Friday, September 14, 2007

Back to the town square

Israelis should regain control of political arena, fight corruption together In the past year, the sense of disgust with politics became further entrenched among the public. At the beginning of the New Year, the growing presence of this feeling regarding the institutions of Israeli democracy leaves us facing a growing threat to the very existence of these institutions.

This feeling, the “curse of disgust”, leads more and more educated young people, wealthy people, and capable Israelis to turn their backs on activity for the sake of the public. After all, who wishes to take part in something described as a muddy swamp?

The curse of disgust with politics feeds on its twin sister – the shallow and exaggerated rhetoric that offers us spins, loud headlines, and cheap entertainment in the hopes of satisfying us. At the same time, we use the same rhetoric in order to slam “them”- the corrupt people operating within the murky swamp of politics and performing complex public service activity. They are the ones that bear the disgust we wish to disconnect from.

Many good people are indeed disconnecting. Those people (most of us, we should say,) gladly accept various “purists” who clear our conscience by seemingly, though falsely, doing the work for all of us; on the one hand, they contribute to the rhetoric of mud-slinging around them and are active participants in enhancing the sense of disgust. However, above all, they free us from the obligation to get involved, from the duty of judgment, and from the duty to face up to matters that are complex rather than simple.

However, in the face of all of these people, and perhaps even from within them, a blessing may emerge. The blessing which we should be wishing upon ourselves and our democracy is the blessing of enlistment, activism, regaining our senses and the ability to accept and cope with the multifaceted complexity of the public arena and politics that give rise to the decisions that affect this public arena.

Let’s not forget that this joint arena, the “town square,” belongs to all of us. This is where elected politicians grow and operate in, along with the bureaucrats, officials, and appointed public officials. The town square that is shared by all of us unites us with “them” – this is the arena where the disease of corruption whose murky roots affect all of us grew. The responsibility to remove this disease lies with us, not just with various “anti-corruption forces.”

The public arena, that is the town square, should give rise to responsible voices that doubt the rhetoric of shallowness and exaggerated passion.

This blessing will grow out of a perception that views the town square as real estate that belongs to all of us. This will revitalize the responsibility for a common agenda, constructive criticism, and leveraging the rules of ethics in a way that dwarfs the culture of TV rating. Regaining the perception that the public sphere belongs to me, you, and all of us will promote modesty at the expense of arrogance and question marks at the expense of exclamation marks.

Let us be wise enough to turn the next 10 days, to climax on Yom Kippur, into a collective, public self-examination. Let us accept the burden of thinking about that which is common to us all, and not just the private. Let us see the curse of disgust with politics and false rhetoric of rating replaced with the blessing of responsibility. Let us find the strength to do all this!

Dr Arye Carmon is the President of the Israel Democracy Institute

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