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.
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.
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.
Earlier, I read a few Twitter messages about tear gas being used by the police. This sounded strange – Israeli security forces never use it in Jewish neighborhoods. On King George, the mystery was solved – it was pepper spray, the current world-wide celebrity of the crowd control department. An activist I knew was still red-eyed when I met him – he said the police had lost control for a minute, and sprayed the protesters for no reason at all.
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.
The protest that sprang up out of the blue against rising rent costs, not started by or backed by any political power, is now described as the greatest challenge PM Netanyahu faces on the home front
It happened almost overnight: Friday morning a week ago, walking near Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, I saw only a handful of tents, with no more than a few dozen Israelis who answered an internet call for an ongoing protest against rising rent costs. On Saturday evening the tents covered an entire block on Rothschild Boulevard, and protesters threw cottage cheese containers on the Likud HQ on nearby King George Street. A couple of days later, the tent protests came to dominate the news cycle.
Housing minister Ariel Attias (Shas) argued that the protesters were spoiled kids that refuse to leave the fashionable center of the country, but by Tuesday there were tents in Jerusalem, the southern city of Beer Sheva and as far north as Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanon border (see a map of all the protests here). By Wednesday protesters tried to break into empty apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; the tents on Rothschild Boulevard stretched several blocks, all the way from Habimah Square to Shenkin Street, and marches and rallies were scheduled for the weekend. The Friday papers declared that Binyamin Netanyahu sees the tent protest as the greatest potential political threat to his governing coalition. Throughout the week the prime minister conducted ongoing meetings in attempts to bring the protest to an end.
So, what is this protest all about? Why now? And what could be its political implications? I will try to answers some of these questions in this piece.
A well-known method used to estimate real estate cost is to divide the price of an asset by the average monthly salary. Dr. Danny Ben Shahar of the Technion Institute for Science in Haifa, estimated that the median Israeli family had to spend 50 full salaries for an average Israeli apartment in 1989. Two decades later, this figure nearly doubled – in 2011, buying an average apartment would cost the same family 90 full salaries. According to Dr. Ben Shahar, An average apartment in Tel Aviv – just an average one – is too expensive for 90 percent of the population, even if they can spread their mortgage over 30 years.
Dr. Ben Shahar presented his findings in a panel at Tel Aviv University a few months ago. He told his listeners that the real estate market is “a social time-bomb.” I spoke with Dr. Ben Shahar a few days a go for a piece I did for an Israeli magazine; he admitted that he didn’t expect things to happen so fast. “If this problem isn’t taken care of, what you see now is just the beginning.”
The real estate crisis in Israel is entirely different from the one which led to the market crash in the United States. To put it simply: Apartments, especially in the cities, have become too expensive for most Israelis. Rent alone rose between 15 and 25 percent in all major cities in the last two years alone.
Readers from abroad who visited Tel Aviv or Jerusalem lately probably noticed that neither is a cheap city, and that they are becoming more expensive every year. Average rent in Tel Aviv is still lower than in Manhattan, San Francisco and London, but it’s already similar to the prices in Chicago, Atlanta and Barcelona, and it’s higher than in Berlin. The important figure is that salaries in Israel are much lower than in any of those cities. In relative terms, Israelis pay more for groceries, services and housing than in most countries in the West. Housing is the biggest expense of the average household, so that’s where the pressure is felt.
In the first half of the previous decade, Israel experienced a small scale economic crisis, a result of the second Intifada. The Finance Ministry, led by Silvan Shalom and later Binyamin Netanyahu (both from Likud) cut government expenses while lowering taxes for the more affluent Israelis. When the crisis ended, the best options for investment for those Israelis, and for money coming from abroad, were in the real estate market, especially in the cities.
