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.


Knesset bill would formalize second-class status for Arab citizens

Posted: August 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

New Knesset bill aims to have “Jewish nature” of state preferred over democracy, cancel official status of Arabic, and have Jewish law “guide” courts’ rulings

There is one talking point repeated in every hasbara (the Hebrew term for state sponsored propaganda) talk given by an Israeli representative, or in every booklet your campus’ Jewish Agency representative might hand you. It has to do with “the full rights” of Palestinian citizens in Israel, including the status of Arabic as an official language, and the equality of all Israeli citizens under the law. This is the heart of “the only democracy in the Middle East” claim.

Those who are familiar with Israeli society, know that Arab citizens are discriminated against in many ways: Some of these ways are formal—like the new bill allowing segregated communities; the law against family unification of Arab citizens; the absentees’ property laws, and more—while other are a matter of practice, such as the fact that some government agencies won”t hire Arabs, or the that the courts mete out harsher sentences to Arab citizens convicted of the same crimes as Jewish citizens.

Yet a new bill, signed by members of opposition and coalition alike, aims to strip Israel even of the appearance of democracy. If passed (it has a fair chance), this law will determine that in any case of contradiction between democratic values and the Jewish nature of the state, the Jewish element will prevail. More specifically, the bill aims to cancel the status of Arabic as  one of Israel’s two official languages; it orders the state to develop communities for Jews only; and in a passage that seems to be taken from the Iranian constitution, declares that when there is no law referring to a certain case, courts should rule in the spirit of halakha, or Jewish religious jurisprudence.

Haaretz reports:

The bill, initiated by MKs Avi Dichter (Kadima ), Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), and supported by 20 of the 28 Kadima MKs, would make democratic rule subservient to the state’s definition as “the national home for the Jewish people.”

The legislation, a private member’s bill, won support from Labor, Atzamaut, Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union lawmakers.

Sources at the Knesset say the law currently has broad support, and they believe it will be passed during the Knesset’s winter session.

The bill is meant to pass a “basic law”—Israel’s substitute for a constitution—and will require a special majority to change it in the future.

People were concerned about the Boycott Law, which aimed to eliminate one of the most well known methods of opposition to the occupation, or by the Nakba Law, which prohibits certain institutions from marking the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. But this new bill takes the game to a whole new level, by formally making 20 percent of Israel’s citizens—a native population that predates the state—as second class  citizens. They won’t be segregated in the way blacks were in the South or in South Africa (yet?), but Israel won’t even pretend to be their state anymore, and they will have even fewer rights than Jewish citizens. Israel will truly become, to use a phrase by Ahmad Tibi, “a Jewish democracy: Democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for everyone else.”

What will the hasbara army do then?


Tent protest in polls: One big unhappy middle class

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Recently published polls regarding the social protest reveal potential for major political changes in Israel, though not necessarily immediate ones

The Tent Protest has been dominating the news cycle in Israel for two weeks, and now there are also a couple of interesting polls regarding its possible political impact.

While it would be unwise to try and predict what sort of effect these unprecedented demonstrations will have on Israeli politics, the polls do confirm some of the hunches we had in the last three weeks, and most notably, a potential for far-reaching changes in the political system in the years to come.

-    The support for the protest crosses sectors and party lines. According to Channel 10′s poll conducted on Monday, 88 percent of Israelis support the protest. The middle class parties lead the way: 98 percent of Kadima voters (!), 95 percent of Labor’s and even 85 percent of Netanyahu’s Likud voters find the protest just. Even if these figures dropped in the last couple of days—which had some fractions and public disputes in the protest movement—they are still exceptionally high.

-    The attempts to discredit the protest have mostly failed. Government spokesperson and rightwing organizations tried to tie the protest to left wing movements, claiming that it is a politically-motivated move aimed personally against PM Netanyahu. Still, 74 percent of the public think that the protest is a genuine one, and only 22 percent find it to be politically motivated.

-    The hard right is the only group not identifying with the protest. Half of Shas’ voters and most of those voting for the settlers’ parties think the protest is politically motivated. Voters of those parties are more inclined to oppose the protest than any other group. I believe that these groups sense that the protest might challenge the dominant political arrangements in Israel – ones with benefit the settlers and the religious parties.

