Tag: Meretz

ISRAEL’S ELECTION: DEMOCRACY STRONG AS NETANYAHU WIN IN OFFING — IRAN REMAINS KEY, AS OBAMA, EUROPEAN PRESSURES LOOM

 

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

 

Making Conservative Choices: David M. Weinberg, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2013—Israelis will elect a conservative government this week because they think it prudent to do so, not because they are “turning inwards” or backwards or developing antidemocratic tendencies. They want Binyamin Netanyahu, not Tzipi Livni (or Shimon Peres, or any other candidate of the Left), to lead the country, because caution – not hollow and unsubstantiated hope – is the prevailing watchword.

 

Weak Netanyahu Finish Suggests Unwieldy Coalition: Joshua Mitnick, Wall Street Journal, Jan 18, 2013—There is little question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party will emerge at the head of a ruling coalition when Israelis vote in nationwide elections on Tuesday. But polls also show his campaign is limping to the finish line amid falling support, which is likely to leave him weakened and heading a coalition more fragile than the current one.

 

Unseating Netanyahu a Tricky Game: Matthew Fisher, Postmedia News, Jan. 20, 2013—Having led every poll taken from the beginning to the end of a national election campaign that has lasted for months, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to be re-elected as Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday. But in Israel, where any of the 34 parties that are contesting the election get more than two per cent of the vote gets seats in the Knesset, election day is the first part of what is a long, tortuous electoral dance.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

 

Israeli Electoral Politics – A Guide for the Perplexed: Gil Hoffman, Jeruslaem Post, Jan. 10, 2013

Zionism’s New Boss: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 14, 2013

A Far-Right Israeli Electorate?: Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 16, 2013

Netanyahu Coalition Forming Dilemmas: Joseph Puder, Front Page Magazine, Jan. 21, 2013

PA Hopes Syrian 'Red Herring' Discredits Netanyahu at Polls: Chana Ya'ar, Israel National News, Jan. 21, 2013

The Bennett Threat – and Why the Pols are Scared: Moshe Dann, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

MAKING CONSERVATIVE CHOICES

David M. Weinberg

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 20, 2013

 

Israelis will elect a conservative government this week because they think it prudent to do so, not because they are “turning inwards” or backwards or developing anti-democratic tendencies. They want Binyamin Netanyahu, not Tzipi Livni (or Shimon Peres, or any other candidate of the Left), to lead the country, because caution – not hollow and unsubstantiated hope – is the prevailing watchword. It’s important to say these things, because in the global punditocracy there is an inaccurate narrative taking root, to wit Netanyahu’s reelection means that Israel being overrun by Right-wing and religious fanatics, and that it is choosing isolationism over opportunities for peace.

 

In fact, clever pundits like David Remnick of The New Yorker and Ari Shavit of Haaretz have tried to portray the current Israeli election campaign as a historic choice between two competing narratives: that of the isolationist-nationalist Israeli Right, and the liberal-democratic-peace-seeking Israeli Left. But these brainy journalists are all-too-slick and only superficially sophisticated. The dichotomous moment they have summoned-forth is false, and their reading of Israeli society and polity is terribly off-base. Very few Israelis see things the way Remnick and Shavit do.

 

Israelis don’t see themselves as standing at a historic juncture. They don’t believe that Middle East circumstances are ripe for peace. Given Oslo’s sorry 20-year record, they are indeed wary of Palestinian statehood. They know that withdrawal from the West Bank at present would be suicide, given the Islamic blitzkrieg across the Mideast, along with Abbas’ weakness and Hamas’ ascendency in the Palestinian arena. They still pine for peace, but given the situation in Sinai, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran (and Ramallah), sadly they expect conflict.

 

And so, the Israeli public overwhelmingly does not buy the well worn argument, advanced obstinately by the Left and the international community, that the peace process is stuck because of settlements or lack of Israeli diplomatic flexibility. They simply feel that caution militates against dramatic diplomatic moves at this time. They are waiting-out the Arab Spring and other storms, taking no irresponsible risks, and voting for steady hands at the helm of state.

 

That is why Tzipi Livni’s “I can bring the peace” messaging never took hold during the current campaign. It is important to reiterate that Israelis are not becoming callously defiant of the world and the Palestinians, nor wildly “annexationist.” They are not making a grand choice this week between good and evil, between peace and war, between liberalism and fascism. They are simply choosing responsible government. And what they assume will emerge from the election is a go-slow Netanyahu government with parties of both the Zionist Right and Left; another complicated coalition government, with built-in checks and balances.

 

One thing is for sure: Israelis don’t buy the doomsday scenarios drawn by Remnick and Shavit, or by some Diaspora Jewish leaders like Eric Yoffie of the Reform movement or Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund, about Israel forfeiting its democracy, becoming a Spartacus state, or losing its global friends.

 

So why the apocalyptic analyses? Unfortunately, I sense that the Israeli and American-Jewish ideological Left has gone stir-crazy with Netanyahu hatred. They can’t accept the fact that the political Left’s 20-year-long crusade for Palestinian statehood has been proven bankrupt; they can’t stand the fact Netanyahu is going to be reelected; and they are setting a trap in which to bring him crashing down.

 

By positing that Israel is at an apocalyptic crossroads, and that Israel is pig-headedly making wrong and dangerous choices, the stage is set for “wiser” actors to intervene “to save Israel in spite of itself.” This is the upshot of Jeffrey Goldberg’s celebrated Bloomberg News column, in which he describes the lack of trust and frustration in the White House concerning Netanyahu. Netanyahu just “doesn’t understand what Israel’s best interests are,” Goldberg has Obama saying, and “his conduct will drive Israel into grave international isolation.”

 

With such isolation, even from the United States, Israel won’t survive, Goldberg (or Obama) opines. “Israel’s own behaviour poses a long-term threat to its existence.” Therefore, real friends have to step in to save Israel from itself, by imposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – which is the swift establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state. For Israel’s own good, of course.

 

Like Peter Beinart before him, Goldberg says that Obama is not going to directly pressure Israel on this matter, and this seems correct. Instead, Obama has outsourced the Palestinian issue to the Europeans. Europe is going to take the lead in wedging Israel into a corner against its own self-perceived interests (but in reality “for its own good”) – with Obama “leading from behind.” This explains the overwhelming European vote at UN in November in favor of upgrading the status of “Palestine,” even though Washington was opposed (at least in public) to the move and voted against it.

 

Nevertheless, Obama didn’t seem too upset with the Europeans for voting against Israel and the US. Like I said, it’s called outsourcing the pressure on Israel to Europe. The next European move (with Obama “leading from behind”) will be an attempt to impose an internationalized framework for Israeli-Palestinian talks with terms of reference that basically settle everything in advance in favour of the Palestinians (1967 lines, etc.) The Palestinians will be forgiven for their unwillingness to enter direct and unconditional negotiations with Israel. Europe will dispense with insistence on that venerable principle of the peace process. After all, they no longer trust Israel to do what is in its own best interests (to withdraw), even if there were direct talks.

 

So best just get on with it and impose the outlines of a “settlement” in indirect consultations or an international forum. And besides, the main point of the process will not be real negotiations or true peace, but the dethroning of Netanyahu.

 

The author is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 

 

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WEAK NETANYAHU FINISH SUGGESTS UNWIELDY COALITION

Joshua Mitnick

Wall Street Journal, Jan 18, 2013

 

There is little question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party will emerge at the head of a ruling coalition when Israelis vote in nationwide elections on Tuesday. But polls also show his campaign is limping to the finish line amid falling support, which is likely to leave him weakened and heading a coalition more fragile than the current one….

 

One coalition possibility is an alliance with centrist parties that could push for domestic economic reforms and also support diplomacy with the Palestinians. That would be a salve to Mr. Netanyahu, who is grappling with a looming fiscal austerity plan and increased international isolation, including strained ties with President Barack Obama.

