Saturday, March 25

A "Guide" For The Perplexed Israeli Electorate

The clock is ticking towards countdown when Israeli citizens go to the polls to elect a new government. Why is this election different from all other elections? This could be the first question for the upcoming Passover (Pesach) Festival, which will occur two weeks after the election results are well known. Two major points characterize these elections:

  1. There is indifference and apathy that will result in a low voter turnout on Election Day.

  2. Traditional party loyalties are shifting resulting in predictable results as illustrated by the polls.

There will be a tremendous floating vote, the significance of which is unpredictable, even though the result is clear-cut. It could affect the nature of the coalition that the winning party will form in order to form a stable government.

Never in the history of the State of Israel have there been so many changes in party loyalties. Major players in both the Likud and Labor parties have changed party loyalties. Two factors are responsible for that:

  1. The unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the re-allocation of the Gaza Strip settlers to other areas caused a break in the Likud between those for and against the disengagement. The Likud mainstream ostracized PM Ariel Sharon for this and his position in the party became untenable. He broke away forming the Kadima party taking with him many Likud members who supported the disengagement.

  2. The election of Amir Peretz as Labor Party leader also caused a schism in its ranks when Shimon Peres, the veteran Labor Party leader, bolted the party for Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party. Other veteran members such as Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik followed suit. They were not prepared to accept Amir Peretz as leader of the Labour Party. Their resignation was personal rather than ideological.

These factors sent shock waves throughout the Israeli political spectrum. This is the first time that a newly formed party composed mostly of ex Likud and Labour members have excellent chances of gaining the most seats contrary to previous mushroom parties in the past such as Dash, Third Way, Central Party and now Shinui which disappeared and will disappear into oblivion after the elections.

The issues that Israel faces are very serious indeed. It is not the purpose of this article to deal with these issues, which would involve the writing of a number of articles on each issue. The new government will have to address many issues such as peace with the Palestinians, the growing crime rate that includes organized crime, petty crime, juvenile crime, Knesset Member corruption and many others. Many of these problems had increased in their seriousness during the last Knesset. The quality of many Knesset Members had reached a new low during the 16th Knesset.

Corruption amongst some Knesset Members resulting in the conviction of two members, Omri Sharon and Noami Blumenthal and the waiting list of investigation of members such as Tzachi Hanegbi, Shlomo BenIzri and a host of others. Many of these police investigations will result in convictions.

A reason for the low voter interest is that many Israelis have lost faith in politicians and see them as corrupt individuals interested in their own interests by gaining power and cheating those who vote for them. They do not wish to exercise their basic voting right for that reason.

This is unfortunate and erodes democracy. It also shows up the weakness in Israel’s democracy, which allows for so many party lists in a clumsy proportional representation system. No party stands a chance of gaining an absolute majority under this system. As usual, there will be wheeling and dealing by the party list that gains the most seats to form a ruling, stable coalition after the elections. The result of the coalition deals will be a number of flexible compromises on ideology and promises that will leave many citizens dissatisfied as has been the case in the past. The election results after this upcoming Election Day will be no different. This creates a feeling of futility and frustration leaving an unanswered question in the minds of many of the relevance of bothering to vote.

Despite the obvious drawbacks of the Israeli electoral system, this is all that we have in order to have some influence on the nature of government we would like to see. People should be encouraged to exercise their basic right to vote. Criteria for government in many ways are personal. We can only fight corruption by choosing the parties that are untainted by the corruption brush at the ballot box.

Peace with the Palestinians is an important issue. Many view Kadima as the party that will win the elections. The coalition that it will form depends on voting patterns of the electorate. The ideology of Kadima is centre. This means that it will move to the left or right depending on its coalition partners. If there is a right wing coalition, chances of revival of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, moribund as it is today, will be even more remote. There will be no future withdrawals and the occupation will continue as well as increased defense spending to maintain it not to mention the loss of lives of our soldiers in defending settler outposts. If Labour and Meretz form the dominant, coalition parties with Kadima then the chances of peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world has a better chance of fruition. The government would be more progressive in its attitude towards social issues and civil rights for all Israel’s citizens, irrespective of their religion and creed. The extreme right wing parties are showing signs of disturbing racism towards Israel’s Arab citizens.