-   The protesters reject the major opposition and the coalition parties alike. I wouldn’t take the headline of the Globes-Jerusalem Post’s poll—about a possible social party winning 20 seats in the coming elections—too seriously. There is a long time until the elections and it’s impossible to know which issues will dominate the campaign. Still, it’s very interesting to see where these 20 seats (roughly 16 percent of the votes) come from: 4-5 seats from Kadima, 2-3 seats from Likud, 2-3 seats from Labor, and some more votes from Meretz and undecided voters. The Arab parties and the extreme right are not hurt by the protest.

Those figures match the Channel 10 poll – it’s the middle class the supports the protest more than any other group, and it’s the parties on the center and left of the political map which voters are unhappy with. This is good news for those (like me) who think that Kadima and Labor cannot promote progressive agenda. It seems that many of those parties’ voters are giving up hope on them as well.

-    The best option for the government is to negotiate with protesters and possibly try to co-opt them. According to the Jerusalem Post, 45 percent of the public thinks that the protesters should negotiate with the government to try to obtain their demands, 29 percent said the demonstrations should go on in their current format. If the government looks serious enough, it could cut the popular support for the demonstrations by two thirds.

To sum it up, all figures point to a unique phenomenon: the secular middle class – usually the backbone of society—is unsatisfied with the political and economical trends, and more important, with the entire political system (usually it’s the other way around – the more you move to the edges of the system, the less satisfied people there are). Under these circumstances, the potential for major political changes—though not necessarily immediate ones—is enormous.


Polls: Israeli public follows Netanyahu to the right

Posted: May 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off

According to the Jerusalem Post, only 12 percent of the Jewish public views President Obama as “pro-Israeli.” Israel Hayom’s poll has Netanyahu’s Likud party picking up five seats following the PM’s US visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be satisfied with the result of his visit to the United States. A new poll published today shows growing support among the Israeli public for his positions regarding the two-state solution.

According to the “Hagal Hachadash” poll, published by the pro-Neatnayhu tabloid Israel Hayom, only 28 percent of the public support president Obama’s guidelines for a solution based on the 1967 borders. 61 percent supports the positions presented by Prime Minister Netanyahu in his speeches in Washington, those regarding a continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley and the rejection of a compromise that would divide Jerusalem into two capitals.

If elections were held today, Netanyahu’s Likud party would make gains, collecting up to 32 Knesset seats (it now holds 27). The rightist-Orthodox bloc would win 69 sets, while the center-left would hold on to an all-time low of 51 seats.

One interesting figure: Even in this poll, Kadima keeps its current 28 seats, indicating that Netanyahu won’t chip at Tzipi Livni’s base.

A different poll, conducted by the right-leaning Jerusalem Post, shows that only 12 percent of the Jewish public considers President Obama pro-Israel, while 40 percent of Israeli Jews categorize him as pro-Palestinian.

However, it is interesting to note that according to Israel Hayom’s poll, Obama is more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian (38 to 37 percent), and a clear majority of the public – 68 percent – says that “president Obama is committed to Israel’s security.” Some of the difference between the two polls can be explained by the fact that the Israel Hayom sample included Palestinian citizens, while the Jpost had a Jews-only sample.

Haaretz‘s poll from Thursday had Netanyahu’s approval rise by 13 points.

A few notes regarding these numbers: Earlier this week I quoted a Maariv poll that had 57 percent of the public somewhat supportive of the positions outlined in President Obama’s speech. It seems that the readers who posted critical comments of this item were right, and the way Maariv framed the questions in the poll “tilted” some of the public towards more moderate positions.

At the same time, we did have a series of polls in recent years which had around half of the Jewish public agreeing to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. What I think we are witnessing now is a shift of the public to the right, following the positions expressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Since Netanyahu became Prime Minister, he was urged to present his own diplomatic vision. The thinking was that the PM is strong enough, and the public will follow him wherever he goes. It seems that Netanyahu finally made up his mind: He basically rejected the two-state solution, and as expected, many Israelis went with him.

Where do we go from here? I’ll try to deal with that question in my next post.

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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.


Unbelievable racism, hate-talk, from Prime Minister Sharon’s son

Posted: March 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Following the murder at Itamar, Gilad Sharon, son of PM Ariel Sharon, published this piece on Israel’s most important tabloid, Yedioth Ahronoth. It pretty much speaks for itself. The only thing that needs to be added is that recently, the young Sharon has joined Kadima – a supposedly center-left party led by Tzipi Livni.

