The job of parliamentarian in Israel is no longer appealing for the masses, says a researcher, who monitors the frequent changes in local politics. Part of the problem is the toxic environment in the Knesset and a long range of pop-up parties that come and go.
Even though Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already beaten all records, becoming the country’s longest serving premier, the elections set up for 23 March might see him extending his tenure even longer, if he manages to secure enough seats and form a coalition.
Don’t Last Long
But while Netanyahu’s career in politics has been long (14 years in office in total), other Israeli politicians have lasted significantly less time and Dr. Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, says that every election cycle brings an impressive amount of new faces into the country’s parliament. Very few stick around for years.
“Out of 120 parliamentarians who were elected in 2009, only 25 have stayed in politics until today. Others dropped out. Generally speaking, every cycle of elections pushes into the Knesset 35 to 40 new people. Recently, we have also see instances when the Israeli chamber saw 50 new faces,” said the expert.
The more familiar faces, however, or those of prominent politicians, who have been around for several years, are pushed to the sidelines and gradually vanish.
Such was the case with former prime Minister Ehud Barak, who left politics in 2001 after losing elections to Ariel Sharon and who despite attempts to come back on a number of occasions hasn’t garnished enough votes to be able to present an alternative.
This has also been the case with former defence minister Shaun Mofaz, who left the political scene in 2015; with ex-foreign affairs minister Tzipi Livni, who departed in 2019, and a long list of other familiar faces who decided to take a similar step.
Politics Has Lost Its Appeal
Kenig calls this phenomenon “alarming” and attributes it to the fact that a career in politics has lost its appeal for many, who are seeking better opportunities and more lucrative deals elsewhere.
Others want to find a way out because of the Knesset’s “toxic environment,” says the expert.
“Being a politician is still prestigious but many are concerned with the toxic environment at the Knesset and the discourse around Israeli politics on social media platforms, and this can partially explain the drop we’ve witnessed in recent years.”
What can also explain that drop out is the dismantling of the Labour party, that had led the country for years, the radicalisation of some existing parties that push the more moderate forces out and the wide variety of new political formations that pop up in an instant, rise to a certain level and then diminish or vanish, taking with them the various politicians who’d promised change.
Recent years have seen a number of such political formations. In 2012, it was Livni’s Hatnua party that disappeared shortly after. Then it was former finance minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu that promised an alternative, only to merge later with Netanyahu’s Likud. Now it seems the Blue and White list of ex-army chief Benny Gantz seems to be falling apart.
The repercussions of these developments can be hardly underestimated, says Kenig, and while he acknowledges the need to refresh Israel’s political scenery from time to time, he also warns that the long-term effects of such a turnover might be devastating for the Jewish state.
“In the long run, it can damage the work of the Knesset, undermine the quality of our legislation and eventually erode the trust of the Israeli public and their confidence in our politicians.”
And although Kenig doesn’t see any magic solution to the current political turbulence, saying the change “will depend on a number of factors”, he does believe that one of those should be the change of the current government.
“The past five years of Netanyahu have been toxic for Israel. The post-Netanyahu era might bring that continuity and stability, but there is no magic wand.”