 

But the most apparent option—easier to form, but more challenging to govern—would be a far-right coalition that opposes a Palestinian state. Such a coalition would likely be more fractious and unstable than the current multiparty coalition led by Mr. Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which with smaller religious and far-right parties currently controls 66 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

 

Following Tuesday's vote, should Mr. Netanyahu's bloc add the projected seats of four smaller right-wing and religious parties, it would maintain its 66-seat majority, according to a Smith Institute poll for the Israeli financial daily Globes. Some five center-left parties would control 44 seats, according to the poll, and Arab-Israeli parties would control 10 seats. Other polls have shown a religious-right bloc could hold from 63 to 69 seats.

 

Mr. Netanyahu's re-election bid has been bolstered by the lack of any formidable rival and a fragmented center-left opposition. His campaign ads tout him as a strong leader keeping the Jewish state stable amid regional turmoil. For the most part, the opposition has shied away from challenging his assertions that the Palestinians are to blame for the peace-process impasse, and that Arab Spring tumult demands that Israel approach new concessions with skepticism. "The major macro issues aren't being debated here to the point that it might have been, if you had two popular leaders from major parties," said Amir Mizroch, the editor of the English edition of Israel Hayom.

 

The closest challenger is Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovitch, whose party would capture about half as many seats as Mr. Netanyahu's Likud, according to the polls. A former television and radio host, Ms. Yachimovich has struggled to persuade the Israeli electorate that she is qualified to be prime minister. She has vowed not to join a government led by Mr. Netanyahu. Her support has been eroded by two center-left parties. One is led by Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister who has made restarting peace talks the center of her campaign. A second, headed by former news anchor Yair Lapid, has also skirted foreign policy. The three camps have sparred over whether to form a collective front to face Mr. Netanyahu.

 

Center-left parties are largely to blame for the absence of a foreign-policy debate, said Ari Shavit, a columnist at the liberal Ha’aretz paper. These parties, he said, have focused on domestic issues rather than formulating a fresh pitch on peace. "The old peace ideology collapsed, and it was never replaced," he said….

 

Polls show Mr. Netanyahu is losing support to politicians on the right. His merged party slate with Avigdor Lieberman—who stepped down from his post as foreign minister just last month after a fraud indictment—is running at about 15% below the parties' current 42 seats in the outgoing parliament, polls show. The beneficiaries have included the pro-settler Jewish Home party and its charismatic leader, Naftali Bennett, who opposes a Palestinian state and supports annexation of most of the West Bank.

 

Although a coalition of Likud-Beiteinu, Jewish Home, Shas and United Torah Judaism would be the easiest option for Mr. Netanyahu, "few in the political establishment are willing to bet on this outcome, mainly because with this composition, it will be impossible to pass a dramatic budget cut, to pass new laws on equally sharing the burden [created for subsidies and draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox] and to respond to the international pressure on holding negotiations with the Palestinians,'' wrote Zeev Kam, in the Maariv newspaper.

 

Such a coalition could also make it difficult for Mr. Netanyahu to find common ground among a large number of parties, especially among foreign-policy moderates queasy about joining a hard-line coalition. "Netanyahu called elections, but he might end up with a worse situation that he ended walking out of, with less power than he had in the last government," said Reuven Hazan, a political-science professor at Hebrew University.

 

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UNSEATING NETANYAHU A TRICKY GAME

Matthew Fisher,

Postmedia News, Jan. 20, 2013

 

Having led every poll taken from the beginning to the end of a national election campaign that has lasted for months, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to be re-elected as Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday. But in Israel, where any of the 34 parties that are contesting the election get more than two per cent of the vote gets seats in the Knesset, election day is the first part of what is a long, tortuous electoral dance. What follows will be days and perhaps weeks of horse trading as Netanyahu scrambles to find the numbers to form a stable right-wing or centre-right coalition government from among the eight or nine parties expected to win more than a few of the parliament’s 120 seats.

 

“Even if he is re-elected, what kind of a coalition will Netanyahu have? What kind of coalition can he build?” asked Eytan Gilboa, director of Bar-Ilan University. “I think he will have a rough time of it because his position will probably not be as strong as it was in the last election. At the end of the negotiations Netanyahu may find himself in a weak, problematic position.”

 

Polls taken last week indicated that the 63-year-old Netanyahu, his right-wing Likud Party and its strongly nationalist partners, Yisrael Beiteinu, led by [former] Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman and strongly backed by Israel’s one million Russians, have been losing support. Nevertheless, the partners were still expected to end up on top. A poll by the Ha’aretz daily gave them as many as 32 seats. Labour, whose leader Shelly Yacimovich has already declared her party will not be part of a Netanyahu-led coalition, was a distant second with about 17 seats….

 

What really matters on election night is how the right-wing religious bloc stacks up against the centre-left-Arab bloc. Polling has suggested that the right-left split may be closer than seemed likely a few months ago. If the pollsters are right, Netanyahu and his likely coalition members appear set to control 63 seats to about 57 seats for the opposition.

 

The biggest election-day drama may turn out to be the size of the bite taken out of Likud’s vote by the hard right, Jewish Home Party (Bayit Yehudi). It is a new party led by Naftali Bennett, a charismatic 40-year-old newcomer to electoral politics who lived for several years as a young boy in Montreal where, according to Ha’aretz, he and his family became religiously observant. Some years after returning to Israel he became a special forces officer and war hero in Lebanon. After that he became a high-tech millionaire. Between 2006 and 2008 he served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff before the two men had a falling out that was never fully explained by either but has been the subject of considerable media speculation.

 

“I think Bennett is real. The question is how many seats is he going to get and how many votes will he take away from Netanyahu,” said Gilboa. “Bennett has adopted a clever election strategy. He says Netanyahu will be prime minister. I will support him and join his coalition. But he is also suggesting that he will constrain Netanyahu. “It has been effective so far. Likud has attacked Bennett lately because it has become concerned by him. It may harm Netanyahu, but that will not effect the right-wing bloc that much because the right-wing vote stays in the bloc.”

 

Bennett has outflanked Netanyahu, who also had a distinguished military record in the special forces, by being even stronger than his former boss on what many Israelis regard as the core issue of retaining West Bank settlements. Sensing the political danger posed by Bennett, who had said he wants to be “a third hand on the wheel” on the wheel of Netanyahu’s coalition government, the prime minister told the Jerusalem Post that “you know that you have to have two steady hands of one driver on the wheel, and if you have other people grab the wheel, pretty soon the car overturns.”

 

The future of the settlements, the lack of peace talks with Palestinians and the issue of whether Israel should attack Iran’s nuclear programme may have vexed U.S. President Barack Obama and the Jewish Diaspora in the United States. Opponents and some columnists in Israel have severely criticized Netanyahu for baldly appearing to back Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in last fall’s American elections. Furthermore, the Israeli media have made much of private remarks allegedly made by Obama to the effect that Netanyahu was “moving his country down a path towards near-total isolation,” by approving the further expansion of a major settlement near Jerusalem….

 

Sensing an opportunity at the other end of the political spectrum, Bennett has run front-page ads saying, “as Israel faces unparalleled international pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu will need a large Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) by his side.” But none of this appears to have made much of a difference to many voters. Their leading concerns have been with the growing deficit, education, health, social justice, the cost of housing, high taxes and the economy generally.

 

Labour has, with some success, stayed clear of such issues as national security and foreign affairs, which usually figure prominently in Israeli elections. They have stressed economic issues. But this can be a tricky game. Whatever Netanyahu’s weaknesses because he is too strong or too soft on issues involving the Palestinians and the Iranians, he has presided over one of the world’s more successful economies at a time when many countries have dire economic problems.

 

As politicians elsewhere have learned again and again, it is difficult to unseat an incumbent when the economy is doing well.

 

 

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Israeli Electoral Politics – A Guide for the Perplexed: Gil Hoffman, Jeruslaem Post, Jan. 10, 2013—There was good news and bad news this week for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. On the one hand, a failed effort by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni to begin a process intended to unite the three parties on the Center-Left after the January 22 election helped Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu stop its tailspin in the polls and win back two seats it had lost to its satellite parties.

