It’s all about real-estate: Understanding the tent protests

Posted: July 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

The protest that sprang up out of the blue against rising rent costs, not started by or backed by any political power, is now described as the greatest challenge PM Netanyahu faces on the home front

image: activestills

It happened almost overnight: Friday morning a week ago, walking near Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, I saw only a handful of tents, with no more than a few dozen Israelis who answered an internet call for an ongoing protest against rising rent costs. On Saturday evening the tents covered an entire block on Rothschild Boulevard, and protesters threw cottage cheese containers on the Likud HQ on nearby King George Street. A couple of days later, the tent protests came to dominate the news cycle.

Housing minister Ariel Attias (Shas) argued that the protesters were spoiled kids that refuse to leave the fashionable center of the country, but by Tuesday there were tents in Jerusalem, the southern city of Beer Sheva and as far north as Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanon border (see a map of all the protests here). By Wednesday protesters tried to break into empty apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; the tents on Rothschild Boulevard stretched several blocks, all the way from Habimah Square to Shenkin Street, and marches and rallies were scheduled for the weekend. The Friday papers declared that Binyamin Netanyahu sees the tent protest as the greatest potential political threat to his governing coalition. Throughout the week the prime minister conducted ongoing meetings in attempts to bring the protest to an end.

So, what is this protest all about? Why now? And what could be its political implications? I will try to answers some of these questions in this piece.

A well-known method used to estimate real estate cost is to divide the price of an asset by the average monthly salary. Dr. Danny Ben Shahar of the Technion Institute for Science in Haifa, estimated that the median Israeli family had to spend 50 full salaries for an average Israeli apartment in 1989. Two decades later, this figure nearly doubled – in 2011, buying an average apartment would cost the same family 90 full salaries. According to Dr. Ben Shahar, An average apartment in Tel Aviv – just an average one – is too expensive for 90 percent of the population, even if they can spread their mortgage over 30 years.

Dr. Ben Shahar presented his findings in a panel at Tel Aviv University a few months ago. He told his listeners that the real estate market is “a social time-bomb.” I spoke with Dr. Ben Shahar a few days a go for a piece I did for an Israeli magazine; he admitted that he didn’t expect things to happen so fast. “If this problem isn’t taken care of, what you see now is just the beginning.”

The real estate crisis in Israel is entirely different from the one which led to the market crash in the United States. To put it simply: Apartments, especially in the cities, have become too expensive for most Israelis. Rent alone rose between 15 and 25 percent in all major cities in the last two years alone.

Readers from abroad who visited Tel Aviv or Jerusalem lately probably noticed that neither is a cheap city, and that they are becoming more expensive every year. Average rent in Tel Aviv is still lower than in Manhattan, San Francisco and London, but it’s already similar to the prices in Chicago, Atlanta and Barcelona, and it’s higher than in Berlin. The important figure is that salaries in Israel are much lower than in any of those cities. In relative terms, Israelis pay more for groceries, services and housing than in most countries in the West. Housing is the biggest expense of the average household, so that’s where the pressure is felt.

In the first half of the previous decade, Israel experienced a small scale economic crisis, a result of the second Intifada. The Finance Ministry, led by Silvan Shalom and later Binyamin Netanyahu (both from Likud) cut government expenses while lowering taxes for the more affluent Israelis. When the crisis ended, the best options for investment for those Israelis, and for money coming from abroad, were in the real estate market, especially in the cities.

Investors began buying apartments, driving prices up. Many of them were Jews – mostly from the United States and France. The richest of them didn’t even bother to rent out their assets to Israelis in their absence; they just wanted a house in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Such assets were considerably cheaper than in New York or Paris, and had special sentimental value for those Jews. The result is the now-infamous “ghost apartments,” occupied for only a few weeks each year. One luxury housing project in Jerusalem, overlooking the old city, is especially notorious for having no permanent tenants.

Young Israelis were angered by and resented this trend, and rants against “the rich Jews” became very common in the last few years. It was not surprising that a few days ago protesters in Jerusalem tried to break into some ghost apartments, ending up barricading themselves in the garden for a few hours.

All of this could have been similar to what happened in other large cities around the world – prices going up, investors coming in, locals and young people gradually moving out – if it weren’t for some unique factors in Israel, which complicate the situation: First and most important, Israeli cities have no efficient public transportation systems. Tel Aviv’s old bus service is especially notorious, and the privatization of a few of the busiest lines a few years ago seemed only to make things worse. Furthermore, buses don’t run overnight, and due to an old arrangement with the religious parties, there is no service on weekends and holidays either (except in Haifa). As for owning a car, commuting in the Dan Metropolitan Area (Greater Tel Aviv) is a nightmare, and parking is nowhere to be found. Students and shift workers have no option but trying to rent in the city center, where they can ride a bike or a scooter, or simply walk to work.