A government pandering to the whims of the establishment religious parties and the right wing settler movements will ruin Israel’s standing in the world as well as her credibility. It is incumbent on all citizens to exercise their vote on Election Day in order to influence the direction of Israel in the future. It should also be a vote for clean government and respect for the laws and values that we hold.  

Saturday, March 18

Israeli Election Considerations

The upcoming Israeli Elections have left many of the Israeli Electorate in a state of flux with the opinion polls illustrating a strong showing for centre Kadima Party of Ehud Olmert. Many of us on the left of centre are undecided. In the past, the left in Israel had been associated with the peace process and their voting patterns had illustrated this. Now, the intifada that began in 2000 and resulted in Palestinian violence against innocent Israelis whether it is suicide bombings in public places or in buses had eroded the left. It is as if Palestinian terrorists had punched the left in the stomach leading to the cessation of the peace process.

Despite all this, the voters will be choosing a centre party that promises further disengagement from the Palestinians. The settlers, identified with the right wing, have not managed to garner much sympathy from mainstream Israelis. On the one hand, many view them as obstacles to peace and share much of the blame for Palestinian animosity for Israel. On the other hand, had there been no settlers in areas occupied after the Six Day War of June  1967, it is doubtful if it would have made any difference anyway. The Arab States have a problem with Israel’s existence since its establishment in 1948.

However, this does not alter the fact that we have to come to terms with our Palestinian neighbours eventually. There are many converging interests between Israelis and Palestinians. If it is not on the political level, then it is on the social level. An example of this is the avian ‘flu epidemic that has reached our shores. The Palestinians are just as exposed to this danger as the Israelis. Cooperation between the two sides is vital in order to fight the common enemy that is a threat to the health of poultry on both sides. Cooperation between the two sides becomes more complicated because of the animosity and lack of trust and this would be detrimental to combating this epidemic more effectively.

The floating voter has become a more characteristic phenomenon in these elections. This may not influence the outcome that seems to be predictable. It does influence the kind of coalition that would result after the elections. No political party will gain an absolute majority. Kadima will be zigzagging from moderate left to moderate right depending on the reactions of the mainstream electorate, which is not immune from fickleness.

There are disturbing trends. Racism has raised its ugly head in sheep’s clothing. Whenever there is mention of Amir Peretz, many mainstream Laborites lift up their noses in disgust. Some will follow Shimon Peres to support Kadima in order to demonstrate their disgust. They will say that he is not suited to be the future prime minister of Israel, as he has no experience in government. He has never been a cabinet minister. The real reason is that he is a mustached Moroccan from Sderot and this does not fit in with the stereotype of prime minister that Labor technocrats would like – Ashkenazi and conventionally educated - whatever that means! It is a shame that there are still people with these racist ideas.

Kadima is a centre party with a rather nebulous ideology that waxes and wanes with its supporters. It will form a coalition in order to govern. It is important that its future partners in the coalition will give it the direction needed to make bold decisions. A vote for Kadima does not necessarily mean a vote for an end to the occupation. It could be – depending on the coalition partners. If the right wing Likud and extreme right wing National Union – National Religious Party (Ichud Leumi-Mafdal) form a coalition with Kadima then Kadima will be part of a rightwing government. The Shas and UnitedTorah Judaism Parties would be more conducive to tag on to this coalition than to a Kadima-Labor and Meretz coalition. This would be detrimental to any future peace moves in the region. The latter type of coalition would be more conducive to peace with the Palestinians once Hamas becomes more pragmatic in its stance towards Israel. Rather than abstaining from voting, perhaps it would be a good idea to vote for Labor or Meretz in order to steer Kadima towards much needed reforms in this country.

The Israeli citizen would be better off under a Kadima-Labor-Meretz coalition for a number of reasons:

  1. Peace with the Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel would be closer to fruition.

  2. Social issues, health, and education would receive more emphasis.

  3. Equality between Israeli and Arab Israeli citizens would take priority. Affirmative action programmes preventing discrimination of Arabs in the job market could assist this.

