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Israeli elections: Surprise?

02/09/2009

Most commentators have focused on the shift to the right evident in Israeli election surveys. That is not really the big story. This big story is not how in how people will vote, but in those who do not vote. If the estimates are correct, about half of Israeli Arabs will not vote (see here) and a large proportion of the Jewish population as well. Of course, as Israeli Arabs withdraw from the political process, one byproduct is that the Knesset elected by Israeli Jews will increasingly reflect right-wing Jewish sentiment. With no votes, you get no seats in parliament.

Among those who vote, there is also increasing cynicism and nihilism, reflected in the large numbers of parties that are participating, many of which have no platform or an absurd platform. Efraim Sneh ("Strong Israel") is running on a single-issue platform of beating organized crime. Actually, he is running because he didn't get a realistic place in the Israel Labor Party list and for no other reason. There are two parties that aim to legalize marijuana, as if this was the greatest problem facing Israel. One of them has merged with the Holocaust survivors party. This tells us a great deal about the current political mood in Israel.

The slick campaigns of the major parties reflect the mood of the electorate, or perhaps they helped create it. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party has a gimmick, "No Citizenship without loyalty." It also projects a vision - a rather nightmarish one. The Likud, Israel Labor Party and Kadima don't even have a gimmick to differentiate themselves from the other parties. They are basically silent about most issues. Education, environment, infrastructure investments, gaps between rich and poor, civil liberties, equality for Arabs and separation of church and state - none of these issues exist in major party propaganda. As for issues of war and peace, the Likud is for building settlements and talking about peace, while Kadima and Labor are for talking about peace more positively and loudly and building the same settlement units more quietly. Of course, in reality some important differences do exist, and it does make a difference who is elected. A Benjamin Netanyahu government will not be "more of the same." The Likud will spend even less money on science education and infrastructure and build settlements deeper in the West Bank. Limor Livnat will probably be minister of education, and the view of Israel's history that is taught in the schools will change accordingly. There will be a proliferation of new right wing Yeshivoth, which sprout with regularity after a right wing coalition agreement, like mushrooms after a rain. Other than that, not much will really change. Domestically, none of the major Israeli parties has a vision or a program. Foreign policy is greatly constrained by Washington, and by the policies of Israel's Arab neighbors, friends and foes. The Americans already voted. None of the large parties really represent change. Israel already had a Benjamin Netanyahu and an Ehud Barak government, so we know what those are like. Tzipi Livni tried to market herself as a harbinger of change, but that is viewed as absurd. After all, she is leader of the incumbent Kadima party. Perhaps in that sense, Avigdor Lieberman is the Israeli Barack Obama - he represents a real change from traditional politics. Change we will have to believe in. Lieberman predicts that his party will get 30 seats in the next Knesset elections. Thus far, his predictions have always been underestimates. Not all change is good.

The "surprise" that some are predicting should not be a surprise, and it won't be a big one. We can dare to predict that the combined leads of the Likud and Avidgor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu will be cut a bit, because somewhat more right wing votes will go to the extremist National Union and the Shas party. Shas always gets more Knesset seats than are predicted in the polls. This is partly due to superstitions of its ultraorthodox constituency regarding polls and census participation, partly due to the extraordinary Shas organization and partly due to the enthusiastic participation of dead people in the vote for their party. Surveys never sample the opinion of dead people. Give Shas 12 seats as they have now, instead of 10 as predicted in the polls. National Union is the only party that unequivocally refuses to surrender an inch of territory in the West Bank. Their people are also dedicated, and also reluctant to speak to pollsters. Give them 5-7 seats perhaps, slightly above the average poll estimates. In all, this might knock 1 or 2 seats each off the leads enjoyed in the polls by Likud and Yisrael Beitenu. It is not likely to produce a left-center government headed by Kadima. It would most likely only effect what sort of right wing government Israel has.

Israeli elections are not a very good political process, but we should not lose perspective. As the Saudi Arabian paper Arab News observes, this will not be a vote for peace. On the other hand, Israeli elections are just about the only democracy game in most of the Middle East. What were the election results like in Saudi Arabia? Oh, I forgot, they don't have any elections. But Israeli elections won't be worth much if people do not vote. Collectively, Israelis will have only themselves to blame for whatever sort of government is formed.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000747.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 02:18 PM CST [Link]

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Replies: 2 comments

Ami
Your own nihilism and cynicism seems to reflect that which you claim to see in the Israeli electorate. Those of us in the Diaspora who spend a great deal of time and energy defending Israel against a firestorm of simplistic and malevolent anti-Zionist/antisemitic comment would like some feeling we're not flogging a dead horse. Are we being naive? Is no life and energy left in the population or is it your own exhaustion and possibly unrealistic dreams which you're reflecting in your article?

Posted by Mike Berger @ 02/09/2009 04:27 PM CST

wow thats weird.

Posted by Michael E. @ 02/20/2009 02:03 AM CST


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