Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

East is West: Reflections on Electoral Ironies by an Unrepresentative Israeli Voter

(Bumped for discussion – promoted by Peter Jukes)

When I try to encapsulate the extent of the absurdity that animates Israeli politics, I point out how the Israeli electorate divides on the subject of Jerusalem.  A majority opposes any division of Israel’s “eternal capital.”  Most of these folks support the construction of a concrete wall that cuts off neighborhoods of Arab/Palestinian East Jerusalem.  A smaller constituency is ready and willing to divide Jerusalem so that its eastern sectors will be administered by Palestinians, and where they will locate the capital of their state.  These folks generally support the activists who protest the concrete wall and want it torn down.  Those who want the city unified support a bisecting wall.  Those advocating division want it torn down.  

Once upon a time, those advocating for a one state solution – a single, secular, democratic, bi-national republic that was the vision of some of the earliest Zionists – were considered beyond far left, irresponsible utopians who deny political realities and betray the Zionist dream.  Its rejection was thus framed both in pragmatic and ideological terms.  Zionists devoted to creating a new reality once considered impossible and utopian itself cast this concept as alternately impossible and undesirable.  These days, increasingly influential extreme right-wing parties in Israel are working to make a one state solution inevitable.  Of course, they are also committed to maintaining Jewish sovereignty regardless of demographics.  Hence accusations of apartheidism.  At the same time, division of the country into two states has become the new utopianism of an increasingly marginalized left.  Amos Oz recently declared the small left-wing Meretz party the only one that could save political Zionism.  Oz, a novelist, memoirist, and essayist is one of Israel’s foremost literary personalities and a left-wing peace activist who since the 1980s has assumed the role of secular Israel’s Jeremiah, less the prophet’s assurances of redemption on the other side of the coming calamity.  He sees Meretz as the flag bearer of the two state solution and thus the only one that can save Israel as a state that is both Jewish and democratic.  More than that, Oz argues that it’s the only party that can save the full enfranchisement of the Jewish population.  For in his view (or at least his rhetoric), failing to divide the current political geopgraphy into two ethnocratic polities will not result either in right-wing apartheid, which he correctly argues will ultimately prove unsustainable, or left-wing bi-nationalism, but an Arab state where, ostensibly, Jews will be an increasingly marginalized minority.  The one state solution is no longer a utopian dream of the left, but a threatening inevitability with which it fear mongers.  

While two state activists fear monger with suggestions of the coming marginalization of Jews within a single state, fear mongers on the right led by Bibi Netanyahu, whose leadership of the next government is widely considered a foregone conclusion, point to Hamas and argue that if Israel withdraws from the occupied West Bank “Iran will move in.”  So we must not negotiate with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, President of Palestine) who has long been committed to two states, because that will enable Iran to take over through its putative proxies in Hamas.  This position immeasurably strengthens Hamas and renders Abu Mazen’s Fatah party increasingly irrelevant as an alternative.  

The archaic right-wing dream of a sovereign Jewish State in the Greater Land of Israel is ascendant, but no one agrees on what it will lead to.  No one considered serious believes in the political viability of population transfer, or ethnic cleansing as it is known since the Bosnian atrocities.  There’s a small minority among right-wing Zionists that still thinks Palestinians might be encouraged to emigrate through economic incentives, encouraged to “self-deport.”  Most simply keep their heads deep in the sand of romantic nationalist yearnings and nurse their wish that the Arabs will just go away or disappear on their own.  For several generations, Israeli politicians refused to recognize the existence of Palestinian national identity, treating it like the currency of an anti-Semitic conspiracy and a genocidal plot.  This position was recently voiced as a pander by Newt Gingrich during the 2012 Republican presidential primaries when he called Palestinians an “invented people.”  Regardless, wishing them away has never worked in the past.  It won’t work now.  And it’s a deeply unethical wish to begin with.  Dreaming the disappearance of an inconvenient ‘other’ is a genocidal fantasy.  The historical abominations of the last century should inoculate us from such ugly wishes.  Unfortunately, they haven’t.

The likeliest short-term scenario seems an increasing formalization of policies that already resemble apartheid far too much for the left.  If Oz is right regarding the political and economic unsustainability of apartheid (not to mention its lack of moral justifiability), then we are indeed facing an eventual single state.  Bibi thinks two states will invite Iran to Israel’s door-step.  Oz’s worst case scenario projects Israel’s Jews into a Muslim theocracy of some sort, or at least an Arab ethonocracy unified by decades of grievance toward its Jewish minority.  Seems like a fear of chickens coming home to roost.