  4. The minimum wage would be raised to $1000 a month net.

  5. On the religious front, much remains to be done. Recognition of pluralism in Judaism such as the right of non-Orthodox streams to marry couples. There should not be Orthodox establishment monopoly on matters affecting Reform and Conservative Judaism.

A right wing government would place emphasis on the taxpayer’s money for benefits of the settlers beyond the Green line and for continuing the occupation. There would be no withdrawal and the burden on the taxpayer would not be alleviated. An increase in the defense budget in order to protect these settlers and justify them living in occupied areas is a strong possibility.

Those who suffered from Benjamin Netanyahu’s financial programmes when he was Minister of Finance in the Likud Government were the weaker sectors of society. The pensioners, low-income groups and unemployed were victims who paid a heavy price. The Support and Growth Tax that many of us paid into the government coffers apart from our regular tax was unaccounted.

Corruption was rife in the previous Likud Government. So many Knesset members are being subjected to various enquiries into their wheeling and dealing that was criminal. Two Likud Knesset members (Naomi Blumenthal and Omri Sharon) have already been convicted and sentenced to prison terms as well as heavy fines. The citizen in the end pays the final price for corruption in government.

If anything, the Likud and its extreme right wing allies are not deserving of returning to power.

Saturday, March 11

The Israeli Elections of 2006

There are thirty-one parties  taking part in the Israeli General Elections for the 17th Knesset. The axiom that the Israel People can never come to any form of consensus amongst themselves as to the direction that the country must move still holds true to this day. This had been a major problem since Israel’s establishment. No winning party list could ever form a ruling government without the addition of smaller parties to form a ruling coalition. This was responsible for the legal problems that the country has when it comes to forming a viable government. This also results in instability of rule as parties of opposing viewpoints and ideologies found themselves in a limping, ruling coalition.

This time round, while there is a certain déjà vu in the situation prior to the elections, there are changes in party loyalties, which have become dramatic. Many old time party leaders have changed loyalties because of personal gripes with their respective elected party leaders. The Labor Party is a case in point. Shimon Peires, the veteran Labour leader, was dissatisfied with the election of Amir Peretz to the leadership decided to bolt the party and move to Kadima – the centrist party, and took with him a few key members such as Chaim Ramon and Dalia Itzik. The blow to the Labor Party is uncertain. The results of the elections will be the deciding point as to how much Labor will gain or lose. The Likud Party felt this more as many senior members also left to the Kadima Party because of the split between those for and against the Gaza disengagement.

The three main contenders, Likud, Kadima and Labor will be the main issue however, it is almost certain that none will win an absolute majority to form the next government. This election will be different from all the previous elections in that party loyalties in all directions have changed. The Kadima Party according to the polls stands the best chance of winning. This will be the first time in Israel’s history that a new party has excellent chances of winning. In the past, new mushroom parties sprang up, received many votes and became nonentities barely lasting out their terms in office. The central Dash Party under Prof Yigal Yadin of 1977, The Third Way of Avigdor Kayalani of the 1990s, the Centre Party of Yitschak Mordechai of 1999, and the Shinui Party of Tommy Lapid of 2002 disappeared from the political spectrum into irrelevance. This will not happen to Kadima that has broken the bounds of traditional party loyalties and is fielding strong candidates - well-known political hacks of the past government under PM Ariel Sharon.

The usual plethora of small parties of questionable positive significance is also on the periphery of these elections. These range from the ultra-Orthodox non-Zionist narrow issue parties, Arab Parties whose interests are those of Israeli Arabs only and the right wing settlement supporting parties. Out of these small parties, the left Meretz-Yahad has a national manifesto that is all-embracing and is reasonable. This party has remained true to its ideology as illustrated by the quality of its candidates who are experienced parliamentarians. The Likud and Kadima Parties have been tainted with corruption. Any party that has a corrupt record is not worthy of re-election. Some candidates in these parties are on the verge of being summoned for enquiries for their suspected illegal activities. This is the first stage before the Attorney General, Mani Mazuz, draws up charge sheets against them.

