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Bibi hangs on with no authority

First, Ynet Op-ed on victory for the  middle class who said: We’ve had it with Netanyahu’s regime;
second Lev Grinberg, Ha’aretz,  on the social protest movement, mizrahi protest and hollow political language;
third, Noam Sheizaf, +972, Netanyahu’s disastrous victory;
fourth, JPost, Arab turn-out higher than predicted;
fifth, Josef Olmert, Huff Post, Left remains weak with little to cheer about except Netanyahu’ s losses.

Ahmed Tibi, leader of the United Arab List-Ta’al party. See item 4. Photo by Mahfouz Abu Turk/Reuters

Middle class won

Next government will have to define economic problems before trying to solve them

By Sever Plocker, Op-ed, Ynet news
January 23, 2013

The protest won. The middle class, in its broader definition, has spoken. The new Israelis said: We’ve had it with Netanyahu’s regime. We want a new face in the political mirror. We want Lapid, Yachimovich, Bennett. Not Bibi.

A different kind of politics won. The votes were tallied and the surprise is great. Netanyahu, as I predicted, erred when he brought the elections forward, and people pay for such mistakes – for the purity of politics and the future of our children. The young and innovative parties made headway. Likud –a tired party with a detached leader – was defeated. Netanyahu, who has led to the dramatic collapse of his party for the second time, must go home.

It remains unclear when and how the next coalition will be formed and who will head it, but Bibi is seen as a loser. This will have some complex repercussions on the economy: The new government’s first order of business should be to prepare this and next year’s budget.

This, supposedly, is what the elections were moved up for. Now the mission is to establish a new government and determine its leader ahead of the budget test. This situation is not healthy for the economy, but it is not disastrous either.

To deal with the budget issue the next government will first have to define the problem, something the previous government did not do. The numbers are important. The 2013 budget deficit must not amount to more than 3% of the GDP, which is NIS 30 billion. The deficit in 2014 must not amount to more than 2% of the GDP – some NIS 22 billion. Achieving these two goals will assert Israel’s credibility in the eyes of the international community. Another deviation from these goals will not be forgiven.

The economic slowdown will make it very difficult to achieve this goal, regardless of who heads the next government. Fast economic growth delivers more taxes to the Treasury and cuts the government’s deficits. The exact opposite occurs when the economy slows down, as it is doing now. Exports fall, and domestic growth engines falter. Residents consume less and save more.

Businesses invest less and do not hire new workers. Contractors are wary of beginning new ventures and the banks have no sources to expand credit. Unemployment may increase significantly in the near future. In light of all these forecasts, the Bank of Israel lowered the interest rate; it would not have done so had it not feared a severe recession.

The only ray of hope is the improvement of the global economy. The threat of the EU’s dissolution has not been lifted, but it is not as severe. The US is recuperating: The budget deals that have already been finalized between the Democrats and Republicans removed many of the threats.

The 2013-2014 budget will have to walk a tightrope between an uncompromising commitment to cutting the deficit and maintaining full employment; between respecting signed agreements and multi-year plans and the constraints of a rough one and a half years; between macroeconomic stability and the social justice demanded by the voters. Therefore, the budget must be prepared by with an “end to beginning” perception in mind, meaning from 2014 to 2013.

Only a government that relies on broad public support and favors the preferences of the young voters can complete the task – and only with broad national agreement and without paying sectoral bakshish.

Considering the level of uncertainty and the many tasks at hand, the parties would be wise to take their time before making any economic decisions.

The current legislation grants the government a respectable amount of time to deal with budgetary uncertainty. The next government should make full use of this time and perhaps even extend the time period beyond September. In the meantime, the State will make do with 1:12 of last year’s operational budget.


The success of Israel’s social protest failure

While Tuesday’s election was in many ways about the social protests in Israel in 2011, it did not address the most pressing social ills and only perpetuated the false dichotomy between right and left.

By Lev Grinberg, Ha’aretz
January 23, 2013

Tuesday’s election in Israel revolved around the success of the social protests of the summer of 2011 — and also their failure. If we cannot comprehend this paradox then we cannot easily comprehend the bizarre and surprising campaign we just witnessed — and what it is expected to bring.

