Sunday, September 07, 2008

Oylem Goylem

Oylem Goylem was, I am told, a favorite expression of my grandfather, as he perused the newspapers in interwar Poland. Literally it means, "the world is a golem" (the artificial, and no-brained, man-like-being created, according to Jewish legend, by Rabbi Lowe of Prague.) Figuratively it means "people are fools." I can't help but sympathize with his harsh judgment as I consider what's happening in three (maybe four) imminent elections.

In the U.S. the contest for the most important job in the world has come down to a combination of a personality contest an a soap opera. To hell with issues like, how to provide health care, how to fix the economy, how to save Social Security, how much longer to keep bankrupting America and killing people in Iraq. What has captivated everyone is Bristol's pregnancy, and whether 5 years as a POW, or graduating at the top of your class from Harvard, makes you more qualified to be president. In what logic says should be a year of a Democratic sweep, the contest is too close to call.

In Canada, we will go to the polls on October 14th (The first day of sukkot, which will certainly lose the Conservatives some Orthodox Jewish votes in Toronto area ridings where those votes might actually make a difference.) Polls say that Steven Harper's Conservatives will again get a plurality, and form the government. This despite the fact that those same polls show most Canadians disagree with the Conservatives on most issues. But as the Toronto Star put it today, "People prefer strong leadership, even if it is not leading in a direction they like." True - but crazy !

In Israel, too, there will be one - maybe two - votes coming up. The first is the primaries for the leadership of the ruling Kadima party. The winner will automatically become Prime Minister. The contest between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister - and former chief of staff - Shaul Mofaz, should be a no brainer. Mofaz is hawks hawk. He is against any "further concessions" to the Palestinians, and has ruminated, out load, about re-taking the Gaza Strip. He joined Kadima, when Sharon formed it, only for personal advancement. He has a big mouth which he can't control (as when he openly called for Israel to bomb Iran - using nuclear weapons if necessary!) He wasn't even a particularly successful head of the army. Livni, is a moderate (by Israeli standards) and a pragmatist. She promises to continue Olmert's (and Sharon's) plan of negotiating (endlessly in my opinion) with the Palestinians, while not giving up what she considers Israels "essential interests" - the large settlement block, all of Jerusalem, and the right of return. Livni is wrong, in my opinion, but at least she is willing to try to achieve peace and is aware of the costs of not doing so. Mofaz just has his head in the sand.

But again the, contest is close.

More amazing though, is that if general elections where held today in Israel, and they may indeed be held within a few months, both Livni and Mofaz would lose to the Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu. This is a man who has already been a distaster as Prime Minister. This is the man who did everything he could to undermine and destroy the Olso agreements - and succeeded. This is the man who was driven from office because of the general corruption and sleaze of his administration and his own personal behavior. Yet he is perceived as "tough", and is therefore popular.

Who cares where we are being lead - as long as we are being lead there with confidence! Who wants thoughtful nuanced leaders - when we can have tenacious and stubborn ones - even if their policies are retread of old failed ones. Who wants to try something new, when we can continue to do what we have done before - even if we know it leads nowhere, or worse.

Olyem Goylem, indeed.


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