These problems have been known for some time now, but Israel has been governed for many years by neo-liberal governments, who did not encourage the construction of affordable housing – except in the West Bank, and in some occasions, for the ultra orthodox – and refused to invest in mass transportation projects. In fact, Netanyahu’s coalition has struck down no less than four legislation attempts concerning rent control; the Finance Minister was able to kill a housing ministry’s plan for housing subsidies, and the Interior Minister, on the advice of the government’s attorney, stopped attempts by municipalities (including Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s) to encourage affordable housing projects, claiming they lacked legal basis.

It’s been many years since Israel stopped being the welfare state its founding fathers dreamed of. While taxes remain much higher than in the America, government services have deteriorated and the cost of living continues to rise. Israel is at the top of the economical inequality index in the West, second only to the United States; Israelis work more hours than in most European economies, and they serve 2 to 3 years in the army, for which they don’t really get paid. In short, life is simply more difficult than in other places, and the safety nets Israel used to provide its citizens are disappearing. So while the government boasts about Israel’s excellent economic performance, more and more Israelis were finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

The middle class unrest over such issues has been felt for some time now, but it went largely unnoticed, also because financial issues rarely make it to front pages in Israel. But recently, things started to change. Around three months ago, there was an attempt to start “a petrol march” to protest the rising gas prices, which didn’t result in much. After that there was the cottage cheese boycott, when tens of thousands of Israelis stopped buying the country’s most popular soft cheese, until the three large dairies were forced to reduce their prices. And then came the tents.

The tent protest is different from all the others for a few reasons: First, it’s an issue for which the government will find it difficult to present quick solutions. Second, it’s an ongoing protest: people sit in tents the entire day, talk to each other, plan more activities and draw attention from the media and ordinary Israelis, who come to visit the Rothschild Avenue Settlement by the thousands. But the most important thing is that this is an issue almost any Israeli can relate to.

There have been tent protests over housing issues in the past, but those behind them were usually lower-income families, and occasionally, Palestinians. Those are groups that the authorities have no problem dealing with. This protest is different: it is led by young Israelis in their twenties, most of them from the middle class. By now, they also have the students associations behind them. Prime Minister Netanyahu must remember with horror the long student strike of 1998. Although it failed to rock his coalition, this event marked the beginning of his decline in his first term as prime minister. And now the students are protesting again.

So, what political effects will the tent protests have? Looking at the polls published every few weeks in the weekend papers, one would notice that oddly enough, it seems that nothing has changed in Israeli politics in the last couple of years. If elections were held today, according to pollster, the result would be the same as it was two years ago, give or take a few seats. Netanyahu’s approval ratings are very stable as well, always within a few points of the 50 percent line. Not long ago, I wrote that there is no threat to Netanyahu in the political system – from left or right. Not much has changed since.

But there are undercurrents in politics as well, and for some time, once could definitely sense a certain anxiety amongst Israelis. It’s not only about the economy, nor is it about the occupation – seems that Israelis couldn’t care less about this particular issue – or the exchange of threats with Iran. I guess it’s all the above and a bit more. It’s the sense that there is no future for “ordinary Israelis” here. This is something which is hard to distinguish from the usual rants about what Israelis call “the matzav” (the situation), but nevertheless, I think this mood is undeniable, at least in certain circles.

So far, this Zeitgeist has resulted in people withdrawing from interest in politics. In other cases, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other right wing politicians have been able to manipulate fears and anxieties in their favor. The last wave of protest seems set to change that. While the protesters are refusing endorsement from political powers – even calling themselves non-political – they are clearly anti-government. More than anything, they seem to resent the entire current political establishment, and while this does not mean that they support the opposition, such feelings are more dangerous to the ruling parties.

As if to illustrate this point, Netanyahu’s supporters and rightwing movement have gradually stepped up their hostility to the tent protest, accusing it of being a leftwing operation, initiated and funded by the New Israel Fund and various other lefty groups. A front page story in the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Yisrael Hayom—the most widely read daily in Israel—claimed that “the Zionist Left” movement is behind the real-estate protest. Rightwing group Im Tirzu, who tried to co-op the struggle earlier this week and even sent representatives to visit the tents in Rothschild Boulevard, withdrew its support from the protest, accusing it of being run by the NIF and “various anarchist groups.” In this weekend’s papers, almost all of the rightwing pundits wrote pieces against the protest.

So far, these attacks haven’t hurt the protest, but some real challenges are emerging in the next few days. A planned demonstration on Saturday evening will give some indication of the public support for the protesters. On Sunday, Jerusalem’s municipality’s deadline to evacuate the tents from the city center—sources in the municipality claimed that their presence would hurt tourism—will arrive. Other municipalities are bound to follow with attempts to evacuate the tents, and they will be assisted by the inevitable fatigue of the protesters and the unbearable summer heat.

To sum it up, while it is one of the most important internal events in Israel in the last couple of years, I don’t see this protest driving votes to the left or to Kadima in the short run. Over a longer period of time, it will probably help the opposition to Netanyahu, from both right and left. Plus, the feeling of alienation and resentment from the old political power will increase the likelihood of outsiders entering politics and drawing support.