Leftist utopians, however many remain here, and there aren’t many, could conceivably diverge from Oz’s prediction that the current course will end in an Arab state with the fate of its Jewish minority hanging in the balance.  Accordingly, it would make sense to embrace this as an opportunity to fight for liberalization in what is already a de facto single bi-national state.  Palestinian intellectuals including Sari Nusseibeh, Ali Abunimah, and Saree Makdisi, and others have been advocating this.  Edward Said moved to this position at the end of his life as well.  If so, and the long arc of history indeed bends toward justice, efforts to resuscitate the two state solution are counter-productive.  To go as far left as possible, one must vote as far right as possible.  To get to the left-wing utopia, vote for the right-wing dystopia.  To unify the city on the hill, support those building walls through it.

The Bus Driver

Public transportation in Jerusalem can be a bit of an adventure.  To begin with, Jerusalem is not a city built for buses or car travel, being both mountainous and old.  A recent light rail project has improved pedestrian experience in the center of West Jerusalem, but its routes don’t serve many neighborhoods.  The bus routes are antiquated and ossified in their convolutions, and at the same time admit modification without announcement or explanation.  I have the distinct impression that a few smart modernizing urban planning professionals could analyze the routes and reorganize them, eliminating a third of them but getting everyone where they are trying to go at least 30% faster.  But it’s how most Jerusalemites get around.

My commute is particularly difficult, owing to the fact that the Faculty of the Humanities at Hebrew University, where I am currently a post-doctoral fellow, is located on the Mount Scopus campus.  So my office is situated on a ridge to the northeast of the city between East Jerusalem and the desert that descends toward Jericho, while, for a variety of reasons, my family set up in a southwestern neighborhood for the year.  Given complications of natural topography, political geography, and the inefficiency of human institutions, I could generally make it to Tel Aviv in the same time tha
t it takes me to get to my office.  So I don’t go every day.  When I do, I sit in a small and dingy room with a single yet significant aesthetic advantage.  As I edit an article about a shift in medieval and renaissance English narratives of Jerusalem’s destruction, if I simply turn my head 45 degrees to the right, I am looking down on the golden Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount/Haram el Sharif.  I often stare in that direction as I eat my lunch.

Recently, I returned from Mount Scopus in the late afternoon.  No bus line is particularly convenient, so I alternate between them hoping to find one that is clearly advantageous.  As a result, they all remain unfamiliar.  This time, I find myself stuck in traffic in the narrow streets of the Musrara neighborhood that lies between the northern wall of the Old City and the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood.  Somewhere near the intersection of “The Prophets” and the “Tribes of Israel” (actual translations of the street names) and headed in the direction of the “Camp of Judah” open air market, I approach the bus driver to ask if he winds around back toward “Gaza Road.”  The driver is fit, tan, and middle-aged, with neatly cropped salt and pepper hair, lean cheeks, and slightly sad dark eyes.  Or maybe just tired.  He thinks for a moment and nods yes.  Just as I turn to go back to my seat, a car from behind us whizzes up the opposing lane, which is momentarily free, in a maneuver to leap-frog the traffic.  It’s an obnoxious move that leads to further complication as opposing traffic begins to flow in our direction and the traffic in our lane is so clogged the offending vehicle has no way to squeeze back in.  Now traffic is stopped in both directions.

“Look at that” [I’m paraphrasing from the Hebrew here].  “Do you see that?  This country is rotten to the core.”

It’s a commonplace here that every problem, any gripe no matter how small, is articulated as national in scope.  A few months ago, at an orientation meeting of parents and teachers from my daughter’s 3rd grade class, when the topic of the dress code was broached one of the mothers exclaimed in acute frustration that “it’s no longer possible to find normal length sleeves in this country!”  When I suggest to the bus driver that every country has obnoxious drivers and it’s not necessarily indicative of national rot.  

“I was in the US a few months ago.  You’d never see this kind of behavior there.”

When I tell him that it’s probably more relaxing to drive in Cairo than in areas of Boston, his forms an expression of extreme skepticism.  Regardless, I tell him, it’s not a cultural issue, it’s an administrative one.  If the traffic flow was arranged more efficiently and there were more traffic cops, people would pull these kinds of maneuvers.

“Who has money for more police?”

I suggest that if we didn’t invest all our funds in securing settlements, we’d have more money to increase services.

“Already you’ve gone to the settlements?  The settlers aren’t the problem.”  He points to a small group of ultra-orthodox yeshiva students in their black hats and long coats huddled together as they move down the sidewalk.  “That’s where all the money goes.  Come back here at 9 PM and you’ll see thousands trying to get on the busses.  No room for all of them.  The government just gave them millions more dollars.  And millions more of them are coming.”