 

Zionism’s New Boss: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 14, 2013—Under rookie politician Naftali Bennett, religious Zionism is finally becoming Israel’s political mainstream. Naftali Bennett’s press conference late last month was to the Israeli election cycle what a high-speed car chase is to a middling Hollywood action movie. With the chronicle of Bibi Netanyahu’s re-election more or less foretold, Israelis were vying for a shot of adrenaline that would rescue what had otherwise become a bloodless procedural, and Bennett was on hand to deliver.

 

A Far-Right Israeli Electorate?: Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine, Jan. 16, 2013—Perhaps Bibi’s infamous bluster has had its purpose. While his belligerent rhetoric unnerves his many critics, including world leaders, it’s helped keep Israel out of armed conflict. He has presided over more economic success and less war than almost any other Israeli leader in history.

 

Netanyahu Coalition Forming Dilemmas: Joseph Puder, Front Page Magazine, Jan. 21, 2013—The question Israeli political pundits ask regarding the upcoming January 22, 2013 Knesset (parliamentary) elections is not what party will be asked by President Shimon Peres to form the next government,  nor are they asking who will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. The operative question is which parties will join Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu to form the next coalition government.  The answer to that will determine the direction and the likely policies of the next Netanyahu government.

 

PA Hopes Syrian 'Red Herring' Discredits Netanyahu at Polls: Chana Ya'ar, Israel National News, Jan. 21, 2013—On the eve of Israel’s national elections, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is doing his best to discredit Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, claiming the Netanyahu government approved entry of 150,000 Syrian refugees into Judea and Samaria.

 

The Bennett Threat – and Why The Pols Are Scared: Moshe Dann, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 31, 2012—Naftali Bennett is a product of Israeli society; articulate and smart, a Sayeret Matkal veteran, he’s an insider that understands what’s going on. He is also a financial success. But that is not what makes him dangerous to the establishment. The threat he poses stems not so much from his ideology, but rather from the fact that that he actually has one, that he articulates what he believes and stands for.

 

 

 

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COMING JAN. 22 ELECTION: AS ISRAEL, REFLECTING STATUS QUO, SHIFTS TO RIGHT,  OUTLINE OF EMERGENT “TWO-PARTY SYSTEM” DISCERNABLE

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

 

(Please Note: some articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click on the article  link for the complete text – Ed.)

 

 

Why Israel Has Shifted to the Right: Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary, Dec. 20, 2012—If liberal American Jews weren’t already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month’s election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset.

 

Israelis: No More ‘Big Ideas to Alter Status Quo’: Evelyn Gordon, Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan. 3, 2013—Yet if you look at what Netanyahu hasn’t done, his popularity becomes instantly understandable. He didn’t sign a breakthrough “peace” agreement that created a terrorist quasi-state in the West Bank, from which Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen proceeded to slaughter over 1,300 Israelis in a little over a decade.

 

Israel’s New Two-Party System: A Force For Extremism: Donniel Hartman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2013—A new feature has emerged in Israeli politics this election season: the evolution of our political culture into a de facto two-party system similar to the Republican and Democrat divide in the US, referred to here as the Right and the Center-Left.

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

 

A Dose Of Nuance: Not Just France With Humous: Daniel Gordis, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 13, 2012

Say No To Hallucination Dealers: Dan Margalit, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013

Shamir: If  Convicted, My Leader [Liberman] Must Leave Politics: Ron Friedman, Times of Israel, Jan. 4, 2013

Likud Rises as Leftists Vow No Coalition: Maayana Miskin, Israel National News, Jan. 4, 2013

A Labor-Habayit Hayehudi Alliance?: Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013

 

 

 

 

WHY ISRAEL HAS SHIFTED TO THE RIGHT

Jonathan S. Tobin

Commentary, Dec. 20, 2012

 

If liberal American Jews weren’t already dismayed about the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is a shoe-in to be re-elected in next month’s election, the latest political news out of Israel may give them conniption fits. The results of new polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud and its coalition partners are set to exceed the strong governing majority they had in the current Knesset. But the really interesting numbers are those that show that the main party to the right of the Likud—the Habeyit Hayehudi or Jewish Home Party–is on track to be the third largest in the next parliament with only Likud and Labor (set to finish a distant second) ahead of it.

 

This will give residents and supporters of the settlement movement an even louder voice in the next Knesset than their already healthy contingent in the current one. This will be interpreted by some on the left as a sign of Israel’s depravity or indifference to peace. But the reason for it is clear.

 

Whereas in Israel’s past it could be asserted that the Likud represented Israel’s right-wing constituency, it has, to the shock and dismay of many in the left-wing Israeli media, become the center. That is not because more Israelis are supporters of increasing settlement throughout the West Bank. They are not. Rather it is due to the fact that the Israeli center as well as even many on what we used to call the Israeli left, have given up on the Palestinians. They know that neither Fatah in the West Bank nor Hamas in Gaza will ever recognize Israel’s legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. So they have abandoned those parties that hold onto the illusion of peace in favor of those with a more realistic vision while those on the right are now embracing parties like Habeyit Hayehudi in order to hold Netanyahu’s feet to the fire and prevent him from making concessions that will neither entice the Palestinians to the negotiating table nor increase its popularity abroad.

 

Habeyit Hayehudi is the beneficiary in part of the merger of the Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Rather than polls showing Likud getting as many seats as the two parties got in the last election, it is registering a loss of several places as some nationalist voters abandon the new conglomerate for its more ideological rival to the right. Though the enlarged Likud will still gain several seats from the mark it won in the 2009 vote that brought Netanyahu back into power and make it by far the largest in the Knesset with 35, Habeyit Hayehudi is set to get 12 with another pro-settlement party getting another two. That will double the number of seats those smaller parties won four years ago. Combined with the Orthodox religious parties, that will give Netanyahu nearly 70 seats out of 120 next year even before any of the centrist members join him as some undoubtedly will do.

 

Habeyit Hayehudi also has the advantage of a new leader in the 40-year-old Naftali Bennett. He is the son of American immigrants who is a former chief of staff to Netanyahu and who earned great wealth through the sale of his Internet security firm. In him, Israel’s nationalist camp now has an articulate and savvy figure who can say things about the Palestinians that Netanyahu, who, as David Horovitz of the Times of Israel pointed out in an insightful analysis, cannot utter for fear of worsening relations with the United States.

 

Bennett’s powerful position, which will be enhanced by a Cabinet portfolio that he will demand and get, will make the next Knesset harder for Netanyahu to manage. The absence of several Likud moderates who have been replaced by more nationalist and younger figures on the party’s Knesset list will also ensure that the prime minister will not be straying far from the wishes of his voters the way some of his predecessors have done.

 

This won’t necessarily mean that Netanyahu will move to build throughout the West Bank the way Bennett would like. But it will strengthen his resolve to continue to do so in Jerusalem and its suburbs as well as the major settlement blocs that Israel will hold onto even in the theoretical scenario where the Palestinians finally give in and accept a two-state solution.  That will lead to much gnashing of the teeth on the part of liberal Jews who are uncomfortable with Netanyahu, let alone those to his right. But those who lament this development should understand that the Israeli people are making this choice with their eyes wide open.

 

Even Labor, the party that is historically associated with the peace process, has more or less abandoned the issue of reconciliation with the Palestinians in this election and instead is concentrating on economic and social justice issues. Those lists that are still devoted to the peace process, including the new party led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, have been thoroughly marginalized.

 

Unlike most Israelis, many if not most American Jews and many non-Jewish friends of Israel haven’t drawn conclusions from the last 20 years of failed peace processing. They cling instead to the fables about the Palestinians that once fueled the post-Oslo euphoria in Israel but which have now been discarded there.

 

 

 

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ISRAELIS: NO MORE ‘BIG IDEAS TO ALTER STATUS QUO’

Evelyn Gordon

Jerusalem Post Magazine, Jan. 3, 2013

 

Writing in The Jerusalem Post on Friday [Dec. 28], Donniel Hartman lamented the lack of “new ideas” in this election campaign. Campaigns, he proclaimed, should be a time for politicians to put forth “noble and naïve ideas,” to compete over “new ways to change the status quo;” a campaign that doesn’t do this is “dangerous for Israel and its future.”