The protest might also have some indirect effect on the geo-political game. As I said, protesters couldn’t care less about the occupation or Iran right now, but social crises have this funny effect on politicians – they make them more active. I don’t think that Netanyahu or Barak will go so far as to attack Iran, for example, to divert attention from their problems at home, as some people have speculated (I hope they are not that crazy, and there is still considerable opposition in the security establishment for such a move). Still if the protest continues for a prolonged period, we should expect some “bold” moves from what has been a very passive government so far, to say the least.

As history can teach us, economic crises and social unrest tend to increase the bets in politics. They hand ammunition to everyone – creating opportunities for political change and reform, but also preparing the ground for the rise of rightwing demagogues and warmongers. And one should never forget that in the Middle East, the stakes are always high.

As one of my editors used to say: In this country, it’s all about real-estate. Every political controversy has to do with land, every social battle, and obviously, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself. If you understand real estate here, you understand it all.


Beware the post-Zionist hacking campaign

Posted: July 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Anastassia Michaeli, a rightwing MK from Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party, in a debate over the digitization of schoolbooks:

“I oppose this idea. Arabs could hack into the books and change history.”

(v. Yossi Gurvitz)

UPDATE: This was a second-hand quote (a few bloggers posted it on twitter, and I translated their tweets). Here is the full text. It’s actually worse than the phrase I brought here (translation by Y. Gurvitz):

Believe me, hi-tech companies will develop new applications in the future, special protocols [and] operating systems in order to activate these [digital] textbooks. I am an electronics engineer, and I wanted to be a programmer, as well. I know computers and software very well.

Let me tell you that in a short while, in ten years, we will not be able to oversee the textbooks in the computers [inarticulateness in the original; possibly she meant to say “computerized textbooks” – YG]. See what kinds of propaganda the Israeli Arabs know how to make. They will enter all of the protocols system of the textbooks. They will write the history of the State of Israel for us. Wake up.

I am sorry Gideon Sa’ar isn’t here, that Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar isn’t here. There will be many hackers who will install for us their own textbooks. You will forget the Torah, you will forget what [the Book of ] Psalms is. The children of Israel will study the history of Palestine. I beg you to take care before supporting this bill. I am sure it will pass, but I warn you that in a few years we will “eat” these mistakes, and furthermore, parents in these times will pay the price. Thank you very much.

Hebrew original here, page 168.


Rightist blog’s discovery: Palestinians buy Israeli goods!

Posted: July 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

US-based blog Elder of Ziyon has posted a somewhat Orwellian piece: The latest installment in the “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza” Hasbara-project actually celebrates the fact that a new Gaza supermarket sells Israeli goods.

… if [passengers of the flotilla] do visit Metro [the new Gaza supermarket], they would be forced to protest the fact that it is not adhering to BDS because it sells so many Israeli products – and even features them prominently.

[photos of Israeli products in the supermarket]

It’s a terrible world when Israel boycotters can’t even convince stores in Gaza to stop selling Israeli goods.

Well, here is another scoop for EOZ, free of charge: all grocery stores in Bil’in have Israeli products in them, too. I also seem to remember spotting Israeli goods in Hebron and in Jericho. Come to think about it, EOZ’s story is much bigger than you think: it seems that almost every store in the Palestinian territories sells Israeli products – and yet the Palestinians call for the boycott of Israel! What hypocrisy! How naïve are those useful idiots who listen to them!

Back to planet Earth: Israel controls the economy of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel decides what goods are let in and out, just as it has most of the control over electric power and water in the territories. This is called “the occupation,” something that EOZ and the likes of him have yet to hear about.

Until last year, Israel allowed only a limited list of food products into Gaza. Changes to the list were made not according to the needs of the Palestinians, but to those of Israeli farmers and food companies. An investigative piece by Haaretz, published a couple of years ago, exposed the network of middlemen who chose the identity of Israeli businesses that were allowed to sell their products to Gaza’s captive audience – not a very affluent one, but still consisting of almost 1.5 million consumers.

A year ago, the IDF began allowing more goods into Gaza – a triumph of the first flotilla – yet most products still have to go through Israel, and in many cases – from it (though we should remember that Cairo has its share in the blockade of Gaza through Egypt’s control over the Rafah crossing). Some Israelis still make very good money out of the occupation.

The BDS call, which EOZ referred to, is a Palestinian request of solidarity from the international community. Palestinians are forced to buy Israeli goods – just as they are forced to work for Israelis in order to survive – but they ask others, who do have a choice, to avoid that.


Everything you (never) wanted to know about Israel’s anti-boycott law

Posted: July 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A reader’s guide to democracy’s dark hour

knesset_bw

What does the law say?

Basically, the anti-boycott law allows all those who feel they have been harmed by a boycott, whether against Israel or an Israeli institution or territory (i.e. the settlements in the West Bank) to sue the person or organization who publicly called for it, for compensation. This definition is very broad—even a simple call not to visit a place falls under it—and most important, the prosecutor plaintiff doesn’t even have to prove damages.

