Sunday, May 31, 2009

High-Quality Political Cynicism Galore

The Ministerial Legislation Committee stopped the draft of the Loyalty Law in its tracks.

A bit of context may be called for, as this matter, like most, is barely understood by most observers while being widely cited. In order for a law to be legislated in Israel, it must pass three readings, three seperate votes, in the Knesset. If it's initiatied by the government, it must first pass a ministerial committee even before the first reading. After the first reading it goes to a parliamentary committee (or three), which can eviscerate it, change it to mean something else, block it indefinately, or forget it forever - or, occasionally, pass it back to the full Knesset for legislation. If legislation is not supported by the government, it can nonetheless be submitted by an individual MK or 30 of them, but in that case it must pass four readings: a preliminary one, a committee, and then the mandatory three readings.

And all this is merely the outline. Bismarck famously quiped that there are two things one can enjoy upon completion but should never observe in the making: sausage and legislation; this is as true for Israel as anywhere. It just so happens that some of my best friends are lobbyists, and damn good ones, too, and I've watched many of the shticks from close up. Getting a law passed in Israel requires either the bulldozer of the Finance Ministry on your side, or lots of talent and experience.

So whenever some populistic politician moots some idiotic idea for an outlandish law, the fact that it passes the first of four readings is almost meaningless. It's an act of futile grandstanding. 100% of the legislators involved know the chance of the law ever being enacted are slim to non-existent, depending on how idiotic it is. But no matter.The point is to appear to be trying, to score brownie points for intentions. Since the system won't ever let it happen, there's nothing to lose but lots to gain: if you're behind the law, you'll be interviewed by lots of media outlets and your constituents will see you. If you're scandalized by the law, you'll be interviewed by lots of media outlets and your constituents will see you. If you're a media type, you'll have lots of fun footage of passionate politcians talking through their hats, you'll be able to report breathlessly on the dramatic events, and your ratings will rise. If you're an NGO who lives off donations from foreign folks, you'll be able earnestly to tell them of your heroic efforts to fight the good fight; some NGOs work harder at putting out English-language press-releases than at Hebrew ones, since the Hebrew ones are pointless but the English ones go into dramatic files for donors.

Sooner or later the law will reach some adults who bear real responsibility, and they'll shoot it down. The Loyalty Law, for example, was apparently voted down in something like 30 seconds, with no discussion: Yaacov Neeman, Minister of Justice, going through the meeting's agenda, reached this line and curtly noted that there'd be no discussion, merely a vote, who's for who's against, the majority's against, the law's rejected next item.

And note who did the voting: government ministers, not the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Cabinet members from Likud, Shas, haBayit haYehudi, and of course Labor - the first three solidly on the Right. These people aren't idiots. They recognize a destructive and imbecillic law when they see one, and dispose of it with no qualms.

All of which leaves the question, why try in the first place if everyone knows it won't happen? Why give the Guardian and the Juan Coles of this world unnesseccary grist for their mills? A fine subject for a different post, someday. Though I will note that no matter how childish the politicians-media-NGO activists are, the foreign reporters who eagerly take only part of the story and use it to damn Israel shouldn't be exonerated. They could tell the same story I've just told you, but scrupulously won't, ever.


Ron Snyder said...

Very informative, thanks.

Ron Snyder

Anonymous said...

Your best post ever.