The article was translated and posted in English on the rightwing Israel National News (Arutz 7) site. bold is mine:

Gilad Sharon: PA Nationalism is Only an Offshoot of Zionism

by Gilad Sharon

Let us not forget with whom we are dealing here. You can take the wild Palestinian beast and put a mask on it, in the form of some fluent English-speaking spokesman. You can also put on it a three-piece suit and a silk tie. But every once in a while – during a new moon, or when a crow’s droppings hit a howling jackal, or when pita with hyssop doesn’t come out just right – the wild beast senses that this is its night, and out of ancient instinct, it sets off to stalk its prey.

They’ll explain to us, and we’ll also explain to ourselves, how nice and beautiful peace is. We will argue excitedly and with deep inner conviction whether there should be an immediate peace agreement, or perhaps a series of interim agreements. We will discuss these and other such questions, all based on the assumption that on the other side they also think like us and also want quiet and tranquility.

But such an assumption is a rape of reality. A society that can thus sanctify death, and whose best of its youth are baby-stabbers, is simply not like ours. Even their leaders… condemn these acts only by claiming that they “harm the Palestinian cause.” There’s no moral issue here; it’s just a question of harm to the cause. Their three-piece suit is sullied with blood stains, and the mask falls off… and the image of the beast they tried to hide is once again revealed.

They look at us. We are everything they never were and never will be. We have a history and culture thousands of years old, we have a functioning, developing society – while they are just the offshoot of our Zionism.
Their entire national story was born in the wake of Zionism. Even their self-definition as a people has no subsistence without us.

They look at themselves through our image. The more we succeed and progress, the more their hatred intensifies. We are the proof that it is possible to do it differently, that failures are not the result of destiny, but primarily of decisions and actions.

In any arrangement that might or might not come about, remember with whom we are dealing. Our security must always remain in our hands.


The myth of good Israel vs. bad Israel (II)

Posted: January 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Where was “the peace camp” when the Knesset decided to probe human rights NGOs?

As the Knesset is passing one undemocratic law after the other, many people ask themselves where is the famous Israeli Left. I have long argued that supporting the two-states solution (as many Israelis say they do) doesn’t necessarily relate to support of human rights, freedom, equality before the law and other democratic values. Only a small minority in Israel is still fighting for those issues.

Outsiders, especially from the Jewish-Liberal camp, tend to exaggerate the role the left plays in Israeli politics, and to downplay the racist and anti-democratic tendencies in the Israeli center. I guess it makes it easier for them to continue seeing in Israel the model Jewish democracy they dream of. But the truth is that until now, Labor and Kadima members didn’t try to stand up to the torrent of laws and racist moves initiated by the extreme right. At best, they gave some fable remarks to the media or issued condemnation, but they failed to engage in meaningful political action, probably because they felt that their public never demanded it.

Last week, the Israeli Knesset decided – in an overwhelming majority and with the support of Netanyahu and his government – to initiate an investigation of the funding and activities of human rights organizations (or as Roi Maor rightly called it, Knesset Committee on un-Israeli activities).

In the days leading to the Knesset debate on this issue, there was a considerable media build-up. Writers and pundits warned of the damaging effect this decision might have on the Israeli democracy. Yet when the vote came, most Kadima and Labor members failed to show up.

The following members of Knesset – all of them considered among Israel’s “pragmatists” – where among those who had other issues to attend to during what could turn out to be one of the most crucial moments in the history of the Israeli parliament:

Labor: Ehud Barak, Daniel Ben-Simon, Avishay Braverman, Amir Peretz, Eithan Cabel, Einat Wilf, Matan Vilnai, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Orit Noked. Kadima: Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Shay Hermesh, Dalia Itzik, Ze’ev Bielski, Avi Dichter, And that’s just a partial list.

Many of these Knesset Members had official reasons for their absence, but as we all know, they would have showed up if they felt strongly enough about this issue. Politicians don’t miss political events which are important for their constituency. To Livni’s credit, she issued yesterday an explanation for her absence from the vote. She also declared that Kadima would try to challenge the decision in future votes, and still, from the leader of the opposition and the so called “peace camp”, we can expect more, much more.


What’s wrong with Meretz?

Posted: July 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, The Left | Tags: , , , , , | 27 Comments »

meretzLast week, I was invited to a bloggers meeting with the heads of Meretz. The invitation stated that all three Meretz’s MK will be there, but only Haim “Jumas” Oron, the current head of the party, showed up, accompanied by former MK Moshe (Mossi) Raz (former chairman of Peace Now) and Yifat Solel of Meretz leadership.

