Wednesday September 3, 2014
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02.09.2014
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Ehud Barak quits politics, but leaves door open for comeback
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Yaakov Ahimeir

Israeli politicians never die

I have lost track of the number of times I have heard pundits and reporters talk about some "political comeback" or "a return to politics." The political world, myself included, have corrupted the airwaves with countless discussions and reports on whether this or that politician was going to launch yet another election bid. Things never change in Israeli politics. The Jan. 22 elections may come and go, but as far as we are concerned, those at the top echelon never go away.

Israeli politics resemble a merry-go-round. The protagonists, like the hands in a clock, will forever come full circle and return to square one. Our politicians find it hard to jump off, end their ride and move on, unlike their counterparts in other democracies. In the U.S. former Republican nominee Mitt Romney has become a household name just over the past six months only because of the recent elections, but what about former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown? His whereabouts are unknown. John Major is also nowhere to be seen, despite having served in the same post between 1990 and 1997.

You would never hear a British pundit speculate, "Does Mr. Major plan another bid to become the leader of the Conservative Party? or, "Is he undermining [Conservative leader] Prime Minister David Cameron?" The same with Brown, despite his credentials as a former prime minister. Would any political analysts ever raise the possibility that he might "go out to the rescue and save Labour from another term on the opposition benches." All other democracies usually have this unwritten rule: when you lose, you lose; don't bother us with pointless talk about a return to politics and another bid to hold high office.

That Romney would even consider another run for the White House in 2016 would be so far-fetched, you wouldn't find anyone who could even consider that a plausible scenario. Romney is just going to continue doing what he does so well: shore-up his personal wealth. But in our neck of the woods, our politicians enjoy a trade that stays with them so long as they are alive and kicking: just because they lost in a Knesset or primary campaign doesn't mean they have to go back home and spend more time with their grandchildren or give back to society by pursuing good causes. Not here. In Israel, a loss is not really a loss; at most, it’s a mistake. (Of course the voters, not the candidate, are at fault.)

For Israeli politicians losing is just the opening shot for another run, or an invitation to constantly breath down the neck of the winner and undermine him. In fact, it means a politician could plausibly create a new party. This is how it goes in Israel, every Israeli has seen it happen. A prime minister who has been unseated has his or her eyes trained on his former bureau. Sometimes it actually works. The thought of another presidential campaign will never cross Romney's mind; in other countries, leaders who lose don't have this Israeli dream of "running again." They just go offstage.

But despite what has been said about his never-ending loop, the case of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stands out. He was prime minister twice. His second term, which was cut short by such tragic circumstance, was better than the first. His experience in office in the 1970s was, in a sense, a boot camp that helped him to govern the next time around.

After he returned to politics to serve as defense minister in the unity governments of the 1980s, Rabin's wife, Leah, told me, "Would it be so bad if he ends his political career by serving as defense minister?" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political path bears the same hallmarks. Most people believe that he has so far outperformed his first premiership (will he have the chance to continue this trend into a third term?).

But those two politicians are the exception to the rule. What is it that makes leaders, having been denied the top job through a democratic process, go about their business as if it was nothing more than being sent to the penalty box in some sporting event. For them this is nothing more than domestic exile. What's behind this mind set of "I still have more to give, I still have more work to do." Israeli politics appears to be virus. Once you have it in you, its there to stay. There is no vaccine.

Our sole comfort is that political talk shows are finally going to let go of the question of "will he return," or "will she return" when former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decide their next political moves.

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