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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A question of philosophy

Stop me if you've heard this one:

René Descartes walks into a diner and sits down at the counter. The waitress walks over, pours him a cup of coffee and asks, "Can I bring you a slice of pie to have with that?"  Without hesitating, Descartes answers, "I think not"... and disappears.


OK, let's go slowly so we won't leave anyone behind.  René Descartes was a 17th century French philosopher who was perhaps most famous for the statement "Cogito, ergo sum" (Latin: "I am thinking, therefore I exist", or more traditionally "I think, therefore I am"). 

Get it?


I shared this, admittedly, lame joke because I honestly don't understand why our hapless Prime Minister (and by extension, his party; Kadima) hasn't simply disappeared now that their philosophy has been discredited. 

Ehud Olmert and his merry band of political defectors were swept into office as part of a 'centrist' political revolution that embraced a single platform/philosophy: Unilateral withdrawal from 'the west bank'.

Some of you will doubtless take exception to my use of the term 'defectors', so perhaps I should explain before going on.  Kadima is a collection of politicians who defected from other parties to join Ariel Sharon in his vision of creating Israel's new borders. 

Those that defected from Labor were mostly genuine ideologues who had long embraced the idea of withdrawal from 'the territories'... some because of a desire to cease being an occupying power... and others out of a profound antipathy for religious settlers.

Those that defected from Likud were largely opportunists who had never fully embraced the ideology of the Likud, but who saw the right-of-center political powerhouse as a convenient path to power during a period of national security concerns and regional instability.

The thing they all shared in common was that they agreed to abandon everything else they had ever stood for and become in essence, a 'one trick pony'.  The former Laborites defected from the social-welfare agenda they had held dear, and the former Likudniks defected from the security and 'strategic depth' agenda on which they had built their careers.

Now these two types of defectors saw in Ariel Sharon a man who could get things done.  They watched in awe as the former right-wing 'hawk' co-pted one of the most dovish plans ever put forth by the left... and in a matter of months did what nobody thought could be done: He pulled Israel out of Gaza. 

That he was able to bring the Israeli media on-board and accomplished the withdrawal in the face of protests from many quarters about the folly of unilateralism and the dangers of appearing to reward terror, only further increased his cachet with the defectors.

Then just before the elections something happened that must have shaved years off the collective lives of the Kadima defectors: Ariel Sharon checked out of politics in order to test the medical definition of brain death.   

But Ehud Olmert wasn't worried.  He knew that there was still a critical mass of Israeli voters out there who, like his fellow Kadima members, were:

a) hardwired from birth to hate religious settlers;


b) ideologically pre-disposed to vote for whoever could end Israel's tenure as an occupying power;


c) motivated to vote for any seemingly unstoppable powerhouse  (i.e. those who would always try to back a winning horse).

And he was right.  Kadima - with its single agenda talking point - won with ease.

But after the elections the wheels really started to fall off the wagon.  As predicted by the right-wing lunatics and religious fanatics, the newly Judenrein Gaza immediately set about using their autonomy to launch hundreds of rockets into Israel.  In addition, nearly daily attempts were made to infiltrate over (and under) the Gaza border.

But for some reason Kadima's backers held firm and studiously ignored the philosophical question staring them in the face: If Israeli occupation was the problem and unilateral withdrawal the only solution... why were they still trying to kill us?

Then the now-wheel-less wagon went completely off the road and into a ditch.  In addition to a full-scale war being launched from un-occupied Gaza, southern Lebanon (another area from which Israel had unilaterally withdrawn) opened up a second front against us.

I don't need to rehash the results of these two disastrous withdrawals for you.  The newspapers are still full of accounts by people with 20/20 hindsight... and the hospitals are overflowing with the maimed, burned and sightless.

So now that the one and only trick our national pony knew how to perform has turned out to be, well, not very entertaining... I have to wonder how it is that Kadima is still in power?   Ehud Olmert has announced that the only thing he and his party stood for in the last elections now turns out to be "irrelevant".

So where are the deafening cries for a vote of no-confidence?  Where are the massive demonstrations calling for new elections.  Why haven't the political right and left run to reclaim their broader agendas and abandoned Kadima to die an ignoble death now that its single platform has been discredited?

Before, during and after the last elections, Ehud Olmert expressed a single guiding philosophy;  Unilateral withdrawal.  So should Olmert now be allowed to spend the remainder of his tenure trying on new philosophies for size... and busily covering his ass? 

Like our old friend Descartes... I think not.


Posted by David Bogner on September 5, 2006 | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 6, 2006 4:30:13 AM


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I just have questions:

1) Is now a good time to call on a no-confidence vote?

