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.


Rightist Propaganda Min. looking for Arabs, gays to represent Israel

Posted: January 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Hoping to boost the liberal image of country, Israel has increased efforts to use the gay community for advocacy and PR assignments.

Ad by the Hasbara office inviting gays and minorities to do propaganda and advocacy work for the government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first to appoint a government minister in charge of propaganda, advocacy and international public relations. Minister Yuli Edelstein has taken this position at the head of the Hasbara office so seriously that he has even asked Netanyahu to be relieved of other government duties so that he can concentrate on advocacy and propaganda.

Edelstein, a member of Likud, is known for his rightwing views. Recently, he posted a status message on his Facebook page referring to the Arabs as a “despicable nation.” Asked by +972 blogger Yossi Gurvitz to clarify this statement, a spokesperson for the minister said that Edelstein did in fact mean “all the Arabs.”

Yet this doesn’t keep the minister from to look to some of those despicable Arabs to represent Israel abroad. In an ad published recently on the Ministry’s official website, Arab and gay candidates were invited to apply for advocacy work abroad.

The office for Hasbara and Diaspora […] is announcing the widening of the pool of candidates for Hasbara [propaganda] activities abroad. The office invites candidates who are meeting the following requirement conditions to send an application for the pool, and especially would like to receive applications from people who represent the diverse faces of Israeli society, such as members of minority groups, representatives of the gay community, people who represent the variety of opinions in the Israel society, etc.

It should be noted that Minister Edelstein and his party are not very hospitable to gays either. When Yisrael Beiteinu introduced legislation allowing marriage-like status for non-Jews, Likud joined the Orthodox parties in blocking an attempt by the left to add gay and lesbians to this arrangement. Yet it’s no secret that Israel has found the gay rights issue especially useful in its propaganda campaigns.

In recent years, speakers for Israel have been advised to compare the status of gays in Israel to Muslim countries, and advocacy groups give prominence to this point in their publications; Israel is using targeted advertising campaigns for the gay community, and has recently put a four-page ad in the last issue of Attitude, the most popular gay magazine in Europe. A few months ago, a PR man connected to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office promoted a Youtube video in which an LGBT activist named Mark encouraged human rights organizations not to support the Gaza-bound flotilla. Mark was soon exposed by the site Electronic Intifada as an Israeli actor.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times titled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’” dealt with the efforts to use the gay rights issue to conceal the massive human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza. This piece drew heavy criticism from Jewish writers – including liberal ones – and was even cited by an aid for Netanyahu in a public letter detailing Netanyahu’s decision to decline an offer to author an op-ed in The Times.

Read Also:
Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?


So much for freedom of speech: Nakba Law passes first Knesset vote

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

(Back to Israel, and to blogging as usual)

The Knesset voted yesterday in favor of Israel Beitenu’s “Nakba Bill”, which authorizes the finance minister to hold funds from institutions or groups who question the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or who mark the Palestinian Nakba on Israel’s Independence Day.

The goal of this bill – as stated by MK Alex Miller, who initiated it – is to prevent Palestinians from commemorating the national disaster they suffered in 1948, when most of the Arabs in (then) Palestine were expelled or fled from their homes. The original version of MK Miller’s bill made marking the Nakba a criminal offense, liable to up to three years in prison. Political pressure from Labor forced him to introduce the” softer” version, which was approved yesterday.

The bill still needs to pass two votes in the parliament for it to become a state law.

I hope all those praising “The only democracy in the middle East” pay close attention to what’s going on in Israel right now, and most notably to this law. This is no less than an organized attack – and a very successful one – on freedom of speech in this country, just like the effort to ban movies and books which are considered unpatriotic. The new bill’s mandate is so broad, that it actually gives the government authority to withdrawal funds and ultimately close universities and colleges who would teach what might be viewed as “anti-Zionist” classes.

From a morale point of view, this law is even more despicable: not only that Israel refuses to recognize its part in the national catastrophe that the Palestinian people suffered – this is not new – now it doesn’t even allow them to mention it. If an Arab school teaches Palestinian history to its kids, it risks being closed. In the tradition of totalitarian regimes across the globe, instead of making minorities part of our broad national narrative, we try to erase their history and than demand they celebrate on our Independence Day.

