Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Primer of Tomorrow's Elections in Israel

Based on an email from Steven Toltz:
 
Tomorrow, about 5 million Israelis will go to the polls to vote for our next government. The way it works here, unlike the States, is that we vote for a party. Whatever percentage of the vote a party gets ends up being the percentage of the 120 seats in the Knesset that they get. To earn seats, a party must receive a minimum of 2% of the vote. There will be 34 parties to choose from, but realistically, only 12-15 will earn enough votes to be in the Knesset. Then, the fun begins…
 
After the elections, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, will perform his only non-ceremonial duty—he'll meet with the head of each party and try to determine who has the best chance of forming a coalition (a minimum of 61 seats).
 
In 2009, Kadima (led by Tzipi Livni) had 28 seats and Likud (lead by Binyamin Netanyahu) had 27 seats. After meeting with the heads of parties, however, Peres determined that Livni could not form a majority coalition so the task was given to Netanyahu who succeeded and became Prime Minister.
 
This election will be a referendum on two central themes: the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the economy.
I believe that the rights of Jews to live anywhere in post-'67 Israel, continued building in East Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, soldiers' rights to refuse to take unethical orders to destroy Jewish property, and beat up defenseless "settlers" (many of these soldiers are "settlers" themselves and end up having to choose between having to destroy their own homes or sitting in jail) trump anything connected to economic progress.

This is simply because life here is intricately connected to the political situation. No matter how successful our economy becomes, it's dependent on how strong Israel is in the face of her enemies.
 
So, here is a bit of a primer of tomorrow's election (parties in order of their projected size):
 
Likud-Beitenu: Likud has combined its list with that of Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beteinu to make one voting bloc. Moshe Feiglin of the Jewish Leadership faction of the Likud finally has a very realistic chance of entering the Knesset. Likud-Beitenu has many quality individuals besides Feiglin such as Tzippi Hottovely, Yuly Edelstein, Uzi Landau, Yair Shamir, and Yuval Steinitz just to name a few. Yisrael Beiteinu has huge support in the Russian community partly thanks to the fact that Lieberman is the most popular Russian politician in Israel. They are expected to be the leading party in the next Knesset with an expected 33-37 seats.
 
Labor -- the traditional workers' rights party in Israel, Labor has always been a force. Their new leader, Shelly Yachimovich, seems to be taking a page from the Democratic playbook in the States. She is talking about the rich paying their fair share and economic reforms. However, compared to other Western nations, the Israeli economy has been strong and remained that way under Bibi. Yachimovich supports making unilateral concessions to the Palestinians. If she were to miraculously defeat Likud-Beitenu, she'd probably help establish a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Labor is expected to get up to 22 seats and should be the 2nd largest party in the Knesset.
 
Ha'bayit Ha'Yehudi -- a new party, literary meaning "Jewish Home," has made a splash on the political scene. It's led by Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's former chief-of-staff. It's a religious Zionist party that greatly appeals to many Israelis who feel that there is no one to negotiate with, and that the 2-State solution has run its course. The Jewish Home also appeals to many "settlers" and Anglos. The common wisdom is that they will join the Likud-led government and will be a major player in the next Knesset. They're likely to prevent Bibi from making any further concessions to the Arab world and will probably be either the 2nd or 3rdlargest party in the Knesset with up to 20 seats.
 
Yesh Atid -- literally, "there is a future". This is a new party formed by a popular TV commentator, Yair Lapid, son of former MK and Holocaust survivor Tommy Lapid. Lapid has captured the imagination of many Israelis with his centrist views on most issues that affect Israel today -- the economy, military service, peace negotiations, and social justice. It is expected that they will earn 10-15 seats in the new Knesset and Lapid has not ruled out joining Netanyahu in the coalition.

Shas -- the party of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. Shas is an ultra-orthodox party mostly consisting of Sephardic Jews, who vote exactly as Rabbi Yosef dictates. They are willing to make a coalition with anybody, left or right, as long as they get some of the key ministries under their control. Since they usually get between 10-15 seats, they are an important bloc for whoever is trying to put together a coalition.

Ha'tnua (Tzipi Livni's Party) -- so, after Livni lost her chairmanship in Kadima, she resigned from politics. Her retirement was short as she has returned as the head of her own party. She is popular in the international scene having been a fairly successful Foreign Minister and is a big proponent of continuing negotiations with the Palestinians no matter the cost to Israeli lives. She has the ear of PA President Abbas. Her party is expected to gain 5-10 seats.
 
Meretz-- the last, true left-wing Zionist party. Meretz has fallen on hard times over the past few election cycles with only 3 ministers in the current Knesset. They are expected to grow to as many as 7-8 seats.
 
United Torah Judaism-- another ultra-orthodox party that consistently earns 5 seats in the Knesset. Mostly made of Ashkenazi voters, they will ally with Netanyahu in any coalition he forms.
 
Otzma Le'Yisrael—literally "Strength to Israel." This is the farthest right party running for election. It's headed by life-long Kahane loyalist, Michael Ben-Ari, and Professor Aryeh Eldad. Ben-Ari and Eldad were both in the last Knesset representing the NU (National Union) list. When the NU split up about two months ago into Otzma and Ha'bayit Ha'yehudi, the majority of Ha'bayit Ha'yehudi representatives preferred to cut ties with the more radical forces in the former party. Ben-Ari, and Eldad found themselves on the outside looking in, but were able to regroup and go on a very strong campaign. Their platform calls for helping the Palestinians found an independent state in Jordan, and relocating the illegal Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants living mostly in southern Tel-Aviv. They're expected to get up to 4 seats.
 
Kadima-- how the mighty have fallen. The party that was founded by Ariel Sharon and dominated the last two elections, has been relegated to a minor player. Not having joined the coalition four years ago, and having failed as an opposition leader, Tzipi Livni was ousted as party leader by Shaul Mofaz. This center-left party is expected to have MK's in the single digits, and I predict that they will be gone as a party by the next election.
 
Arab parties-- there are four Arab parties on the ballot. The infighting between Balad, Hadash, Ta'al, and the United Arab list keep them from becoming a force. Every election cycle they try to unite into one party but this never succeeds. They will be minor players and will not be members of any coalition government. Many of their MK's have been accused of being "the enemy within". Many Israeli Arabs have a problem with all of them because they don't seem to advocate for their needs. Traditionally, they've had about 10 MK's in the Knesset.
 
Of the other parties on the ballot, there are many special interest parties with little to no chance of earning the 2% of the vote to gain seats:
 
Pirate party -- main platform is to legalize "pirating" of digital music, movies, and media.
 
Green Leaf party -- the only true Libertarian party who, as its name implies, are advocates for the legalization of marijuana.

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