There is nothing extraordinary about this paradox. It is the nature of protest movements to succeed only in part because they are not political parties, and the existing parties always try to gain political capital on Election Day from the protests.

The Israeli Black Panther movement, for example, erupted, like all social protests, during a period of military calm (1971-73), and it shook up the political system. The Panthers protested against anti-Mizrahi discrimination and voiced their anger at an establishment that absorbed them as immigrants and then relegated them to the social, economic, geographic and cultural periphery. “The second Israel,” they were called, or edot hamizrah (communities of the east), to underscore their inferiority.

Even though it comprised only a few thousand young and inexperienced demonstrators, the Panthers’ protest made enormous gains in changing the public discourse about Mizrahim. It also succeeded in changing economic policy and in transforming Israel from a hand-out state into a welfare state.

But the Panthers’ success helped Likud to mobilize Mizrahi anger without having to represent Mizrahi interests. The peripheral Mizrahim voted for Likud in order to bring down the Labor Alignment, which had discriminated against them. But they got stuck on the “right” and the Mizrahi voice was suppressed repeatedly, by both the right and the left. The economic situation of some Mizrahim has improved since the 1970s, thanks both to the welfare policies introduced by Labor Party precursor Mapai and Likud’s rise to power. But others remained stuck in the periphery and in difficult economic circumstances. At the same time, the legitimacy for speaking in the name of anti-Mizrahi discrimination was lost: For proof, look at Shas.

The reference to the Black Panthers was not accidental. This election revolved around the discourse that was created in that era, a discourse of left and right and the Ashkenazi hegemony that silences any voice that lays it bare. Hatred of Shas was a common denominator of this election, in parties from Habayit Hayehudi on the right to Meretz on the left — a wall-to-wall coalition.

This points up one of the most glaring failures of the recent social protest movement: its inability to combine the discourse of equality and social justice with the need for affirmative action for groups within society that the regime oppresses: Mizrahim on the periphery, the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, Ethiopians, some Russian-speakers and above all, Palestinians in the territories.

The reign of the business tycoons would not be possible without dividing and sowing strife among these various groups. A universalist discourse on behalf of justice and equality is insufficient, because justice and equality only for some immediately become injustice and inequality.

To my mind, the most serious failure has been the preservation of the left-right discourse, which silences any substantive debate on all the issues on the agenda, including those relating to the Palestinians. But above all, the “left-right” discourse silences issues of economic and social policy, because the poor can be found on both sides of this divide and they have not succeeded in uniting against the rule of the wealthy. Ever since 1977 Likud and Labor have imposed this left-right dichotomy in order to preserve their power and prevent rivals from entering the arena.

And that is what happened in the recent election season: Even though the socioeconomic agenda was in the background throughout the campaign (from the joint slate formed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to the resignation from the cabinet of Moshe Kahlon and his appointment to a different post at the last moment), there was no new political language. We went back to talking about left-wing and right-wing blocs even as both are crumbling, divided and strife-ridden, and the public feels that every word uttered by the politicians is empty: symbols that stand for nothing. Peace, security justice, equality — everything is included, and it’s all hollow.

They talk about natural partners, about one’s political home. But politics is the opposite of nature: It’s about changing reality: about interests, positions, disagreements, building coalitions to deal with the state’s major problems, formulating policy and implementing it. All these were absent from this election. And therefore, the day after the election, when the results are already known, all the questions will still be before us, but the public won’t be involved in how they are decided. It’s a facade of democracy.

This, too, is an expression of the social protest’s failure: its inability to create a new political language that links the question of social justice to the regime that discriminates against various groups because of their identity, its inability to overcome the regime of division, of intimidate and conquer. This is the regime that Mapai built and Likud perfected, while in the process building the reign of capital and the tycoons.

The language of the left-right cartel is still with us. The Ashkenazi elites have many parties — all except those of the very poorest, who are set apart out and marked as inferior, the lazy and the exploiters who don’t fulfill their obligations: “the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs.”