The ultra-orthodox are indeed an issue,  They consume services and channel funds and don’t participate significantly in the economy.  As a result, Jerusalem is a poor city in many ways.  When we arrived, I had expected to see things falling apart.  But to tell the truth, the public spaces here have never looked more developed and better tended.  Regardless, despite the real problems the growing ultra-orthodox community poses, they are often an easy target and the extremity of the animus directed at them doesn’t sit well with me.  Mostly, I think it’s a convenient distraction from developing a productive approach to ending the occupation, which is the real social, economic, and moral burden, as well as the greatest political threat to Israel’s future.  When I suggest to the bus driver that elections are coming and he’ll have a chance to vote for parties that are less supportive of the ultra-orthodox, he shakes his head.

“I’ll vote.  Don’t know for whom.  Do you know who you are going to vote for?  Bibi’s accomplished nothing.  They are all in it for themselves.”

Then comes the kicker.

“I can’t vote for the left.  Can’t do it again.  I don’t have the balls for it.  Oslo was enough.  We tried to make an agreement with them and then busses were exploding right here.  Right down this block.  Right in front of my eyes.”

And there it is.  That’s why Bibi will win and likely with a more extreme right-wing coalition.  I consider for a moment pointing out that Oslo did not implement a 2 state solution based on 1967 borders with 1-to-1 land swaps to adjust for demographic shifts, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and with some way to address the refugee problem.  In fact, as is often pointed out to little effect, Jewish settlement accelerated in the aftermath of the Oslo accords that were supposed to trigger a process leading to a sustainable final status.  Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian authority, often uses the analogy of two mice discussing how to divide up a piece of cheese, while one of them is eating it.  But it’s unlikely to cut through the simplistic logic of we were willing to deal with them and they blew up our kids, no matter how many points this misses.  Bus bombings, 7 within the year and a half following the signing of Oslo in 1993, and then the armed violence of the 2nd Intifada that began in 2000, have made it nearly impossible to reason with much of the electorate.  It’s always we tried to talk to them and they blew up our busses and when we pulled out of Gaza they elected Hamas and fired missiles at us.  

“Bibi’s rotten,” the bus driver says.  “The country is rotten.  But at least it has been quiet.”

Who killed the peace process?  Israel’s refusal to halt settlement and proceed to final status negotiations on one side, Palestinian attacks on Jewish civilians on the other.  It may be an oversimplification to explain the attacks as a direct response to Jewish settlement of occupied land and lack of progress toward final status.  But certainly Palestinian frustration bolstered acceptance and support for the attacks.  They aren’t necessarily reciprocal causes, but opportunistic adjacent causes wielded by bad faith actors on each side who don’t really want any sustainable compromise.  

What remains beyond doubt is that Palestinian violence has been harnessed as rationale for continued Israeli settlement and militancy by the right wing.  Violence is rarely understood as emanating from failed Israeli policies, but as evidence of genocidal intent on the part of the occupied population, their real feelings, and thus motivation for even more Spartan militant nationalism and justification for more repression.  The distinction between force and strength is lost.  

Bibi’s election slogan:  A strong Prime Minister for a strong Israel.

My version: A defiant Prime Minister for an embattled Israel.

So where is the opposition?

Two journalists and a politician sit down in the Tel Aviv kitchen of one of their mothers

Sounds like a joke.  But it’s not funny in the least.  A few weeks ago, the three leaders of the biggest so-called center-left parties met in the Tel Aviv kitchen of one of their mothers.  

Dramatis Personae:

Shelly Yachimovich, Chair of the once dominant and now shrunken Israeli Labor Party.  Many believed that Ehud Barak effectively killed th
e party off.  It garnered only 13 seats (out of 120) under his leadership in the last election.  Barak took them into a coalition with Bibi’s Likud, diluting Labor’s brand and lending legitimacy to Bibi’s government.  Eventually, he split the faction taking 4 others with him into a new party, effectively saving Bibi’s coalition.  Barak’s new party is not participating in the current election cycle and Barak has retired.  Yachimovich made a name for herself as an aggressive journalist and television personality.  At one point, she is said to have voted for Hadash, the Jewish-Arab party that grew out of the Israeli communist party.  A few years ago, she entered the Labor Party and embarked on a political career, replacing Barak when he bolted.  A single mother of two, Labor’s major TV ad this cycle focused on how she cooks large quantities and then labels and freezes meals in Tupperware for her kids to microwave.  Yes, all of Israel was supposed to be convinced to support her because she opened her freezer to the country.  She has succeeded, however, in leading Labor back from near political irrelevance.  She has encouraged young activists and increased the number of women on Labor’s slate, which is expected to garner 15-17 seats in the new Knesset, exceeding the party’s total in the past election and doubling its current representation.  But she is doing so by rebranding Labor, the party of Rabin and of Peres, the party of Oslo and Camp David, making almost no mention of the peace process in its campaign.  It’s trying to reinvent itself as according to a social-economic agenda.