 

Hartman’s plaint is a perfect snapshot of the thinking that has made Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the unchallenged king of Israeli politics. Because for 20 years, Israelis have suffered through a succession of prime ministers who not only produced, but implemented, “noble and naïve ideas” to “change the status quo.” And what Israelis discovered is that such ideas are frequently far more “dangerous for Israel and its future” than the cautious conservatism Netanyahu epitomizes.

 

This isn’t to imply that Netanyahu has no ideas. He actually has quite a few, and many are even good ones. But none are of the big, radical, “noble and naïve” type. What he has consistently proposed, over two terms of office, is cautious, incremental change that will hopefully leave the country a bit better than he found it, but probably won’t affect a major revolution. And Israelis confidently expect the same from a third term.

 

Ironically, Netanyahu’s discomfort with big, radical ideas led him to a landslide loss in 1999, when Israelis opted for a rival who promised a host of them: unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, a socioeconomic revolution that would finally “get the old woman out of the hospital corridor,” and more.

 

Yet that very same aversion to big, radical ideas is why he enjoys massive margins of support today. A Haaretz poll last week, for instance, asked respondents which party leader they trusted most on security, economics and diplomatic negotiations. On all three issues, Netanyahu outpolled his nearest rival by more than 2:1; on security, the margin was more than 4:1.

 

If you look merely at what Netanyahu has done, these numbers seem almost incomprehensible. After all, he hasn’t won any wars or thwarted any major security threat; the high cost of living and other economic problems sparked the biggest socioeconomic protests in decades last year; and not only has he failed to negotiate any major diplomatic agreements, but much of the world holds him responsible for this failure.

 

Yet if you look at what Netanyahu hasn’t done, his popularity becomes instantly understandable. He didn’t sign a breakthrough “peace” agreement that created a terrorist quasi-state in the West Bank, from which Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen proceeded to slaughter over 1,300 Israelis in a little over a decade. He didn’t unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon or Gaza, thereby abandoning them to the rule of terrorist organizations that have subsequently fired more than 16,000 rockets at Israel. He didn’t launch a grand diplomatic summit that ended up sparking a terrorist war. He didn’t conduct any failed wars, in either the military or the public-relations sense. He didn’t propose any sweeping territorial concessions that, had they been accepted, would have proven as detrimental to Israel’s security as every previous such concession has.

 

In short, unlike his predecessors, he produced no big ideas for changing the status quo – no “peace agreements,” no unilateral withdrawals, no sweeping final-status proposals, no failed wars “to destroy Hezbollah or Hamas once and for all” (a wildly inappropriate aim if you’re unwilling to do what’s necessary to achieve it). And Israelis, battered and shell-shocked by the disastrous consequences of all these previous big ideas, are grateful for the quiet his cautious, risk-averse policies have produced. But it’s not just that his aversion to grandiose ideas has prevented any major new disasters. It’s that by eschewing such big ideas, he has managed to implement modest but significant improvements.

 

On the security front, he has a laudable track record on counterterrorism. During his first term, he reduced terrorist deaths by 70 percent, from 211 in 1993-96 to 63 in 1996-99. During his current term, he kept terror at the relatively low level inherited from his predecessor.

 

Economically, for all the real problems that sparked last year’s socioeconomic protests, Israel is doing well compared to the rest of the West. Its 7% unemployment rate is vastly better than the Eurozone average of 11.7%; in some Eurozone countries, like Spain and Greece, unemployment has soared to over 25%. The Eurozone has also experienced zero or negative growth for the last four quarters; Israel, by contrast, posted growth of about 3.3% this year.

 

And diplomatically, Netanyahu succeeded in getting the world to impose much tougher sanctions on Iran, something all his predecessors signally failed to do. Indeed, even his most bitter opponents find themselves forced to acknowledge his achievements. Here, for instance, is what columnist Ari Shavit of the far-left Haaretz wrote in October: “Netanyahu's government … correctly focused on the Iranian nuclear challenge and acted against it with skill and ingenuity, most of the time. It led a necessary reform of higher education and an important reform of preschool education, paved roads and built railway lines.”

 

And here’s Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, writing two weeks ago: “[Netanyahu] said he'd mobilize international public opinion to escalate the sanctions against Iran and prepare the Israel Defense Forces for attack, and he did. He said he'd act to raise the Palestinians' standard of living, and it rose. He spoke out against unilateral withdrawals, and he didn't withdraw. He promised that Israel's students would reach the top 10 in international exams, and their performance has improved. He wrote he would take care of the crime families, and they've dropped out of the public agenda.”

 

Like many Israelis, I think Netanyahu could and should have done far more to address Israel’s numerous domestic problems, and I’m disappointed that he didn’t. Nevertheless, one could do far worse than making some modest improvements while avoiding any major disasters. And after two decades of “noble and naïve” ideas that left the country battered and bloody, Israelis understand this quite well. That’s why most are breathing a quiet sigh of relief at the prospect of four more years without them.

 

 

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

 

ISRAEL’S NEW TWO-PARTY SYSTEM: A FORCE FOR EXTREMISM

Donniel Hartman

Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2013

 

A new feature has emerged in Israeli politics this election season: the evolution of our political culture into a de facto two-party system similar to the Republican and Democrat divide in the US, referred to here as the Right and the Center-Left. There are indeed two sectorial groups outside this divide – haredim and Arabs. The former, however, will join either of the two “parties,” depending on which is willing to greater serve the interests of its sector, while the latter always remains in the opposition.

 

It is true that these two parties are divided into multiple mini-parties. However, the fact that the two major parties (the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu) on the Right have amalgamated, and the third (Bayit Yehudi) is running on the platform of being their coalition partner, while on the Left, politicians are jumping from sub-party to sub-party, avoiding a formal unification primarily because of ego, are all evidence of the fact that the old multiple party system is dead.

 

Voters and politicians are no longer loyal or bound to a sub-party but to the larger party bloc, and shift their affiliations freely within this bloc without feeling any remorse or nostalgia. The sub-party is but a means and a platform to serve them without any ability to generate sustained loyalty. Thus, for example, Amir Peretz can wake up in the morning as one of the leaders of the Labor Party and go to sleep at night as one of the leaders of The Tzipi Livni Party (Hatnuah), itself formed by Livni, the former leader of the Kadima Party. Those who see all of this as opportunism fail to realize the profound shift within Israeli political culture from the multiparty to the two party system.

 

Similarly, the dramatic growth in popularity of the heretofore religious-Zionist sectorial party, the Bayit Yehudi, with the support of secular former Likud loyalists, the significant infiltration into the Likud Knesset candidates list of individuals and ideologues who are using the Likud base to mainstream positions which in the past were the domain of the extreme Right, and on the Left, with the disintegration of the popular base of Kadima, the largest party in the last Knesset, and its redistribution within the Center-Left “party,” are again evidence of the fact that the electorate is thinking within the context of a two-party model, with the sub-parties being merely the vehicle du jour to best represent their core commitments.

 

While this emergence of a two-party system generates greater clarity for the electorate and promises stability for the government, the fact that, as distinct from the United States, it is based on sub-party components, creates a foundation for a particularly toxic and destructive phenomenon. Because most voters are already clearly aligned within one of the two blocs, the main campaigns of the sub-parties are not against those within the other bloc but within their own. This reality generates a move to unnecessary radicalism, as each sub-party attempts to brand itself as unique.

 

In the current election season, the right-wing “party,” which will win the next election, is plagued by a competition amongst its sub-parties as to who is more “pro-settlement,” more “anti-Mahmoud Abbas” and more vociferous in protecting and caring for the “Jewish Israel.”

 

In the past, the conventional wisdom was that you could only win an election in Israel from the Center. While Binyamin Netanyahu, from the perspective of those on the Left, is clearly on the Right, the cornerstone of his political success was his laying hold to the position of the Center- Right. His embrace of Bennie Begin, with his steadfast commitment to democracy and liberalism, and Dan Meridor, a longstanding supporter of both of these values, as well as moderation in foreign policy, together with his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech and ongoing vetoes of most of the anti-democratic legislation put forward by the Knesset, all served to make Netanyahu both electable and acceptable to a broad spectrum of Israelis on both sides of the political divide.

