Popular anchorman’s entry into politics likely to secure PM’s rule

Posted: January 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Yair Lapid left his position in Channel 2 News and announced his intention to enter politics. He is likely to split the secular vote in a way that won’t allow anyone but the Likud to form the next government

One of the questions that has dominated the political landscape in Israel in the last couple of years received an (almost) definite answer this week, when the most popular journalist in Israel, Yair Lapid, resigned from his post as Channel 2′s Friday evening anchorman in order to enter politics.

If he had it his way, Lapid would have waited for new elections to be called – probably later this year – but the Knesset legislators forced him to reveal his cards. A bill subjecting every journalist to a full “cooling off” period of a year before entering politics was about to become a law, and Lapid, who probably made up his mind on his political future a while ago, had to leave his comfortable position in front of a prime-time audience. The official announcement came in the form of a resignation letter to his bosses at the station.

Lapid, 49, is the son of the late journalist-turned-politician Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and novelist Shulamit Lapid. He grew up in Tel Aviv and London, served as a reporter for the IDF’s magazine Bamahane, and later started working for his father’s paper, Maariv. His star rose in the 90′s, when he acted in an Israeli film and hosted popular TV talk shows on Channels 1 and 2. Lapid wrote books and a TV mini-series, led TV campaigns for Israel’s largest bank, and since 2008 hosted the prestigious weekly news magazine on Channel 2. Lapid also writes the leading full-page column in Yedioth Ahronoth’s Friday edition, the most widely read paper in Israel.

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For such a public figure, Lapid’s political views are extremely vague. His father, a Knesset member and then government minister, was known for his militant secularism, both in public and in his personal life. Lying on his deathbed, Yosef Lapid refused any treatment that would prolong his life and eventually starved to death. Like his father, Yair Lapid is hostile to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, although even on this trademark family issue, his tone is much more restrained. Yosef “Tommy Gun” Lapid was an Archie Bunker-like conservative; Yair Lapid is his business-oriented, politically-correct alter ego.

If figuring out Yair Lapid on social issues is a complicated task, making sense of his views on diplomatic and regional politics, on human rights and democracy, is close to impossible. From his columns, it seems that Lapid is at the center of the secular consensus (some say that he is the center) – i.e. he supports in theory of the two-state solution; he is somewhat critical of the settlements and clearly hostile towards the “extreme” religious settlers, but he has no special affection for human rights organizations and he hasn’t showed unique interest in the current wave of anti-democratic legislation.

Lapid wrote a couple of times that Israel should have supported, rather than opposed, the Palestinian UN bid, but I don’t remember hearing a real out-of-the-box idea from him, one like Shaul Mofaz’s (Kadima) support for negotiations with Hamas. Lapid is not a rightwing hawk nor a dove; one more thing he inherited from his dad is a hatred of “the lefty media,” which he confessed again recently.

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Lapid updates his Facebook followers on the progress of his Knesset bid. Unlike pages of other Knesset members, Lapid’s wall is lively and exited. According to one of his latest messages, he hasn’t formed his party yet. He will probably skip the option of leading his father’s party – Shinui – which wasn’t able to pass the Knesset threshold in the last elections. There is little sense in forcing oneself to deal with the party’s dysfunctional machine, plus I would imagine that Lapid aims higher than the narrow appeal of Shinui, which will always be constrained by its free market, secular Ashkenazi image.

It is somewhat ironic that Lapid, the privileged son of the Israeli elite, would be one of the first to benefit from the summer’s social protest. Yet there is no doubt that the growing discontent in Israel’s middle class played a major part in his decision to enter politics now. As I have written here in the past, the J14 demonstrations – also known as the tent protests – were, more than anything, a show of middle-class disappointment with elected Knesset members, and especially with Kadima.

While Israel’s right is filled with would-be leaders and Knesset backbenchers who compete for attention by introducing racist bills or conducting bizarre public stunts, and while the left has no voters or public appeal whatsoever, the amorphous promised land of the moderate center is up for grabs. Shelly Yachimovitch, the surprise winner of the Labor primaries, was the first to take a bite, and Lapid might be the one to deal Kadima its coup-de-grace.