I wonder what Allan Dershowitz, who still views himself as a liberal and a defender of freedom of speech, would have to say about this law.

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And this also happened this week: the office of the minister of education forbade distributing a booklet for kids about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it didn’t like two articles in the declaration, as well as some of the illustration in the booklet.


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 »


Liberman’s “loyalty law”: an effort to push Arabs out of the Knesset

Posted: January 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Knesset’s ministerial legislative committee is about to vote today on Israel Beitenu’s (Avigdor Liberman’s party) “loyalty law”, which will change the oath all MK’s take at the beginning of each Knesset term, from swearing loyalty to “the State of Israel and its laws,” to swearing loyalty to the State of Israel as a “Jewish democratic state.”

UPDATE: The decision whether to back this bill was moved to the coalition managing body (in other words – it will be Netanyahu’s decision).

The important thing here is the change from the term “Israeli” to Jewish. The name “Israel”, points to an inclusive political model, which emphasizes the “Jewishness” of the state, but at the same time offers room for all the state citizens. Declaring loyalty just for “a Jewish state” will be another symbol for the new model the Israeli Right is trying to establish –one of ethnic superiority of the Jews over all other minorities.

An Arab cannot become – and is not expected to become – a Jew. When he pledges loyalty to Jews, he vows to be loyal to others, to a community he can never be part of. But an Arab can become an Israeli, and can certainly pledge loyalty to Israel – as all Arab MKs have been doing since the state was born. This is not just a cosmetic change. Liberman and his party expect the Arab MKs to reject the new law, what will open the way to banning all none-Jewish MKs from the Israeli parliament.

This move by Yisrael Beitenu – undoubtedly the most dangerous party in Israel right now – should be seen in the context of the current surge in anti-Arab legislation. This has nothing to do with security measures. It is an effort to change the nature of the state, making it, in the words of the Arab MK Ahmed Tibi, “a democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for all others”.

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The Jewish-American paper Forward published an op-ed by me on the future of the Israeli left. It touches exactly this point, of Arab-Jewish relations.


Israeli segregation / The end of the road for the “Jewish AND Democratic” model?

Posted: December 18th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A new amendment into the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom might officially turn Israel into a democracy for Jews only.

Since it’s founding, Israel has claimed – and most of the time was regarded – to be both a Jewish state and a democratic one. In the Israelis’ views, the two elements don’t contradict, but rather complete each other. Criticism on this view has focused on the facts that (a) the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were never granted Israeli citizenship and the civil rights that come with it, and that (b) Israel’s “Law of Return” distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews, as it only allows the former to automatically become Israeli citizens.

Israel’s answer to A is that the West Bank and Gaza are not officially part of the state, and that within the Green Line border, all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, have full rights. The answer to article B is very similar: yes, we allow Jews into the state, but once someone becomes an Israeli citizen, he enjoys full rights, regardless of his ethnic origin, religious or sex.

A new legislation effort by Yisrael Beitenu (Liberman’s party) might put an end to all this reasoning. This legislation is about to make discrimination and racial segregation a part of the legal codex of Israel. If passed, it will make it very hard to view Israel as a democracy – at least in the common meaning of the term in the West – regardless of the situation in the West bank.

Here is a little background:

There are thousands of Israeli Arab Citizens who are married to non-Israeli Palestinians or Arabs from other states. On July 2003 the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories who are married to Israeli citizens. In 2007 the law was also applied to Israeli citizens who marry residents of Lebanon, Syria, Iran or Iraq and/or any place defined by the Israeli security forces as where activity is occurring that is liable to endanger Israeli security.

The meaning of this legislation is that Arab citizens can’t enjoy their right to family life if they chose to marry a non-Israeli – as the non-Israeli partner does not receive an Israeli citizenship, or even the right to reside in Israel. In most cases, the couple is force either to leave the country or to live separately.