The event itself turned out to be a sort of a roundtable. Haim Oron opened and said that Meretz is looking for ways to be more effective after the blow it suffered in the last elections. Meretz got an all-times low of three seats out of the Knesset’s 120. Now the party is looking for new members, and hopes to form new alliances with other political movements. More then getting their message through, said Oron, they wanted to listen.

I have been to several such leftist events in the past year, with political leaders and activists asking themselves what can be done now. The Meretz meeting was one of the more frustrating events I attended.

One blogger started by asking Meretz’s leaders whether the anti-left trends in Israel have to do with the economical and ideological trends in Europe. Then came the tired debate on the left and the poor, also know as “we work for them in the Knesset, and they vote for Bibi.” Some people complained that Meretz doesn’t have a woman in the Knesset, nor a Sephardic Jew or a religious one.

It’s almost twenty years that the Israeli Left is having this sort of discussions.

When my turn to talk came, I said that I feel that all these issues don’t matter now. Something has changed in Israel in the last year. An organized attack on civil liberties is taking place. It is aimed against the radical left and the Arabs, but this is only the beginning, and racism is on the rise. This is an explosive combination. It seems to me that Israel is on a very dangerous crossroad, perhaps even past it. And Meretz is acting as if it’s business as usual.

A few of the political bloggers present at the meeting joined me. Itamar Shaltiel and Yossi Gurvitz said that Meretz cannot limit its work to the Knesset. The real game today is in the public arena, and Meretz is not taking part in it. We argued that Meretz should lead the protests in Jerusalem Jaffa and other places. I said that it’s not enough to vote against the Nakba law, and that they should publicly challenge such bills. Extreme right activists march in Arab towns and neighborhoods. Meretz Knesset Members can use their immunity and lead the protesters in Sheikh Jarrah into the disputed part of the neighborhood, to which the police only allows the settlers.

Former Haaretz Editor David Landau recently wrote that if the “boycott law” is passed, we should boycott the Knesset. He invited the state to prosecute him for these words. This sort of tactic, of challenging anti-democratic legislation, is very common in civil rights campaigns. But for some reason, this thinking is alien to the Zionist Left in Israel. Meretz officials do come to the demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, but they never lead it. They vote against the Nakba law or the boycott low, but they would not defy them.

The problem is that voting is not that important right now. There is an overwhelming majority for these kinds of bills in the current Knesset. If an anti-democratic bill is not passed, it’s only because the government doesn’t want it to pass, usually out of concern for its image. Even if Meretz had six or seven seats instead of just three, it would not have change much. Not with eighty members of Knesset on the other side.

Haim Oron was very honest with us in his reply. “You are asking me to be a radical, and I’m not one,” he said. “I haven’t given up hope on the Knesset and on the Jewish public. My goal is to reach the twenty-something seats that used to vote for center-left parties. I haven’t given up on them.”

The debate went on, but both sides just repeated what was said. I did feel that Mossi Raz and Yifat Solel were closer to my way of thinking, but Meretz MKs are simply unreachable – two didn’t show up to the meeting and the third, which happens to head the party, simply views things differently. More then anything, it seems that Meretz is like a relic from a different age, holding on to ideas and tactics of the mid 90′s, drawing lines between them and the non-Zionist left and looking for support in the Israeli center, which has long gone to the right (at least Meretz is not moving with it, like Labor and Kadima do).

I don’t know if a different approach would get Meretz more votes. They might do nothing and still win some leftwing voters back from Kadima, or they might be wiped out completely if Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid decides to run to the Knesset and takes Meretz’s strongholds at Tel Aviv’s northern suburbs (the latter seems more likely). But this is not that important. What really matters is that right now, Meretz has no affect on the political reality in Israel.

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Official blog of the Meretz campaign, with other accounts on last week’s bloggers meeting (Hebrew).


Flotilla | The case against an Israeli-led investigation (part II)

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

By agreeing to an Israeli legal panel that would look into the attack on the flotilla, the US administration might end up saving Netanyahu’s government

In a previous post I tried to explain why I think an Israeli-led investigation will not result with a credible account of the events concerning the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The facts that Israel has already tempered with the evidences; that it cannot be expected to collect testimonies from the passengers that it has attacked and arrested; and that the whole affair occurred on foreign territory, make the very idea of an Israeli investigation absurd, at least from a legal point of view.