The man who is likely to benefit the most from this process is one Benjamin Netanyahu. Lapid can draw votes from all of Netanyahu’s potential challengers – including Avigdor Lieberman – but he is not likely to hurt the Likud too much. The result will be a fragmented Knesset, in which the Likud is a single big party and four or five others – Lapid, Labor, Lieberman, Kadima and maybe Shas – are competing for a place in the coalition. Since Netanyahu will only need between two and three of those parties, and since they won’t be able to form an alternative coalition due to a lack of a central, agreed-upon, leading force, they won’t have any bargaining position. It will be Bibi or nothing.

Early polls suggest that this is the most likely scenario. There were three polls conducted right after Lapid’s announcement – by the dailies Maariv and Yedioth, and by Channel 10. The results varied, but the general picture was the same: Likud was the only party to pass the 20-seat threshold, polling between 27 and 30 of the 120 Knesset seats (Likud has 27 MKs now). Lapid had 11-16 seats, Kadima 13-15 (28 now), Labor 12-18, Israel Beitenu 14-15 and Shas 9-11. In such a picture, the old division into two competing blocs – left-center and right-religious – becomes meaningless.

On a deeper level, Lapid’s entry into politics could be seen as representing a new stage in the Israeli culture war, one in which the dominant social group – secular middle class – has left behind the hope to lead the political system and is settling for a sectarian representation of its interests, spread between several parties. Except in the case of an unexpected event such as war or a deep economical crisis, we are likely to be left with Netanyahu as prime minister; or with a fragmented system in which nobody can really govern. Yair Lapid therefore is not the answer to Israel’s existential crisis – more than anything, he is a representation of the problem.


Hanin Zoabi and Israel’s point of no return

Posted: January 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

Some more thoughts of the “death of democracy” scenario that might take place in the next elections

Susan Hattis Rolef has a piece in the Jerusalem Post dealing with the same issue I wrote about yesterday: the expected ban on MK Hanin Zoabi – and perhaps Balad and Raam-Taal parties as well – from participating in the next elections.

Hattis-Rolef seems to agree with me that this is a likely scenario, at least in the case of a personal disqualification of MK Zoabi.

There is no doubt that as elections for the 19th Knesset approach, right-wing parties will renew efforts to have Balad disqualified on the grounds that the party advocates turning Israel into “a state of all its citizens” – something they say essentially denies its existence as the state of the Jewish people. They also say Balad maintains contact with organizations that are defined in Israel as terrorist organizations.

In the past, the High Court of Justice has overturned Central Elections Committee decisions to disqualify Balad, but the last time the court ruled on this issue, it stated that Balad’s positions were problematic, implying that the party is walking on very thin legal ice. With the High Court’s more conservative makeup, and especially the approaching retirement of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, it is quite likely that next time the court will uphold a committee decision to disqualify Balad.

To that we can add that the 2009 ruling on Balad was a split decision, with Justice Levi arguing that the party should not be allowed to participate in the elections. It should also be noted that the law regarding these issues is very vague and broad, so if the court choses to do so, it could easily ban all Arab parties (and not just them). This is also from Hattis-Rolef:

According to The Immunity of Knesset Members, their Rights and Duties Law, MKs enjoy full immunity for any act they perform within the framework of their parliamentary work. There are four exceptions to this rule: the act involves denying the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People; it denies its nature as a democratic state; it incites to racism based on race or national-ethnic origin or supports the armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist acts against the State of Israel, or for such acts against Jews or Arabs because they are Jews or Arabs, in Israel and abroad.

Incidentally these are also the four grounds for disqualifying parties from running for the Knesset.

Currently, three parties – Hadash, Balad and Raam-Taal – are calling for “a state for all its citizens” model in Israel, so essentially, they could be seen as violating the first article in the law (opposing the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People). One could also claim that some religious and rightwing MKs incite to racism or deny the democratic nature of the state. Yet it all comes down to the fact that the decision won’t be a legal but a political one, and since the right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset and the Supreme Court is more conservative than ever, the effort to limit the political representation of Arab citizens is highly likely to succeed.

If I had to bet on it, I would say that in the current atmosphere Zoabi is likely to be disqualified; the ruling on her party Balad, can go each way; and Raam-Taal will be banned by the Central Elections Committee but later allowed to run by the Court. Such rulings will also increase the court’s tendency to search for “middle grounds” that would please the Jewish elites.