Ya’ir Lapid, popular television news anchor and respected journalist, widely considered the epitome of the handsome Israeli man, jumped into this cycle as the latest centrist-pragmatist-non-politician to offer Israel political salvation.  His party, named Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) supports territorial compromise, though not enough to satisfy Palestinian demands.  But its main focus is an appeal to the middle class, undercutting the political power of the ultra-orthodox, eliminating military exemptions for yeshiva students and requiring them to participate in either the IDF or national service programs, education reform, streamlining government, and creating a more hospitable environment for entrepreneurial business growth.  He has no administrative experience, but significant charisma.  He’s already in negotiations with Bibi for a seat in his government.  His party is expected to garner 10-13 seats.  The meeting in question took place in his mother’s kitchen.

Tzipi Livni, once a Likud stalwart who followed Sharon and Olmert into their centrist Kadima party after they belatedly woke up to the coming demographic vexation of Israel’s designation as both a Jewish and a Democratic state.  Livni led Kadima to edging out Likud in the last election by a single seat 28-27, but did not have enough support to form a coalition.  She proceeded to fail dismally as opposition leader.  Eventually, she was ousted from party leadership by her main rival, former head of the IDF Shaul Mofaz.  Instead of remaining in her party and helping build it into something with long-term viability, she resigned.  A few months ago, she founded a new party named Hatnuah, which means “The Movement,” which it isn’t.  And its name casts that fact in stark relief.  It’s not a political movement any more than is Lapid’s Yesh Atid.  It’s a personality-driven coalition of politicians.  Livni succeeded in poaching 2 of the previous 3 leaders of the Labor Party, Yitzhak Peretz and Amram Mitzna. from Labor’s list.  This reflects poorly on all involved.  Peretz and Mitzna look like opportunists, Yachimovich looks like a weak leader who failed to inspire confidence, and Livni looks like she’s cobbling together a collection of well established egos looking for redemption, just like herself.  Whether any of this is true or not, the perceptions created are plausible.  And electoral politics are all about perception.  To her credit, however, Livni is the only one of the three “centrist” leaders who puts resuscitation of the peace process as a top priority.  The projections have Livni’s party at anywhere from 5 to 9 seats.  Kadima, her former party led by Mofaz, is expected to fall from 28 seats to…wait for it…2 or less.  It’s the biggest collapse in Israeli electoral history.  She bears significant responsibility for this.  And just like a list of others before it, it’s a precedent that doesn’t bode well for the futures of Yesh Atid and Hatnuah, this year’s 2 new centrist parties.

Livni convened this kitchen council to suggest 3 avenues of cooperation: 1) a joint call for voters to support any one of their 3 parties; 2) an agreement to enter the coalition either all together or none at all; 3) if in opposition, the leader of the party with the most seats would be acknowledged by the other 2 as opposition leader and they would commit to bringing new elections as rapidly as possible.  All 3 seem constructive and pragmatic points. They would likely attract more votes to their bloc.  Bibi would be forced into a clear choice between the extreme right and religious parties and the center.  In this case, the former would be far more likely, given his agreement to run jointly with extremist Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home).  And they would certainly have a better chance to topple that rightist government in the near future.

Yachimovich and Lapid came ready to shoot Livni down, seeing it as a ploy to boost her own credibility as a responsible leader.  Their motivation in doing so also reflected their divergent goals.  Lapid has been maneuvering for a seat in Bibi’s government for weeks now.  Yachimovich is committed to leading the opposition and threatened by Livni’s stature, having led a party to a 28 seat win and having served as a respected Foreign Minister.  Within hours of the meeting ending, all three were sniping in the press.  Livni complained that they came ready to ambush and reject her.  Lapid and Yachimovich complained that Livni was divulging things said in private.  Livni responded that she only divulged things she had said herself and thus hadn’t violated any confidence.  There was argument about whether Livni came with a “document” or not.  And they all looked increasingly petty and irresponsible.

Two journalists and a politician sit down in the Tel Aviv kitchen of one of their mothers…and walk out looking like irresponsible self-serving egomaniacs.  And in electoral politics, again, perception is everything.

But before descending into lamentation, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, it serves to remember that most members of these parties and a majority of their voters do not likely agree regarding a Palestinian state anyway.  All would grant it the same semantic lip-service that Bibi did 3 and a half years ago in his Bar Ilan University speech.  Bibi called for a Palestinian State indeed.  And he called for immediate and direct negotiations with no pre-conditions or red lines.  Then he proceeded to spend the rest of his speech laying out his red lines, which subsequently seemed pretty much like pre-conditions: Palestinian disarmament, no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, no Palestinian control of their air space, Israeli supervision of their borders, and Israeli authority over any treaties and agreements signed by Palestine with other nations.  Here’s your car.  But you can’t have wheels, fuel, keys, or drive it anywhere.  Still, you’ve got a car.