When Shas co-leader Aryeh Deri pointed out the whiteness of the right he was attacked from all sides, and he retreated. But this election revolved around whiteness.

That was precisely the criticism leveled at the leadership of the Rothschild Boulevard protesters in the summer of 2011: its whiteness, its dominance, its failure to represent the periphery and its desire to preserve the power of the middle class — that is, the secular Ashkenazim.

Their supporters will indeed enter the Knesset. But all the others won’t. And I don’t believe they’ll quietly go home. My prediction is that they will yet return to the streets, and someday they will succeed in translating the protest into a political language. There will be other elections.


Israeli elections: Netanyahu scrapes by despite major blow in polls

With almost all the votes counted, it is clear that support for the prime minister’s party has collapsed, journalist Yair Lapid has led his new centrist party to second place and Meretz has doubled its strength.

By Noam Sheizaf, +972
January 22, 2013

With roughly 98 percent of the votes cast in the Israel’s elections counted, Netanyahu’s Right-Orthodox bloc appears to have captured 61 seats out of the Knesset’s 120 (as opposed to 65 in the current Knesset). The prime minister’s joint ticket with Avigdor Lieberman’s faction – called Likud-Beitenu – has 31 seats, as opposed to the 42 the two parties together hold in the current Knesset. The surprise winner of the day is former Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid, whose new centrist party won 19 seats, making it the second-largest party in the Knesset.

Some more changes are expected after all the IDF soldiers’ votes are counted, which could take until Thursday.

Meretz has doubled its representation to six seats, while Labor finished with a disappointing 15. Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, which is associated with the settler movement, won 11 seats – a few less than most polls had predicted (though he could win another seat from the soldiers’ votes). As for the other parties, Shas came away with 12 seats, United Torah Judaism 6, Hatnuah (Tzipi Livni’s party) 6, United Arab List 4, Hadash 4, Balad 3, and Kadima 2.

Analysis: Netanyahu’s disastrous victory
Benjamin Netanyahu is pretty certain to be Israel’s next prime minister, but these elections have been a disaster for him and it’s still incredible how close he came to losing – despite the demographic trends in his favor, the lack of outside pressure and the relative security and economical stability Israelis enjoyed under his term. Netanyahu called early elections in order to renew his mandate before introducing budget cuts and dealing again with Iran, and he ended up barely getting reelected.

The terrible campaign led by Netanyahu – with endorsements from Donald Trump and Chuck Norris, and photos near the Western Wall in Jerusalem – seemed designed to win a seat in Florida, not in the Knesset. His struggle with the settlers – a war over power, not a dispute over ideology – has cost both sides some support, driving undecided last-minute voters to Yair Lapid, whose all-Israeli image turned out to be what many voters wanted. Luckily for Netanyahu, Lapid is probably the most comfortable adversary he could hope for, and he is not likely to cause any problems on the Palestinian issue. (Dimi Reider and Roi Maor explain why.)

There seem to have been issues at play that go beyond Netanyahu’s bad campaign. The prime minister is paying a price for doing nothing despite leading a very stable government. He didn’t pursue internal reform on crucial issues like the military draft or the burden on the middle class (which is what launched the 2011 social protest), and he refused to make any move on the Palestinian issue. Bibi’s responses to the crises he faced always took the form of political manoeuvring: the short-lived government with Kadima, or the unification with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu – a move that saw the joint ticket lose at least 10 seats.

To all that, add Netanyahu’s confrontational style (both towards the world and towards the opposition and minorities at home), which helped rally the fragmented opposition, not so much around a cause or a candidate, but against the prime minister.

So Netanyahu won these elections, but he will lead a weaker government than the one he led for the last four years, and he will have a harder time escaping challenges. As I wrote earlier, this is not likely to result in any new initiative on the Palestinian issue, especially given the large bloc of hawks and settlers he is still dependent on. There is something elusive about these elections – they seem to reflect some deep shifts within the Jewish public. But they won’t result in much movement on the issue most outside observers care the most about – the conflict and the occupation. A bit like the 2011 social protest, which seems to have been, after all, the driving force behind the anti-Netanyahu mobilization we witnessed today.