[Needless to say, I personally find all of Balad's known positions and actions, including Zoabi's, perfectly legitimate, even if I don't agree or support them all.]

In such an event, we will be faced with the following dilemmas:

-    Should Balad participate in the elections if MK Zoabi is expelled from the Knesset?

-    Should other Arab or left parties participate in the elections if MK Zoabi or Balad are disqualified?

-    Should Arab citizens of Israel vote in elections in which their representatives – or at least some of them – are not allowed to participate for political reasons?

Since a general boycott of the elections by the Arabs would have grave consequences on the national conversation – it would surly help promote Lieberman’s plan to transfer the Palestinians to the future Palestinian “state” – and since there is no hope of ever forming a center-left coalition in Israel without a strong showing by the Arab parties, I believe that the Zoabi-Balad case might turn out to be one of Israel’s most critical moments of truth.


Knesset polls: The Israeli Right has the upper hand

Posted: May 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Financial paper Globes: Avigdor Lieberman’s party getting stronger; reaches 18 Knesset seats

Though we are still far from elections, two polls were published last week in the Israel media. According to both, if elections were held today, the Right-Orthodox block would have remained in power, possibly even getting stronger.

In Globes‘ poll from Sunday, Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Israel Beitenu, goes up to 18 seats of the Knesset’s 120 (it has 14 currently) and the Likud reaches 29 seats (27 now). Kadima would have dropped from 28 to 26 seats and Labor to 8. Labor has won 13 seats in the last elections, but since split to two parties – Atzmaut, under Ehud Barak (5 seats) and Labor (8 seats). According to all recent polls Atzmaut, Barak’s new party, will be left out of the next Knesset.

Altogether, the right rises to 72 seats, while the center-left block drops to 48.

Yedioth Ahronoth’s poll, which was published last Friday, checked what would be the result for Labor under several potential leaders (following Barak’s departure, Labor will soon conduct new premieres). Amram Mitzna, who announced his candidacy this week, has the best result – 17 seats – but even together with Kadima’s 25 seats in this poll, the rightwing and Orthodox parties hold a majority of 62 seats. When Labor is under other leaders the Right is even stronger. Avigdor Lieberman polls 16 seats.

According to the same poll, a majority of the public (48 against 41) thinks that Israel should recognize an independent Palestinian state, while keeping the so-called “settlements blocks”; and a clear majority (53 percent) believes that Netanyahu should present his own peace plan in his visit to Washington this month, and include in it “significant concessions”.

Yedioth’s poll was conducted before the Palestinian reconciliation was announced, so these figures could have changed significantly since. Yet one could still draw two conclusions, which are at odd with the messages coming out of the PM’s office: First, Netanyahu’s coalition is stable, and if he calls new elections, he is likely to win them; second, the PM has a mandate from the public to make concessions – and it is his own choice not to do so.


UK | Nick Clegg on Israel, Gaza

Posted: May 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How might the rising power of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, reflect on the UK’s Middle East policy?

POLITICS LibDems 7

Four days to go to Britain’s general elections and the Tory majority is far from being certain. It is clear that the conservatives will end up with more votes than any other parties – and it seems that Labour will eventually come second – but the nomination of the PM might still depend on Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats.

The UK is not the most important actor in the Middle East, but it still carries some weight, especially due to its close relations with the US. Many of the calls for boycott and the attempts to arrest and prosecute senior IDF officers come also from Britain.

Mr. Clegg has been a bit ambiguous on Middle East issues recently, echoing the White House’s position that “Israel’s long term peace and security will depend on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians”. But he did have clear positions in the past, especially on Gaza, where he doesn’t share the American administration’s support for the Israeli-Egyptian siege.

On December 22, Mr. Clegg wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian that:

The legacy of Operation Cast Lead is a living nightmare for one and a half million Palestinians squeezed into one of the most overcrowded and wretched stretches of land on the planet. And as Israel and Egypt maintain a near total blockade against Gaza, the misery deepens by the day.

This is not only shocking in humanitarian terms. It is not in Israel’s or Egypt’s interest, either. Confining people in abject poverty in a tiny slice of territory is a recipe for continued bitterness, fury and radicalism.

