Next Prime Minister of Israel?

Yair Lapid, the next Prime Minister of Israel?

Last night, Susan and I went to a Yesh Atid (There is a Future) meeting (Anglo Division) in Tel Aviv to hear the party leader, Yair Lapid. He was introduced as the next Prime Minister of Israel which is – to put it mildly – somewhat optimistic. However, let there be no doubt, he is by far my preferred candidate. Why? Partly because I like the man, but mainly because I like how Yesh Atid handled itself the last time it was in power – sticking largely to its policy promises – and also, no less, because of the party’s policies. Their intentions for the country address all the key areas in the right way, so to speak. I was particularly pleased to hear Yair promise that one early law, were he successful, would be to limit the number of times one person could be the Prime Minister to twice. (Hello Bibi!)

Underpinning a lot of Yesh Atid’s policies is an honest streak that seems to be missing from the other parties. For example, when in power, Yesh Atid refused to take the money that all the other coalition parties took from the State, just for being in power. Shocking. For another example, within minutes of the election being called, the coalition parties robbed the welfare and education budgets to fund their own political expenditure. Also shocking. Another almost unbelievable story was the reminder that Bibi ordered a personal – OK, a Prime Ministerial – plane at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels, for no good reason. (The theory is that Bibi felt envious at Air Force One…) A funny story was told about the ministerial vote on work programs. Only two ministers voted against it. Guess which two ministers were appointed to be in charge of the work programs? Welcome to Israel…

Before Yair could start, he was interrupted by a protester – demonstrating against weapons sales to Sudan – who had to be removed by the security team. It’s unclear why the protester targeted Yair Lapid, as the offending matters were not of his creation. Anyway, Yair spoke for about 45 minutes – in reasonably good English – and then took questions.

The questions ranged from aliyah to illegal immigrants to non-orthodoxy to gay rights to educations, pensions, and so on. His answers were OK, but the poor guy has clearly been running around with far too much to do. I say this because his English in the answers was not as sharp or polished as it can be. He had not had enough time to prepare fully, I suspect.  In this arena, he is not as good a performer as Bibi. But, he will improve, and it’s one area that – despite declarations to the contrary – matters least in the Israeli elections. In other words, the Anglos will not have a material effect on the result. That having been said, I was impressed and cheered by the very young profile of the audience. Very heartening. Anyway, for election success, it’s more important how he comes across in the Hebrew media. And there he is very much equal to the Bibi challenge.

What are his chances? In the past elections, Yesh Atid has typically done less well in the polls until the closing stages. That appears to be the case this time around, too. But it needs to do much better this time to break the Likud stranglehold, and so far there’s been no hint of such a change. Instead, the opposition keeps getting split by new parties popping up. So, when it does come to the election, Lapid as Prime Minister is unlikely. But, then again, in the world of Israeli politics, almost anything is possible. After all, this is a country where a new politician could be ranked as getting 20% plus of the vote before making a single speech or uttering a single word on policy or beliefs. So, unlikely, but not impossible.

I’m resigned to another Bibi/Likud victory, but let’s see what actually happens.

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Lapid in Ra’anana

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I went to a Yesh Atid meeting in Ra’anana last night, taking the opportunity to hear Yair Lapid speak about the forthcoming election.

For reasons I don’t fully understand (or remember) I expected a speech in English. Wrong! It was definitely a Hebrew presentation for a Hebrew speaking audience. So, I wasn’t able to understand as much of it as I would like, but enough to get the grist of what he was talking about. Continue reading

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One way to go

Arab citizens of Israel amount to about 20% of the population, but are largely disconnected from mainstream politics. There are several reasons. For example, traditionally their turnout at the polls has been low. And to add insult to injury, those who could be bothered to vote were faced with many parties to choose from, even if they focused exclusively on those from their own sector.

The scenario has changed with the raising of the threshold – the minimum percentage of the vote required to guarantee a seat in the Knesset – from 2 to 3.25%. For me, the raise was a good move towards the general (higher) European standards. (Note that in Turkey, the threshold is 10%.)

The response of the smaller parties has been to band together in one list. As the Times of Israel puts it:

Israel’s Arab political parties are banding together under one ticket for the first time ever ahead of national elections in March, hoping to boost turnout and help unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The result is an awkward political marriage of communists, Palestinian nationalists, religious Muslims, feminists and even one Jew. But Arab politicians say it will improve chronically low Arab voter turnout and help block Netanyahu from forming the next government.

First, although there’s an opinion poll that suggests the combined list will improve voter turnout, the reported improvement is both woeful and only theoretical. Let’s see whether people actually bother to vote. After all, when you vote you have to get up and go to the polling station. It’s not like taking part in an opinion poll, when the pollsters come to you!

Second, look how different the parts of the list are. What does that tell us? There is no single Arab perspective? That’s good. But only if they can find a party that represents them. (It may explain why Shas, traditionally, went out of their way to curry favor with Arab towns, and was successful in attracting their votes.)  I wonder what efforts the mainstream parties are making, and should be making, to get these votes and get the Arab population involved in the democracy.

