JERUSALEM—In three months, Israelis will head to the polls in what may become one of the most sensational yet least significant elections in their country’s recent memory. The race is already generating ample drama, with political parties forming and breaking up on what seems like an almost daily basis. But the always entertaining horse-race coverage belies a hopelessly stagnant political system, and a public discourse disinterested in policy and ideas.
The contest will not be between different ideological approaches or policy solutions to Israel’s mounting problems, but between a few prominent figures who run political parties like private businesses and conduct themselves like media celebrities rather than public leaders. At the end of a heated and nasty campaign, one of them will carry the day. And it will almost assuredly be Benjamin Netanyahu.
Less than two months ago, when Netanyahu’s coalition was teetering on the brink of breakdown following the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the prime minister addressed the nation with an impassioned warning against an early election. Israel, he admonished viewers, was in the midst of an “extensive military campaign.” Heading to an election at such a sensitive time would be “irresponsible,” as one should never “play politics” or put “personal considerations” above national security. Not six weeks went by, and Netanyahu decided that it’s actually a perfect time to head to the polls after all.