Investors began buying apartments, driving prices up. Many of them were Jews – mostly from the United States and France. The richest of them didn’t even bother to rent out their assets to Israelis in their absence; they just wanted a house in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Such assets were considerably cheaper than in New York or Paris, and had special sentimental value for those Jews. The result is the now-infamous “ghost apartments,” occupied for only a few weeks each year. One luxury housing project in Jerusalem, overlooking the old city, is especially notorious for having no permanent tenants.
Young Israelis were angered by and resented this trend, and rants against “the rich Jews” became very common in the last few years. It was not surprising that a few days ago protesters in Jerusalem tried to break into some ghost apartments, ending up barricading themselves in the garden for a few hours.
All of this could have been similar to what happened in other large cities around the world – prices going up, investors coming in, locals and young people gradually moving out – if it weren’t for some unique factors in Israel, which complicate the situation: First and most important, Israeli cities have no efficient public transportation systems. Tel Aviv’s old bus service is especially notorious, and the privatization of a few of the busiest lines a few years ago seemed only to make things worse. Furthermore, buses don’t run overnight, and due to an old arrangement with the religious parties, there is no service on weekends and holidays either (except in Haifa). As for owning a car, commuting in the Dan Metropolitan Area (Greater Tel Aviv) is a nightmare, and parking is nowhere to be found. Students and shift workers have no option but trying to rent in the city center, where they can ride a bike or a scooter, or simply walk to work.
These problems have been known for some time now, but Israel has been governed for many years by neo-liberal governments, who did not encourage the construction of affordable housing – except in the West Bank, and in some occasions, for the ultra orthodox – and refused to invest in mass transportation projects. In fact, Netanyahu’s coalition has struck down no less than four legislation attempts concerning rent control; the Finance Minister was able to kill a housing ministry’s plan for housing subsidies, and the Interior Minister, on the advice of the government’s attorney, stopped attempts by municipalities (including Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s) to encourage affordable housing projects, claiming they lacked legal basis.
It’s been many years since Israel stopped being the welfare state its founding fathers dreamed of. While taxes remain much higher than in the America, government services have deteriorated and the cost of living continues to rise. Israel is at the top of the economical inequality index in the West, second only to the United States; Israelis work more hours than in most European economies, and they serve 2 to 3 years in the army, for which they don’t really get paid. In short, life is simply more difficult than in other places, and the safety nets Israel used to provide its citizens are disappearing. So while the government boasts about Israel’s excellent economic performance, more and more Israelis were finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
The middle class unrest over such issues has been felt for some time now, but it went largely unnoticed, also because financial issues rarely make it to front pages in Israel. But recently, things started to change. Around three months ago, there was an attempt to start “a petrol march” to protest the rising gas prices, which didn’t result in much. After that there was the cottage cheese boycott, when tens of thousands of Israelis stopped buying the country’s most popular soft cheese, until the three large dairies were forced to reduce their prices. And then came the tents.
The tent protest is different from all the others for a few reasons: First, it’s an issue for which the government will find it difficult to present quick solutions. Second, it’s an ongoing protest: people sit in tents the entire day, talk to each other, plan more activities and draw attention from the media and ordinary Israelis, who come to visit the Rothschild Avenue Settlement by the thousands. But the most important thing is that this is an issue almost any Israeli can relate to.
There have been tent protests over housing issues in the past, but those behind them were usually lower-income families, and occasionally, Palestinians. Those are groups that the authorities have no problem dealing with. This protest is different: it is led by young Israelis in their twenties, most of them from the middle class. By now, they also have the students associations behind them. Prime Minister Netanyahu must remember with horror the long student strike of 1998. Although it failed to rock his coalition, this event marked the beginning of his decline in his first term as prime minister. And now the students are protesting again.
So, what political effects will the tent protests have? Looking at the polls published every few weeks in the weekend papers, one would notice that oddly enough, it seems that nothing has changed in Israeli politics in the last couple of years. If elections were held today, according to pollster, the result would be the same as it was two years ago, give or take a few seats. Netanyahu’s approval ratings are very stable as well, always within a few points of the 50 percent line. Not long ago, I wrote that there is no threat to Netanyahu in the political system – from left or right. Not much has changed since.