And what has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.

Mr. Clegg’s signature was the first in a letter to the editor of the Guardian on December 2009, which called for “British government and the international community to apply meaningful pressure upon Israel to abide by UN security council resolution 1860, to end this flagrant abuse of international law and lift the blockade.”

During operation Cast Lead itself, Mr. Clegg went even further, calling for Britain to stop arming Israel, and for the suspension of the Israel/EU agreement.

…for too long the EU has been an economic giant which acts as a political pygmy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. EU Foreign Ministers have the chance this evening for once to take action and not just issue words.

“EU Foreign Ministers must immediately suspend the proposed new agreement with Israel. The deal cannot proceed until there is a transformation of the conditions on the ground in Gaza.

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It is my opinion that only fierce diplomatic pressure might cause Israel’s leaders to confront the rightwing and the settlers and withdrawal from the West Bank (with or without an agreement) or, alternatively, annex the territories and give full citizen rights to the Palestinians. This is in the long term interest of both Israelis and Palestinians. I also believe that Israel should lift its siege on Gaza and end the humanitarian crisis there. I support Mr. Clegg’s positions, and hope he will stick to his words after the elections as well.


The demographic war / will voting rights for world Jews be the next move?

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The government is reviving the old idea of absentee votes, but Netanyahu and Liberman might lose the Knesset battle over this one

There isn’t anything I hate in Israeli politics more than the talks on the so-called “demographic battle”. More than ever, I see this concept as the source of all evil here: from the discrimination of Arab citizens to the shameful Knesset bill which will make it illegal to give aid or shelter to the refugees who crosses the southern border.

Viewing Jewish hegemony as a necessity is something that all Zionist parties have in common: it’s the pretext for Liberman’s plan for ethnic separation, as well as for Meretz’s and Labor’s believe in the two states solution as the only way to promise a permanent Jewish majority within the Green line. In both cases, none-Jews are seen as a national threat. And while there is no doubt that Meretz and Labor are much more committed to democratic values than Liberman, all of them share the demographic obsession.

It is in this context that we should see the government plan, announced Sunday, to grant voting rights to 750,000 Israeli expatriates. This idea was raised several times in the past by rightwing politicians, who saw it as the easy way to ensure a permanent “national majority” (the common belief is that most expatriates support the right), but it has always failed to pass the Knesset votes. The left was able to block all legislative attempts, usually with the help of some rightwing MKs who believed that the right to vote should be given only to those people who face the consequences of their political choices. The fact that the idea was never popular with the general public, who still views the Yordim is deserters to the national cause, left Israel as one of the few democracies which don’t allow absentee voting.

Maybe not anymore. Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu has put forward a bill that if accepted, will grant voting rights to all Israelis who left the country in the decade prior to the elections. With Netanyahu’s support, the coalition stands a better than ever chance of completing the legislation effort in a short time.

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But why now? The right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, and risking it would be a foolish move. After all, the estimates on the way the absentee vote might break are no more than not-so-educated guesses, and polling of expatriates is almost impossible. What seems like a good idea now might easily turn out to be a disaster. If the right was in the opposition and desperate for new voters, this would have been an understandable move, but this is clearly not the case now.

The answer, as in so many cases, is demography. Discriminated as they are, the Arab citizens are still viewed as a threat by the public. The new generation of Arab leaders is more vocal in demanding its rights and in challenging the state’s ideological foundations. What’s more important is that right now, the Arabs reach only half of their voting potential. A Knesset with 22-24 non-Zionist MK’s (instead of the 11 we have now) would be much harder for Israeli nationalists to swallow. Half a million more Jewish votes could be a nice counter measure. Read the rest of this entry »


The problem with Benjamin Netanyahu

Posted: December 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why the PM’s brilliant political moves this week won’t help him

netanyahu

This was one of the strangest weeks I can remember in Israeli politics. It started with everybody waiting for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas that could change the diplomatic reality in the entire region – just to forget it immediately as PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s move against Kadima was reveled. Gilad Shalit was back in his cave in a split of a second, and all attention was turned to the seven backbenchers who supposedly agreed to deflect from Kadima to Likud, thus making Netanyahu’s coalition – which is fairly strong as is – significantly more stable.

