Saturday, March 21

Aftermath of the Israeli General Elections 2015

In my previous articles on the Israeli Elections, despite the polls giving a slight edge to the left of center Zionist Camp, I had written that the majority of the Israeli electorate is right of center to extreme right wing. This would influence coalition negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu being re-elected as prime minister. However, I did predict that it would be a close result. The day after the elections, Netanyahu's Likud Party received the most seats (30 seats) while the Zionist Camp trailed behind by 6 seats (24 seats). Even if the result would be a draw, there is no way that the Zionist Party would be able to form a coalition. As in all elections, no party has ever had an absolute majority or even approached that. Reliance on coalition deals with small parties has always been the major factor in coalition negotiations to form a new government.
 Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech next to his wife Sara as he reacts to exit poll figures in Israel's parliamentary elections late on March 17, 2015.

The small parties are center-right to extreme-right. They are the natural partners in coalition bargaining with the Likud. For many of us, the results are disappointing though hardly surprising, considering that most Israelis are center to extreme right. There was no serious discourse on solving the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. This is viewed as taboo at election time. The issues were cost of living and the increasing cost of housing. 

There are only two small parties that are left wing, Meretz and the Joint List (which has mostly Arab members). The Joint List is the third largest party. They will be in the opposition no matter which party forms a coalition. They are not even considered as potential partners even in a left coalition. The Joint List is anti-Zionist. They were not even prepared to sign a surplus vote agreement with Meretz as the latter is a Zionist party, despite claims to the contrary by the right wing.

The polls prior to the elections had predicted a narrow victory for the Zionist Camp. The polls were proved wrong and misleading. 

Netanyahu was in a panic on Election Day. He was convinced that the Likud would lose the elections and he would not be re-elected as prime minister. Later that afternoon on Election Day, voting was not as brisk as expected. Only about 55% of registered voters had cast their votes. For Netanyahu, this could spell disaster for his Likud Party. When Netanyahu panics, he sweats and he is unable to hide his stress. In this situation, being the wily, resilient politician that he is, he managed to pull a racist rabbit out of his hat. He declared that the Arabs are turning up "in droves"to vote and this spells danger to Israel and its security if the Likud loses. The ruse worked and the apathetic voters, sharing Netanyahu's concern at the possibility of losing, came out of their "rabbit holes”, made a bee-line to the polling stations, and voted Likud. The low poll was pushed up to 72% within a few hours until closing time. Netanyahu, almost single-handedly, became the master of his own destiny to re-election as Prime Minister of the 20th Knesset. The exploitation of fear of Arab citizen votes for the Joint List en masse reeks of racism on the part of Netanyahu It is deplorable to denigrate Arab citizens of Israel for cheap political gains as Netanyahu has done!

Since the results of these elections, so many commentaries have been made in the press and on TV as to why the Zionist Camp lost the elections. They were unable to convince the Israeli voter to support them. They never really became organized throughout their campaign by offering a viable and realistic alternative. The fault lies with the two leaders of the Zionist Camp. Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Camp, has an illustrious pedigree, being the son of the Late Chaim Herzog, who was president of Israel and had a very successful political and military career. Yitzchak Herzog does not have charisma or voice that inspires the average citizen to vote for him. He side-stepped issues, such as the future of peace negotiations with the Palestinians as he felt that is not an issue for elections. He was scared to appear as somebody who will sell out Israel to Hamas, which of course is ridiculous. Netanyahu took advantage of this and demonized the Zionist Camp stating repeatedly ad nauseam that the left will divide Jerusalem and bow down to Palestinian demands.  Knowing the Israeli electorate as he does, the use of fear of an Arab take-over of Israel if the Likud loses brought him the desired results. The Israeli left is considered traitors by many right-wing voters and the Likud. This tendency to to demonize the left will increase. The small right wing parties took advantage of this demonization tactic. 

Tzippi Livni, Herzog's running mate, also has very little credibility. She had changed parties four times (she was a staunch member of Likud as well as being in the Likud cabinet, then leader of the now defunct Kadima Party, followed by Tnuah which she started and finally joined up with the Zionist Camp). Apart from that, Netanyahu is viewed as the only person capable of leading Israel. Many people have said to me "Can you imagine Herzog, who is wimpish, leading the country?"  The devil one knows is preferable to the devil unknown. As tired as the electorate is of Netanyahu he is still considered the best of poor alternatives. 

The use of various epithets describing Netanyahu and going for his wife Sara Netanyahu and their lavish life-style boomeranged as a "sympathy vote" for the Likud can also be viewed as a result.  

The future ramifications for Israel because of Netanyahu’s re-election as Prime Minister are not good. Israel's image in the world and the relationship with President Obama is not good either. A good relationship with the US is important for Israel. We must remember that without US military aid and financial support, Israel would be in a very poor situation. After all, the Iron Dome anti-ballistic system that was successful in saving the lives of many Israelis during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 received the green light from President Obama. We must never forget that and must cease "Obama-bashing" over the Iran nuclear negotiation issue. None of us knows what is happening behind the lines and relies on spin, half-truths and hype. No US agreement with Iran on these issues has been reached. Israel has the right to express concern using accepted channels not a vote-gaining strategy by Netanyahu by addressing the American Congress on 3rd March 2015 prior to the Israeli General Elections.

The neo-fascist Yahad Party of the ex-Shasnik, Eli Yishai was eliminated and has no representation in the Knesset, is the only positive achievement of these elections. Israel is in for a bumpy ride in coalition building and also in its relations with the world as peace with the Palestinians and a two-state solution recedes even further from the realm of remote possibility.

