Life is Belief & Struggle - Ahmed Shawqi

Monday, March 16, 2015

Israeli election primer or the anyone but Bibi election

Israel was founded as a socialist state, and even in 2015, it reminds, more or less, one. It is important to understand that ordinary Israelis are a long way from abandoning their socialist roots which why a party like Meretz (the Israeli Jewish version of the Communist Party) still has a place on the Israeli political map.

The first truism of Israeli politics is to understand all politics starts on the left end of the political spectrum in Israel. What makes a party left or rightwing in Israel has nothing to do with political theory or  idealogy as much as where each party stands on the security issues.  This is why a party like Shas which fully supports the idea of a social welfare state, but is characterized as a ‘right-wing’ party.

 If I were to map economic theory and policies to equivalent Canadian political road map and removed the ‘security issues’ which define a party as left or right wing. The Israeli Labour party would stand far to the left of the New Democratic party, Likud would stand somewhat to the left of the Liberals, and the Jewish home still stand somewhat around Joe Clark Conservatives.

Parties like Yesh Atid lead by former  television personality Yair Lapid, and Kulanu (“All of Us”) lead by former Likud member Moshe Kahlon represent the Israeli ‘centre’ which means it is nestled  between Labor and Likud but remains firmly on the socialist left. Yesh Atid, strength comes from the Ashkenazi secular and anti-religious establishment; while Kuhlon represents traditional but not particularly observant Israeli element. 

Israeli polls are notoriously unreliable and usually have a large margin of error - despite the usual 4.5 percentage representing their official margin of error. . Let me give you a concrete example of the failure of the Israeli pollsters. The strength of new comer Yesh Atid (Futurist Party) with 19 seats in the 2013 election was the surprise. No pollster was predicting a Future sweep of 19 mandates, and had pegged Yesh Atid with 12 seats in best case scenarios. That 7 seat difference made hogwash out of that 4.5 margin of error.

In the 2013 cycle, Likud ran on a combined ticket with Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our home).  Yisrael Beiteinu was head by clowned prince of Israeli politics, Avigdor Lieberman. This cycle, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu is running on separate tickets. Liebrman’s party is mired in the middle of what could turn out to be the ‘mother’ of all Israeli corruption scandals - and that's saying something. Yisrael Beitenu drew its membership from the secular Russian immigrant community.  Yedioth has pegged their mandates to around 5 seats for the 2015 cycle down from the 11 or so mandates Yisrael Beitenu brought in the last election cycle. So the question we need to ask ourselves  is; where are those  mandates likely to end up in this current election cycle?

The Labour ticket this election cycle is a combined ticket with Hatnua lead by Tzippi Livni. In the last election cycle Livni’s Hatnua party garnered 6 mandates, but with the defection of some major supporters, and a stunningly poor parliamentary showing by Livni during the last government, Hatnua would be lucky to make the voting threshold for 1 mandate let alone 6. Hence, the desire early in the election cycle to join the Labor ticket. Labor is projected to carry 26 mandates according to the last Yedioth Ahronoth poll published.   
So if we were to combine the previous 5 mandates from Hatnua and Labor’s party’s 15, we have a net Labor gain 4 seats but from where do these people come from? It is not likely they are former Yisrael Beiteinu supporters.

The Israeli Centre – where even the centre is split.

Yesh Atid – Centre Left (Sort of, kind of)

This brings us to the last election surprise, Yesh Atid (Futurist party). Yesh Atid is considered a ‘Israeli centralist secular Ashkenazi’ party. In the last knesset session, Yesh Atid received 19 mandates, but are now projected to only retain 12 mandates. This is the result of the declining popularity and the dismal performance shown by Yair Lapid. He has an absolutely disastrous turn as Finance Minister, and sponsored legislation for drafting the Charedim.

Normally, this would be a pretty popular move outside of Charedim circles, but inserting a jail term for non-compliance was widely viewed as overtly harsh. One of the problems with Lapid is that he never works well with others. Too long a television prima donna? Perhaps. So where will those former Yesh Atid supporters go? My best guess – probably a relatively even split between Labor or Kalanu.

Kalanu – Centre Right:

The former Likud Minister of Communications and Minister of Welfare and Social Services left Likud and politics in 2013. During his tenure as a Likud Minister, he lowered electricity rates for the poor, headed an inquiry into Bank Charges, and he is thought to have been the driving force into opening up the cellular phone market in Israel. This move directly lead to increased competition and lower rates for consumers. Kahlon remains enormously popular in Israeli politics. Yedioth has newcomer Kalanu pegged with 8 mandates. I think there is a reasonable possibility that Kalanu will end higher. Here is the nature home for more centralist Likud members, dissatisfied Yesh Atid voters and potentially former Yisrael Beiteinu voters who still want to cast a vote but not for the clowned prince of Israeli politics.

Religious Parties:

In Israel, religious parties are ‘characterized as ‘right-wing’ parties but it would be more accurate to characterize these parties as pragmatic parties of self-interest.  They will willingly sit in any coalition government provided their interests are served. Pay them off and they will tow pretty much whatever line you want.

Shas came into the last Knesset with 11 mandates, but owing to the leadership fall out between convicted felon Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai, Yishai left to form his own Charedi party Yachad. Yachad has subsequently merged with Otzma Yehudit to become the Yachad Ha Am Itanu ticket. I have to be honest, I just do not understand why any voter would cast a vote with Deri at the helm of Shas. My gut says, Shas support will bleed a lot more than 4 mandates this election cycle.

Yachad – Ha Am Itanu. Eli Yishai’s new party is pegged at 4, just barely making the mandate for a seat in the Knesset. He has his demographic and bleeds Shas’ support. It is a religious based party with right wing security issues. Yishai is thought to be reasonable and someone Likud can work with. Shas primarily represented religiously observant Sephardic voters.