Israeli Arabs vote despite low turnout predictions

By Ariel Ben Solomon, JPost
January 22, 2013

Vibe and activity on the streets of Arab towns indicate that voter turnout was higher than expected.

The Arab League call for Israeli Arabs to get out and vote must have had an effect. From the vibe and activity on the street, it appeared that voter turnout would be higher than expected, even though assessments throughout the day implied otherwise.

The Arab parties all made great efforts to bring out the Israeli Arab vote, spreading the message that a no-vote was a vote for a right-wing government. Balad MK Haneen Zoabi sent an SMS to her supporters on Election Day, telling them that her party did not accept “living as foreigners or in fear in their homeland.”

People on the street who spoke with The Jerusalem Post seemed to feel there was high motivation to vote. Ahmed Tibi’s and Ibrahim Sarsour’s United Arab List-Ta’al party seemed to have the most support, with Balad registering support as well.

Tira resident Muhammad Samara said Arabs needed to go out and vote for one of the Arab parties. He said the strongest party in Tira was UAL-Ta’al because of Tibi’s popularity there, adding that people supported Tibi because of his personality, not because of his ideology.

Balad was also strong and Hadash had supporters as well, Samara said, but few voted for Meretz.

At around 4:30 p.m., he predicted that around 40 percent of the town had voted and that in the evening the number would grow significantly, as that was the most popular time to vote. He predicted turnout could go as high as 80%.

He added, though, that “some people do not vote because they feel the government does not represent them and they do not like the government.” Mahmoud Issa, a shop owner in Kafr Kasim, predicted turnout around 70% in his town.

“People want to vote, to make changes, but there is no hope,” he said.

He thought Meretz was probably the strongest party in town, followed by UALTa’al, then Balad, which he believed was not so active there.

Nonetheless, Issa said a right-wing government would at least provoke the world into intervening and lead to isolation and an international boycott of the country.

“Why not Bayit Yehudi?” he suggested sarcastically.

“With them there will be a solution; war will decide things. When they start fighting against Arabs and throwing them out of their houses, then the world will force peace on Israel.”

But pessimistically he added, “There will never be Arab strength here. There will never be a Palestinian state.”

It wasn’t the Arabs who would bring about a solution, he said, but the international community.

Issa called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “a liar” who “doesn’t really believe in a two-state solution. Right after his Bar-Ilan speech, he went and whispered to Liberman that he didn’t mean it.

The same day he goes and builds more settlements on occupied territories.”

In the middle of that conversation, a haredi (ultra- Orthodox) Jew from Bnei- Barak called and jokingly said he was voting for Balad.

Issa said he worked with many Jews and that “they want everything for themselves and nothing for others.”

“We are an inseparable part of Israel,” he said. “This is the place we have been since before Israel was created, and we are hurt by how our brothers are treated in the territories. They live in a jail without air and food, like in Gaza.”

He added that “if [assassinated prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin had another two years, there would have been peace.”

Still, Issa said he would agree to a one-state solution: “In 10 years, there would be a majority of Arabs, and Jews would begin to flee.”

The word on the street was that the town of Jaljulya was similar in voter trends and also tended to vote for Tibi.

Issa’s brother Camel, a Hebrew teacher and director of an after-school program, had a different take on things. While he also predicted a high voter turnout, he said UAL-Ta’al would perform best because it included Sarsour, who is from Kafr Kasim. He said Balad was also strong and more active than others.

He said the reason people were voting for Meretz in the town was the party’s Arab candidate Issawi Freij, who comes from there.

The candidates’ families and clans could also be expected to support them.

In Umm el-Fahm, he continued, Hadash had a strong presence because one of its candidates was from there.

Balad’s Jamal Zahalka, also from the town, had strong backing there as well.

According to Camel, Jaljulya is a strong supporter of Sarsour, but Balad also has a presence there. He said Tira was the same, supporting Sarsour and Tibi, with strong backing for Balad.

He added that those who didn’t vote “feel that their vote won’t change anything.”