You can read the full text of the law here (it’s not long). The important part is below (translation by ACRI):

Definition:

1. In this bill, “a boycott against the State of Israel” – deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.

Boycott – a civil wrong:

A.     Knowingly publishing a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel will be considered a civil wrong to which the civil tort law [new version] applies, if according to the content and circumstances of the publication there is reasonable probability that the call will bring about a boycott and he who published the call was aware of this possibility.

B.     In regards to clause 62 [A] of the civil tort law [new version], he who causes a binding legal agreement to be breached by calling for a boycott against the State of Israel will not be viewed as someone who operated with sufficient justification.

C.     If the court will find that an wrong according to this law was deliberately carried out, it will be authorized to compel the person who did the wrongdoing to pay damages that are not dependent on the damage (in this clause – damages, for example); in calculating the sum of the damages for example, the court will take into consideration, among other things, the circumstances under which the wrong was carried out, its severity and its extent.

Check out Roi Maor’s analysis of the implications of this law and what it will mean:

[The boycott law] will have a significant and immediate practical effect. As of today, a wide range of people and groups who once called for a boycott will cease doing so. The space for debate and discussion in Israeli society will shrink right before our eyes.

How come this law passed three Knesset votes?

The key moments in the legislation process was a decision by Binyamin Netanyahu’s government (and by him personally, as hetold the Knesset on Wednesday) to have the entire coalition back the law. This means that the law will have the automatic support of most of the Knesset members, and that even coalition members who oppose it won’t be able to vote against it. Once the bill passed Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee—controlled by the right—it was clear for the two final votes, which took place Monday night.

So, how did Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak vote?

They didn’t. They avoided the vote. See the full roll-call from the Knesset vote.

When will the law take effect?

It already did. Starting yesterday (Tuesday), it is now illegal to call for a settlement boycott in Israel. The only part of the law which is not effective yet is article 4, which deals with the punishment of organizations that would support a boycott (they will be stripped of their special statutes). This article, which is seen as a backdoor way to persecute civil society and leftwing organizations (more on this issue here), will be made effective in 90 days.

Yesterday an Israeli Beitenu MK already threatened Arab MK Ahmed Tibi that he will be the first to feel the effect of the new law. “Whoever shows contempt for the law and stomps on it will be responsible for the outcome,” MK Miller told Tibi in the Knesset.

Is it really so bad? I heard there is a similar law in the US, and that in France, a court punished some group calling for boycott on Israel.

Those examples are very different from the Israeli law. The US legislation refers to boycott by foreign governments, and the French case had to do with a unique interpretation to a law concerning discrimination. In fact, a Knesset research report, prepared during the work on the boycott bill, concluded that it couldn’t find examples of similar laws in Western democracies, and resorted to citing examples from countries such as Venezuela, Eritrea and Ethiopia. As a result, the Knesset’s legal advisor filed an opinion stating that it would be very hard to defend this law in the High Court for Justice. The Government Attorney thinks it  is a “borderline case,” but he is willing to defend the law in court.

What about the High Court? I hear that it is likely to strike down the law as unconstitutional.

For that, Israel would need to have a constitution… But the answer is yes, many think that the court will kill the law or parts of it, and petitions on this issue has already been filed. Yet a verdict would take time, and more important, it might gravely hurt the Court’s own statues, as will be perceived as acting in against the will of the public (the right to override Knesset law is not formally granted to the Israeli high court, and therefore lies in the heart of a political controversy). Already, there are threats from leading politicians to the court not to intervene in this issue, or else they would limit the court’s power. This has become a true watershed moment for Israel.

Furthermore, there are those on the left who believe that going to the court would play into the hands of those who initiated the boycott law, and ultimately strengthen the ability of the right to introduce such pieces of legislation. Read this though-provoking piece from Yossi Gurvitz on this issue.

What about the Israeli public? Does it support this law?

Right now, yes. A poll found 52 percent of the public supporting the anti-boycott law, while only 31 opposes it.

Mike Asks: Is full boycott illigal as well?

Yes. for example, if an Israeli writes a letter to an foreign artist and suggests he cancel his gig in Tel Aviv as long as the occupation goes on, he could potentially be sued by the producer, and any other person who thinks this act hurts him. I guess that even by the bartender could sue – and they won’t have to prove damages. Calls for boycott of academic institutions are illegal too.

Alex asks regarding Foreign nationals in Israel – does the law include them too?

Yes. When in Israel, one needs to obey Israeli laws, including ones concerning damages. From what I understand from ACRI (Association of Civil Rights in Israel, which has been in the frontline of the struggle against the law), the anti-boycott law would include foreign nationals as well - as long as they make the boycott call while in Israel. One reservation is that it’s not a criminal law, so you need someone to actually sue you for damages, and the court needs to be able to collect them. My guess is that if this law remains active,  rightwing and settlers’ organizations will become serial prosecutors plaintiffs of boycotts in order to silence dissent, and, of coarse, make some money on the way.

