Saturday, January 26

Mixed Messages after the Israeli Elections 2013

יאיר לפיד Yair Lapid
יאיר לפיד Yair Lapid (Photo credit: Ronen E)
Shas party logo
Shas party logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu wins...
The Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu wins a narrow victory in the Israeli general election (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Israeli Elections have come and gone. The voter wanted change but could not quite get there. Most of the people here do not like Netanyahu. Many people told me  that there is nobody else for whom to vote. Many of us feared that Israel would move to the extreme right with the Otzma Yisrael Party  and its racist views  having some representation in the Knesset. This did not occur and that is a positive sign.

Most of the electorate were confused and did not give much thought to their voting decision. Ideology of political parties was not the main factor here. The freshness of two rookies in politics - Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid Party, with his right of center views,  and Naftali Bennett, of the  right wing Bayit Hayehudi Party had received a lot of support. The Yesh Atid Party became the second largest party, receiving more votes than Labor. Undoubtedly,the Labor Party under Shelly Yechimovitz, had failed and will be involved in soul searching. The "night of the long knives"  looking for a scapegoat for the severe electoral failure to make inroads of importance, is  beginning.

The election was fought over domestic issues, housing for young married couples and conscripting the ultra Orthodox into the army.The economy was also part of the campaign. One very important matter, which influences economic issues is the moribund peace process and how to revive it, was not in any party campaign platform. It was conspicuous by its absence. The national sport in this very.important sphere was the competition of all the center to center right parties to bury their heads in the sand and avoid this very important issue. It is as if ignorance is bliss. Placing peace with the Palestinians in the cupboard as not a vote catcher is dangerous for Israel. People do not realize that failure to address this important issue could boomerang resulting in renewed unrest.

Many people have said that there is no point raising the negotiations issue with the Palestinians is pointless and that "there is no partner on the Palestinian side for peace". My answer to that is a question " Is there any partner on the Israeli side?" Everything on the Israeli side is so settler oriented that breaking the ice does not seem possible.

It seems as if people voted for personality cults rather than on ideology. Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett are charismatic, photogenic leaders and this captured much electoral support. Despite the fact that Israeli voters vote for party lists, in the latter two cases they voted for the personality at the head of the party list, which is composed of many unknown persons.

The positive aspect of these elections is the weakening of Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu Party and he will have to negotiate with Yair Lapid and other parties to form a viable coalition. He will have his hands tied. It looks as if Lapid is not prepared to sit with the Shas Party in the Netanyahu Government over the army conscription issue which is sharing the burden equally with the ultra-Orthodox. It is going to take a while to form a coalition with very difficult and demanding partners  sticking to their positions.

The result of the vote is a move to a centrist government. This is a positive sign but much.depends on Bibi's future partners. I am not so sure whether the electorate realize that without peace our economy will not improve, especially now with the world recession.

Another positive aspect of the elections is the weakening of the ultra-Orthodox parties who stand a good chance of not being in the Netanyahu coalition. They are partisan parties looking after their own sectoral interests such as money for their "yeshivot" and lots of it, creating another generation of yeshiva graduates who will not serve in the army and will get stipends for being perpetual students at the tax payers' expense. They refuse to serve in the army. When one thinks of it, it does not make sense that they are exempt from the army burden. They see themselves as being in the service of God studying Torah all day and this is an important contribution to Jewish survival in their view.

The results of these elections leave many of us with mixed feelings. There are some positive developments such as the left wing Meretz Party doubling its strength from 3 seats to 6. Those who voted for Meretz did not vote for a personality cult but rather for an ideology that they represent. This cannot be said for many of the other contesting parties.

Much remains in Yair Lapid's hands to demand the coalition in which  he is prepared to serve. Will he be flexible and back down from serving in a Netanyahu led coalition if Shas joins? That remains to be seen. He really has one chance in the Knesset and if he joins up with Shas, his stakes will drop and he knows it.

Nothing is clear yet about the coalition and there is much speculation in the media. We must take a deep breath and hope that there will be no sell outs to the right and the ultra-Orthodox. That is Yesh Atid's big challenge.
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Sunday, January 20

Last Minute Election Appeal

The Israeli Elections of 2013 will soon be hours away and even at this late stage there are many people who are not sure for whom to vote. There are also those who do not wish to exercise their vote.