2) Is there anyone in the possible field of contenders that has the backbone necessary?

Posted by: seawitch | Sep 5, 2006 2:42:34 PM

Seawitch... 1) No time is a good time change governments. In fact there have been far fewer ideal eras in which to declare 'no-confidence' than there have been governments worthy of the vote. 2) An apparent dearth of obvious replacements has never been a sound reason to stick with bad leaders. The whole mechanism for removing bad leaders/governments exists not because the people who created the system anticipated a waiting list of qualified replacements... but rather because they recognised that the need might arise to change horses in mid-stream.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 5, 2006 4:19:32 PM

it needs to be done. On my blog I have been calling for that exact thing for a long time - since Olmert stepped into office. I received much criticism, mainly from people abroad who think that whatever party is in power in israel must be doing the right thing (by supporting the government I think they feel ok living abroad rather than making aliya - they can say they support Israel).

I agree with everything you wrote, except for one thing. "And he was right. Kadima - with its single agenda talking point - won with ease." They did not win with ease. In the 2 weeks prior to the election, Kadima lost support from 45 or so seats to the eventual 29 seats.

To me that indicates it was all a matter of timing. People started waking up right before the elections. Had the elections been a week or two later we might have seen Kadima with much less, and probably (I believe) not even win the most seats (though it is a what-if scenario).

Posted by: Rafi G | Sep 5, 2006 5:10:36 PM

Too bad some general didn't accomplish something brilliant, courageous and effective in the latest war.

Posted by: Scott | Sep 5, 2006 8:03:02 PM

I think there reason Olmert will stay in power for a while is that no one in the coalition will benefit from calling a new election. The way I see it, Kadima, Labor, Shas (I think they're in the coalition), Gil, etc would all lose seats in a new election. The parties on the right will gain seats (and Shas will lose votes to Likud).

Since the coalition forms a majority of the members of the Knesset and since it's not in any of their interests to bring down the government, the government will stay in power (for now).
Governments fall when one coalition member decides that they will gain seats in a new election. I don't see that happening here.

(BTW. While I didn't vote for Kadima in the last election, I think your characterization of them is a bit unfair. I also think the fact that Olmert has gotten rid of unilateral disengagement is to his credit. It shows an ability to face reality and give up cherished positions when circumstances have proven them to be mistaken.)

Posted by: JP | Sep 5, 2006 8:59:09 PM

I agree with JP's analysis of immediate government infighting.

Longer term - and more ominous - is the growing cynism about the political process in general here in Israel, and an increasing feeling of disenfranchisement or apathy by many.

The most worrying aspect of the last election - to me, at least - was the record low turnout.

Posted by: Ben-David | Sep 5, 2006 9:28:32 PM

I know that it's the height of rudeness to focus on a single, meaningless part of a post full of intelligent arguements, but as a college student taking Philosophy 101, I'm still too busy giggling at that joke to concentrate on anything else.



Posted by: Kate | Sep 5, 2006 9:46:50 PM

I think a weak prime minister is the best we can hope for in this country - unfortunately, the status quo seems to be better than what we get by electing strong leaders.

With few if any exceptions, most strong leaders have lead us down a path of self-destruction, no matter what political platform.

Olmert came in with a strong right-wing Likudnik air about him (even though I'm now told he's no where near that stature) Now he's pretty much been widdled down to a puny pawn. So what harm can he do now without political capital?

Ultimately, I don't think any politician will make a move to change government until (and you're going to laugh at this one) Kadima really stumbles - either with prisoner swap or the ensuing attacks or some hoakey ordeal in between. Nice blog.


Posted by: Ronn BenHarav | Sep 5, 2006 11:53:40 PM

"hardwired from birth to hate religious settlers;"

My 2c:
I've been that type of person most of my life, I must admit. Not actually "hating", I wouldn't use that word. But you are the only "religious settler" I know, really, if you can call reading a blog knowing.
However, I have changed my political views quite a bit as I grew up, especially in the last 5 years (like many, I suspect). Blogs have had a lot to do with it.
My point is: thanks for letting me get to know you because I think without blogs it would have never happened! And I'm Israeli and all, we are "on the same side" and yet there is a divide. When you don't talk to other people it's really hard to understrand their point of view.
Sorry if I was rambling a bit...

Posted by: MamaWombat | Sep 6, 2006 7:03:36 AM

Well, I think one of the reasons for why Olmert still hasn't disappeared is the same reason he appeared in the first place - not enough people decisive to vote for someone else.

Posted by: Irina | Sep 6, 2006 7:08:20 AM

Rafi G... I get some of that as well. It never occurred to me that part of the reason people outside the country might blindly back the current government was out of a sense of patriotism... but you might be right.