It’s clear what would satisfy Palestinian aspirations, or at least those of a majority.  They want a state in the West Bank and Gaza based on the 1967 borders with 1-to-1 land swaps to adjust for demographic changes, some conduit linking the two regions, a capital in East Jerusalem, and a right of return for
Palestinian refugees to their state and some monetary compensation for lands lost in 1948.  The Arab League has offered full normalization with all its member states.  Hamas has offered to accept this as a long-term temporary solution.  And it would likely create a situation that is dissuasive regarding their long-term maximalist goals.  Or they might become the new Basques.  But contemporary Spain is still in many ways more peaceful and productive than contemporary Israel.  Normalization and development could go a long way to undercutting popular support for their extremist theocratic dream.  But Israeli support for these parameters, as reasonable as they sound, is weak.  Both the right wing in Israel and Hamas have proven very proficient at undermining any context in which the left might build support.  Many Israelis have their own maximalist wishes.  Why should we give them up if they are going to blow us up in response?  And the lack of any agreement hardens both sides.  

So even if the center solidified under responsible leadership, it would have a tough row to hoe and would need to embrace realities it finds unpalatable.  Yesh Atid will probably sit in Bibi’s government.  If so, it will function more as a shielding flank against the center than a moderating influence.  Hatnuah may do so as well.  Labor will lead the opposition with an eye to increasing its support in the next elections, likely through dissatisfaction with social and economic issues.  It seems unlikely that either of the first 2 parties will play a significant role in the next elections.  Their leaders and supporters will most likely reconfigure themselves into new, more fashionable parties claiming to champion pragmatism.  But if they were truly pragmatic.  They’d join the Labor Party.  It was never really a left wing party with regard to the Palestinians, though it seemed like it might move in that direction in the decade after Oslo.  It’s a Jewish social-democratic party like many we see in western Europe.  And it’s vexed by the fact that when nationalism and liberalism compete in Israel, nationalism wins nearly every time.  The state was founded to provide a home for Jews and as a vessel for Jewish culture and identity.  But when the mechanisms of a liberal nation state are committed to preserving, promoting, and developing a particular identity, it often has difficulty implementing liberal, social-democratic principles.

The American

The new star in the Israeli political firmament is Naftali Bennett, leader of a party called Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home).  This party emerged from the union of The National Religious Party with parties to its right.  The NRP was originally a moderate party of religious Zionists who regularly sat easily and productively in Labor governments.  But its focus began to shift after 1967, when religious Zionists, supported by the Labor Party, began founding settlements all over the West Bank.  Little by little, the activists in the territories pulled it to the right.  Moderate religious Zionists, a shrinking constituency, were pushed out.  Now, its descendent is the political home of right wing religious nationalists.

Bennett was born in the northern city of Haifa to immigrants from San Francisco, a city it is said to resemble.  He served as an officer in various top commando units and after completing a Law degree at Hebrew University, he became Bibi Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff.  But he ultimately decided that Likud was too centrist for him and rose quickly in Habayit Hayehudi.  Some people significantly to the left of him find him both charismatic and attractive for some reason.  Perhaps because he is younger and seems nicer than Avigdor Lieberman and profits by comparison.  

Bennett has worked hard to present his party as something other than a wing of the settlement movement.  He produced commercials prioritizing education, and specifically quality Jewish education for both religiously observant and secular Israelis.  He supports drafting the ultra-orthodox in some fashion and is so certain that he will play a major role in Bibi’s administration that he has felt comfortable assuring the public that no agreement will be signed under Bibi.  He has some ground to do so, as he has poached significant votes from the Likud and is projected to lead a faction of 11-15 seats.  That is unless Bibi were to form a coalition with all three center-left parties and a religious party, something his indicted partner Avigdor Lieberman would never allow, even if he is convicted.  Bennett had one major misstep a while back when he voiced the position that he’d prefer to go to jail than to evacuate a single settlement.  This caused a furor, as it was seen as incitement for soldiers to disobey orders.  I received it in agreement.  I’m happy to evacuate settlements.  Putting Bennett in jail would be a welcome bonus.

