Tuesday, January 22, 2013

And Now, the Projections.....

Update: As of 6 am, with 99% of the votes counted,  some of the numbers have changed.

Lapid is up to 19!

Labour is down to 15. And it is now officially one of the losers of this election. Shelly Yachimovich is one of the disappointments, if those numbers hold. Some people looked at her position on the Palestinians and voted Meretz.. Others on the moderate right, looking at the loonies in the Likud list, preferred Lapid to her.

Shas will sit with Netanyahu and Lapid. So will the United Torah list. Bennett may be outside the coalition. That's up to Lapid. A center right coalition will be a boon to Bibi on the international front. But Bibi won't be able to put his economic policies into place.

The "consistent left" is up to 18 seats. Ram Tal has 5 seats! Another winner.

Some thoughts about the winners and losers from the Israeli Knesset election projections.

Biggest Losers: Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, hand's down. Bibi didn't need this election. And now he got hit in the face by the social protests of two summers ago and general dissatisfaction with the old guard. He saw the Likud shrink. And he is going to have a heckuva time putting together a coalition. What was he thinking when he dissolved parliament? What bubble does he live in? And is his advisor Arthur Finkelstein the new Karl Rove?

Biggest Winner: Yair Lapid, who is now projected to have the second largest party in the Knesset. He is anti-haredi, pro middle class, against the cartels and tycoons and the flavor of the month. Just as his father's party, Shinuy, was the first time Bibi was prime minister. 

Other winners include:

Shelly Yachimovich, who saw her Labor party go from 8 to 17. She may have lost a few seats to Meretz by pretending that the Palestinians are  not a pressing issue. But look at what she gained by jumping on the social-protest bandwagon.

The post-Oslo generation.  This was the election that threw a lot of old bums out and voted a lot of young bums, and not such bums, in.  That includes Naftali Bennett, and a lot of new faces. Even the older faces like Shelly Yachimovich (Labour) and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) are not so old. 

The consistent left and the consistent right.

Other losers include:

The Palestinians: Don't believe the spin you will hear that the center-left did really well. The Palestinian issue was not on the ballot; the majority of the country voted on economic and social issues. Most of the  Israeli public could care less about peace and could care less about the Palestinians. And why should they? There is no terrorism, and they don't even see the Palestinians who are behind walls or living in Gaza.

The ultra-orthodox parties.  They didn't like Tommy Lapid. They sure aren't going to like his son, Yair.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Some Predictions and Recommendations for the Israeli Elections

[Update: After writing below about my blogger colleague Yossi Gurevitz's explanation why he will vote for Meretz and not  for Hadash, I see that he has basically endorsed voting for any party that is not Netanyahu from Labor to its left.  He does not mention the Arab parties Balad or Ram Tal, which he may think too sectorial, or not sufficiently socialist. Here is his post in Hebrew.]

In less than a day Israeli citizens residing in Israel will get to vote for the Knesset. I am an Israeli citizen who left Israel a few days ago for the US so it's tough luck on me. I remember the days when thousands of dead people in Brooklyn were resurrected by the ultra-orthodox to "vote" for their parties (well, that was the rumor, anyway. It probably happened in a handful of cases.)

If the polls are correct -- and they are notoriously inaccurate in Israel -- there will be three headlines the day after tomorrow.

1. The collapse of the "center-left" in Israel (in Israel the "center-left " is what elsewhere would be the center, the "center" is what elsewhere would be the moderate right; the "moderate right" is what elsewhere would be called the right; and the "right" is what would be far right. As for the Israeli "far right" I would call that the "fascist rightwing" (e.g., "The Jewish Home" of Nafatli Bennett) or the "Judaeo-Nazi"  (of settlers to his right, and, yes, there are those.)

2. The inevitability of the  super-right wing government. If the polls are correct, I can't envision Bibi making a coalition without Naftali Bennett's party, unless Shelly Yachimovich goes back on her promise and joins a government coalition. And Naftali Bennett makes Avigdor Lieberman look like a moderate rightwinger! So we will have the most rightwing government in the history of the State of Israel, following an extremely rightwing government before that. 