Scott... On the contrary, there are stories emerging of truly amazing feats carried out by the military in Lebanon. the problem is that the higher command eschelon and the government didn't have a unified plan of how to prosecute the war and in fact weren't even sure during the height of the war if we should be fighting it 100%. This was the problem.

JP... How was it unfair. Unilateral disengagement was all he had. It may be well and good that he abandons a dead horse... but he has nothing else on which to ride!

Ben-David... IMHO the record low turnout was because of the sense of disenfranchisement. There needs to be a mechanism by which the elected officials are answerable to the electorate... not just the party hacks.

Kate... Not rude at all! Feel free to pass it on. It is an oldie but a goodie.

Ronn BenHarav... Th e problem is that most of the problems we are experiencing with the Palestinians and with our neighbors is that things like unilateral withdrawal has made us appear weak and vulnerable to further pressure. The last thing we need right now is a PM/government that appears hamstrung.

MamaWombat... I appreciate your candor. Few people will admit to their prejudices because in this day and age we aren't supposed to have any. I freely admit to an irrational prejudice against Hasidim (as a group, not as individuals). I can't fully explain it, but I know from experience that I feel less sympathy for them when they are portrayed negatively in the press... and in fact tend to feel vindicated when a bad actor from that community does something shameful. I tell you this because I know for a fact that many people feel the same way about settlers. Let one settler do something reprehensible and a lot of secular Israelis nod their head sagely and say "See... those settlers are bad news". Let the PM mention in passing that he views the settler right as a security threat to the country and it is suddenly considered fact by almost half the country without any evidence to support it. I'm glad you have gotten to know me through my journal... but just as I have a lot of work to do on my anti-Hasidic prejudice, you and many others need to start thinking more critically about things related to the settlers. We are not the root of all the country's problems.

Irina... It is even simpler than that. His departure will mean all of his hangers-on will also fall from power. It is simply a matter of honor among thieves.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 6, 2006 10:53:40 AM

Hmm...I was under the impression that there has been a widespread call for Olmert to step down. Maybe I am reading the wrong papers. Who would you like to see in his stead? And, yes, I did laugh at the Descartes joke...do you have any for Foucault?

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 6, 2006 12:23:53 PM

i went with my 83 year old mama to sign the petitions...out out...quick before youknowho sends down the fire and brimstone...or is it hail and brimstone? whatever it ain't gonna be good...i have a great email video clip of dr. suess asking olmert to resign...if you want it i'll be happy to send it to you...as for the french...heaven love 'em...have you heard this one? the chirac's were at a formal dinner at the white house and laura bush turned to mrs. chirac and asked her what she was going to do when her husband retired...mrs. chirac quickly answered, "We are going to look for a p..is." a hush fell over the table when jacques leaned over to his wife and said, 'Cherie, in English it is pronounced happiness."...stay safe and keep those blogs coming

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 6, 2006 1:07:19 PM

Wow, two great jokes about the French - one in your post and one in your comments! As to Kadima, I think the Israeli public is sick and tired of elections! I certainly don't want to hear about another poll - it makes me sick to my stomach.

Posted by: westbankmama | Sep 6, 2006 3:41:12 PM

I freely admit to an irrational prejudice against Hasidim (as a group, not as individuals). I can't fully explain it...
Hey Dave, why not do like Mama Wombat did, and visit some Chassidic blogs, to learn more about these people? You can start with mine and A Simple Jew's...

Posted by: yitz | Sep 6, 2006 4:19:46 PM

Thanks for another of your well written political posts, which always succeed in making me think again about what I hear on the radio or on the street. In terms of the joke, I had to laugh, but mainly because I'm living in France at the moment and thus know that a) having a waiter come over to you is extremely unlikely, and b) the chance of having the waitress offer to bring something else is about 00000.12%!!

Posted by: zemirah | Sep 7, 2006 7:12:53 PM

I've started using that joke to discover which people are really my peers.

If they don't get it, there is too much to explain, and they have too much catching up to do.

If they do get it, they clearly do not watch much sports on teevee.

So far, half of my peers are not my peers.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Sep 9, 2006 12:51:21 AM


Aside from agreeing with everything you've said, David. I'd like to add an amusing little philosopher bit:

Q: knock-knock
A: who's there?
Q: interrupting cow
A: Interrupting...

(more crickets)
The joke teller interrupts the joke listener by moo-ing.

Now, stay on the train...

Q: knock-knock
A: who's there?
Q: interrupting Existentialist
A: interrupting...
(pronounced "CA-MOO!")

just trying to bring a little light into the dark world of Israeli Existentialism...

Posted by: soferet | Sep 9, 2006 1:19:56 AM

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