Thursday, March 12, 2015

An Amateurs’ Guide to the 2015 Israeli Elections

I don’t usually write about politics, but thought I’d share some thoughts on the upcoming Israeli elections. Hope this is helpful in making sense of what’s going on and looking forward to learning from other voices that see things differently than I…

An Amateurs’ Guide to the 2015 Israeli Elections | Mishael Zion

Israel is going to the polls on March 17th, for the third time in six years. The campaign began with most Israelis fatigued and cynical, but schisms and unions among Israel’s political parties have energized these elections and offer a poignant glimpse into the changes that Israeli society is experiencing. Much attention is given to Netanyahu’s prospects of becoming prime-minister of Israel for the fourth time, and the enormous energy spent to replace him (check out the videos on this FB page). But the real drama unfolding in Israel’s streets, cafes and living rooms is the dilemma of the undecided. Recent polls have shown that upwards of 20% of the population say they have not yet decided how to cast their vote. Likud and Labor are currently polling neck-and-neck, so it is the number of seats which the small parties will receive that will determine whether Labor’s Isaac Herzog can create a coalition of 60+ Knesset seats, or if Netanyahu will receive the reigns yet again.
Since I know many Americans have a hard time keeping track of Israel’s gazillion-party-system (which is almost as broken as the two-party-system), and in an attempt to justify the many hours I’ve spent reading analysis and watching videos on my facebook feed, I offer four fictional, stereotypical and totally biased narratives highlighting some of the questions Israeli voters are asking themselves. You’ll notice that Iran and the Palestinians, US-Israel relations and ISIS are not the focus here – that already is saying something. At the end of each narrative I’ve provided some of the recent poll numbers. Videos from each party’s campaign with English subtitles can be found here (and here's John Oliver's hilarious recap). Hope this is helpful as the elections unfold in the coming week and look forward to questions and alternate readings…

The Centre-Right: Will the real Begin please stand up?
Aryeh Deri and Moshe Kahlon
I’m your Jerusalem cab driver, Mickey. What’s that? Yes, I was born in Algeria, and I’ll never forget how my father’s honor was denigrated by those anti-religious euro-centric Ben Gurion-ists. The first politician who got my loyalty was Menachem Begin, who spoke to us at eye level, and it’s been Likud straight through ever since. But recently Netanyahu has lost me. All this talk of Iran – well, sure, its important, and he’s the ONLY ONE who is strong against a hostile world – but we’re struggling down here. Bibi talks about a “Start Up Nation” – but we haven’t seen a cent of that. This time I’m thinking of voting for Moshe Kahlon. He’s all that’s left from the Real Likud, the Begin way. He’s a good guy, and his cell phone reform saves us 200 shekel a month. Let him be Minister of the Treasury and lets see if he can do that to 3-4 other industries, that’ll be worth my vote. My wife says we should vote for Shas. Aryeh Deri is back now, and he’s been banging the drums of anti-Mizrachi discrimination – saying he’s the only one who ever did anything for the “transparent” ones in society, emphasizing the “Mahlouf” in his name. Funny, that was my name growing up too, but everyone calls me Mickey. But now they say Kahlon and Shas might join a Labor coalition, maybe it’ll be Bibi after all…
Likud | Binyamin(“Bibi”) Netanyahu, polling at 20-25 seats | Bibi as the National Babysitter
Kulanu | Moshe Kahlon | 7-10 seats | Claiming Begin’s true path
Shas | Aryeh Mahlouf Deri | 7-10 seats | Transparency – Mizrachi Israelis

The Liberal Left: Zionist after all or united with the Arab List?

I guess I’m your classic secular Tel Aviv stereotype, a literary editor at a publishing house, still stinkin’ smolani”, with a long, hissing S, my whole life, but the verbal violence turned physical in the streets of Tel Aviv this summer. It sometimes feels like all my friends have moved to Berlin or Berkeley, and lecture me on how Zionism is passé. Still, the social protests of 2011 brought back some of my faith in this society, and the Meretz Knesset members make me proud with their struggles for women’s rights, LGBT rights, a welfare state. I’ve voted Meretz ever since Rabin was assassinated – still remember crying for him in the square for days – but last elections I voted Hadash, the veteran Arab-Jewish communist party. It was a statement of the inability of the State of Israel to be both Jewish and Democratic – and I know what side of the equation I’m on. But now the Arab parties have all united, and a vote for the exciting new Hadash leaders is also a vote for the ultra-nationalist Palestinian parties and the religious Muslim Movement. If Labor wins, my Meretz vote might find itself supporting a watered-down coalition with haters from the right. But can I vote for transcending the Jewish-Arab divide when half the candidates draw that line from the Arab side?
working on my first novel, and proudly in Israel’s far left wing. I’ve watched this country take a swerve to the right, becoming more “Jewish” then I ever remember it, increasingly dominated by an ethno-centric discourse which casually hates Arabs and recently began to proudly hate Leftists. I’ve been called “
Meretz | Zehava Galon | 4-6 seats | Meretz against voting Labor
United Arab List | Aiman Ouda | 12-15 seats | United Arab List Theme Song