3. The rise in strength of the "consistent left". In the current government the genuine Left has 14 seats; the polls show that going up to 18 seats. I fear that the polls are a bit optimistic. Meretz is taking mostly from Labor and somewhat from Hadash. And, of course, the Arab turnout is a big question. Contrary to Jewish misconception, many Israeli Palestinians are not boycotting the elections because they are dissatisfied with their own parties (whom the Jews see as being overly nationalistic - hah!) but because they realize, quite rightly, that Israeli democracy is a sham. And yet, strengthening the "consistent left" (Haim Baram's felicitous phrase) won't hurt, and will at least help preserve the democratic crumbs that the Jews threw at them in 1948 and have been trying  to take away recently. 

So that will be the good news of the election. I don't just mean point 3., I also mean  points 1. and points 2. Don't get me wrong. I genuinely feel for my liberal Zionist friends who see their old "liberal" Israel being snatched away from them by nationalist Russians and converts to religious Zionism. I think they are self-deluded, but that doesn't make their pain, or my sympathy for them, any less.  The death of the two-state solution -- and, pace Assaf Sharon in this week's piece by David Remnick in the New Yorker, the notion that a genuine two-state solution remains possible in the actual world, is to use his term, "bullshit" -- will help hasten the pariah-status of the 1947 regime among moral people, although the regime itself could certainly hold on for at least a few generations. And here's another encouraging statistic: the number of Jews and Palestinians worldwide are roughly equivalent. And which group as a whole is becoming less nationalist, do you think?

Given the rise of the left in Israel -- and the death of the so-called "center-left" -- what party should a supporter of the "consistent left" vote for? My first answer is any of them -- the important thing is to vote for one of them, since they will all be in the opposition. 

My second answer is that I see no convincing reason to change my vote from Hadash to Meretz. I like Meretz, and I like Zahava Gal-on. But I don't see myself as a liberal Zionist, and Meretz is still a Zionistic party that supports a state that deludes itself and the world in thinking that it is both Jewish and democratic. So, yes, for ideological reasons I don't support Meretz, even though on a personal and parliamentary basis, the list is top-rate.

My blogger colleague Yossi Gurevitz has given several reasons why not to support Hadash. They are still a communist party; they voted overwhelmingly against reserving a seat for a woman in the top three; they talk to Jews and Arabs differently; they support. Assad. With all due respect to a blogger with whom I agree 90% of the time, these are not sufficient reasons to abandon a party whose ideology is Arab-Jewish partnership and social justice. The communist business is a "red" herring. They did not as a party support Assad. They rarely talk in two different voices to their constituencies, and most political parties tailor the message to the audience (ask Mitt Romney and Barack Obama about that). I would have liked more affirmative action in that party, but the answer is to join the party and try to influence it from within. (Full disclosure: I am actually a card-carrying member of Meretz. Long story....) 

My main reservation with Hadash is that it is officially -- and fundamentally -- two-statist. Oy! But since there is no possibility of the two-state solution in the actual world, I won't that stand in my way for support of them.

Balad and Ram Tal, are also worthy parties. I have always liked Dr. Ahmed Tibi ,who is infinitely more Israeli than most of my Anglo-American Israeli friends, and I admire Haneen Zoabi, who, while representing an Arab party with relatively few Jewish members, realizes the importance of forging coalitions with the Jewish left. Were I in Israel and were I to have more time to look at the parties platforms, records, and personalities, I could see myself voting for either of these parties.

So that's my recommendation. Vote for any of the consistent left. But go out and vote.

In a better world I would endorse voting for the truly integrated and progressive party, Da'am Workers Party. But at the moment that party doesn't look like it will make it, and that means throwing away your vote. And yes, I vote strategically, ever since I threw away my vote for Lova Eliav back in 1984 (?)

And, finally, I cannot endorse voting for Labour, despite the fact that some of the members of the list are excellent, and I wish them well.  Merav Michaeli and Stav Shaffir will get into the Knesset no matter if none of the "consistent left" votes for them. And I hope that none does -- simply because their votes are needed to make a more powerful statement elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shas Ad: A True Jew Won't Kiss a Russian Shikseh

Here's the gist of this election ad.  A wedding is taking place between two Israelis, one clearly Russian and one clearly of Mizarahi (a.k.a. Sephardi) extraction. It turns out that the Russian is waiting for her conversion to Judaism to come through on the fax machine. She reassures the bridegroom that she got her quickie conversion through Avigdor Lieberman's party, Israel Beiteinu The message of the ad is that if you don't vote for the religious Mizrahi party Shas, "shikses" like Marina will be marrying your children with these bogus conversions.

