For this Purim, a Less-than-Funny Note: Is the Crisis of Governance in Israel Really a Blessing in Disguise?

"This may well be a blessing in disguise," the ever formidable Clementine is reputed to have said to her husband, Winston Churchill, as the news came in of his party's defeat in the 1945 British elections. "Right now it is very well disguised," he growled back.

As we donned our Purim disguises this year-for once, in glorious weather, to the children's unmarred delight-and set about to celebrate the last time we found ourselves in a serious quarrel with a Persian potentate (which was some 2,500 years ago, but may still offer some poignant lessons to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), we had a different kind of "blessing" to ponder. Was the never-ending cascade of scandals, which has descended upon our heads in recent weeks, a truly cleansing torrent, washing away the accretions of corruption, sleaze, and incompetence and preparing the ground for a better prospect? Or is "this"-the pattern now exposed for all to see-more or less "it," namely, the standard of governance that will be with us for some time to come?

The sad answer is that we do not, and cannot, know at this stage. The list of woes is remarkably long, and no quick fixes will do. Within a few months, in the post-Lebanon War era, Israel has faced:

  • A crisis within the IDF high command, which led to the (justified) departure of some highly talented people, but shook the confidence of society in the competence of its most important institution;
  • The prospect of indictment of the president of Israel for nothing less than rape-an indictment now awaiting the outcome of a final preliminary hearing, Moshe Katsav's one shot at persuading the prosecutors to desist;
  • The conviction-for an unsolicited French kiss-of one of the key politicians in Kadima, Haim Ramon;
  • A crisis within the police high command, including the departure of Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi, as a result of an investigation into the failure to apprehend an important crime family in the Negev and to trace their connection to a series of murders;
  • A member of Knesset, assigned to be the next minister of tourism, exposed as having lied about her academic credentials;
  • Another MK getting himself involved in a drunken brawl; 
  • More recently, and more seriously, the prime minister first finding himself in a test of wills with the comptroller-general (the Israel equivalent of the General Accounting Office) over a draft report damning the government's handling of the rear areas during the war-touching a raw nerve, as this may indeed be the most serious failure of governance Israel has ever witnessed; and then falling into a shouting match with his minister of defense, Amir Peretz, with whom he is hardly on speaking terms, during a Cabinet session on Sunday.

Corruption, incompetence, or both, might indeed hasten the demise of the present government: It is difficult to predict at this point just how serious will be the findings of Judge Eliyahu Winograd's commission (inquiring into the conduct of the Second Lebanon War), of the comptroller-general, or of the legal teams looking into some of Ehud Olmert's private and political affairs. But this is just part of the story. All this could have been seen as part of a cleansing process, if it were not for a broader problem-namely, the sense of drift and lack of direction that has overtaken Israel since the war. This may persist for a while-it is difficult to make decisions in a cloud of bad news-but within the next few months, three expected developments might break the deadlock:

  1. Internally, the Labor Party primaries in May are likely to produce a new leadership and resolve the present destructive stand-off;
  2. With the Palestinians, one way or the other, the struggle between Fatah and Hamas might lead to new realities, with which a new Israeli team would have to deal;
  3. Regionally, the crisis with Iran is coming perhaps to a head, as pressure builds up; and much that is impossible now may become possible if the regional balance shifts again.

Here, then, is a final thought for Purim, straight from the Megillah: As Esther is told by her uncle Mordecai, if she does not act to save the Jews, relief and deliverance will come from another "place" (the nearest the Book of Esther ever comes to alluding to the Almighty). A cold comfort, at the moment, but we shall settle for what we can get right now.

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