The Israeli Electorate should take a number of factors into consideration before casting their votes, which will be mentioned later.

It is unfortunate that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians will take a back burner position in these elections. Hamas’s electoral victory does not open the door for meaningful negotiations to a final, just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Hamas and Fatah are negotiating to form a coalition, which does not seem to get off the ground. It is doubtful if it will. The problem between Israel and the Palestinians will remain existential for an indefinite period until Hamas becomes more pragmatic, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and disarms its groups of vigilante, terrorist militias. There is a form of consensus on this issue between the main parties. Their differences are approach once Hamas gets their act right on peace with Israel.

The electorate will have to decide whether clean government takes priority. Israelis are taxed heavily. The tax burden is one of the heaviest in the world and the returns for the average citizen are poor in comparison to what they pay. Can we sit back and allow the government to squander our money on personal pleasures, conveniences and travels?

Another factor is the future of various social issues. The Likud Government had adopted draconian financial cuts when Bibi Netanyahu was Minister of Finance. Employees in the public service were forced to pay an extra tax – support and growth tax - for which there was no accountability. The poorer sectors, such as pensioners and those who live in poverty were the hardest hit. The pension able age for men was raised to 67 years and for women 63 years from 65years and 60 years respectively. Does the Likud deserve support with Bibi Netanyahu at the helm? All those who are members of Kadima were also partners to these draconian cuts. The memories of the Israeli Electorate are short and there is no doubt that they will vote for a government most hostile to their social needs as in the past. They will then moan until the next elections scheduled in 2010. It has been the case for most governments since Israel’s establishment.

The issues in these elections should be
  1. Promise of clean government

  2. The educational standards that have eroded under the Likud ought to be improved.

  3. Social services and improvement of minimal salaries to encourage employment should be given top priority.

  4. Movement towards an end to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict should be an important goal.

  5. Economic stability and growth as well as encouraging oversea investment in Israeli industries are important as well.


Saturday, March 4

South Africa Invites Hamas

It is a very sad day for those who are against terrorism in all its forms. Many of us, former South African Jews, who have fought and condemned apartheid, are shocked at the invitation that the South African Government has extended to Hamas – the Islamist, racist, terrorist organization . The new South Africa, built on noble principles such as condemnation of racism in all its forms and the promise of equality for all, is not living up to its principles by this gesture. However, this invitation is tarnishing the anti-racist image of South Africa.

During the period of the Palestinian uprising (intifada) that started in September 2000, innocent Israelis had been subjected to the most ruthless forms of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorism that Israel had ever witnessed. Countless lives on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, were lost because of indiscriminate suicide bombings in busses, public shopping malls and in the streets.

Hamas had won the Palestinian Elections as they portrayed themselves as an incorruptible political organization untainted by the corruption of the Palestinian Authority ruled by Fatah under Mahmoud Abbas. This seems to give them the legitimacy that they sought in the world. This legitimacy is snowballing and South Africa has now joined other countries such as Turkey, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria in honoring them with a state invitation. The message to Hamas by this invitation is a message that genocidal terrorism pays.

The invitation to Hamas to South Africa is a slap in the face of the Jewish Community living there. It is also a slap in the face for democracy. Time will prove that Hamas is not a democratic organization. Its main purpose is to turn Palestine into a radical Islamic State with zero tolerance for non-Moslems who will become dhimmis or second class citizens at best. It used the tools of democracy to gain power in Palestine in the same way that the Nazi Party of Germany in the 1930s gained power.

Hamas is a neo-Nazi movement who deserves to be isolated by all democratic freedom-loving countries in the world. The Hamas Covenant has made it clear that its intention is to destroy the Jewish People and the destruction of Israel.

If South Africa had made the invitation conditional by stating that they would invite Hamas if they recognized Israel’s right to exist and cease their terror against Israel’s citizens then there would be no objection to this invitation. Perhaps the South African Government is pandering to the whims of some members of the South African Moslem Community who are showing signs of increasing hate for the Jewish People in South Africa.

Allowing Hamas the legitimacy that it does not deserve in the world is only going to grant them increasing credence in their hate for Israel and the Jewish People.