 

In this campaign, however, not only is Netanyahu going into the electoral battle without the above allies, but more and more of his party members believe that the most effective way to combat the Bayit Yehudi is to outflank it on the Right. In this context, the Bar-Ilan speech accepting a two-state solution in theory is now a liability, and spokespeople for the heretofore center-right Likud allow themselves to vocalize a nationalistic, xenophobic and at times even anti-democratic rhetoric that in the past never would even have been considered.

 

One of the lessons of the recent US election is that you cannot win the country from either extreme, and the Republican Party, if it wants to return to power, will have to look carefully at the consequences of a platform that represents the radical Right within the party. The advantage that the Republican Party has is that it lost the election. There is nothing like the harsh reality of failure to generate reevaluation and refocus.

 

In the Israeli dual-party, sub-party system, however, such a corrective does not exist. The right-wing party will win on the basis of a center-right majority within Israel. However, this center-right will be governed by individuals and platforms which represent extreme sub-party ideologies. There are some who find comfort in the belief that election rhetoric does not represent day-after Election Day policies. This is the case only when there are moderating forces at the table. In our frenzy to win the sub-party battles, however, we have stacked the deck against moderation, and I am fearful that we lack the internal forces to heal ourselves.

 

As we move toward the end of the election season it is critical that Center-Right voices emerge with moral and ideological clarity, compelled by a vision of what will be good for the country, regardless of its significance in the sub-party conflict. It will be a mistake if these voices remain silent, waiting to emerge in the safety of the day after the elections. A culture, rhetoric and public discourse about policy are taking root in these elections which will not be easily uprooted. As our rabbis teach us, if not now, when? Every day that this discourse is allowed to rule dramatically changes not the outcome of this election but the future of Israeli society.

 

Finally, sub-parties on the Center-Left must enter into the fray, not as voices in the opposition but as unabashed coalition partner aspirants. The cynics will say that in doing so they are expressing a void of values and a commitment to power over ideology. Nothing could be further from the truth. Politics is about using power to actualize ideology. In the new Israeli two-party system, we don’t need a national unity government. We need sub-parties from both “parties” to join together to save us from ourselves.

 

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute.

 

 

Top of Page

 

 

 

 

A Dose Of Nuance: Not Just France With Humous: Daniel Gordis, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 13, 2012— What Jewish vision animates your social goals for Israel? If you’ve got nothing to say about that, why should any of us vote for you? Are you saying anything about your vision for this country that you couldn’t say if you were running for office in France, or Sweden or Denmark? Anything at all about the Jewish nature of this country? If you did, I might just vote for you.

 

Say No To Hallucination Dealers: Dan Margalit, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013—A voice is needed that combines bravery, prudence, strength and cool-headedness. A voice is needed that warns the young, engaged in their own personal problems, against false prophets. A voice against those who promise everything for free. A voice against those who prattle on in the language of charlatans about how, if we just let them, they can bring peace now or redeem the entire land.

 

Shamir: If  Convicted, My Party Leader [Liberman] Must Leave Politics: Ron Friedman, Times of Israel, Jan. 4, 2013—Rookie politician says public servants who’ve faltered should make way for those who haven’t; accuses Netanyahu of flip-flopping on Palestinian state

 

Friday Polls Show Jewish Home Surge May Have Been An Outlier: Joshua Davidovich, Times of Israel, Jan. 4, 2013—Right-wing party seen getting 13-14 seats, and not 18 predicted by Israel Radio poll a day earlier. Both polls show the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu joint list leading the pack, with 36 seats according to Maariv, and 34 according to Israel Hayom. The ruling party had been predicted to get over 40 seats in early preelection polling, but recent polls have shown it bleeding voters on the right to Jewish Home.

 

Likud Rises as Leftists Vow No Coalition: Maayana Miskin, Israel National News, Jan. 4, 2013—Likud Beytenu regains losses in the polls, ending with enough support to win 36 Knesset seats, according to a new poll released Friday by Maariv/nrg. Left-wing parties say they will try to thwart a coalition.

 

A Labor-Habayit Hayehudi Alliance?: Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom, Jan. 4, 2013—Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett isn't ruling out the possibility of joining forces with Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich • In the meantime, he is trying to keep Eli Ben-Dahan and Orit Struck, fellow party members that he views as too extreme, under wraps.

 

 

 

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ISRAEL’S COMING ELECTION: DESPITE WILD CARDS, 
NETANYAHU’S BLOC STRONGER, OPPOSITION LEADERLESS

 

 

Articles:

Netanyahu Faces Wild Cards in Early Elections

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

Ha’aretz poll: Netanyahu Beats Election Rivals, Right-wing Bloc Grows Stronger
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said, after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

A More Realistic Electoral Reform Plan
It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide?

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel
 

 

NETANYAHU FACES WILD CARDS IN EARLY ELECTIONS

Dan Perry

Times of Israel, Associated Press, October 15, 2012

 

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

 

The vote also comes at a pivotal point in the increasingly acrimonious cultural clash between Western-oriented liberals and Netanyahu’s resilient alliance of social conservatives, security hawks and fundamentalist Jews.

 

That dichotomy is mirrored in Israel’s traditional electoral map, a bewildering affair that nonetheless reduces to two rival “blocs” vying for 61 out of 120 Knesset seats — the threshold needed to form a government.

 

The “left” bloc, historically led by the Labor Party, wants the West Bank and Gaza — captured from Jordan and Egypt respectively in the 1967 war — either traded for peace or separated from Israel in some other way to protect a Jewish majority within “Israel proper.” Jews currently make up about three-quarters of Israel’s population, but when the West Bank and Gaza are included, the breakdown between Jews and Arabs is close to 50/50. Smaller dovish groups and parties from Israel’s Arab minority are also in this bloc.

 

The “right” bloc is led by Netanyahu’s Likud, which historically has been hostile to territorial concessions. Netanyahu now says he is ready for a limited Palestinian state in some of the West Bank — yet his government continues to build Jewish settlements deep inside it and few take him at his word. Rounding out the bloc are even more nationalist groupings and religious parties eager to deepen the Jewish character of the state.

 

Polls suggest the right could win about 65 Knesset seats — a near-default majority that has mostly held for decades, built in part by the demographic advantage of a religious minority with high birthrates….The new campaign presents a significant number of wild cards that could affect the result:

 

THE CENTER

 

Popular dissatisfaction with the left-right dichotomy occasionally gives rise to “centrist parties” that claim they might align with either bloc. But these days such parties — whose support and makeup generally reflects the secular and Westernized side of Israel — find their natural location with the left, as Kadima did, and amount to a device for taking votes from the right.

 

The newest centrist offering is Yesh Atid (There Is A Future), built around the popularity of 49-year-old Yair Lapid — a former TV news anchor, talk show host, newspaper columnist, movie star, mystery novelist and amateur boxer. Polls show he could lead one of the largest parties, with up to 19 seats. Depending on whom he chooses to run by his side, he seems to have a shot at taking votes from the right.

 

A RIVAL

 

Whereas Netanyuahu is unchallenged in his bloc, the left is splintered into at least three mid-sized parties: a somewhat resurgent Labor, with former journalist Shelly Yachimovich as its leader, running mostly on social issues such as redistribution of wealth; Kadima, now led by the relatively unpopular former military chief Shaul Mofaz; and Yesh Atid.

 

There is tremendous pressure on them to unite, driven by the idea that this would change the psychology of the race and draw support greater than the sum of the left’s current parts. Indeed, a poll in the Jerusalem Post found that a unified party would outpoll Likud and become the largest party.

 

Would that be enough to crack the advantage of the wider right bloc? That may depend on whether a galvanizing figure is brought in to lead it.

 

The current speculation focuses on an Olmert comeback, which he is believed to be considering and which would be a gamble. Forced from office four years ago by a corruption scandal, he has been cleared of most charges but still faces trial in a bribery case. The backup is Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister and a former Kadima leader — who is also said to be mulling the creation of yet another centrist party.