The growing popularity of Bennett and his party, even beyond the settlement movement, attests to the degree to which Israelis have abdicated Jewish identity to citizenship in the state.  Where religious nationalists see citizenship as an expression of their religious identities, secular nationalists often see it as a replacement of sorts.  Hence a potential paradox: the more Bennett succeeds in investing state mechanisms, including public education, with the task of identity construction, the more secular Jewish identity is likely to atrophy.  If the Israeli left struggles in part because it does not speak sufficiently in the terms of Jewish history, culture, and tradition, even seeming to disdain them at turns as inherently chauvinistic, the right works to solidify its hold on the terms of that identity.  But there is no reason why a party cannot address itself to the cultural and historical context of 80% of its citizens, even to the religious heritage that has played a central role in its history, while still championing liberalism.  The trick is to enlist voters whose identities are informed by a commitment to Jewish history and culture in the struggle for a state that respects it without dictating it.  Otherwise, the left plays into the right’s program of melding right wing politics with the very idea of Jewishness.  And the left will always position voters who might otherwise be persuaded by left-wing policy arguments in conflict with their basic identities.  From what I’ve seen, the more identity is invested in the machinery of the nation state, the worse it is both for the nation state and for that identity.  This makes Bennett the worst of all possible worlds: a militant nationalist devoted to further institutionalization of identity.  And he is the flavor of the month.

The Activists

A week and a half ago, on Fri. in the early afternoon, I take my 6-year-old to our favorite pastry shop on “Valley of the Spirits” street, the main commercial artery of our neighborhood, to purchase rugelach for the approaching Sabbath.  As we cross back on our way home, I notice 3 Hadash activists in their late 20s handing out information.  All 3 are a little scruffy, 1 has floppy hair, and 2 sport well chosen eye wear.  I approach them and compliment them on their efforts.  It’s a fairly thankless area of the country for a non-Zionist, Jewish-Arab Communist (though really social-democratic) party.  They are friendly and energetic, without seeming strident.  I tell them that I’m debating between Hadash and Meretz.  They immediately smile and nod.  I tell them that I have great respect for Barakeh and Khenin, the first and third members on their slate, and that I also have great respect for Gal-On, the leader of Meretz.  They immediately respond “us too!”  

What follows is something remarkable.  When I ask them why, from their perspective, it’s better to vote for Hadash than for
Meretz, they respond succinctly with clear points, none of which disparage their chief competitor.  Nothing negative at all.  They outline two major differences: 1) Although Meretz has Arab members, Hadash is explicitly a joint Jewish-Arab party and 2) Hadash is clearly and officially a socialist party.  Meretz supports many social-democratic policies, but it’s not committed to socialism in the same way.  Then I ask them why the most explicit Jewish-Arab party is also the one that invented the slogan “two states for two peoples,” which was quite controversial at the time.  I told them I read an interview with Khenin where he argued that a 2 state arrangement was necessary for socio-political reasons, because Israel has a first world economy and the occupied territories have something closer to a third world economy.  According to him, combining them formally and officially would lead to an explosion.  But, I told them, I remained unconvinced.  They argue that a single state arrangement will lead to even greater economic exploitation of Palestinians.  When I ask them why extending equal citizenship to all the inhabitants of the area “from the river to the sea” wouldn’t create a framework in which we might more effectively address disparities, equality before the law enabling the pursuit of equal economic opportunity and a clear context for confronting abuse, they don’t have a compelling answer.  

They might be right.  They might not.  But neither I nor them has a well-developed argument on the question of which arrangement would advance civil and social equality.  In my view, the single most compelling reason to support 2 states is that a majority of Palestinians aspire to that form of self-determination.  Given their experience over the past 6 decades, it seems inappropriate to deny them the same thing Jews have “enjoyed” here, even if I think it’s potentially the less advantageous route for all involved.  Unlike Bibi and his polar opposite, Amos Oz, I don’t think a one state solution with equality for all under the law would necessarily be a calamity, or even disadvantageous for Jews here.  I think it would bring liberalization, economic opportunity and development, and it might invigorate Jewish identity here by detaching it from state institutions.  I don’t think it would be smooth at all.  But I think it would ultimately prove beneficial for all involved.  Regardless, as long as Palestinians seek a nation state, telling them that 2 ethnocratic nationalisms aren’t actually better than 1 seems obnoxious and anti-ethical.  

Surveys consistently indicate majority support for the 2 state solution in Israel.  Sometimes upward of 60%.  I remain skeptical.  First of all, nothing is at stake in an opinion poll.  It seems the reasonable thing in theory, so supporting it appears the correct answer.  The fact that many believe it unattainable likely makes it a safe answer in their eyes as well.  Secondly, what many of them consider a viable Palestinian state and a reasonable outcome likely would fall far far short of what is acceptable to Palestinians.  Many, I think, intend something that resembles what Bibi outlined at Bar Ilan 3 and a half years ago.  If they really wanted it, they’d vote for it.  And most won’t.

