What if I were to write some biting critique of Amir Peretz’s political record, only to realize upon later reflection that all my seemingly reasoned arguments were really just the whinings of a scraggly-faced moustache midget trying to trim his betters down to size? With my massive and influential following, I could well alter the course of history, ensuring yet another election victory for Mister Richter Scale – who not only makes me feel better about my own weight problems, but is comfortingly clean-shaven. I’ve got nothing against playing irresponsibly with the fate of the world, of course, but I'd hate to be caught doing so because of facial-hair insecurity. The mind – or at least my mind – boggles.

*     *     *

As I wrote last week, I firmly believe that most, if not all, of the election-fever news stories with which we’re being bombarded can be safely ignored. But as a writer (okay, a so-called writer) I must admit that this stuff is awfully difficult to avoid when you’re faced by a blank editor screen and you have to fill it with something. So despite the utter insignificance of the event and of any comment I might make upon it, I will point out something slightly interesting I heard on the radio this morning: Amir Peretz will, apparently, cause our current national-unity (hah!) government to fall this Wednesday, on what is almost surely the flimsiest pretext in the history of Israeli poltics – Ariel Sharon’s failure to return Peretz’s phone calls.

Yes, I know that Sharon’s offense went beyond not talking to Amir Peretz on the phone; he also planned to meet The Moustache on Thursday instead of earlier in the week. Still, it seems like a pretty minor slight; after all, not returning telephone calls is Israel’s national sport, and most of us couldn’t get an appointment with the Prime Minister at all, much less within a few days of when we wanted it. Why make such a big deal over so little?

The answer is obvious: Amir Peretz promised to take Labor out of the government immediately if he became the party’s leader, and he is making good on his pledge. The move makes tactical sense: the junior party in a national-unity government never wants the coalition to last until mandatory elections, since playing second fiddle to the dominant party is not a very good way to make the junior partner look like a viable alternative ruling party. “Vote for us – we’re loyal lap-dogs” somehow doesn’t inspire the electorate. So when elections start looking close, the best thing to do is suddenly to discover that the ruling party espouses policies which your party has always found totally repugnant, bring down the government, and hope that in the intervening months before elections, the voters will forget anything they might have heard about collective responsibility. Peretz is in an especially good position to use this ploy, as he wasn’t (and isn’t) part of the Cabinet, and his One Nation faction never fully acceded to the government line on economic issues.

So Peretz has every reason to take Labor out of the coalition, and can do so without even the usual degree of hypocrisy and opportunism. Only one thing bothers me: why is he bothering to find a pretext? I would have thought that it would look better simply to admit that leaving the coalition is a standard tactical decision (taken, of course, for purely patriotic motives – peace and social justice and all that sort of thing) rather than make the move look like a hissy-fit thrown by someone who – with a great moustache like that – really should be above such things.

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