 

THE GENERAL

 

Gabi Ashkenazi, who was military chief until last year, is so popular that it is generally accepted that the recent law freezing top security officials out of politics for three years after their retirement was formulated mostly to keep him from leading the left against Netanyahu — and so in popular parlance it bears his name.

 

Taciturn and tough-looking, with security credentials and of politically useful mixed European and Middle Eastern heritage he is believed to have strong appeal to the right. The much-discussed scenario has him campaigning for the left under the understanding that if the bloc wins it would repeal the “Ashkenazi Law” and appoint him defense minister.

 

DEFECTIONS

 

Although the right bloc has propped Netanyahu nicely for four years, two potential defections exist. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the mid-sized Yisrael Beiteinu party, is an aggressive nationalist who nonetheless took part in the last Kadima government, is bitter about a years-long corruption investigation, and harbors ambitions of leading the right bloc that suggest an interest in seeing Netanyahu go down. And Arieh Deri, the only major ultra-Orthodox leader who is seen as moderate on the Palestinians, is returning to politics after a jail spell and a long hiatus; if he is not reinstated as head of the religious Shas Party many expect him to run against it, taking some of its dozen-odd seats and possibly delivering them to the left.

 

IRAN

 

Some in Netanyahu’s circle cast the election as a referendum on attacking Iran — or at least on Israel’s right to act militarily to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving nuclear weapons capability. Normally, on security issues, Israelis do turn hawkish at the polls.

 

But this one is complicated: The security establishment considers the talk of an attack reckless and seems to oppose the idea; much of the world is arrayed against the notion, seeking more time for economic sanctions to force Iran’s hand; and polls show the Israeli public — fearing a massive counterstrike including missiles on their cities and mayhem on their borders — opposes any move that is not coordinated with the United States. It could make very uncomfortable campaigning for Netanyahu.

 

IT’S THE ECONOMY

 

Netanyahu supporters nonetheless hope the election hinges on the usual strategic issues, especially the Palestinians. On that well-worn ground, Likud is helped by the perception here that the Palestinians are sticking to unreasonably maximalist positions — including a division of Jerusalem that would mean a potentially tense border running right through the downtown of the holy city.

 

But if the left can change the discourse, Netanyahu is vulnerable on two issues.

 

So many Israelis are unhappy with the economy — surprisingly good macroeconomic figures alongside tremendous income gaps and widespread poverty — that a social protest movement largely aimed against the government last year sent hundreds of thousands to the streets. If this becomes an election issue it could galvanize the left vote — which historically, unlike the disciplined masses of the religious right, tends to be lazy on election day.

 

And Netanyahu is dangerously exposed on the question of ending the current system of draft exemptions for tens of thousands in the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox minority — ordered earlier this year by the Supreme Court, supported by most Israelis, and largely ignored by his government. The secular majority, including many on the right, is increasingly alarmed by Orthodox efforts to segregate the sexes in public, their widespread reliance on state handouts, and their school system, which turns out Torah scholars who know little English or math and have few skills for the work world. Netanyahu’s utter dependence on their parties’ votes for the right bloc’s majority could focus minds, drive away the center and amount to his Achilles’ heel in this campaign. (Top of Page)

 

HAARETZ POLL: NETANYAHU BEATS ELECTION RIVALS,
RIGHT-WING BLOC GROWS STRONGER

Yossi Verter

Ha'aretz, October 11, 2012

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

 

The poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, shows that Netanyahu easily defeats all his possible rivals from the center-left bloc. As far as the public is concerned, Netanyahu is deemed much more suitable for post of prime minister than any of his potential rivals.

 

At the same time, the Likud-right wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc has increased its strength to 68 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has gone down to 52, compared to the blocs' respective strength in the outgoing Knesset and the previous poll.

 

The candidate with the highest support after Netanyahu is Tzipi Livni, who has retired from political life. However, Livni, who is considering a return, fails to muster more than half of the support attributed to Netanyahu (57 percent – 28 percent ).

 

Ironically, Livni, who failed as Kadima's leader in the opposition, lost to Shaul Mofaz in the party primaries and was ousted from the political arena by her party members, is the leading opposition candidate. Kadima members may regret voting for Mofaz as their party leader in March. No wonder many of them are hoping that she or Ehud Olmert will return. Or even both of them.

 

Support for the remaining potential candidates – former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who hasn't decided yet whether he's throwing his hat in the ring, Atzmaut leader Ehud Barak, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich – is not impressive. The poll results lead to the conclusion that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.

 

The poll…shows that support for Netanyahu is even stronger than it was in the previous poll some two weeks ago. Asked about their satisfaction with Netanyahu's performance as prime minister, 45 percent of the interviewees were satisfied and 45 percent were dissatisfied, marking a 15 percent improvement from the last poll, in which only 38 were satisfied compared to 53 who were not. The improvement in Netanayhu's position likely results from his presentation at the UN and perhaps from his announcement of early elections.

 

While the Likud receives a few more Knesset seats and Labor a few less, Yair Lapid is considerably stronger, according to this poll. Ehud Barak's Atzmaut Party does not obtain the minimum required votes to enter the Knesset.  Future polls are expected to examine the repercussions of a party led by Olmert on the political map. However, in view of the right wing bloc's strength, it is hard to imagine Olmert, with or without Livni, attracting enough cross-over votes from the right.

 

If Olmert joins the campaign, he will no doubt affect the power balance in the center-left bloc dramatically. Yacimovich will weaken, Lapid will weaken even more. Mofaz will probably have to renounce his place as Kadima leader. It is not clear, however, whether this will change the outcome for Netanyahu.  (Top of Page)

 

 

A MORE REALISTIC ELECTORAL REFORM PLAN
David Gleicher

Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2012

 

It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide? In response, “good government” groups and political parties propose various electoral reform ideas, all of them doomed to go down in flames because the reformers forget a basic rule of politics (and of life, I suppose): No one is going to vote to put themselves out of a job.

I’m not against electoral reform. In fact, as a former participant/member of the Cook County Democratic Party (a.k.a. the “Machine”), I believe in the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s adage, “Good government is good politics.” But you’ve got to be realistic about what you can accomplish.

In light of that, I propose an electoral reform plan that can maybe, just possibly, pass, because, counter-intuitively, it adds 30 more Knesset seats, thus preserving the jobs of many current MKs. Here’s how it would work:

1: Israel would be divided into 25 electoral districts of roughly equal population. The districts would be drawn by a committee consisting of Knesset representatives, judges and respected “public” members to be chosen by the president. The committee would be instructed to keep districts compact and neighborhoods intact in order to prevent American-style gerrymandering.

Each district would elect three representatives. However, no more than two of a district’s representatives could be from the same party. A voter would have three votes at his disposal. S/he could give one candidate all three votes or split the votes between two candidates or give three candidates one vote each. This will prevent one party from dominating any single district….

2: The other 75 seats would be voted on as we do now, as a national ticket. However, the threshold requirement would be 4 percent of the vote, giving a party three seats. This would still give the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab parties representation in the Knesset, but would force other smaller parties to consolidate or die.

3: The head of the national ticket (that is, the non-district seats) would be that party’s candidate for prime minister. However, if a party gets fewer than 25 “national” seats, its candidate for prime minister would be forced into a runoff against the second-highest party’s candidate.

Unlike today, the winner would automatically be named prime minister for a four-year term. To give the government stability, a no-confidence vote in the government’s first year would require 100 votes; in the second year, 90 votes; in the third year, 80 votes; and in the fourth year, a mere majority.

4: Cabinet members would be appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Knesset. However, a cabinet minister or deputy minister could not also serve as a Knesset member. That would enable ministers to concentrate on their ministries, not general Knesset affairs.

In addition, while Knesset members from districts will receive an office allotment and funds for a secretary and aide, MKs elected on the party slate, not having district responsibilities, will be allotted only one secretary and share a receptionist with other MKs. Another advantage: With the increase in numbers of MKs, each one will have fewer committee assignments, allowing the MK to concentrate on that committee’s work.

