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The Israeli left’s mediocrity paradox

One has to wonder why, despite a star-studded list of generals and other well-known figures, the left is unable to produce a leader whom the public can trust.

Blue and White Party lawmakers leave the Knesset plenum hall, Feb. 10, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Blue and White Party lawmakers leave the Knesset plenum hall, Feb. 10, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Erez Tadmor. Photo: Courtesy.
Erez Tadmor

Why is it that the Israeli left, which has been able through the ages to rally hundreds of senior Israel Defense Forces reservists, academics and former senior civil servants to sign petitions protesting the policies of right-wing governments, cannot seem to find a foothold in the run-up to the March elections?

Despite a sizeable arsenal of potential leaders, the Israeli left has become almost irrelevant. Not only has it failed to produce a legitimate candidate for prime minister, even when it disguises itself as centrist, but it is unable to present a single slate that can claim to present an alternative to the right’s rule.

The left holds conventions on the issue of how the bloc that “founded the state” has found itself perpetually on the benches of the opposition, but it avoids at all costs the inevitable conclusion: that it’s shrinking because its path has failed, and claimed the lives of thousands of Israelis in the process.

The left’s reaction to this failure included every possible excuse other than a reckoning. Electorally, it has opted for a strategy of ambiguous positions and establishing fad parties that brand themselves as centrist.

The massive success of Blue and White proved the tremendous electoral power inherent in left-wing control of the centers of power. Its slate included three retired IDF chiefs of staff and a TV superstar, two generals in the reserves, two senior police commanders, a former Mossad deputy director and two senior media figures.

A handful of advertisers successfully harnessed the arsenal of left-wing public brands, creating a political mutation that brought an almost irrelevant political camp within touching distance of the Prime Minister’s Office. Yet this, too, failed.

Blue and White’s political demise is of paramount educational significance. It proves, again, that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Former IDF chiefs of stuff don’t necessarily have what it takes to survive the political battlefield, let alone lead the country.

This has made many Israelis ask: Is this the best that the left has to offer?

Herein lies the left’s mediocrity paradox: It seems utterly unable to come up with one figure whom the public can trust.

The lesson learned from Blue and White’s implosion reveals a poignant truth. The vast majority of those who reach the top of the public-service sector are, at the end of the day, mediocre people.

The reason for this is simple. The centers of power in Israel do not work in accordance with the meritocratic principle, by which those who excel are promoted. Rather, they operate through organizational politics, vetting committees and semi-fixed tenders.

Nepotism and playing favoritism in the centers of power gives the left superiority over the right, in terms of its ability to flaunt endless lists of former senior figures. But this practice has taken its toll on the left, in the form of its complete degeneration.

The result is a camp that has fatally damaged its ability to nurture people of stature. The left can present us with endless lists of senior officials with hollow titles, but not a single charismatic and high-ranking leader can be found among them.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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