The Religious Right: Jewish Home or All-Together-Now
HaBayit haYehudi: Female leadership
Adi and Yishai Schwartz live in Ranana, met in Bnei Akiva, have 4 kids, and like everyone else they know - are voting for Naftali Bennet’s modern-orthodox “Jewish Home”. Bennet announced that he is no longer apologizing: not apologizing to the world for the so-called Occupation, not apologizing to the Palestinians for their so-called suffering (it’s isn’t suffering when its self-inflicted). But truly he stopped apologizing to the secular Israelis for the fact that religious Jews were late comers to the Zionist endeavor. It is time religious Jews teach something about Zionism to secular Israelis. Even Yishai’s secular partner at the law firm is voting Jewish Home this time. But the Schwartz’s are distraught – their youngest son Nerya came back from Yeshiva and announced that he is voting for the new schismatic party “Yachad”, formed by renegade Ultra-Orthodox “Shas” Mizrachim, far-right religious Zionists and Kahanists. Nerya criticizes Bennet (and by proxy, his parents) of not truly
Ultra Orthodox, Mizrachim and Dati'im: Yachad
listening to Rabbinical authority, of being “light”, aspiring to be like Westernized secular Israelis instead of more like the Torah-true Ultra Orthodox Jews. Ever since his fiancé’s family was evicted from Gush Katif, his faith in the State of Israel being a vehicle of God’s will has imploded. The exuberance felt at the “Yachad” party gatherings is huge – finally ultra orthodox Jews can say they are right-wing and admire Israel’s strength, and right-wing religious Jews can say they admire Haredim. They believe in love (of Jews), unity (with Jews) and solidarity (with Jews, especially religious ones). Who can argue with that?
HaBayit HaYehudi | Naftali Bennet | 10-15 seats | Bennet’s Aplogizing Hipster
Yahad | Eli Yishai | 4-6 seats | Rabbis United

The Centre Left: The Ashkenazim who lost the Country
Yair Lapid and Isaac Buzi Herzog
Eli and Sarit Katz are sick and tired of a political discourse that overlooks their daily needs. Iran shmiran, they have been married 15 years and are still renting in Herzliya, having watched apartment prices soar over the past 8 years. They work hard - he’s in sales, she’s an accounts manager. They own 1.5 cars, have 2.5 children and 0.5 pets. Did I mention that they are Ashkenazi? In the 90’s they voted for Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, and wanted to believe in peace with the Palestinians, but the second Intifada and the wars with the Hamas in Gaza have made them cynical of talk of “peace”. They believe in a “normal Israel”, one located in Western Europe, not the Middle East, and would happily get rid of the West Bank – its Jewish or Palestinian residents – as long as someone can promise them that flights from Ben Gurion airport will continue unabated. They want to feel there is a future for them and their kids here, one where they can afford to buy a house and make a normal living - so last elections voted for Yair Lapid - whose good looks first charmed them as Israel’s prime-time talk show host. Yair talked about middle class and promised to force Ultra-orthodox Jews to serve in the army and join the workforce. He made good on the promise (sort of), but achieved little else. Now this Herzog kid is gaining steam, and suddenly seems like he can actually push Netanyahu off his seat. Sure, he’s unimpressive at first, but he’s growing on them. It’d be nice to vote for Labor again, and the cadre of politicians in Labor’s list is more impressive than Lapid’s minions. Huh, we’ll have to wait for the last day to really make a call…
Labor / Zionist Camp | Isaac (“Buzi”) Herzog and Tzipi Livni | 20-25 seats | Last minute to save the country
Yesh Atid | Yair Lapid | 10-15 seats | Yair Lapid on tour

This is far from the whole picture (see below), but I hope it’s somewhat helpful.
What’s next? The prime ministership is assigned to the party which can assemble a majority coalition of 61 seats (out of the Knesset’s 120). It is generally assumed the Kahlon, Lapid and Shas will join any coalition, but more parties would prefer a Netanyahu led government. Thus while Labor might receive the largest amount of seats, it might not be able to cobble together the majority needed to make Herzog prime minister. Netanyahu’s Likud has more options, but if it dips below 20 seats, will have a hard time justifying it. Everyone knows there will be a few big surprises when the final results come in Tuesday night. What they will be, and how they will shape Israel’s future – are anyone’s guess.

p.s. Missing from the picture are the Asheknazi Ultra Orthodox (UTJ) party polling at 6-8 seats, and Avigdor Liberman’s party, hit hard by corruption charges but keeping its base of Russian voters at 4-6 seats. Lieberman, Meretz and Yachad are all teetering on the 4-seat-minimum for entrance into the Knesset at all. If any of those don’t pass muster, the coalition picture will change significantly. Finally, was below the 4-seat-minimum, but most fascinating of all, is a party of Ultra Orthodox women who refuse to vote for the Ultra Orthodox parties because they do not give representation to women. A harbinger of the way feminism is changing Israeli society on a daily basies.