The law doesn’t apply to foreign nationals in the West Bank, which is under military rule and not Israeli civilian law.

how about Israelis abroad?

The law should apply to Israelis everywhere in the world, so theoretically, if a Boycott from Within activist gives a lecture in London, he could be sued by a fellow citizen upon his return to Israel. Still, it seems that suing over offenses done abroad will be more complicated; check out Woody’s comment from 12:51PM for a discussion of some of the problems it raises. I could only add that with every new law–not just this one–it’s hard to predict the outcome of such borderline cases. We can only wait the rulings of Israeli courts to see how they interpret the law.

Is discussing or repealing the law legal?

Yes it is. Remember that it is not a criminal law but a tort one, so as long as you don’t advocate boycott while repealing the law, nobody has “a reason” to sue you.

—————–

This article was cross-posted with 972 Magazine. The answers are to questions posted there.


Poll: Israeli public supports boycott law

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Polls, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

The anti-boycott law is already considered the most controversial to come out of the current Knesset, but it seems that this controversy exists mostly in the media, and outside Israel.

A recent poll, done for the Knesset channel and posted on the rightwing Srugim site,  52 percent of the Israeli public supports the law, and only 31 oppose it – not very different from the majority the law received in the Knesset. In that sense, the Israeli Parliament members represent their voters perfectly.

Srugim didn’t provide the data for the poll or the original questions asked, so we should take these numbers with a grain of salt. Also, the polls was apparently done in the morning following the vote, so the results might change with time.

According to the poll 43 percent of the public think the law will hurt Israel’s image in the world.


Boycott bill rollcall: How did they vote?

Posted: July 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The three most important ministers in the Israeli cabinet – Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu – didn’t bother to attend the deciding vote on the boycott bill

———————–

The anti-boycott law, perhaps the most important piece of legislation to come out of the Israeli parliament in recent years, passed with a 47-38 majority. This is how the Knesset members voted, followed by a few notes:

COALITION

Likud
Ofir Akunis – Yes
Ze`ev Binyamin Begin – Yes
Danny Danon – Yes
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein – Yes
Michael Eitan – Not present (*)
Zeev Elkin – Yes
Gilad Erdan – Not present
Gila Gamliel – Not present
Tzipi Hotovely – Yes
Moshe Kahlon – Yes
Ayoob Kara – Yes
Haim Katz – Yes
Yisrael Katz – Yes
Yariv Levin – Yes
Limor Livnat – Yes
Dan Meridor – Not present
Lea Nass – Not present
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Not present (**)
Yossi Peled – Yes
Zion Pinyan – Yes
Miri Regev – Yes
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – Didn’t vote
Education Minister Gideon Sa`ar – Not present
Silvan Shalom – Not present
Carmel Shama – Yes
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz – Yes
Deputy PM Moshe Ya`alon – Yes

Yisrael Beitenu
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch – Not present
Hamad Amar – Yes
Daniel Ayalon – Yes
Robert Ilatov – Not present
Fania Kirshenbaum – Yes
Uzi Landau – Yes
Sofa Landver – Yes
Orly Levi-Abekasis – Yes
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – Not present
Moshe Mutz Matalon – Not present
Anastassia Michaeli – Yes
Alex Miller – Yes
Stas Misezhnikov – Yes
David Rotem – Not present
Lia Shemtov – Yes

Shas
Chaim Amsellem – Yes
Ariel Atias – Not present
David Azoulay – Yes
Amnon Cohen – Not present
Yitzhak Cohen – Yes
Yakov Margi – Yes
Avraham Michaeli – Yes
Meshulam Nahari – Yes
Yitzhak Vaknin – Yes
Interior Minister Eliyahu Yishai – Yes
Nissim Zeev – Not Present

Haatzma`ut (Labor faction) (***)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak – Not present
Orit Noked – Not present
Shalom Simhon – Not present
Matan Vilnai – Not present
Einat Wilf – Didn’t vote

United Torah Judaism
Israel Eichler – Not Present
Moshe Gafni – Yes
Yakov Litzman – Yes
Uri Maklev – Yes
Menachem Eliezer Moses – Yes

Habayit Hayehudi – New National Religious Party
Daniel Hershkowitz – Yes
Uri Orbach – Yes
Zevulun Orlev – Yes

OPPOSITION

Kadima
Nino Abesadze – No
Rachel Adatto – No
Eli Aflalo – No
Doron Avital – No
Ruhama Avraham Balila – No
Ronnie Bar-On – No
Arie Bibi – Not present
Zeev Bielski – No
Avi Dichter – No
Jacob Edery – Not present
Gideon Ezra – Not present
Israel Hasson – No
Yoel Hasson – Not present
Shai Hermesh – No
Dalia Itzik – No
Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni – No
Shaul Mofaz – No
Shlomo (Neguse) Molla – No
Yohanan Plesner – No
Otniel Schneller – Not present
Nachman Shai – Not present
Yulia Shamalov Berkovich – Not present
Meir Sheetrit – No
Marina Solodkin – No
Ronit Tirosh – No
Robert Tiviaev – No
Majallie Whbee – No
Orit Zuaretz – No