Since than, the UNHRC decided to form a fact-finding mission, similar to the one that produced the Goldstone report, and the international pressure on Israel to agree to some sort of inquiry has mounted.

Yesterday (Monday), Israeli media reported that the government has presented the White House with its preferred model of investigation, and since there was no formal comment on the issue from both Jerusalem and Washington, we can assume that the two sides are negotiations this very idea.

According to media reports, the Israeli government wishes to form a legal panel of some sort, on which a couple of international experts will serve as observers. Israel will have veto power on the identity of the observers, and they will not have access to confidential military material.

The committee will concern itself mainly with legal issues such as the legitimacy of the blockade on Gaza, the flotilla’s attempt to break it and Israel’s decision to capture the ships. It will not have access to soldiers or officers, and would have to settle for the report the army’s internal probe will produce. It is not clear whether the committee will collect testimonies from the flotilla’s passengers, and if so, how it will be done. According to one of the ideas I heard, the foreign observers will be in charge of this part. However, most reports in Israel don’t even mention this issue.

Israel’s legal system has already ruled that the siege on Gaza is legal, and Israel’s Supreme Court approved limiting gas, electricity and food supply into the strip. Therefore, Israeli leaders can expect that almost any Israeli legal scholar will declare the attack on the flotilla legal as well according to paragraph 67(a) of the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea, even if it occurred on international water. The international observers that will serve on the panel would only make this claim even more credible. In other words, the committee won’t serve as an investigating panel, but as an Israel’s defense attorney.

But we should always understand Israel’s international policy (or any country’s, for that matter) in the context of its internal dynamic, and this is where this legal panel carry the real benefits for Israeli leaders.

Right now, the Israeli public is mostly united behind its government and military. But such moments don’t last long, and there are already calls for a civilian inquiry into the decision making process that led to the attack – and even into the attack itself. There calls are likely to intensify as time passes.

Civilian committees carry tremendous political risks to both generals and political leaders. More often than not, the reports they produce lead to the resignation of senior government ministers. Such was the case with the Agranat committee after the 1973 war, the Kahan committee which investigated the massacre at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps (1982) and the Winograd committee that looked into the 2006 war in Lebanon. A tough report might force defense Minister Ehud Barak to resign – and without Barak, Netanyahu won’t be able to hold on to an extreme rightwing coalition for ling. This could end up being the break the US was hoping for.

On the other hand, a panel that would look into the legal aspects concerning the attack is not likely to produce a politically dangerous report. The panel’s aim will be to defend Israel from the world, but its by-product will be defending top decision makers from the public anger, and containing political damage.

In other words, by agreeing to an Israeli legal probe of the attack, the White House would end up strengthening Netanyahu’s government, and who knows, even saving it from collapsing or from having Kadima from entering the coalition on a peace platform.

From what I read, it seems that all the administration wants right now is to put the entire flotilla affair behind it, as there are much bigger concerns it deals with, especially at home. By doing so, instead of gaining some political capital from its decision to be on Israel’s side in the days following the attack, it now stands the risk of making a political mistake that would hunt it for the months, possibly years, to come.


Poll: Obama’s message getting through to Israeli public, Netanyahu losing ground

Posted: March 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, Polls, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A poll published today by Maariv revels a sharp decline in PM Netanyahu’s approval ratings, which drops to an all-year-low of 41 percent, with 53 percent of the public now stating that they are “dissatisfied” with the PM.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also pays the price for his support of Netanyahu’s extreme government, with approval ratings of 38 percent. If elections were held today, Barak’s Labor would have dropped to an all-time-low of 8 out of the Knessets’ 120 seats. Kadima would have remained the largest party with 29 seats, one more than Likud.

These last figures are very telling. Contrary to what the PM and his supporters want us to believe, applying pressure on an extreme Israeli government does bring results. Until the recent confrontation with the US Netanyahu and Barak were riding high in the polls and Kadima was losing ground and getting torn by internal politics; but now the public is concerned by the idea of losing American support (48 percent saying that “Israel’s international statue is deteriorating”) and is not happy with the road Netanyahu is leading this country.

More important, even though most of the public still thinks there is no partner for peace on the other side, 46.2 of Israelis are now accepting the idea of splitting Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine (that’s more than those objecting it) – not at all the consensus around the idea of a “united Jerusalem” like Netanyahu and AIPAC would like us to believe.

President Obama might not be very popular with Israelis these days, but they are certainly listening to what he has to say.