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Action Alert – URGENT

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Don’t despair; Israel does have a living opposition


Shelly Yachimovich, Labor Party leader. Larry Derfner (1) wouldn’t vote for her; Don Futterman thinks voting Labor or any of the left-of-Likud parties has to be done (2). Photo by Yotam Ronen/ activestills
Bibi can relax – the ‘center-left’ is really on the right

By Larry Derfner, +972
January 18, 2013

The actual right-wing bloc looks set to win over 100 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in Tuesday’s election. There’s only one reason to vote against it: the future.

“Right-wing bloc’s majority slashed,” read the headline over today’s election poll in Haaretz. “The gap is closing,” according to the poll in today’s Yedioth Aharonoth. Both surveys showed the right-religious bloc getting 63 Knesset seats and the center-left-Arab bloc getting 57, and both showed the steadily weakening Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu down to 32.

Even if it is still clear to everyone that Netanyahu will lead the next government, many people will likely gather from these findings that maybe the next government isn’t going to be “the most extreme in Israel’s history,” as has been the expectation.

Forget it. This will be the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history, because what passes for the “center-left” is actually the right. There are two overriding questions in this country, two issues that define left and right: occupation and war. Occupation and war are the status quo, and there’s no center about it: You’re either trying to end it, which puts you on the left, or you’re not, which puts you on the right.

Under Shelly Yachimovich, the Labor Party has emphatically stopped trying to end the occupation, and continues in its support of any war any Israeli government wants to start. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party follows the exact same line. Meanwhile, Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni has focused her campaign on ending the conflict with the Palestinians, which would seem to put her on the left, but her positions are so vague – except her refusal to accept even one Palestinian refugee back into Israel – that it’s hard to take her seriously. Worse, she seems bent on joining the next government; if she’s not decisively on the right yet, that appears to be where she’s heading. And if Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima gets the two seats that the Haaretz and Yedioth polls give him, he’ll go into Bibi’s government like a freight train.

But the most obvious thing that makes the “center-left-Arab bloc” an illusion, that prevents it from being even a potential alternative, is that none of these so-called center-left parties would ever form a government with any of the three Arab parties. (The oldest of them, Hadash, has a Jewish Knesset member and many Jewish supporters, but remains predominantly Arab.) No Israeli prime minister, no Zionist party, ever sought to include any Arab faction in its coalition. Yesterday, Livni said she wanted to form a “central, Zionist unity government,” which explicitly leaves out the Arabs and would seem to include the aforementioned status quo parties plus Shas, which is as right-wing as Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, just more religious.

This is an alternative? Shelly Yachimovich and Yair Lapid, who openly support the settlers and run from the label “leftist” like they would from the label “child molester” – they’re an alternative?

No, Tuesday’s election will indeed produce the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history, so long as Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud is joined in it by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, which is a virtual certainty. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a fascist leadership, but neither would I call it a democratic one; the term “authoritarian” sounds fair. The likely addition of a Haredi party would reinforce this identity, and any so-called center-left party that supports the status quo even now would, in such a government, be a fig leaf that fooled no one.

As far as I’m concerned, today’s polls continue to show a right-wing bloc of just over 100 Knesset seats and a left-wing bloc, including Meretz and the Arab parties, of 17 or 18.

For anyone who considers the status quo untenable, the reason to vote for Meretz, Hadash, Balad, United Arab List-Ta’al or Da’am (a truly integrated party that won’t make it into the Knesset but which definitely belongs there), is not because there’s a chance to stop the country from sliding further towards hell next week; that’s going to happen.

The reason, instead, to vote for one of the above-mentioned parties is because this country poses an acute, rising danger to itself and others around it, and it requires a fighting, principled opposition to keep it alive, to let the Palestinians and the rest of the world know that there’s something here to work with, something to build on in the future, because authoritarian Israel will not change the status quo on its own; it will have to be forced into it by the Palestinians and the rest of the world. Tuesday’s election will confirm this, and so will the next government.

Born in New York, moved to Israel in 1985, Larry Derfner “would describe myself as an ultra-liberal Zionist”.


Israel’s ambivalent left (and left-center) voter

By Don Futterman, blog, Times of Israel
January 16, 2013

Who should you vote for if you are a Jewish Israeli leftist or leftist-centrist? Many leftists and centrists I know are experiencing the same dilemma I find myself in; elements of the ideal party are spread across the playing field but that there is no perfect fit.