United Torah Judaism. An Ashkenazi Charedim party.  Owning to party leader Yair Lapid sponsoring the Charedim draft bill, United Torah Judaism swears it will not sit in any coalition in which Yesh Atid is a member. I think they are pretty serious about this….but the bribe to get them to change their mind might bankrupt the country.

The Israel Loonie Left:

The Zionist Union - This is a merged ticket with the Israeli Labor and Tzippi Livni’s Hatnua party. Livni started out as a Likud member, then jumped ship to go with Ariel Sharon in Kadima, she eventually headed Kadima only to lose an election and the party leadership. After a good sulk, she decided to found her own political party so she could be a  leader, more or less indefinitely. No one likes her, she whines a lot and does not play well with others. She will never be elected Prime Minister except by stealth.

The Israeli Labor party had a proud history and is now being run by a man who just narrowly escaped indictment for election fraud during Ehud Barak’s run for Prime Minister. He’s got a tin ear and speaks with a high pitch whine. Apparently, he has been undergoing speech therapy for that.  Yitzhak "Boujie" Herzog is part of the Ashkenazi elite in Israel. Herzog’s platform consists in being primarily as ‘Not BIBI’. This more or less works for Obama. In fact, if I were to describe Herzog with an Americanism; I would call him 'all hat, no cattle'. He made a disaster deal to merge his ticket with Tzippi Livni and offered her a rotating Prime Ministership; if they win.

No one in their right mind should want Herzog to be able to form a coalition and negotiate with the Palestinians or the White House. The real irony in ‘Zionist Union’ ticket is just how many anti-zionist have united behind Herzog. In a surprise move, Herzog and Livni have announced that Livni has offered to give up the rotating premiership. She's taking one for the team...of course, I haven't seen anything in writing, and when dealing with Livni; you need it in writing, witnessed and backed up with video. 

The Zionist Union is currently running with 26 mandates and still cannot form a government. The religious parties will not sit with any government which includes Yair Lapid. Meretz won’t still in any coalition which includes a religious party. And there is a good chance Yesh Atid will never sit with any Labor coalition that includes the Joint Arab List.

Joint Arab List, is a combined ticket for three different Arab parties who decided to bury their differences in order to present a united front against the ‘Zionists’. Reality is, there is new legislation raising the bar for votes needed to enter the Knesset and none of the Arab parties could reach the bar on their own without banding together.  They are not good neighbours and it is simply a matter of time before the ‘UAL’ explores into inter politic clashes among themselves.

Meretz. Forget these losers, they will be lucky to hold onto 5 mandates and I will not cry if they don’t make the threshold. Never having to read a headline quoting Gal-On again – is simply priceless. Of course, they will not sit in any coalition with a religious party.

The Israel Right.

Yisrael Beiteinu lead by Lieberman, clowned Prince of Israeli politics.  Massive corruption scandal decimated what was left of Lieberman's party list just after the Knesset was dissolved. Yisrael Beiteinu drew its base from the secular Russian immigrant community and it will be interesting to see if Yisrael Beiteinu's base chooses to stay home or throw in their lot with another party.  Likud is the natural option, but Bennett at Bayit Yehudi did a stellar job representing Israel's case during the recent conflict with Gaza, and his 'stop apologizing' promotional videos might just appeal.

Likud lead by Bibi Netanyahu. The party everyone loves to hate – with good reason. This isn't the Likud of Menachem Begin, but Netanyahu remains the only leader who has a reasonable chance of clubbing together a coalition, and Likud still has the 'get out the vote' machine in place. In fact, even with 21 mandates, he can easily pull 64 mandates without Yesh Atid, JAL or even the Zionist Union.

The real shame about Israeli democracy, is that you cannot have two Prime Ministers. One to deal with all foreigners, and another to run the country. Bibi’s real weakness in the last two Knesset sessions has been running the country internally. Bibi gives a great Anglo sound bite but it takes more to govern Israel. Furthermore, Bibi is slippery even when not wet and I would not put it pass him not to have been making a backroom deal to enter into a 'unity coalition government' with the Zionist Union with the caveat Livni never has a turn with leadership of the Zionist Union before the votes are cast.

This brings me to Bayit Yehudi run by Naftali Bennett. Pollsters are predicting Bayit Yehudi, despite Bennet’s rising profile in the last Knesset, will maintain only 12 mandates. There are rumours that Bayit Yehudi is now polling in single digits, but without hearing of increased mandates for Likud or Kalanu, I am not buying it since Bennett is not guilty of any recent missteps to account for a sudden recent drop. At the start of the campaign trail Bennett was polling 16-17 mandates and rising. A miss-step mid-way in the campaign saw a descent in the number of mandates in an act designed to widen the appeal and base of his party. I  would not count Bennett out entirely and he is widely believed to be a ‘future’ Prime Ministerial material...just not in this election.

If I was an Israeli voter, I would be hard pressed to vote between Kalanu and Bayit Yehudi. After the Zionist Union's 11th hour announcement. It's Bayit Yehudi all the way for me. I wouldn't want Bibi getting into bed with Herzog-Livini, and the best way to prevent that is a strong Bayit Yehudi.

So my predictions; Likud forms the government with Bibi as Prime Minister in a strong rightwing coalition. Last night, there was a right wing rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. Ha'aretz suggests only 25,000 showed up. Arutz Sheva claims 100,000. If the truth lies closer to Arutz Sheva's estimates on election day we will be watching a left wing impulsion. The election commission would not allow any Israeli singers to perform at rally last night in Tel Aviv, so Naftali Bennett took to the stage to sing Jerusalem of Gold.

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