Sunday, March 8

Thoughts on the Israeli Elections 2015

English: Israeli Ballot Divider עברית: פרגוד ה...
English: Israeli Ballot Divider עברית: פרגוד ההצבעה (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the time draws closer to the Israeli Elections on 17th March 2015, the polls are showing some trends towards the nature of the coalition government-to-be. The Israeli Electorate is more center right to right wing and this includes support for the right wing small parties including the religious right-wing Zionist as well as ultra-Orthodox. This gives a definite edge over the center-left to left wing bloc.

Despite all the electoral hype, polls and spin, the claim of the Zionist Camp forming the next coalition is remote. There are trends but it is unrealistic to share the optimistic view of the Zionist Camp forming the next government, despite the fact that the Zionist Camp is leading the Likud by 4 mandates according to the latest polls.

Many Israelis do not like Netanyahu, but they will vote for his Likud list as they feel that there is no alternative to Netanyahu's leadership. They view the Herzog-Livni partnership as a poor choice. Livni is not stable as she has changed loyalties three times before putting her eggs in Herzog's basket. The "blue-blooded" Isaac"Bouji" Herzog seems to lack charisma for being prime minister. His manner and his voice do not inspire many people. He has become more charismatic lately due to voice-training, and coaching. Apart from that, Tzippi Livni, may be an obstacle to the Zionist Camp getting enough mandates to be invited by the President to form a new government coalition after the elections. Increased support for Meretz will increase the Zionist Camp's chances of forming a new government.

The main players that will influence the nature of the coalition will be the small parties. Most of the small parties tend towards the center right to extreme right and are the natural partners for a right wing coalition under Likud leadership even if the Likud list gets 3-4 less mandates than the Zionist Camp. If the Zionist Camp continues their momentum of increasing the par by 8-10 mandates from the Likud then their chances would improve to become the next government.  

The left-wing Meretz Party is on the borderline of being represented in the Knesset. Polls indicate that they may get from 4 to 6 seats. If they only muster 4 seats then they may be eliminated from the parliamentary scene. This will be a sad day for Israel's democracy if it happens. Many Meretz supporters will change allegiance and vote for the Zionist Camp. This will not help the Zionist Camp to win the elections. A strong Meretz will increase the chances of the Zionist Camp to be invited by President Rivlin to form the new government after the elections. Meretz has declared that it will support Herzog in forming the next government.

There is a possibility that the two main parties, Likud and Zionist Camp will form a coalition together. Those who vote for the Zionist Camp at the expense of Meretz may even get the Likud as a coalition partner. One must remember that after the elections, the ball game changes in coalition negotiations and unlikely bedfellows become partners in a new government coalition despite declarations to the contrary. This happens after every election in Israel and there is no indication that this will not happen again. History - political and non-political, has a habit of repeating itself. The Likud and Labor have sat together in a coalition in past governments.  A voter, who is left inclined, will not be happy if this will be the final scenario after 17th March. Many of us who vote against Netanyahu would not like to see a Likud-Zionist Camp coalition. A vote for Meretz is a vote against a coalition with the Likud, right wing settlement-oriented, ultra-Orthodox government, which could include the Zionist Camp.

According to the latest polls, there is a move towards the Zionist Camp, who is 3-4 seats ahead of the Likud. The party coalition bloc will determine the nature of the coalition. In this, the Likud has an advantage despite trailing behind the Zionist Camp in the polls.

Many left wing Jewish voters may even leave Meretz and support the Joint Arab List (Ram-Tal, Balad, Hadash) Within this Joint List is the Islamic Movement that does not represent the secular supporters, Jewish and Arab. This will give this party a rather partisan character. This partisanship is no less negative than the extremist right wing partisan Zionist and ultra-Orthodox Parties. The Joint List will be the third largest party according to the latest polls. This party claims that it will fight racism, strive for equality between all Arab and Jewish citizens in Israel as well as true democracy. The leader of this party, Ayman Odeh, is eloquent, pleasant and lacks the aggressive rhetoric of Haneen Zoabi, the MK of the Balad Party. Zoabi has made statements that are in bad taste, divisive and very partisan. After the elections, the glue that cements the Joint List may melt and if this happens they may not be the chief opposition party. If not, according to Israeli Law, Ayman Odeh will be the leader of the opposition and the future prime minister will have to update him on decisions in the various Knesset committees, including the Security and Defense Committees. I wonder how the future government will adjust to that!

The Joint List has refused to sign an agreement for excess votes with Meretz because Meretz is a Zionist Party. The mantra of anything associated with Zionism to some Joint List members is considered evil. This is really so short-sighted and narrow minded for a party that claims to uphold ideals of democracy and equality that is very close to Meretz ideology. There are Zionists, who do not share the racist right-wing ideologies of the religious Zionist Party, Bayit Hayehudi, and extreme right wing members of the Likud including Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu. Surely this illustrates a hypocritic streak in the Joint List that labels people as evil because they are Zionists.  

I shall be voting for Meretz with pride. A vote for sanity, a vote against Likud-Bayit Hayehudi racism, a vote for human values and decency for all Israel's citizens irrespective of race, colour and faith. It is also a vote for a more humane policy towards foreign or migrant workers and refugees, whose lives are endangered in their home countries. We must also negotiate peace with our Palestinian neighbors and work for an end to the occupation as essential priorities. The Joint List has elements of bigotry that is nationalist oriented on the Arab side in the Islamic Movement not much different to the late Rabbi Kahana racism of Baruch Marzel, an extreme religious right-winger, in the Yahad Party of Eli Yishai. Israel needs to improve its relations with the US which Netanyahu has damaged.

There is no doubt that we must vote for ending the Netanyahu regime that offers no future for Israel. Israel’s world image has taken a severe knock because of the Likud. This must improve with a positive change of government. Unfortunately, there will be no conclusive victory for either bloc and the possibility of the final say will be in the hands of President Reuven Rivlin.