Parachuting candidates into election candidate lists in parties that allegedly choose their lists by means of primaries (the Likud, the Bayit Yehudi, the Labor Party) is not a completely new phenomenon in Israel. However, in the current elections the phenomenon has reached new heights of cynicism on the one hand, and ingeniousness on the other.
The official excuses for this practice are that the elected list is either unbalanced in terms of the potential voters the head of the party wishes to appeal to – which is what led Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett to place former footballer Eli Ohana in a realistic spot on the Bayit Yehudi list; or not sufficiently innovative and attractive – which is what led Benjamin Netanyahu to his zigzagging among penitent ex-beauty queens, women with PhDs, and right-wing journalists, and which ended up with the return of Benny Begin to active political life.
Another excuse for this practice is that a certain person, who is considered especially desirable, is not inclined to undergo the hazardous primaries process – which is what led Labor leader Isaac Herzog to place Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg on the Zionist Union list.
What the “parachuters” seek, and also what the party leaders who nominate all candidates on their lists seek, are retired generals, journalists, women, new immigrants (especially from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia), celebrities and academics. If one candidate happens to fall into two or more categories, so much the better.
One of the interesting lessons to be learned from the current bout of parachuting candidates is that even in this day and age of extreme cynicism not all the parachuted individuals were received with open arms by the rank-and-file party members. Thus, the opposition of many Bayit Yehudi members to Ohana, on the grounds that his former career involved regular public desecration of the Sabbath, and some say also ethnic prejudice, very quickly led to the former footballer’s decision to opt out. This experience was a good lesson to Bennett, who will hopefully learn a little humility from it, while the rank-and-file in Bayit Yehudi deserve a badge of honor for saying loudly and clearly that there are limits to what ought to be done in the attempt to maximize the number of Knesset seats.
The partially hostile reception that economics professor Trajtenberg received in the Labor Party has an ideological basis, especially from the side of those in the party who favor raising taxation (on the rich), and major increases in public spending to reduce the cost of living and restore the welfare state to its former glory. In this case the protest was overruled, and this is a good thing, since reversing Netanyahu’s neo-liberal economic policy is vital, but must be done judiciously.
One of the more fascinating groups among the sought-after, parachuted candidates are the holders of advanced degrees. Just before selecting Dr. Benny Begin (PhD in Geology, and likely to be the only MK over 70 in the 20th Knesset), two other PhDs – both women – were considered in the Likud as potential parachuted candidates.
Dr. Anath Berko (LL.D, and a former lieutenant colonel in the IDF), and Dr. Limor Samimian- Darash (PhD in anthropology). Dr. Berko was unceremoniously shunted to the 23rd slot on the list.
Interestingly enough in the 23rd slot in the Zionist Union list is Prof. Yossi Yona (PhD in philosophy), who participated in the Labor Party primaries. Yona has been the target of much Likud and Bayit Yehudi abuse due to his allegedly “shaky” Zionist credentials.
I voted for him in the Labor Party primaries both before the elections to the 19th Knesset and this time. Certainly Yona is not a Zionist in the chauvinistic sense, but did not shirk active military service, and as one of the founders of the Keshet HaDemocratit HaMizrahit – a radical organization of Mizrahi intellectuals – has fought for social justice and equal rights in Israel. He was also active in promoting the Geneva peace initiative, and in the social protests of the summer of 2011. Should he enter the 20th Knesset he will serve as an important ideological balance to Trajtenberg.
However, the reason I voted for him, despite reservations about some of his past statements, is that I have always regretted that members of the Keshet Hamizrahit have usually shirked entering politics, thus failing to present the Mizrahim, for whom ethnic identity is important, with a non-right-wing, secular alternative. Unfortunately they have almost invariably preferred to remain in their academic ivory tower and concentrate on pointing an accusing finger at Israel Ashkenazi elites. The fact that Yona decided to jump into the political swamp is a refreshing phenomenon, worthy of support.
Since the non-intellectual Black Panthers headed by Charlie Bitton entered Knesset in the early 1970s, there have been no radical Mizrahim in the Knesset.
Kahlon has also included a PhD of Mizrahi origin in his list – Dr. Yifat Shasha-Bitton (PhD in education, and a member of the Kiryat Shmonah municipal council), while the United Arab List includes Dr. Ahmed Tibi (MD). In the 19th Knesset there were two Arab MKs with doctorates.
We do not know whether Eli Yishai’s Yahad list will pass the qualifying threshold. While the Right prays that it will, the Left prays that it will not, since if it does not pass the threshold, the Right will lose at least three mandates.
However, even if it does, we shall at least be spared the return to the Knesset of the Kahanist Dr. Michael Ben-Ari (PhD in archeology and Land of Israel studies), who in the 18th Knesset served as an MK on behalf of HaIchud Haleumi- Otzma Leyisrael together with another doctor – Dr. Arie Eldad (MD).
Ben-Ari’s party Otzma Yehudit will be represented in the Knesset, if Yishai’s list passes the threshold, by Kahana’s former parliamentary assistant Baruch Marzel, since unlike Ben-Ari he does not insist on provocatively going up to the Temple Mount, which is prohibited by most of the Sephardi rabbis.
So, in the 20th Knesset there are likely to be nine doctors: the new ones already mentioned and three “old-timers”: Labor’s Dr. Nahman Shai (PhD in communications and political science), the Likud’s Dr. Yuval Shteinitz (PhD in philosophy), and Yesh Atid’s Dr. Aliza Lavi (PhD in communications).
Will so many doctors make a qualitative difference? Not necessarily, though an advanced degree is at least an indication of persistence, and usually also of an above-average IQ.
Unfortunately, there is one category of PhDs in the Knesset that has disappeared. In the early Knesset there were several ordained rabbis who also held secular PhDs, including the mythological Dr. Yossef Burg (PhD in philosophy).
Today’s Knesset rabbis appear to lack any sort of secular academic background.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.