The most interesting and optimistic development

Elections can reveal moral bankruptcy and they can reveal political dysfunction.  They can do one without the other.  This election testifies to both.  Perhaps the left wing will begin to pick itself up.  Ari Shavit, the Haaretz columnist, recently argued that the left has made a critical mistake in pursuing the peace process, instead of focusing their arguments more squarely on the damage the occupation is doing to all involved.  And this seems astute.  As long as things are quiet on the West Bank, where Salaam Fayyed, the highly effective Palestinian Prime Minister has cracked down on violence and concentrated on economic development and institution building, the abuses of the occupation fade from Israeli consciousness.  Here’s the bind in which Israeli public opinion puts Palestinian activists: when things are quiet, they vote for the party that seems to have brought them quiet, but when violence erupts, it looks to the same parties to enforce quiet.  While the former might create long-term possibilities for the Israeli left to build credibility with the electorate, the occupation remains in many ways intolerable, and if tolerable, not something anyone should be demanded to tolerate.

But something unprecedented occurred this week.  The Arab League called upon Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to vote in the election.  It has never done this before.  Opinion surveys have suggested that the Arab sector was headed for its lowest turnout.  For obvious reasons, Arabs have always voted at lower rates than Jews, often at around 50%.  If they voted even at 75%, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a right-wing government.  More participation would be healthy for Israel, but also for addressing the occupation.  It would be Bibi’s nightmare.  Lieberman and Bennett would be forced to pursue more anti-democratic disenfranchising legislation, handing the left an issue and forcing those in the center to face some of Israel’s inner contradictions.  If you ask me, the higher Arab turnout at the polls, the better for the Jews.


  1. I went to Hebrew U. in Jerusalem for a year… It is sort of nice to hear about it again.

    Thanks for the perspective on things.

    Where do you think Livni comes out in all of this?

  2. Its the Supreme Court Stupid

    in attempting to hang on to the settlements, they have increasingly converted Eretz Israel to Ersatz Israel.

  3. Strummerson

    might slip below 30 seats.  Both Lapid and Bennett seem to be closing in on 20.  Shas leaders are praying to remain above 10.

    But the right-religious bloc is still projected to have more than 61 seats, a governing majority.

    If things go this way, I’d be surprised if Labor doesn’t underwhelm projections and come in as the 4th largest party.  Huge blow to Yachimovich’s effort to resuscitate Labor.  Maybe she should have talked about the occupation instead of the contents of her freaking freezer…

  4. from 1985 to 1988.  

    Very sad to see that the bad things I foresaw are coming to pass.

    I really think, though, that the ultra-Orthodox are the most intractable of Israel’s major problems. Netanyahu, though not himself ultra-Orthodox (or even, as far as I know, Orthodox at all) is a symptom of this; the settler problem is more obviously a symptom of this.

    Unfortunately, the fanatics on all sides are in charge of their factions. .  

  5. Strummerson

    Likud beitenu – 31

    Yesh Atid – 18

    Labor – 17

    Bayit Yehudi (Bennett) – 12

    Shas – 11

    Hatnuah (Livni) – 7

    Meretz – 7 (I’ll take it)

    Yahadut Hatorah (ultras) – 6

    Kadima didn’t make it.  Well done Mofaz.

    Hadash and Arab list not reported.

    The Kahanist Otzmah L’yisrael got 2

  6. Mnemosyne

    thanks for making the effort. Like so many, I can’t make any sense of Israeli (or most of middle-east) politics, so this will help a lot. Have to read again more carefully.

  7. blue jersey mom

    Israel in the late 80s, but I have not been back in a while. I did manage to meet Peres and shake his hand on the street in West Jerusalem back in about 1988. I am headed to a conference in Haifa in June. I have been trying to follow the electoral politics, but the coverage in almost non-existent here.

  8. This topic for a variety of reasons, but you’ve pulled me back in with this… Agree with some and not with others.

    As you and I have discussed before, I believe the only path to peace on the Israeli side is by comoletely overhauling the their political system. From district allocations, proportional representation and reducing parties. This is the only way to stop the inmates from controlling asylum.

    Btw, nice to see you!

    (Did you happen to catch Rula Jebreal on Bill Maher this past weekend? Awesome)

  9. auron renouille

    very thoughtful post.  Thank you.

    A couple of my personal thoughts:

    1) People underestimate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Regardless of the actual situation around them, if people don’t feel safe, or they feel that a certain choice or series of choices will lead to a lack of safety, the rest goes out the window.  So you’re certainly better positioned to understand this than others but I think people underestimate that baseline of fear that is present with many who live in Jerusalem or in the south, the idea that a bus or café´could blow up at any time or that a rocket could be fired at any time.  Is it statistically likely that any given person would suffer those kinds of attacks?  Not at all.  But I don’t think that dry statistics are very convincing.  So people will be voting their fears for a long time to come, and I can understand that.  It’s not helpful, in the same way that a panicked crowd looking to escape a room will stampede some of its members.  But it’s perfectly understandable.