Third, it’s notable that the aim is to block Netanyahu from getting in. Wouldn’t it be a better goal to achieve something positive? To campaign for and promote changes in the law that they see as necessary and important fro their potential constituents? Or is this AP’s spin?

Whatever the outcome, it will be interesting to see how this unified list does.

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Storm brewing

No, not the weather type of storm such as we have had in Israel for the last couple of days.

No, not the political type of storm such as we have had in Israel for the last couple of, er, decades.

The storm I am referring to is the one brewing in Gaza.

Hamas fought (in my opinion) a badly judged war. Their propaganda efforts got them some sympathy, a modest extension of their fishing zone, much publicity, and nothing more apart from promises. Many of the promises featured rebuilding Gaza. Many of those making the promises overlooked – deliberately or otherwise – the challenge of rebuilding Gaza without rebuilding terror tunnels.

Fats forward several months, and progress has been almost non-existent. If you are a resident of Gaza, what do you think Hamas got for you with the blood of your people? And the immediate prospects for improvement are not good. There’s now better recognition of the challenges of rebuilding only civilian infrastructure. There’s now an awareness – or, perhaps, more awareness now being openly stated – that Hamas is a corrupt, kleptocracy of a regime. And there are two elephants in the room.

Elephant number one is the Israeli election. Hamas know that any terrorist act by them may cause a voting swing to the right. If that’s what they want, there will be such an act or acts.

Elephant number two is the illusion of unity, and the actual stance of Fatah. According to this report, the Palestinian Authority has said there will be no reconstruction until the PA get control of Gaza… In response, Hamas claims – in a less than peaceful manner – that Palestinian unity (ahem) is being ruined by the PA. Further, they warn Abbas they ‘will not await your mercy.’

My interpretation (aka ‘guess’) is that trouble is brewing in Gaza. Militarily I hope we are prepared. Politically, we are stuck till after the election. And if Bibi gets in again, I fear we will still be stuck.

I have no sympathy for Hamas, but the people of Gaza are paying a terrible price for the real crimes of their leaders. The even more terrible aspect is that Hamas want Israel to pay a price as well.

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Anger issues

I confess, I have anger issues. For example, this, from the Jerusalem Post, makes me angry:

Responding to a question at a press conference he called to announce that the Knesset would be dissolved, Netanyahu said he did not agree with the criminal sanctions clause of the law that was passed earlier this year which stipulates that a yeshiva student who refuses to perform military service be subject to imprisonment, as are all other Jewish men.

“I do not think that yeshiva students studying Torah should go to prison. This was not to my liking,” said the prime minister during the press conference.

Repeal of the criminal sanctions clause will be high on the agenda for haredi political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism when it comes to the coalition negotiations following the coming elections.

I must have missed the bit where it says in the Torah that religious Jews who break the law should suffer no penalty.

Either we live in a society with law and order, or we don’t.

Either we live in a society that believes in sharing the burden, or we don’t.

Either we are all treated the same, or we are betraying our tradition, our heritage, our history, and our obligations to one another.

I hope, with all my heart, that this approach causes such a backlash that the next government not only refuses to repeal the criminal sanctions against draft dodgers, but enforces the law without favor or affection for any group. And I hope that religious Jews are a healthy part of the electorate responsible for the backlash.

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About those elections

David Horovitz at Times of Israel:

As the man who opted not to reconcile with Lapid at their “last-ditch, save-the-coalition” meeting on Monday night, Netanyahu, highly skilled political operator that he is, clearly believes that he’ll again come out on top. But it’s a gamble. He must be calculating that Lapid will be discredited by ostensible failures at the Treasury, that early elections will complicate moves against his leadership within Likud, that Liberman will be a reliable post-election partner. Netanyahu is taking the chance, too, that terrorism and the rise of Islamic extremism all around us will not push too many voters into Bennett’s camp, or that the (less plausible) reverse does not play out, with an alliance on the center-left and a sense among voters of peace-making opportunities being missed, enabling Herzog to mount a prime ministerial challenge.

As usual, it’s well crafted commentary, infused with intelligence. (And a sharp edge as he expresses his – and our – with the politicians.) Read it all here. If nothing else, check out his closing paragraph; it’s a cracker.

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On your marks…

It looks like we are heading for elections:

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The main headline in Israel HaYom this morning (above) is ‘On the way to elections.’

It follows a meeting between Netanyahu and Lapid that ended ‘in an explosion’ as the paper puts it. Apparently Netanyahu made demands of Lapid, including to drop Lapid’s controversial affordable housing plan – a key part of Lapid’s party mainfesto, sometimes described as the flagship policy. Given that was not likely to be a demand that was met, what was Netanyahu’s aim?

It is suggested Netanyahu is trying to get the haredi parties on his side for the next coalition.  Their price – essentially undoing the work to broaden the burden of national service – is unlikely to go down well with many of the voters on the center and left of the political spectrum. If they can align their voting intentions, perhaps the next government will be free of Netanyahu and the haredi parties? Unless Netanyahu can somehow put together his new coalition now, by ditching Yesh Atid and Lapid and swapping in the religious parties. In other words, was Netanyahu’s demand cover for the fact he is pretending to prepare for elections, while actually preparing a new coalition? It’s unlikely, but people tell me all sorts of unlikely things happen in Israeli politics.