Ha`avoda (Labor)

Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer – Not present
Daniel Ben Simon – No
Avishay Braverman – No
Eitan Cabel – No
Isaac Herzog – Not present
Raleb Majadele – No
Amir Peretz – No
Shelly Yacimovich – No

Hadash

Afou Agbaria – No
Mohammad Barakeh – No
Dov Khenin – No
Hanna Swaid – No

Ra`am-Ta`al
Talab El-Sana – Not present
Masud Ganaim – No
Ibrahim Sarsur – No
Ahmad Tibi – No

National Democratic Assembly (Balad)
Said Naffaa – Not present
Jamal Zahalka – No
Hanin Zoabi – No

New Movement – Meretz

Zahava Gal-On – No
Ilan Gilon – No
Nitzan Horowitz – No

Ichud Leumi    (****)

Uri Yehuda Ariel – Yes
Michael Ben Ari – Not present
Arieh Eldad – Yes
Yaakov (Katzeleh) Katz – Yes

(*) The custom in the Knesset is that opposition and coalition members who cannot attend a vote can agree to essentially cancel each other out. In major votes, parties tend to limit mutual cancellations as much as possible; therefore it is not always clear whether a Knesset member who didn’t come to the vote was cancelled out or chose to be absent for other reasons.

(**) Many of the votes were those of backbenchers, and it seems that the leading ministers preferred not to be present at the vote, once it was clear that the law was going to pass. The three most important ministers in the government–Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—chose not to attend the vote. Some leadership Israel has.

(***) The entire Ha’atzmaut faction, until recently a part of the dovish Labor party, chose not to oppose the boycott law nor to support it.

(***) Officially, the extreme-right Ihud Leumi party is not part of the government, but it supports much of its policies and all rightwing legislation in the Knesset.

Update: in response to a reader’s question, an MK who appears as “not present” wasn’t at the assembly during the vote. “Didn’t vote” simply means abstained. As you can see, Knesset members prefer not to be seen on TV refraining from voting, so unless they really have to (like in the case of the Knesset’s speaker), they simply disappear when an unpleasant vote approaches.
Update II: In response to more comments – almost all pieces of legislation don’t require ”an absolute majority” of 61 members. Still, if the coalition needed it, there would have been no problem to get 61 hands for this vote.
Aryeh: I regret to say I that don’t share your (limited) optimism. I tend to think that this vote was seen as a very major one – with a long filibuster and 87 members present (normally only 30-40 come to vote), from all the house’s parties. Plus, two MKs were too ill to vote; one had buried his mom on Monday, and most important, I think that the members who failed to show up did it on purpose. We know of two Kadima members who supported the bill (Schneller and Shamalov-Berkovich) and will be “punished” by their party today; several Likud MK opposed the law: House Speaker Rivlin, Minister Meridor and probably Eithan. One surprise came from Benni Begin, the son of the legendary Likud leader, who used to be considered a defender of personal liberties, and voted Yes. And there is, of coarse, Ehud Barak’s party, who fled the battleground. We should remember that this was a government-backed bill, so any party that would have voted against the law was signaling its desire to leave the coalition – yet I believe that had Barak taken a stand, Neatnyahu would have thought twice before approving this particular piece of legislation. In that sense, Barak’s absence is somewhat of a support.

Glenn Beck meets former chair of terror organization

Posted: July 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

One of the visitors on the Knesset’s Committee discussion that hosted Glen Beck today was a settler named Baruch Marzel. Marzel, seen here meeting Beck, was the secretary of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach movement. After the assassination of Kahane, Marzel, a resident of Hebron, chaired the party.

Kach and Kahane Chai (a faction of the party, formed after Kahane’s death) were outlawed in Israel. Both groups are considered terrorist organizations by Canada, the European Union and the United States.

See, for example, item 20 of the  State Department’s current list of designated foreign terrorist 0rganizations.

I am sure that Beck, a self appointed expert on terrorism and the new world order, will explain this as part of his field work.


14,000 new settlers in last 12 months

Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Comments Off

14,000 new Jewish settlers moved to the West Bank the last year alone – not including East Jerusalem. Total number today, IBA radio reported, is 334,000.

The settlements are not an obstacle to peace, Israel says.

(via @notidfspokesperson)


“Air Flotilla” successful in exposing Israeli blockade of West Bank

Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, unarmed protest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Israeli authorities deployed hundreds of policeman in order to stop and deport pro-Palestinian visitors. Minister of tourism announced that “good tourists” will be greeted with flowers

Panic. There is no other way to describe the Israeli reaction to a plan by a few activists—no more than a thousands, according to the most generous estimates—to try and travel to the West Bank via Ben Gurion International Airport. A handful of those visitors got here (five of them already deported), and it seems that the whole country has gone mad.