    2) A one-state solution sounds attractive to those on the left who believe in racial harmony and reconciliation but let’s be honest with ourselves here.  Demographics are as certain as death and taxes, and I think Jews in Israel would have a lot to fear from a single state, no matter how many protections are afforded.  The well was poisoned many times over the last hundred years by more people than I can count – two states are needed for a lasting peace, and when people start talking about one-state models, I mentally – and emotionally – tune out.

    Anyhow, I feel like part of the problem in Israel, in addition to the demographic problem of having so many religious settlers voting and so many Haredi living off state resources, is that I suspect there’s an underlying feeling that your own vote does not matter, in no small part because of all of the electoral intrigue – people changing parties, creating new parties, switching to old parties… when you vote for a list, you expect people on that list to stay where they are, not throw themselves into palace intrigue.  I’d certainly be a cynical voter if I were there.

    And, to get back to my original point, like you’ve noted, the argument that Israel has seen, at least within her borders, relative peace, is a compelling one.  We told people that voting for Obama was, in part, a referendum on the Bush administration.  Is a vote for or against Likud and the national religious a referendum on the safety and security of the past few years?

    Very frustrating stuff.  I’ve become disillusioned.  But I know that the pendulum will swing back around again.

  10. Strummerson

    With 99% counted:

    Likud-Beytenu 31

    Yesh Atid 19

    Labor 15

    Shas 11

    Jewish Home 11

    United Torah Judaism 7

    Hatnua 6

    Meretz 6

    Ra’am Ta’al 5

    Hadash 4

    Balad 3

    Kadima 2

    I we count Lapid’s Yesh Atid as part of the center-left-Arab bloc, then it has 60 seats and the Right-Religious bloc has 60.

    Everyone here seems to be focusing on Likud’s massive slide, but that Bibi’s still in the driver’s seat.  Actually, Lapid is in the driver’s seat.  Unless Livni takes Hatnuah into that right-religious bloc, without Lapid Bibi can’t get to 61.  As much as I dislike Lapid and Yesh Atid, he’s got to be credited with undermining Bibi as a “strong PM for a strong Israel.”  Without Yesh Atid, Likud would be stronger.  No question.  Now Bibi’s beholden to anyone and everyone.  No party will serve the purpose of “broadening the coalition.”  They are all essential and they’ll all make demands.  There’s a very minimal chance of a deadlock leading to new elections.  But my guess is that Bibi gets both Lapid and Shas on board fairly quickly.  They’ve both got the most to gain.  That would get him to 61 and others would belly up to the table.

    I don’t know exactly how arrogant Lapid is.  Does he actually think he’s capable of leading a government?  If so, and he’s got skills we haven’t seen for a long time, he might have a path to the Prime Ministership.  But I doubt it.  Does he demand the Foreign Ministry?  Does he demand the Economics portfolio?  Does he have the skills for either?  What would he be able to do as FM in a Likud government, possibly with Bennett’s party?  

    And as I wrote in the diary, I really doubt that Lapid himself, if he could do whatever he wanted, would be willing to do enough to close a deal with the Palestinians.  I don’t see him agreeing to a capital in East Jerusalem.  I don’t see him signing on to any of the Geneva Accord or comparable maps.  And if I’m wrong here, neither would Bibi…or Shelly…or Tzipi.

    The big word in the coverage last night was “drama.”  If anyone seized on it for a drinking game, they’ve alcohol poisoning this morning.  Drama drama drama.  But I don’t expect significant change with regard to the single central issue that shapes life here.  This election will not end the occupation.

    There’s one thing that would peacefully change the game here.  A popular public drive of Palestinians in the territories applying for and demanding Israeli citizenship.  That would force these ‘centrists’ to an agreement, or they’d be faced with a civil rights movement with little moral ground to resist, or they’d have to admit them and there would be a significant Arab bloc in the Knesset that would push for 2 states from within.

    As I ended this diary on electoral ironies, from where I sit, the more Arabs that vote the better for the Jews.

  11. Strummerson

    is that Bibi will form a National Unity government with Yesh Atid, Labor, and Hatnuah.  That would make for an ostensibly stable coalition of 71 seats.  But Likud would be neglecting its ‘natural partners.’  And remember that Likud is now Likud Beitenu, a joint list with Lieberman’s people.  Even if the “centrists” aren’t willing to do what it takes to get to a 2 state solution, most members of Bibi’s joint list aren’t willing to do anything near what the “centrists” are.  The fact that it’s moot won’t get in the way of rightists standing on their nationalist principles.

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