Into the fray: Through their unelected positions of influence and authority, civil society elites shape the political discourse and hence the perceived constraints on decision-makers.
Nissim Mishal: To what extent… did the police investigations, the fear of the investigations, [state attorney] Edna Arbel in the background, and his [Ariel Sharon’s] fear of being indicted, influence this historic decision regarding the disengagement?
Ofer Shelah: Decisive influence! The people closest to Sharon told us absolutely that if not for the police interrogations, the decision [to quit Gaza] would not have been made.
– an exchange on a prime time TV talk-show, Channel 2, June 15, 2005.
In my column last week, I suggested that in deciphering the many seemingly inexplicable conundrums that abound in Israeli politics, it might be helpful to conceive of the country’s political system as a chauffeured limousine.
Resonating with readers
This allegorical portrayal, in which the people ostensibly in charge (the elected politicians) are likened to the driver, whose destination is in fact determined, not by him/herself but by the occupants of the plush backseats, out of sight behind the shaded panes (civil society elites), generated a deluge of responses.
I spent much of my weekend coping with the traffic on my Facebook page and email; and the almost 850 “likes” registered on The Jerusalem Post website, JPost.com, seems to indicate that it resonated well with many readers.
Despite the positive overall reception the explanatory analogy was given, one particular query recurred with some frequency.
While few contested the analogy’s validity/ value as a conceptual postulate, many felt it needed greater empirical corroboration and illustrative examples to back it up.
I confess that I found this a little surprising, since corroborating evidence abounds everywhere: In the bile of Haaretz editorials, and even its news coverage; in the barbs that pepper the commentaries on Friday night TV news programs; in the bias of university syllabi, events and composition of conference line-ups; in the documented and measurable jaundice of the judiciary.
To recap briefly
Before I turn to providing substantiating illustrations of the theory, allow me to recap briefly. Last week I demonstrated that no matter what the composition – or the electoral platform – of the government of the day (the limousine chauffeur), the “destination” is still the same: Adoption of a policy of political appeasement and territorial retreat.
Changing governments seems to have little effect on this – just as changing chauffeurs would have little effect on the destination of the limousine. Of course, some governments might embrace the policy with greater enthusiasm, others with greater reluctance, some may counsel caution in dealing with negotiating partners, others, trust and largesse, just as some drivers may have different styles of driving or prefer slightly different routes.
But these disparities, once again, will have little impact on the journey’s end-point.
This is determined by the backseat occupants – a trinity of interacting civil society elites, comprising groups and individuals who dominate the legal establishment, the mainstream media and much of the …read more