This is very sad.  Those who do not know for whom to vote is understandable. Those who refuse to cast their vote and do the minimum expected of them cannot be justified. The least they can do is cast a blank vote as a protest against a flawed voting system. This system allows many parties with similar agendas rushing into an unwieldy coalition with Likud-Beitenu that has an extreme right wing illegal settler oriented agenda that is bad for Israel's already battered world  image with the increased danger of a third Palestinian uprising.

Most of Israel's citizens will vote for Likud-Beitenu (which will win) that will form the next government as they will receive the most mandates.They will  negotiate with Bayit Hayehudi, Shas, Otzma, Yesh Atid, Tnua and Yehadut Hatorah which seem to be the likely coalition partners, with the dying Kadima Party of Shaul Mofaz as an appendage.

What is left out of this right wing coalition-to-be is Avodah (Labor Party), Meretz, Hadash and the Arab Parties. However, with a bit of arm twisting by Netanyahu, despite Shelly Yachimovitz mutterings to the contrary, may even join the coalition as a "moderating influence". Avodah is not left, or social democratic. Benjamin Netanyahu may even succeed in dragging Avodah into his coalition by the usual double talk on basic principles that Avodah will find difficult to refuse. It has happened before after previous elections and there is no reason to believe that after this lack-luster election, the only change will be from right to far-right.
No accolades for Netanyahu, who will continue his destructive leadership, ruining Israel and filling the brain of much of the Israeli electorate with hummous.

We have nothing to be hopeful about after the elections as democracy is in danger of being jeopardized.  Those who do not agree with the ruling right wing agenda will be viewed as unpatriotic, a danger to Israel and even fifth column. Human rights, peace with our Palestinian neighbors and social issues will not take priority. More money will be spent on settlers in the West Bank. All this will mean further security measures to protect them and a more militant Palestinian leadership with whom to deal. The Netanyahu Government has done everything in its power to weaken Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate Palestinian leader of the Palestinians, who is amenable to negotiations. The Likud and company have strengthened Hamas by weakening Abbas. Now the rest is history as a more extreme right wing coalition will be formed after elections and the chance of peace in a turbulent Middle East, with Islamist extremism gaining the upper hand, diminishes even further. The least Israel could do is negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas on a Two State solution. This should have been done and this would weaken Hamas as they refuse to be part of the solution for peace with Israel. The latter serves Netanyahu's interests and as strange it may seem, Hamas will not be able to survive without the Israeli right wing to extreme right wing.

If we take all these possibilities into consideration, it is more important now than ever before for a strong, fighting opposition against the extreme right wing coalition after the elections. This would be positive for achieving a just and lasting peace in our area as well as improving  Israel's status of a polecat to a respectable member of the world of nations. The settlement policies and the occupation of the Palestinians is detrimental to Israel and is unjust. We must move forward from there as difficult as this will be. So many Israeli leaders have stated that they do not wish to occupy another people but in practice this is what they are doing by increasing settlement activity in Palestinian lands in the West Bank. As expected in the Israeli elections this should have been one of the main issues, but has been avoided by almost all the Zionist Parties from center to right.

The left wing voter should vote for what he/she feels is in Israel's best interest.Perhaps, the following points may be helpful in deciding for which party list to vote:
1. The left must be strengthened as a bulwark against the right and its fundamentalist religious allies.
2. There must be separation of religion and state.
3. Avoid voting for sectarian, partisan and one issue parties.
4. Emphasis must be on equality of all Israeli citizens so that a feeling of a common loyalty to the state as well as patriotism for Israel is achieved. This means that the non-Jewish minorities should feel an integral part of Israel and its well-being.

There are two parties that fall in this category and are a good choice for the confused left voter to consider - Meretz and Hadash. Both parties have similar objectives with the latter moving further to the left. The former is Zionist while the latter is not. Both parties as well as the Arab Parties will never be part of the "right wing coalition to be". So the choice depends much on one being a left wing Zionist or a Communist in favor of democracy. There are no other choices for strengthening the left. The Arab Parties, like the right wing center parties and Jewish religious parties are sectarian and this does not promote true equality between all Israel's citizens irrespective of race, color and creed.
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