Haaretz has reported a special deployment by hundreds of policemen and special unites both inside and outside the terminals, “in case one of the arrivals will try to set himself on fire.” The Petach Tikwa court, in charge of the airport area, is to have more arrest judges on alert, and the minister for Hasbara (propaganda) Yuli Edelstein demanded the government to take no chances, “because we should remember what happened on 9/11.”

All this, lets not forget, in order to welcome between a few dozens to a few hundreds Westerners (most of the quite old, according to reports), who would arrive on separate flights and on different hours, who went through extensive security checks before boarding their planes, and who openly declares their intentions to visit the Palestinian territories. This is the national threat that caught all the headlines for some days now in a country armed with one of the strongest militaries in the world as well as an extensive arsenal of Nuclear Bombs.

While events at the airport are more absurd than tragic (there is a torrent of jokes on twitter about this, like: “attention all units, attention all units, a Swedish woman is now getting off flight 465″, or “security personal have been ordered to report all those not singing ‘Heve’nu Shalom’ at landing”), one cannot watch the government’s handling of this situation and not question the judgment of Israeli decision makers, or wonder on the things they are capable of doing if and when they sense a more substantial threat. One of the sole voices of reason was Yedioth’s Eithan Haber, the former secretary of Prime Minister Rabin, whose commentary today had the title: “We simply lost it” (“ירדנו מהפסים”).

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The lunacy started at the top. Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s office has released a statement saying that “welcome to Palestine” campaign “is part of a continuing effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist.” This call for action was supposed to expire long ago from over use (I wonder what doesn’t make, in Netanyahu’s eyes “an effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist?”), but it did spark the desired result in the government. Internal Security Minister Itzhak Aharonowitz (Israel Beitenu) has put his forces on high alert, promising “not to let the hooligans enter Israel,” and senior police officers promised “harsh treatment” for those who will manage to board their flights to Tel Aviv.

The real nugget was revealed today, after Tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov has sent his people to the airport to hand flowers to those arrivals that are not planning to travel to the West Bank. “Handcuffs to the activists, flowers to the tourists,” one of the headlines read. The tourism office, it was reported, fears that arrivals to Israel will “meet unpleasant sights of riots and arrests.”

“My office will welcome ["normal"] tourists in a respectful way that will convey the message that Israel is safe, advance and attractive place to visit,” minister Mazesnikow told the press, in a statement that would have reminder the practices of the Soviet regime, if I wasn’t sure that Mazesnikow, a Russian immigrant, would know better.

There is a deeper point to make here: By dividing the tourists to “evil” ones and to “good” and “honest” ones, according to their political motivation and their views on the Palestinian issue, Israel is confirming the logic of the BDS movement – that any business or contact with Israel is political, and would probably serve Israeli policy. Much in the way the Israeli Foreign Office promotes on his Facebook wall articles on artist who plans to visit Israel next to pieces denouncing the Palestinians, the tourism office now views every visit to the county, be that for business, religious or personal reasons, as a sign of support in the face of “an effort to undermine our existence.”

—————

In recent days, government officials have made a single talking point regarding the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign: that every country has the right do defend its sovereignty. If the United States, France and Japan can reject people from entering their territory without bothering to cite their reasons, why can’t Israel? Yet these are the same people who on any other week of the year deny even the term “occupation”, claiming that since the Oslo agreement, “Palestinians control their own lives.” PR people and supporters of the Israeli government repeat this idea all the time, and while everyone familiar with the reality in the West Bank knows that the Palestinian Authority has more or less the authority of a local US municipality, it is always surprising how widespread is the notion that Israel has effectively removed its control from the territories.

Here, for example, is a quote the glossary section in the internet site of the Propaganda organization “Stand with US

Israel never formally annexed the West Bank or Gaza, and the Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and wish to have their own state. Today, Palestinians have their own government, the Palestinian Authority.

This is Morton Klein, head of Zionist of America, in often-cited 2002 article titled “There is no Occupation“:

Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5% of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under “Israeli occupation” is simply false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the 2% where Israelis reside.

And this is another mouthpiece for the occupation, Washington Post’s blogger Jennifer Rubin:

Now ninety-five percent of Palestinians are under the jurisdiction of the PA, which is responsible for everything from local police to schools. Israel’s official interaction with West Bank Palestinians is limited to intelligence gathering and extraction of terrorists.

The Welcome to Palestine campaign was meant to prove that not only did Israel never remove its control from the Palestinians, the West Bank is effectively under an Israeli blockade, with every person or good entering the Palestinian Authority must be cleared first by Israel. Some might argue that this is a legitimate security precaution, but the history of this policy proves that it weren’t security concerns the determined whether people got permission to enter or leave the West Bank, but the political needs of maintaining the occupation. A couple of familiar cases were that of Prof. Noam Chomsky and a Spanish Clown that were denied entry for their support of Palestinian independence, but these kind of things happen on a daily basis.