But there are undercurrents in politics as well, and for some time, once could definitely sense a certain anxiety amongst Israelis. It’s not only about the economy, nor is it about the occupation – seems that Israelis couldn’t care less about this particular issue – or the exchange of threats with Iran. I guess it’s all the above and a bit more. It’s the sense that there is no future for “ordinary Israelis” here. This is something which is hard to distinguish from the usual rants about what Israelis call “the matzav” (the situation), but nevertheless, I think this mood is undeniable, at least in certain circles.
So far, this Zeitgeist has resulted in people withdrawing from interest in politics. In other cases, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other right wing politicians have been able to manipulate fears and anxieties in their favor. The last wave of protest seems set to change that. While the protesters are refusing endorsement from political powers – even calling themselves non-political – they are clearly anti-government. More than anything, they seem to resent the entire current political establishment, and while this does not mean that they support the opposition, such feelings are more dangerous to the ruling parties.
As if to illustrate this point, Netanyahu’s supporters and rightwing movement have gradually stepped up their hostility to the tent protest, accusing it of being a leftwing operation, initiated and funded by the New Israel Fund and various other lefty groups. A front page story in the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Yisrael Hayom—the most widely read daily in Israel—claimed that “the Zionist Left” movement is behind the real-estate protest. Rightwing group Im Tirzu, who tried to co-op the struggle earlier this week and even sent representatives to visit the tents in Rothschild Boulevard, withdrew its support from the protest, accusing it of being run by the NIF and “various anarchist groups.” In this weekend’s papers, almost all of the rightwing pundits wrote pieces against the protest.
So far, these attacks haven’t hurt the protest, but some real challenges are emerging in the next few days. A planned demonstration on Saturday evening will give some indication of the public support for the protesters. On Sunday, Jerusalem’s municipality’s deadline to evacuate the tents from the city center—sources in the municipality claimed that their presence would hurt tourism—will arrive. Other municipalities are bound to follow with attempts to evacuate the tents, and they will be assisted by the inevitable fatigue of the protesters and the unbearable summer heat.
To sum it up, while it is one of the most important internal events in Israel in the last couple of years, I don’t see this protest driving votes to the left or to Kadima in the short run. Over a longer period of time, it will probably help the opposition to Netanyahu, from both right and left. Plus, the feeling of alienation and resentment from the old political power will increase the likelihood of outsiders entering politics and drawing support.
The protest might also have some indirect effect on the geo-political game. As I said, protesters couldn’t care less about the occupation or Iran right now, but social crises have this funny effect on politicians – they make them more active. I don’t think that Netanyahu or Barak will go so far as to attack Iran, for example, to divert attention from their problems at home, as some people have speculated (I hope they are not that crazy, and there is still considerable opposition in the security establishment for such a move). Still if the protest continues for a prolonged period, we should expect some “bold” moves from what has been a very passive government so far, to say the least.
As history can teach us, economic crises and social unrest tend to increase the bets in politics. They hand ammunition to everyone – creating opportunities for political change and reform, but also preparing the ground for the rise of rightwing demagogues and warmongers. And one should never forget that in the Middle East, the stakes are always high.
As one of my editors used to say: In this country, it’s all about real-estate. Every political controversy has to do with land, every social battle, and obviously, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself. If you understand real estate here, you understand it all.
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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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.
Every now and then you get to hear Israelis argue that we cannot have peace with the Palestinians or even withdraw from the West Bank because Hamas is still opposing the idea of a Jewish state, and more important, because the Palestinian National Charter, which the PLO’s binding document, still states that the Palestinians have a right for the entire land of Israel, and that “Zionist occupation” of the land is illegal.
