Thursday, January 8, 2015

They Can't Count to Fifteen

At the Bayit Hayehudi meeting in Yad Binyamin 
Last night, as I was watching an episode of Road to the Winter Classic (a reality show about the lives of NHL hockey players), my wife wandered into the room and sat down for a moment (that's about all the hockey she can stand). Almost immediately, she commented on the intense pressure these players consistently face. While of course their job is physically more difficult, I suggested that we all work hard in our jobs.
Yes, she said, but their pressure is a completely different level. They are being evaluated on a daily basis. If they succeed, they play. If they fail, they don't. In our jobs, there is of course pressure to succeed, but what other profession carries with it the constant pressure that you might lose your job tomorrow if you fail to perform?
She was right, of course. Few professions carry that pressure. And then I thought of another profession with a similar pressure: politics.
This past Tuesday evening, I attended a community gathering of the Bayit Hayehudi in Yad Binyamin. I went mostly out of curiosity - I didn't plan on learning anything new - but I'm a registered BH voter, and I felt that I should make the effort to listen to the people I'm about to vote for (or against). It was an impressive list of Knesset members who actually attended: from Naftali Bennett (shorter than I expected, but he immediately went to the food table and poured himself a cup of soup, which he ate from the dais) to Ayelet Shaked to Nissan Slomiansky (who actually got there earlier than I did - which was early, and was shmoozing with people milling about waiting for the event to begin) all the way down the list (even the MK's who couldn't make it on time came as the meeting progressed). I couldn't really understand it: MKs are notorious no-shows. They schedule zillions of events, and often cancel on you at the last minute. What's different now? They all - or at least most of them - are up for re-election. In other words, they're all out of a job, unless we - the voters - reelect them. And there is a very, very long list of people who want us to give them the job instead.
If you're not living in Israel, you have no sense of this phenomenon, but yesterday, with the closing of the Bayit Hayehudi list for the coming primary elections, a total of forty two (42!) candidates have registered in the primary (the entire list appears here in Hebrew). A good number of them were actually at the Tuesday meeting, milling about, and sitting in the front row waiting for their turn to make their pitch to the masses. Sadly, after the MKs spoke, the crowd thinned considerably, leaving the poor candidates to talk to a good number of empty chairs.)
How much money do you need to spend to even have a chance to get elected to a reasonable spot on the list? A good friend told me that a candidate has no hope of getting elected to a reasonable position spending less than 250,000 shekel. At least. After all, you need to produce a video to post on Facebook (and spend money pushing that video so that people will actually see it. These videos - one of which I've included here for MK Avi Vortzman, run from the clever to the sublime to the ridiculous. But they're what get you elected in 2014, without any doubt). You need signs, ads, consultants, and let's not forget that you needed to take two months off from your job to run.
What's a reasonable spot? Most polls see the BH numbers rising from 12 to 15 in the coming Knesset. But let's go crazy, and assume that the BH will reach the incredible number of 18 seats this coming election. What are the chances of an unknown candidate actually making the list? The answer to this question lies in understanding the makeup of the list itself. Here's the actual delineation of the BH seats:
1. Chair (that's Bennet, although some guy named Shimon Or is running against him. That takes guts. Really. No chance. None.)
2. Guaranteed spot for Tekumah. The BH party is actually the combination of two factions - the old Mafdal - the National Religious party, and Tekumah - the party that represented the Chardal and more right-wing branch of the RZ world. For many weeks, it was unclear whether BH and Tekumah would actually run together against in the coming elections as they did last election or split apart. That's an important post that I hope to write soon. But, as part of the deal to run together, the Tekumah candidates are guaranteed spots on the BH list, so they're off the table in the primaries. That spot will go to Uri Ariel, currently Minister of Housing.
3. Personal choice of the Chairman - that will go to Yinon Magel, a well-known journalist (who is supposedly secular, but whose wife is religious and who keeps Shabbat) in an effort to expand the reach of the party beyond the Religious Zionist community, to broaden the party's power and base.
4. Seat promised to a female candidate - whichever woman gets the most votes. In all likelihood, that will go to Ayelet Shaked, which is fine with me. In the Tuesday meeting, she didn't give a meaningless stump speech, but instead said, "You've heard enough speeches. Any questions?" She then proceeded to answer with poise and tact, in a very direct but also intelligent manner. I was impressed.
5. Open
6. Personal choice of the Chairman
7. Open
8. Female candidate - that will probably go to MK Shuli Muallem, simply because she has the greatest name recognition
9. Tekumah
10. The candidate representing the Center of the Country (6 people are running for that spot)
11. Personal choice of the Chairman
12. Female candidate
13. Open
14. Open
15. Tekumah
16. Personal choice of the Chairman (are you noticing a trend here? That's a lot of power for the chairman to pack the list with "his" people.)
17. Female candidate
18. Tekumah

So let's count it up. Among the first eighteen spots (and the realistic number for BH is fifteen), there are...four total open spots. That's right: four. And let's not forget that among the people vying for those spots are:
MK and Minister for Senior Citizens Uri Orbach
MK and Vice Minister of Education Avi Vortzman  (who, it seems, paid for the Yad Binyamin event. His posters were all over the room, and they were even playing his them song in the background. Yes, he had a theme song. And, apparently, he's also Superman. Or Superman is his secret identity. Or something. See his video.)
Vice Minister of Religious Affairs Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan (who I will be voting for. He's done great things to bring religious affairs into the twenty-first century, and also strongly supported the Tzohar Law, which passed last year.)
MK Moti Yogev
MK and Chair of the Knesset Finance Committee Nissan Slomiansky

That's correct. The current BH members of Knesset themselves are running for four spots, and there are now five of them (of course, Naftali Bennett could choose a couple of them with his reserved spots, but he doesn't have to). Then add to the list nationally recognized names like former Chairman of the Yesha Council Dani Dayan, former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronski, and others who I don't even know, and you begin to wonder: what possible chance would any of the other twenty-five candidates have to make a reasonable spot on the list?
What could possibly motivate someone to spend 250,000 shekel from his savings, when the odds are so stacked against you? As my friend noted, these are all wonderful, dedicated and devoted people. They really do feel that they have something important to bring to the table.
But, sadly for them, they can't count to fifteen.