He predicted that the Right would win and form a coalition, saying, “There is no Left in Israel, only Right. There is only a difference in the way they speak.”

Surprisingly Camel said, “I don’t care about the territories.

I want my rights as an Israeli citizen and to be treated equally.”

Echoing Balad’s platform, he said he wanted a “democratic state,” separated from religion.


Welcome the Winner/Loser Benjamin Netanyahu

By Dr. Josef Olmert, Huffington Post
January 22,  2013

Exit polls in Israel are usually a reliable reflection of the real results, so judging by these polls PM Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu party ended up, as expected, the largest single party in Israel.

So far so good for Netanyahu? Far from it. The PM suffered a major defeat — there is no other way to describe the loss of at least 10 seats, despite the merger with his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party. Moreover, the results indicate that it is almost politically impossible to establish a new coherent governing coalition, and doing that was the oft-stated goal of the campaign, which was initiated ahead of time by Netanyahu himself. In fact, the current campaign may prove to be just the prelude to a new campaign, sometime in 2013 or early 2014, and Netanyahu can’t be sure that following the clobbering he took today, he will be the candidate for PM in the next elections. So, this may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the veteran, though still young, politician. And it is not just a personal humiliation for him, it may be the beginning of a realignment of Israeli politics, and with it the end of the Likud party as we have known it until now.

The overall trend in this election was towards two new rising stars. One, Naftali Bennett, who is to the right of Netanyahu (whose meteoric ascendancy was predicted here), may end up with a gain of six-eight seats, all at the expense of Likud; and the second, Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party [We have a future], who is the embodiment of the center in Israeli politics.

Lapid is slated to come as second, and he represents an interesting ideological bundling, which may seem odd in the U.S., but not in Israel. Lapid is hawkish on security matters, dovish on the Palestinian issue, very conservative on economic policy, liberal on social questions, and very strongly opposed to the influence of religious parties. Altogether a blend which firmly places him in the very center of Israeli society and politics. Whereas Bennett is firmly on the right side. The fact that Likud lost so heavily to the right is an indication that for the first time since the historic victory of Menachem Begin in 1977, many religious-Zionist voters left Likud and came back to their mother party, the National Religious party, now called, under Bennett, the Jewish Home. Religious voters were one of the solid blocks of voters which traditionally supported Likud. Not having them in the bag is very bad news for the Likud party.

Likud still has quite a few MK who can easily fit into the Jewish Home. Add to this the fact that Netanyahu does not automatically command the loyalty of the MK who are members of Lieberman’s party and we get a PM whose wings are clipped. Titular PM, but with much reduced political clout. What dramatizes the Likud defeat is the loss of votes to the Lapid movement, which drew support from the Russian-based Lieberman party, which is nationalist, but secular and fearful of the power of the Orthodox establishment. When Lieberman went to the merger with Likud, he antagonized many of his own voters, who feared that the united bloc would follow on the Likud line of an alliance with the religious and ultra-religious parties. Many people from the former Soviet Union, firmly in the right wing column on foreign policy issues, deserted the right this time over the fear of these religious parties.

Lapid also gained from the removal of liberal, moderate politicians such as Dan Meridor and Benny Begin from its list of candidates. Another interesting result of the elections is the relative failure of the Labor Party, which may gain some seats, but failed to establish itself as the alternative to Netanyahu. The party adopted a leftist platform on socioeconomic issues, but refrained from a very strong advocacy of dovish foreign policy. The result was that those voters who have the two-state solution as their first priority turned to ultra-left Meretz party. Altogether, the left remains weak, and beyond rejoicing at the defeat of Netanyahu, they have very little to cheer about.

So, the big question for Benjamin Netanyahu is: quo vadis? What government is he going to form? It can’t be the old religious-right coalition, which failed so miserably. A coalition with the center and left is also politically impossible, and a national unity coalition consisting of Likud, Lapid, Bennett, the Labor party and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party is possible mathematically, but not so likely politically. So, adios to the elections of 2013, welcome the elections of 2013… Israeli democracy at a moment of crisis!

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