Even as it turned out that Netanyahu wasn’t able to split Kadima (only one Knesset Member, the unimportant Eli Aflalo – known mostly for his impressive mustache – announced his departure from the opposition party), it seems that he handed his political opponent the blow of her career. Now Tzipi Livni has to chose between abandoning her entire political strategy and accepting Netanyahu’s offer to join his coalition, to trying to keep her party together in the opposition – a task which seems much more daunting by the day, if no entirely impossible.

In the last couple of days, many pundits were praising the PM for his brilliant move. Here is for example Amir Mizroch, news editor at The Jerusalem Post, on his blog:

If he had managed to pull it off, Netanyahu would have stepped up a level as a political operator. This was a Sharon-like move. In fact, this was the move designed to counter Sharon’s establishment of Kadima. Sharon undone. Disengagement from Kadima. If he had managed to pull it off…

But to what end?

When Yitzhak Rabin was split Tzomet party in 1995 he did it to pass the Oslo agreement in the Knesset, once it was clear that the Orthodox Shas would vote against it; and when Ariel Sharon split the Likud he did it to carry out his plan of unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. Netanayhu, it seems, is trying to break Kadima for little more than getting even at his political opponents. The only reason that would really require Netanyahu to strengthen the left flank of his coalition is some sort of diplomatic progress with the Palestinians or with Syria. With regards to Iran, the Goldstone report, the Hamas and Gilad Shalit, the Knesset and the public are more than likely to support whatever decision the PM would take.

Right now there are no negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians, and in any case, all indications are that Netanyahu wouldn’t go one step further than where the White House forces him. He accepted the two state solution because of president Obama’s speech in Cairo, and he agreed to a partial settlement freeze only after tremendous pressure from Washington. As even some of Netanyahu’s supporters recognized, in both cases, his move came too late to hand him real political gains, and the world remained suspicious of the Israeli PM’s agenda.

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This is something that characterized Netanyahu’s approach to politics throughout his career: he (almost) never initiates moves. He always reacts. This has nothing to do with ideology, Left or Right. There are leaders on the right who try to shape reality themselves (Ariel Sharon and George W Bush come to mind, and maybe that’s part of the reason they had such good personal relations), as there are some leaders on the Left who tend to react to events. It’s a matter of personality. Read the rest of this entry »


Irrelevantees

Posted: March 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: culture, elections | Tags: , , | Comments Off

And that’s Goni Riskin’s funny blog, where she posts her pics with (mostly) old political T-shirts.

goni


Someone Blinked?

Posted: March 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: culture | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Israel’s public Radio, “Kol Israel”, just reported that Kadima and the Likud have resumed negotiations. Yossi Verter reports similar things in Haaretz:

…    sources in Kadima and Likud say there is ongoing, active underground channel between her and Netanyahu. The two don’t speak directly, but emissaries convey messages; for example, from Kadima ministers who are unhappy about their imminent forced exile from the government, or Likud officials appalled at the government that’s taking shape.

Are we going to have a national unity government after all? I’m not sure. More likely they are discussing how to build the government in a way that will enable Kadima to join it in the future.


Why do I Support a Right Wing Government

Posted: February 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This blog is written from the Left. I try to describe events in the most objective way, but I don’t hide my views. I believe that our first political obligations as Israelis is to do all that we can to end the forty two years old occupation of the West Bank, and to stop the siege on Gaza, which is another form of occupation. I also think that racism is becoming a major problem in Israeli society, and that we must do everything in our power to fight it. These are the principles I see in front of me when I consider which government is best for Israel.

The options range between bad and worse. The parties that advocate a full withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and who are truly committed to democratic values, got three percent of the Jewish vote in the last elections. Three.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Bet

Posted: February 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

I just placed a bet against two friends – one is a political reporter, the other a PR man and a campaigner in the last elections – on the outcome of the political negotiations.

The campaigner said we would end up with a “national unity government” (Likud and Kadima together), with Netanyahu as PM.

I bet on a Right-Orthodox coalition, without Kadima (Netanyahu as PM).

The reporter said we are heading for a “rotation government”: Netanyahu as PM in the first two years, and Livni in the last two.

Who will drink for free?