Officially, it were security concerns that led to the 2003 and 2007 bills; but this was probably just an excuse, since even before the new law was accepted the Ministry of Interior had the authority to refuse citizenship to any person which is suspected of presenting a security threat without a need to justify its decision. More likely that it was the demographic logic that led to the legislation, with the will to simply prevent Arabs from entering the state, and even forcing them to leave, playing the central part, and security issues only coming later. This assumption is supported by most of the public statements made during the debate on the law.

There is a point here which must be made clear: by refusing to allow a Palestinian woman who married an Israeli to immigrate to Israel, it is not the woman’s right who is violated, but the man’s. In all democracies, each citizen has the right to marry whoever he whishes to and to live with him or her on their own state. The new law takes this right away from the Arab population, while still granting it to the Jewish one. It distinguishes between the rights of citizens to family life based on their ethnicity.

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Since 2003, several human right groups are waging a legal campaign against the  Citizenship Law, claiming that it stands in contradiction to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. “Basic Laws” are the closest thing Israel has to a constitution.

In a famous 6-5 split decision, the Supreme Court dismissed in 2006 the petitions against the Citizenship Law. However, the court harshly criticized the Law, with Justice Edmond Levi, who voted with the majority, writing that this is only a temporary approval, and that “a different arrangement” must be reached. The chief justice Aharon Barak voted with the minority against the Citizenship Law. The Supreme Court also allowed the petitioners to bring their case before it again in the future, and the common assumption is that it will eventually rule the Citizenship Law as unconstitutional.

And this is exactly what the current Knesset is trying to prevent. As Jonathan Liss reports in Haaretz, 44 MKs, among them members from the opposition party of Kadima, are backing an amendment proposed by Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, intended to bring it into line with the Citizenship Law. The coalition will decide this Sunday whether to back the amendment, thus promising it an automatic majority in the Knesset.

In other words, the Knesset will have the Israeli constitution include an article which distinguishes between the right to family life of Jews and Arabs. Read the rest of this entry »


“Nakba Law” to be approved, raises questions on Israel’s commitment to democratic values

Posted: July 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved today the “soft” version of Israel Beitenu’s “Nakba Law”, aimed at preventing events or ceremonies marking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948.

According to the old version of the law, commemorating the Nakba would have become a criminal offense, leading up to three years in prison. International criticism, as well as doubts over the consequences of trying to uphold such a law, led to the new version, which was presented before the ministerial committee today. Haaretz reports that

The new bill prohibits funding of activities that reject the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state or deny the democratic character of the state.

It also outlaws funding for activities that fall within the definition of armed struggle or terrorist activities – by an enemy state or a terror organization – against Israel.

Additionally, the bill prohibits funding for activities that could harm the honor of the flag, the state or state symbols. 

Judging from the public support for both versions of the bill, I believe there is a good chance the new version will become a state law in a matter of a year or so, possibly even less.

One has to understand the political reality in Israel to fully appreciate why this new law is no less than a direct attack on the core principles of the democratic system, and most notably, on the rights of the large Israeli-Palestinian minority. Read the rest of this entry »


The end of the road for Avigdor Liberman?

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross -posted with FPW.

liberman_avigdorThe Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.

Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Surprising Side of Liberman

Posted: February 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , | Comments Off

liberman_avigdor

Israeli politics can be complicated. The Neo-Cons at the “powerline” blog got lost trying to figure out how their boy Netanyhu is going to form his government:

“Netanyahu may have trouble bringing in Yisrael Beitenu without losing UTJ. That’s because, of all things, right-wing Yisrael Beitenu strongly favors the right to civil unions for homosexual couples”.

Even mentioning the gay marriage idea to Israel Beitenu’s extremely conservative legislators could bring about funny responses.

As far as I can remember, Avigdor Liberman never made a statement concerning gay rights in recent years. There isn’t a word about it on the “Israel Beitenu” web site. Liberman is promoting the civil unions ideas in order to help some 300,000 non Jewish immigrants from Russia, who are having problems getting married in Israel. This proposed arrangement is not supposed to include same-sex marriage. But when it comes to liberalism, in the eyes of the “powerline” guys, everyone is a suspect.


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 »