The conundrum begins with the party leaders and the almost visceral reactions they evoke.

“I can’t stand her (or him)!” is what I frequently hear (although don’t feel myself) about Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, and Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni, usually from the same folks who are fans of one of the others. (Even Meretz’s Zehava Galon provokes this feeling, but not as strongly). I have no idea what these comments are based on, but voting is an emotional act, so if the face of the party is considered a self promoter, a bitch or a failure, there’s a problem.

Nobody seems to dislike Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, but they don’t take him seriously either, and his campaign is evoking more pity than passion. Hadash’s Dov Khenin garners great reviews from the minority who know who he is, but most Jewish Israelis won’t vote for a party that hoists the red flag in 2013 or that’s Jewish-Arab, let alone both.

Meretz has the right values; they want a two state solution, social services instead of settlements, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, civil rights and economic justice. But they seem irrelevant. They won’t head the opposition, don’t have a charismatic leader and are not likely to have much impact. They insist on trying to address problems that most Israelis are sick of hearing about. It’s true, the problems are all still there, but Meretz hasn’t adjusted its rhetoric, and does not seem to have noticed how well Naftali Bennett is doing preaching Zionism. So, do we vote our values (most of them anyway), boost Meretz and risk feeling that we’ve wasted our vote, or look elsewhere?

The newly reconceived Labor Party, according to the polls, will be the largest of the left or centrist parties, and could lead a powerful opposition or be (uh-oh… we’ve slipped down this slope before) a moderating force on Netanyahu from within the government. It depends on your take on Shelly Yachimovich and her rebranding strategy. She’s turned Labor into a single issue party, economic justice a la the social protest, with an umbilical link to the Histadrut. Has she removed Labor’s two-state solution centerpiece in order to woo more centrist voters turned off by any mention of the conflict? Or so that she can join a Netanyahu government despite recent protestations to the contrary? Does Shelly deserves credit for sticking to her strategy and attracting new voters with dynamic young candidates like Stav Shafir, Merav Michaeli and Itzik Shmueli , or has she destroyed the soul of the Labor party? Is this a tactical maneuver or an authentic shift? (I think the latter, but Netanyahu will continue to insist she wants to divide Jerusalem.) So vote for Labor and give them more leverage, or look for a party that does not shun the “L” word (leftist).

Perhaps Labor can’t find its peace platform because Tzipi Livni took it. Livni’s Hatnuah is the only party putting peace first, promising to parlay Livni’s past stature to bring Israel back to the negotiating table and reduce our international isolation. And she’s added green politics, a new- found concern for workers and economic justice, and Amir Peretz, an an old-style former Labor Party head, Histadrut leader, and mizrachi leader from the perhiphery. But Livni was outmaneuvered by Netanyahu four years ago and maybe outflanked by Yachimovich and Lapid last week. Like everyone on the left, she doesn’t have a plan to deal with Hamas. She was a dismal Opposition leader, despite heading the largest party in the Knesset, and rarely fought anti-democratic legislation, some of which originated in her own party. So do we attribute that to the incoherent character of Kadima? Or do we trust that she’s learned her lessons and is now ready to lead?

Lapid’s Yesh Atid has a clear platform; drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews and sharing the military service burden, electoral and educational reform (his number two is an education activist, low-cost housing for young couples and lower utilities. Lapid, an intelligent talk show host and fine writer, gets dissed for being slick, shallow, good-looking and well connected; his father was a famous journalist and head of the Shinui Party; his mother an established novelist. He won’t talk about peace because conditions are unfavorable, a reasonable position since conditions are unfavorable, but it’s not clear what he would do to change those conditions. But he’s a fiscal conservative, rejects the social protest, and can’t seem to wait to join the Netanyahu government. Perhaps if he and Shelly and Tzipi (or two out of three) go in, they can replace the far right and ultra-orthodox partners. Perhaps.

So who to vote for? The fear is that all dithering will keep leftist and centrist voters in their own homes, while the right fills those long lines to the ballot box next Tuesday.

Don Futterman is the Program Director, Israel for the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation which has worked in Israel for more than 20 years for the empowerment of disadvantaged communities, to promote civil and human rights, and to strengthen Israeli civil society.

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