Considering all this, it’s clear that even before a dozen activists landed here, the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign won the day. Israel has played it part in it perfectly, spreading threats and promising to immediately deport anyone who would state his intention to visit the West Bank or would cite a political motivation for his travel. Israel has even prevented a couple of Dutch pro-Israeli journalists from boarding an El-Al flight, perhaps fearing that they might report something Jerusalem won’t like.

When the first news items on the “air flotilla” appeared in the Hebrew media, some of the comments by Israelis wondered why the activists won’t enter the West Bank through the crossing point at the Jordanian border, believing it to be controlled by the Palestinians themselves. The myth of the Oslo withdrawal was so successful, that even some Israelis took it as a fact.

After a week of headlines on the activists’ invasion, everybody knows that even more than Gaza—which can be entered through Rafah, where there is no Israeli presence—the West Bank is under an Israeli blockade.


Triumphant over flotilla, Netanyahu is stronger than ever

Posted: July 2nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

With no threat from his political rivals and no pressure from Washington, the Israeli PM is enjoying the best weeks of his career. Yet his rightwing politics are likely to bring a much bigger change than his supporters care to imagine

If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could have one wish, I guess it would be to conduct general elections tomorrow. Between the cheers of his obedient followers in Congress and his success in preventing the Gaza-bound flotilla from sailing to the Strip, the Israeli prime minister is enjoying the best weeks of his term, possibly of his entire career.

Unlike in the first two years of his term, Netanyahu finally seems in control. The Greek decision to prevent the flotilla from sailing has taken everyone by surprise, but as it turned out, the PM has been preparing the ground for some time.

Haaretz quoted yesterday  an Israeli diplomat saying that Netanyahu “Netanyahu has become Greece’s lobbyist to the European Union.”  Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou returned the favor yesterday: As the American boat “Audacity of Hope” was about to leave the port of Athens, the authorities issued an order prohibiting all flotilla vessels from sailing. It is very unlikely that the Greeks would have dared stopping a Canadian or American ship without permission from their respective governments, so one could speculate that other administrations–and most notably, Washington—stood by Netanyahu’s side. For a politician often portrayed as hated and despised by world leaders, this is no small thing.

The Israeli morning papers are likely to praise the Prime Minister tomorrow. Netanyahu’s numbers are will go up again, and his coalition will become safer than ever before. Unlike in his first term, Netanyahu is now able to communicate his messages both to the center and to his base on the Israeli right. Politicians around Netanyahu recognize that. On Friday, dovish Likud minister Dan Meridor backed the PM in an interview to Maariv – and he is just one of the former rivals who now praise Netanyahu.

Kadima, the Knesset’s biggest party, failed so far to produce its own agenda, and its leader, Tzipi Livni, was revealed as a shallow politician. Besides repeating talking points regarding government policies, Livni did not make one substantial move that would challenge the government. Furthermore, the fight over Labor leadership has taken the predictable ugly turn, ensuring that the winner will get a fragmented and bitter party that would make his life miserable and suffer another blow at the elections.

Defense Minister Barak polls zero Knesset seats, which means he depends on Netanyahu for his political survival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman waits the Attorney General’s decision regarding his corruption charges, and Shas’ Eli Yishay is too busy with the return of former party leader Aryeh Deri to cause the PM any trouble. As far as Netanyahu can see, the horizon is clear.

Netanyahu might be the strongest Israeli PM in the last two decades—stronger than Sharon and Rabin—despite not having their IDF record, charisma or leadership skills. He is for sure the best survivor: General elections are due to take place on autumn 2013, and by then, Netanyahu will be the longest serving Israeli PM since David Ben-Gurion.

Yet the Middle East has a strange way of turning your victories against you. Netanyahu has no vision, and his politics resemble troubleshooting. It’s no wonder that his goals are the subject of an endless guessing game.

It seems that ultimately, Netanyahu wishes to secure Israeli control over as much as possible of the West Bank, understanding that he won’t be able to control it all forever. If that is the case, his policies are likely to backfire: It was Netanyahu’s rejectionism that got the world’s attention to nature of the occupation; it’s his backing of the settlements that will ensure Israel is unable to force a quasi-state on the Palestinians (since there will be no room left for even this kinda of a state); it’s Netanyahu’s successful manipulation of the US Congress that proved the limits of the administration’s and the State Department’s ability to serve as an honest broker between Palestinians and Israelis and left Jews in the States torn apart and bitter; and it’s his coalition’s anti-democratic legislation that shows the need to an overhaul reform regarding the Jewish character of the Israeli state.

In short, The Prime Minister is winning every battle on his way to lose the entire war. As long as his poll numbers are high and his republican backers are happy, I guess he would be the last to care.

One final note: While everyone’s eyes were on the Greek ports, the people of Bil’in celebrated the removal of the security barrier erected by Israeli on their land six years ago. Back then, the thought that a few hundred villagers will be able to defeat the Israeli military establishment seemed delusional; now everybody is talking about the challenge of a Palestinian unarmed revolt. There are undercurrents at play which are not always easy to detect, and this is a lesson Netanyahu and his shortsighted admirers would do well to remember.