The raising of the Knesset from 120 to 150 seats will be controversial, but it is a necessary price to get this proposal passed because it would still give smaller parties representation. And we would not be “over-represented.”

According to research done by former Jerusalem Post executive editor Amotz Asa-El in his must-read study of Israeli electoral reform (“Israel’s Electoral Complex,” Azure Magazine, Winter, 2008), mixed legislative systems used in other western countries have the following legislators per citizen: Finland and Sweden have about 26,000 citizens per legislator, Denmark has 29,000, New Zealand has 31,000, and Austria has 32,000. Right now there is one Knesset member for every 62,500 Israelis. The change would make it one MK per 50,000 Israelis, still fewer legislators than the countries listed above.

Politics is the art of compromise. Add 30 more legislators and maybe we get reform. I think it’s worth the price. And when former Ra’anana mayor Ze’ev Bielski realizes that he could easily run and win from a Ra’anana district more easily than as a generic Kadima member, and when Tzipi Hotovely realizes that her Rehovot neighbors will vote for her without the need to deal with Likud vote contractors, we may see MKs come to the same conclusion that “Good government is good politics.” (Top of Page)

_______________________________________________________

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins: Paul Scicchitano, Newsmax, October 14, 2012

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted on Saturday that it would be a “nightmare for Israel” if President Obama is re-elected to a second term.

 

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2012

Nothing makes us cringe more than screaming headlines reporting racist outbursts or hate crimes in our own country. No matter how rare, such acts not only shame us but encourage us to ask ourselves how such obscene behavior could occur in the homeland of the Jewish people which itself endured 2,000 years of persecution and humiliation in the Diaspora.

 

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel: Jpost Staff, Jerusalem Post, October 15 2012
PM addresses Knesset, officially asking to advance elections to January 22, 2013, making his case to be reelected; says, "anyone who underestimates the threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel is not worthy to be PM."

ISRAEL’S COMING ELECTION: DESPITE WILD CARDS, 
NETANYAHU’S BLOC STRONGER, OPPOSITION LEADERLESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles:

Netanyahu Faces Wild Cards in Early Elections

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

Ha’aretz poll: Netanyahu Beats Election Rivals, Right-wing Bloc Grows Stronger
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said, after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

A More Realistic Electoral Reform Plan
It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide?

 

On Topic Links

 

Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel
 

 

NETANYAHU FACES WILD CARDS IN EARLY ELECTIONS

Dan Perry

Times of Israel, Associated Press, October 15, 2012

 

The Israeli government has called a general election for Jan. 22, and polls suggest Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist-religious coalition is likely to win a renewed majority — but an array of wild cards make the outcome of this campaign unpredictable nonetheless….

 

The vote also comes at a pivotal point in the increasingly acrimonious cultural clash between Western-oriented liberals and Netanyahu’s resilient alliance of social conservatives, security hawks and fundamentalist Jews.

 

That dichotomy is mirrored in Israel’s traditional electoral map, a bewildering affair that nonetheless reduces to two rival “blocs” vying for 61 out of 120 Knesset seats — the threshold needed to form a government.

 

The “left” bloc, historically led by the Labor Party, wants the West Bank and Gaza — captured from Jordan and Egypt respectively in the 1967 war — either traded for peace or separated from Israel in some other way to protect a Jewish majority within “Israel proper.” Jews currently make up about three-quarters of Israel’s population, but when the West Bank and Gaza are included, the breakdown between Jews and Arabs is close to 50/50. Smaller dovish groups and parties from Israel’s Arab minority are also in this bloc.

 

The “right” bloc is led by Netanyahu’s Likud, which historically has been hostile to territorial concessions. Netanyahu now says he is ready for a limited Palestinian state in some of the West Bank — yet his government continues to build Jewish settlements deep inside it and few take him at his word. Rounding out the bloc are even more nationalist groupings and religious parties eager to deepen the Jewish character of the state.

 

Polls suggest the right could win about 65 Knesset seats — a near-default majority that has mostly held for decades, built in part by the demographic advantage of a religious minority with high birthrates….The new campaign presents a significant number of wild cards that could affect the result:

 

THE CENTER

 

Popular dissatisfaction with the left-right dichotomy occasionally gives rise to “centrist parties” that claim they might align with either bloc. But these days such parties — whose support and makeup generally reflects the secular and Westernized side of Israel — find their natural location with the left, as Kadima did, and amount to a device for taking votes from the right.

 

The newest centrist offering is Yesh Atid (There Is A Future), built around the popularity of 49-year-old Yair Lapid — a former TV news anchor, talk show host, newspaper columnist, movie star, mystery novelist and amateur boxer. Polls show he could lead one of the largest parties, with up to 19 seats. Depending on whom he chooses to run by his side, he seems to have a shot at taking votes from the right.

 

A RIVAL

 

Whereas Netanyuahu is unchallenged in his bloc, the left is splintered into at least three mid-sized parties: a somewhat resurgent Labor, with former journalist Shelly Yachimovich as its leader, running mostly on social issues such as redistribution of wealth; Kadima, now led by the relatively unpopular former military chief Shaul Mofaz; and Yesh Atid.

 

There is tremendous pressure on them to unite, driven by the idea that this would change the psychology of the race and draw support greater than the sum of the left’s current parts. Indeed, a poll in the Jerusalem Post found that a unified party would outpoll Likud and become the largest party.

 

Would that be enough to crack the advantage of the wider right bloc? That may depend on whether a galvanizing figure is brought in to lead it.

 

The current speculation focuses on an Olmert comeback, which he is believed to be considering and which would be a gamble. Forced from office four years ago by a corruption scandal, he has been cleared of most charges but still faces trial in a bribery case. The backup is Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister and a former Kadima leader — who is also said to be mulling the creation of yet another centrist party.

 

THE GENERAL

 

Gabi Ashkenazi, who was military chief until last year, is so popular that it is generally accepted that the recent law freezing top security officials out of politics for three years after their retirement was formulated mostly to keep him from leading the left against Netanyahu — and so in popular parlance it bears his name.

 

Taciturn and tough-looking, with security credentials and of politically useful mixed European and Middle Eastern heritage he is believed to have strong appeal to the right. The much-discussed scenario has him campaigning for the left under the understanding that if the bloc wins it would repeal the “Ashkenazi Law” and appoint him defense minister.

 

DEFECTIONS

 

Although the right bloc has propped Netanyahu nicely for four years, two potential defections exist. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the mid-sized Yisrael Beiteinu party, is an aggressive nationalist who nonetheless took part in the last Kadima government, is bitter about a years-long corruption investigation, and harbors ambitions of leading the right bloc that suggest an interest in seeing Netanyahu go down. And Arieh Deri, the only major ultra-Orthodox leader who is seen as moderate on the Palestinians, is returning to politics after a jail spell and a long hiatus; if he is not reinstated as head of the religious Shas Party many expect him to run against it, taking some of its dozen-odd seats and possibly delivering them to the left.

 

IRAN

 

Some in Netanyahu’s circle cast the election as a referendum on attacking Iran — or at least on Israel’s right to act militarily to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving nuclear weapons capability. Normally, on security issues, Israelis do turn hawkish at the polls.

 

But this one is complicated: The security establishment considers the talk of an attack reckless and seems to oppose the idea; much of the world is arrayed against the notion, seeking more time for economic sanctions to force Iran’s hand; and polls show the Israeli public — fearing a massive counterstrike including missiles on their cities and mayhem on their borders — opposes any move that is not coordinated with the United States. It could make very uncomfortable campaigning for Netanyahu.

 

IT’S THE ECONOMY

 

Netanyahu supporters nonetheless hope the election hinges on the usual strategic issues, especially the Palestinians. On that well-worn ground, Likud is helped by the perception here that the Palestinians are sticking to unreasonably maximalist positions — including a division of Jerusalem that would mean a potentially tense border running right through the downtown of the holy city.

 

But if the left can change the discourse, Netanyahu is vulnerable on two issues.