I learned of this ad from an article by Yair Ettinger in today's Haaretz, which noted the hatred of Russians and hypocrisy in the ad (Shas has itself been criticized for lax -- not fax -- conversion standards). But what the paper didn't note is the absurdity of religious conversion being taken up by political parties in the first place. Why should any state control religious conversion? Well, that's simple -- if the state is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and a sizable number of its population are religious fundamentalists, then those fundamentalists are going to insist that religious criteria determine who is a Jew for personal status issues If Shas had its way, it would determine citizenship also on that basis, but it lost that fight in court.

Shas and Israeli Beiteinu are two sides of the right-wing Zionist coin, and they are equally bigoted.
The problem is with the liberals, like Haaretz writer, Yair Ettinger, who concludes his article saying:
One good thing could come out of the controversy: perhaps the conversion crisis, which continues to deepen in the Netanyahu-Shas era, will finally make its way to the national agenda.
The conversion issue is only on the national agenda because the state interferes with religion. If some folks don't think that some rabbis' conversions are kosher, what business is that of the state? Let the religious communities decide who they accept and who they don't, and leave the state out of it.

Ah, but this is Israel, where religious affiliation makes you automatically into a returning citizen

The only country in the world, by the way. And that includes the Muslim world.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Why Chuck Hagel's Confirmation is a Slam-Dunk

Chuck Hagel is going to be the next Secretary of Defense, unless there are surprises or skeletons in his closet.  Already his "opposition" has defectors, such as Barney Frank, who initially expressed reservations. There will be grandstanding at the Senate confirmation hearings by Lindsay Graham and others -- folks have to play to their base -- but the real players will not challenge the president on this one. (I am betting Chuck Shumer will vote for him after his "concerns" have been allayed.)

Jeff Goldberg says what I have been thinking -- and that doesn't happen very often -- that AIPAC is not going to mount a significant opposition here. Not only do they know that this is a lost cause, but they also know that Hagel can be managed on Israel. For one thing, the mlitary-industrial complexes of Israel and the US are so tied together that even Jimmy Carter -- heck, even Ali Abunimah -- couldn't render them asunder. For another,  AIPAC's strength has always been in Congress and not in the cabinet or the administration.

Again, all this could change if AIPAC smells blood, but it is never in AIPAC's interest to lose a battle; that was the famous lesson they learned when they saw they would lose the AWACS battle under President Reagan. They will keep a low profile. If you don't fight, you can't lose.

That doesn't meant to say that AIPAC, like the NRA, won't go after those Republican supporters of Hagel when election time comes around. So I wouldn't rule out some caving for fear of the Israel Lobby's money.

Oh sure, the Republican tea-party types (thank God, it's not the House that confirms cabinet appointments) will make a lot of noise in the confirmation hearings, and the media is whipping up the enthusiasm before the big Senate fight for its ratings. But when Joe Scarbourough backs Hagel, you know that Obama has once again succeeded in pitting  Republican against Republican. I can't wait to see Charles Krauthammer grind his teeth over "The Return of the Real Obama" -- Part Two. After all, there are a heck of a lot of Republicans out there who want to send William Kristol to Alaska for good. And, frankly, there is no danger to Kristol, either. After all, he will never have problem raising money for his various think-tank projects. If there was ever a better example of the well-fed dog barking while the caravan moves on, I can't think of one

Whether President Obama has grown a spine, or some other part of his anatomy, he has hit his stride. Who knows? He may actually do something one day that Paul Krugman likes.

I write this from Jerusalem, where the news is unbelievably bad and gets worse daily.  Now religious"settlements" are being built not only on the West Bank but in Arab neighborhoods Lod/Lydda, Jaffa, and Acco/Acre. And the tactics used to expel Arabs from their homes are sickening. See the article in Haaretz today.

So at least I get a little naches from somebody like Chuck Hagel, who is willing to treat the Palestinians as human beings.