Many years ago, the late humorist songwriter Chaim Cheffer wrote a seemingly innocuous ditty called “How Did the Flea Rise Up,” about this industrious flea who may have been born in a mouse’s fur, but he knew he was meant for larger animals, and so he kept rising up the ranks, to a doggie, then to a donkey (he hated that one because donkeys have to work), moved up to a horse and then, finally, made it to the government.
It was sung by the satirical group Mo’adon Hateatron (Theater Club), became a hit, and everybody in Israel, but everybody, knew it was about Shimon Peres, the indefatigable climber. According to Cheffer himself, who devoted part of his video last will to this song, Peres himself knew it too, which is why he and the gifted lyricist were not very close.
It’s all I could think about this morning.
Shimon Peres’s term is coming to an end (not a minute too soon, if you ask me, but few do) this July. This was supposed to conclude a career that began with him carrying Ben Gurion’s attaché case and making coffee, and ended with repeated failed bids to win the Prime Minister’s seat all to himself (he did share it with Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir), then some more back stabbing and more dirty tricks, and then the presidential palace, which he successfully incorporated into the promotional machine that bears his name (the Peres Center for Peace—for wire transfers include SWIFT# WFBIUS6S)…
It was all supposed to be over for the country’s favorite flea, and then I saw the reports about the new maneuver in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to change the way Israel receives its presidents. According to Army Radio, the new plan is to let the voters pick directly, through a popular vote, their symbolic figure who has no real function other than whatever hits his fancy.
OK, there’s one constitutional function for the Israeli president: after an election, he or she meet with all the new Knesset factions, and collect from them recommendations as to whom should be tapped to build the next coalition. The law determines that it must be the MK with the best chance to form a government, the president’s role is largely a formality. As is the fact that he signs the laws and treaties passed by the Knesset. Even pardons must be approved by the Minister of Justice, who has the power to veto a presidential pardon, if it’s been deemed unethical.
Because the role is strictly ceremonial, the Jewish equivalent of the Queen of England, the president has been selected, rather than elected, by the Knesset. Occasionally this process has included a floor fight, but no one, until this morning, has seriously considered picking the president through a popular vote. It’s just not worth it.
Enter the only other equally indefatigable politician in Israel’s history: Benjamin Netanyahu. As of today, in addition to all the other challenges he’s facing at home and abroad, Bibi is now thinking of changing the constitution regarding picking a president.
In Israel, you see, what we do to change the constitution is Bibi says “I want this change in the constitution” and we vote on it and it passes.
Very dynamic country, Israel.
Anyway, government sources have confirmed to Walla that it’s really the case, and that Bibi wants direct elections for president, which means that legislation covering this couldn’t possibly be ready in time for the vote this July, so Shimon will get to rule another year.
Millions will continue to pour out of Israeli taxpayer pockets to sponsor another year of Shimon. There will be another planetary Shimon conference next year, where experts from all over will come to Jerusalem to praise Shimon (and Tony Blair, of course, and Elie Wiesel, and Kissinger). Shimon will fly one more year to Davos, Shimon will kiss little girls who give him flowers on his pre-birthday, his birthday and his after-birthday, and, most importantly: Shimon will keep pushing the inevitable peace deal with the Palestinians, which is what the world is paying him for – the rest is just a bonus.
Now would be a good time to ask why Bibi needs this headache. After all, a president who gets his mandate directly from the people can seriously alter the political system in Israel. It makes no sense to go into all this hoopla just to elect the same ceremonial garden gnom.
One reason could be that Bibi might be coveting this job for himself some day. If it’s good to be the king, then it’s fun to be the king maker. But I don’t think that’s the real reason.
Like everything big and scary in Netanyahu’s life, the source of this news ripple must be Sara Netanyahu.
Sara hates Rueven Rivlin, the former Knesset Speaker, a veteran Likudnik who speaks his mind and is cursed by way too much honesty. He’s sweet and charming and generous, and people really like him, left, right and center. He made the mistake of not towing the party line last term, so Sara punished him by telling her husband to pick someone else for Speaker. You can’t slight Bibi and continue to hold the position to which you brought honor and dignity. No slack was cut for Rubi Rivlin.
At least 20 MKs, including government ministers have declared their support for Rivlin to be the next president of Israel. Netanyahu cannot expect to beat him without a bloody and humiliating fight. Rivlin is strongly associated with the pro-settlement camp. Going openly against him would create a needless, premature rift between the prime minister and the people he’s planning to deport from their homes some day.
Having in his possession no one even close to Rivlin in terms of qualifications and support to the man Sara despises, Netanyahu is playing for time. Give Shimon an extra year, spend a few extra millions, no harm done and Bibi can come home to a modicum of domestic tranquility, except for the Norwegian shiksa on the living room couch.
How did the flea rise up? Hop springs eternal.Yori Yanover
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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