 

So many Israelis are unhappy with the economy — surprisingly good macroeconomic figures alongside tremendous income gaps and widespread poverty — that a social protest movement largely aimed against the government last year sent hundreds of thousands to the streets. If this becomes an election issue it could galvanize the left vote — which historically, unlike the disciplined masses of the religious right, tends to be lazy on election day.

 

And Netanyahu is dangerously exposed on the question of ending the current system of draft exemptions for tens of thousands in the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox minority — ordered earlier this year by the Supreme Court, supported by most Israelis, and largely ignored by his government. The secular majority, including many on the right, is increasingly alarmed by Orthodox efforts to segregate the sexes in public, their widespread reliance on state handouts, and their school system, which turns out Torah scholars who know little English or math and have few skills for the work world. Netanyahu’s utter dependence on their parties’ votes for the right bloc’s majority could focus minds, drive away the center and amount to his Achilles’ heel in this campaign. (Top of Page)

 

HAARETZ POLL: NETANYAHU BEATS ELECTION RIVALS,
RIGHT-WING BLOC GROWS STRONGER

Yossi Verter

Ha'aretz, October 11, 2012

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no serious challenger in the next election, political experts said after he launched the campaign for the 19th Knesset on Tuesday. A poll carried out for Ha’aretz on Wednesday appears to confirm this.

 

The poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, shows that Netanyahu easily defeats all his possible rivals from the center-left bloc. As far as the public is concerned, Netanyahu is deemed much more suitable for post of prime minister than any of his potential rivals.

 

At the same time, the Likud-right wing-ultra-Orthodox bloc has increased its strength to 68 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has gone down to 52, compared to the blocs' respective strength in the outgoing Knesset and the previous poll.

 

The candidate with the highest support after Netanyahu is Tzipi Livni, who has retired from political life. However, Livni, who is considering a return, fails to muster more than half of the support attributed to Netanyahu (57 percent – 28 percent ).

 

Ironically, Livni, who failed as Kadima's leader in the opposition, lost to Shaul Mofaz in the party primaries and was ousted from the political arena by her party members, is the leading opposition candidate. Kadima members may regret voting for Mofaz as their party leader in March. No wonder many of them are hoping that she or Ehud Olmert will return. Or even both of them.

 

Support for the remaining potential candidates – former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who hasn't decided yet whether he's throwing his hat in the ring, Atzmaut leader Ehud Barak, Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz and Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich – is not impressive. The poll results lead to the conclusion that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.

 

The poll…shows that support for Netanyahu is even stronger than it was in the previous poll some two weeks ago. Asked about their satisfaction with Netanyahu's performance as prime minister, 45 percent of the interviewees were satisfied and 45 percent were dissatisfied, marking a 15 percent improvement from the last poll, in which only 38 were satisfied compared to 53 who were not. The improvement in Netanayhu's position likely results from his presentation at the UN and perhaps from his announcement of early elections.

 

While the Likud receives a few more Knesset seats and Labor a few less, Yair Lapid is considerably stronger, according to this poll. Ehud Barak's Atzmaut Party does not obtain the minimum required votes to enter the Knesset.  Future polls are expected to examine the repercussions of a party led by Olmert on the political map. However, in view of the right wing bloc's strength, it is hard to imagine Olmert, with or without Livni, attracting enough cross-over votes from the right.

 

If Olmert joins the campaign, he will no doubt affect the power balance in the center-left bloc dramatically. Yacimovich will weaken, Lapid will weaken even more. Mofaz will probably have to renounce his place as Kadima leader. It is not clear, however, whether this will change the outcome for Netanyahu.  (Top of Page)

 

 

A MORE REALISTIC ELECTORAL REFORM PLAN
David Gleicher

Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2012

 

It’s that time of the year again when voters’ minds begin to think about “What if?” What if we had a better election system? What if our representatives were elected from districts instead of nationwide? In response, “good government” groups and political parties propose various electoral reform ideas, all of them doomed to go down in flames because the reformers forget a basic rule of politics (and of life, I suppose): No one is going to vote to put themselves out of a job.

I’m not against electoral reform. In fact, as a former participant/member of the Cook County Democratic Party (a.k.a. the “Machine”), I believe in the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s adage, “Good government is good politics.” But you’ve got to be realistic about what you can accomplish.

In light of that, I propose an electoral reform plan that can maybe, just possibly, pass, because, counter-intuitively, it adds 30 more Knesset seats, thus preserving the jobs of many current MKs. Here’s how it would work:

1: Israel would be divided into 25 electoral districts of roughly equal population. The districts would be drawn by a committee consisting of Knesset representatives, judges and respected “public” members to be chosen by the president. The committee would be instructed to keep districts compact and neighborhoods intact in order to prevent American-style gerrymandering.

Each district would elect three representatives. However, no more than two of a district’s representatives could be from the same party. A voter would have three votes at his disposal. S/he could give one candidate all three votes or split the votes between two candidates or give three candidates one vote each. This will prevent one party from dominating any single district….

2: The other 75 seats would be voted on as we do now, as a national ticket. However, the threshold requirement would be 4 percent of the vote, giving a party three seats. This would still give the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab parties representation in the Knesset, but would force other smaller parties to consolidate or die.

3: The head of the national ticket (that is, the non-district seats) would be that party’s candidate for prime minister. However, if a party gets fewer than 25 “national” seats, its candidate for prime minister would be forced into a runoff against the second-highest party’s candidate.

Unlike today, the winner would automatically be named prime minister for a four-year term. To give the government stability, a no-confidence vote in the government’s first year would require 100 votes; in the second year, 90 votes; in the third year, 80 votes; and in the fourth year, a mere majority.

4: Cabinet members would be appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Knesset. However, a cabinet minister or deputy minister could not also serve as a Knesset member. That would enable ministers to concentrate on their ministries, not general Knesset affairs.

In addition, while Knesset members from districts will receive an office allotment and funds for a secretary and aide, MKs elected on the party slate, not having district responsibilities, will be allotted only one secretary and share a receptionist with other MKs. Another advantage: With the increase in numbers of MKs, each one will have fewer committee assignments, allowing the MK to concentrate on that committee’s work.

The raising of the Knesset from 120 to 150 seats will be controversial, but it is a necessary price to get this proposal passed because it would still give smaller parties representation. And we would not be “over-represented.”

According to research done by former Jerusalem Post executive editor Amotz Asa-El in his must-read study of Israeli electoral reform (“Israel’s Electoral Complex,” Azure Magazine, Winter, 2008), mixed legislative systems used in other western countries have the following legislators per citizen: Finland and Sweden have about 26,000 citizens per legislator, Denmark has 29,000, New Zealand has 31,000, and Austria has 32,000. Right now there is one Knesset member for every 62,500 Israelis. The change would make it one MK per 50,000 Israelis, still fewer legislators than the countries listed above.

Politics is the art of compromise. Add 30 more legislators and maybe we get reform. I think it’s worth the price. And when former Ra’anana mayor Ze’ev Bielski realizes that he could easily run and win from a Ra’anana district more easily than as a generic Kadima member, and when Tzipi Hotovely realizes that her Rehovot neighbors will vote for her without the need to deal with Likud vote contractors, we may see MKs come to the same conclusion that “Good government is good politics.” (Top of Page)

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Murdoch: 'Nightmare for Israel' If Obama Wins: Paul Scicchitano, Newsmax, October 14, 2012

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted on Saturday that it would be a “nightmare for Israel” if President Obama is re-elected to a second term.

 

Candidly Speaking: On Israeli Racism and Democracy: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2012

Nothing makes us cringe more than screaming headlines reporting racist outbursts or hate crimes in our own country. No matter how rare, such acts not only shame us but encourage us to ask ourselves how such obscene behavior could occur in the homeland of the Jewish people which itself endured 2,000 years of persecution and humiliation in the Diaspora.

 

Netanyahu: My Gov't Brought Security Back To Israel: Jpost Staff, Jerusalem Post, October 15 2012
PM addresses Knesset, officially asking to advance elections to January 22, 2013, making his case to be reelected; says, "anyone who underestimates the threat a nuclear Iran poses to Israel is not worthy to be PM."