There’s never a dull moment in the Israel Ward of the Middle East Insane Asylum. In Gaza they’re still counting corpses while reporters, banned from the territory during the military campaign, climb over the rubble, interviewing people and trying to reconstruct what happened over the previous month. Meanwhile, over here in Israel, we’re on to the next big drama – national elections.
The pollsters are causing liberals and social democrats to reach for the anti-anxiety meds. Apparently Likud, led by Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu (a.k.a. the worst prime minister in the history of Israel, a little factoid won’t distract the amnesiacs who plan to vote for him) is poised to win the most seats, in which case he would have an opportunity to show us all that he hasn’t changed one bit since the last time he was prime minister. Given that Avigdor (Yvet) Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu seems set to win an unprecedented number of seats, Bibi would probably ask him to join the coalition – in return for important ministries like…never mind, I don’t want to think about it.
So, quick summary for readers unfamiliar with Israeli politics:
- There are 120 seats in the Knesset
- The governing party or coalition must have a minimum of 61 seats (most seek about 70, to minimize the risk of rebellious coalition members withdrawing and leading to collapse of the government)
- Israel’s fragmented multi-party system, with many small parties holding only two or three seats, means that no one party ever wins an absolute majority of seats
- That means that the head of the party which wins the plurality of seats gets to be prime minister – after he woos a bunch of smaller parties to join his/her coalition, usually in exchange for important ministries (defense, education, finance, absorption) and/or a budget for projects important to their constituents (e.g., Shas is always after a bigger child allowance for their poor, religious and fecund Mizrachi constituents).
- Right now, the three most important parties are, in ascending order, Labor (Barak), Kadima (Livni) and Likud (Netanyahu). According to Maariv newspaper’s latest poll, Yisrael Beiteinu would win 16 seats and Labor 17.
- Full results of the Maariv poll: Likud 28, Kadima 23, Labor 17, Yisrael Beiteinu 16, Shas 10.
So in effect, the two main candidates for prime minister are Bibi Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni.
Here’s a photo I took last year of Ehud Barak, just after he cast his vote for the Labor party leadership. Note
the smarmy, self-satisfied expression.
The broadcast authority allots each party a certain amount of television air time time for its campaign advertisements; and it is not possible to buy more time. So this election season, they are uploading their clips to YouTube and posting them on their party websites. Below is a selection of a few that caught my attention.
This is a clip of Bibi Netanyahu making a speech that’s all about strength: “Over the past few weeks, we have proven that we have a strong nation (refering to the Gaza campaign); we have proven that we have a strong army (ditto); now we need one more thing – a strong government.” (woo hoo! let’s be macho and kick lots of butt!) Check out Bibi’s website for more video clips; and while you’re there, check out his use of social media. Notice that his campaign is all about security, with little-to-no mention of social issues.
Lieberman does not have any campaign advertisements posted on his website, so I thought I’d bring you a charming little clip that I found on YouTube. It shows Yvet telling an Arab Member of Knesset that only he (Lieberman) understands the Arabs, and that Hamas would “take good care” of the Arab MK. It’s subtitled, so you can all enjoy the full racist horror.
Tzipi Livni’s campaign commercial actually depressed me the most. A blurry, unrecognizable figure moves through various corridors of power, surrounded by bodyguards and important-looking people, as the narrator says, “He was a decorated army officer. He served in the Mossad. He served as head of the Government Companies Authority. He was the Minister of Regional Security, Minister of Absorption and Justice Minister. He was Foreign Minister, a member of the security cabinet and substitute prime minister. He led international diplomacy efforts. No one would doubt that he could be prime minister – if he weren’t….a woman (as the pixels clear and Tzipi’s face is revealed).”
In other words, Tzipi is really a man – except s/he has a vagina and breasts.
Okay, enough of the gloomy stuff. Let’s look at Hadash‘s campaign (Hadash is the Arab-Jewish Socialist party – Wikipedia entry here). Unlike the previous clips, which are in Hebrew with Russian subtitles, Hadash’s message is in Hebrew and Arabic with simultaneous subtitles in either language. This makes sense, since Arabic is Israel’s second official language and Russian is not an official language at all. In practice, however, the main parties know they have to appeal to the huge Russian immigrant population; they know they won’t get the popular Arab vote, although shady “vote contractors” regularly “buy” the votes of some Arab villages by offering the mukhtar, or clan leader, various benefits that they should have already had, but were denied due to neglect. During last year’s Labor primaries, for example, Infrastructure Minister Fuad Ben Eliezer (Labor) ordered the electricity company to hook some small villages up to the national grid (!) in exchange for their votes. The secular urban Arab vote tends to go to Hadash, Ram Ta’al or Balad.
Summary of the Hadash clip: a bunch of people (Arabs and Jews) say “obviously!”, then “obviously Hadash!” They trot out their platform/slogans: “two states for two nations”; workers’ rights; women’s rights; social justice; the leading force against the occupation; political left; social left; the real left; the party that achieved clean air legislation and a law granting women extended maternity benefits; the first to oppose the Second Lebanon War; the first to lead the opposition to the Gaza military campaign; the only list that has true cooperation between Jews and Arabs.
And now we come to the true piece de resistance. It’s the campaign advert for the Holocaust Survivors and Green Leaf (legalization of cannabis) party. I’m not making this up, people. This is a real party. The clip is subtitled, except for the first caption, which reads “this number – i.e., a concentration camp tattoo number - is not good for credit”. Please move your liquids away from your computer before watching.
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