In sporting terms, all to play for.

Here are some links to decent reportage by the Times of Israel (here and here) and the Jerusalem Post (here).

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Israel’s election and Obama

There was an electric atmosphere across Israel last night, from the moment the first exit poll suggested (accurately, it appears) that Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud – Yisrael Beitenu block would get the most votes and around 31 seats. But, the polls also showed the shock result that – out of nowhere – the center-left party of former journalist Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) would be the second biggest with around 19 seats. Labor look to be heading for 15 seats. So, Labor plus Yesh Atid received more votes than the Likud plus Yisrael Beitenu…

It’s mildly amusing to recall the woeful failure of the likes of the BBC and The Guardian to (a) impartially cover the election; and (b) accurately gauge the mood of the nation. Hint to both of them: you need to stop hanging out with Haaretz journalists. I should also say that I was disappointed by the Economist’s coverage. Its editorial of last week was a disgrace. Maybe their journalists are also spending too much time in the company of the wrong people.

I spent some time online, following the trends, and watched a bit of the TV coverage. The bottom line is that the serious talking and negotiating are going on now, in an attempt to form the next government. It looks like the right spectrum will have parity or a wafer thin majority of seats (60-61 out of the 120 total). However, it may be that Bibi will look at forming a ‘central’ block coalition as that is likely to be more durable. We shall see; meantime, it’s all to play for.

In among the noise and fury of last night, one of the best, lasting images was prompted by a couple of stars in the Twitterverse: they pointed out that over in Washington, Obama was rushing to his computer to google Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid! Obama’s pulse was probably going through the roof if he saw or heard any of the rumors that Labor were going to back Yair Lapid as the new Prime Minister. (Unlikely, but a juicy prospect nevertheless.)

I didn’t see Lapid’s speech, but you can get a flavor of it from this Times of Israel report. Note the mention of Dov Lipman; one to watch.

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Another first

In many ways, today was the culmination of our aliyah: our first vote in an Israeli election.

Due to the election, the office was closed, so we had a lie in before heading out to the polling station mid morning.

susan_going_to_vote

Yes, it’s January. Yes, Susan is wearing her sunglasses. Yes, the weather was hot, sunny, and clear blue skies – an amazing 24 degrees!

The polling station (actually several polling stations in one location) was in a large school complex, situated in a park. The atmosphere was very relaxed; families out for a stroll, kids playing on the grass, and party political workers on standby in case you needed some last minute information.

First, we had to work out which of the individual stations we should go to.

It's telling you where to go, not whether to vote for the right, center, or left!

It’s telling you where to go, not whether to vote for the right, center, or left!

We were upstairs at station 101. (No, the numbering system does not make any sense to me either.) It seemed that lots of people had the same idea as us – there was a wee bit of a queue. We met friends and neighbors there, and the time passed quite quickly. (One neighbor joked that instead of voting for a political party, we should be voting for a new builder, but that’s another story for another time.)

Some of these people do not look old enough to vote...

Some of these people do not look old enough to vote…

Eventually the historic moment arrived. Susan went first. In the classroom polling station, the officials checked Susan’s ID, then gave her an official voting envelope. As Susan noticed, it was in a lovely blue color with an official Israeli seal. Then, Susan had to go behind the screen.

A secret ballot

A secret ballot

Then, Susan selected the little paper slip representing her chosen party, put the slip in the envelope, and sealed it. I suppose if you put in two (or more, or no) slips, that’s what counts as a spoiled ballot. And so, the real moment of truth: the vote.

A dream come true

A dream come true

I followed on, and that was that. We felt terrific.

We walked back to the car through the park, stopping for a chat with some friends and acquaintances, and enjoying the holiday atmosphere. Truly, we were walking on air. A memorable day in our lives. Whatever the outcome, we had exercised our democratic right, and joined in the Israeli political system. Later we will have to deal with the result. Whoever gets elected, the real power struggle is afterwards – in the bid to form a working coalition. But for now, we are on a high.

[While I remember, I wanted to mention that this was a computer free election system. Apart from the generation of the voter lists, it’s all done manually. They check your name off the list by scoring it out with a pen, they hand you a paper envelope in exchange for your ID, and you put in a paper party slip, and you put it in a cardboard box, and get your ID back. Very simple. No hanging chads to go wrong, or computers to crash. I think people here are suspicious of electronic voting systems and I can understand why.]

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Election day!

At last, here we are:

Front page news

Front page news

Here’s a shot of the ballot papers from the same paper:

party_list

Notice the voting slips are in Hebrew and Arabic.

And the last piece of pre election political observation from me, is this last Likud advert in the paper:

bibi_ad

Leader of the country? There’s only one real contender – for now. But, in exercising my democratic right, I won’t be voting for Likud…

Whatever you are doing, have a great day. I’m going to have a great election day.

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