But have a look at article 1(b) in the constitution of the Likud, Israel’s ruling party: it turns out the Likud never accepted the idea of parting the land either, and its stated goal remains to settle and annex as much territory as possible.
This is the official translation of the constitution to English, taken from PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s own website (my italic):
Article 2: General purposes
1. The Likud is a national-liberal party which advocates the ingathering of the exiles, the integrity of the Jewish homeland, human freedom and social justice, and it strives to achieve these goals:
b. Safeguarding the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as an eternal, inalienable right, working diligently to settle and develop all parts of the land of Israel, and extending national sovereignty to them.
Personally, I don’t pay much attention to such documents. We can negotiate with PLO and even Hamas, and Palestinians can talk to Likud Prime Ministers. Negotiations deal with the future, and those charters and constitutions are documents of the past. All arguments regarding them are no more than excuses.
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.
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.
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 »
Almost two weeks of intense political maneuvering ended yesterday. Many people on the Left got worried by Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to split the opposition Kadima party or to have it join his coalition. Both options, it seemed, would have made the PM even stronger, and everything that’s good for Netanyahu is surly bad for the peace process. Or isn’t it?
While I write here regularly against the current Israeli policies, and consider myself to be a part of the Left, I think that the last year have moved us closer to the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, possibly also to the end of the siege on Gaza. The current political circumstances are pretty favorable, to the point that if I could have replaced Netanyahu with other Israeli leaders – say Livni or Barak – I probably wouldn’t go for it.
To understand why, we need to dive into the depth of the complex political dynamics in Israel.
If left to do as he wishes, I have no doubt PM Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t make one step towards the end of the Israeli occupation. His ideological background is one that views the West Bank as part of the land of Israel; he believes that an independent Palestinian state would put Israel’s national security in danger; and his political base has always been on the Israeli right.
But political leaders have to consider political circumstances and limitations, and Netanyahu – unlike the two other PMs from Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – is extremely sensitive to outside pressure. And pressure came from the first moment Netanyahu entered his office.
First, there was the new approach from Washington. It’s not just Obama, but the whole backlash against the Middle East policy of the Bush administration. Furthermore, the world knew Netanyahu, and remembered him as the man who succeeded Yitzhak Rabin and almost single handedly buried the Oslo accord. And if somebody was ready to consider the idea of “a new Netanyahu”, along came the appointment of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Office and fixed the image of this government – quiet rightly, I must say – as the most extreme Israel ever had. Even Israel’s supporters are having troubles in the last year explaining the PM’s fondness for settling in the West Bank or defending the daily gaffe by the Foreign Minister.
And there was the war in Gaza. It’s hard to grasp how differently the international community and most Israelis view operation Cast Lead. Israelis see the war as a justified, even heroic, act against Hamas’ aggression – which was the Palestinian response to the good fate we showed in withdrawing from the Gaza strip – while most of the international community sees Cast Lead as a barbaric attack on (mostly) innocent civilians. And while the Goldstone report might never be adopted by the UN Security Council, the respond it initiated made it clear that in the near future – and unless something very dramatic happens and change everything (we always have to add this sentence in the post 11/9 world, don’t we?) – there won’t be another Cast Lead. The world won’t allow it.
All these elements – the change in Washington, the suspicious welcome the world gave Netanyahu and the respond to the war in Gaza – are forcing Netanyahu to do something he never planned to – at least with regards to the Palestinians: to act. That’s why he announced the settlement moratorium, and that’s why he is willing, according to today’s reports, to negotiate a Palestinian state on the 67′ borders, and even to talk about Jerusalem’s statues. And this is the man that won the 1996 elections after he accused Shimon Peres of agreeing to divide the Israeli capitol.
Yes, I would have preferred a Hadash-Meretz government. But this isn’t, and won’t be an option in this generation. Right now, the political leaders with a shot at the PM office are Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, maybe Shaul Mofaz, and god forbid, Avigdor Liberman. Next in line after them are people with basically the same agenda.