Bleak choices facing Israel
Sunday 20 January 2013
Israel will hold elections Tuesday – and it doesn’t look good.
For lack of any debate over the issues the media pundits are reduced to discussing the quality of the election broadcasts. Some are good, some indifferent, some atrocious.
It seems like a contest between spin doctors, copywriters, “strategists” and such, with the public as mere bystanders.
People I meet tell me they don’t know who to vote for – and then ask the question I dread: “Who do you advise me to vote for?”
I have closely followed every one of the 18 Knesset elections held so far except the first, when I was a soldier. In several I was a candidate.
And I can say now that there is an imperative to vote in Israel this year. This is not about “civic duty” or anything vacuous like that. It is a necessity.
A non-vote is a vote for Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, pure and simple. As it looks now, more than half the members of the 19th Knesset will belong to the extreme right – at least a dozen of them honest-to-goodness fascists.
Not to vote is to abandon parliament to these people. This is especially true of Arab citizens – polls predict almost half of them won’t vote at all.
The reasons are understandable – a protest against the “Jewish” state, against blatant discrimination, despair of Israel’s ability to change.
But abstention is shooting yourself in the foot. The situation is dire now, but it can still become much, much worse. The Supreme Court – which, by comparison with the Knesset, has a tradition of protecting Arab rights – will be cowed into impotence. Discriminatory laws will proliferate – in fact, some on the right are now openly talking of denying Arabs the right to vote. Why grant them their wish voluntarily?
So, vote. But for whom?
My method is to write down all the election lists in a random order, then strike out all those I wouldn’t vote for if my life depended on it. That’s the easy bit.
First, Likud-Beitenu. Likud alone was bad enough. The addition of Avigdor Lieberman‘s Israel-Beteinu makes it even more destructive.
I agree with US President Barack Obama that Netanyahu is leading us to certain disaster. His total rejection of peace, the obsession with illegal settlements on Palestinian land, the deepening occupation – all these are turning Israel into an apartheid state. Already the outgoing Knesset has passed abominable, anti-democratic laws. Now all the “moderate” Likud members have been purged the process will accelerate.
With Lieberman and his acolytes joining Likud the situation becomes more dangerous still. Netanyahu will act even more extremely for fear of losing the leadership to Lieberman, now his number two.
The emergence of Naftali Bennett as the star of the elections makes things even more desperate. It seems a rule of the Israeli right that no-one is so extreme that you can’t find someone worse.
The next group to strike off the list is a religious one. It consists mainly of two parties, the Ashkenazi “Torah Jewry” and the Sephardi Shas.
Both used to be quite moderate in matters of peace and war, but those days are long gone. Generations of a narrowly ethnocentric, xenophobic education have spawned a leadership of nationalist rightists. Bennett too was brought up in this camp.
As if their aggression towards Palestinians was not enough these parties want to impose the Jewish Halacha law, essentially the equivalent to the Muslim Sharia. They oppose almost automatically anything progressive – a written constitution, separation between synagogue and state, civil marriage, same-sex marriage, abortion … off the list.
Then we come to the self-styled “centrist” parties.
The largest is the Labour Party under Shelly Yachimovich, which is polling at around 15 per cent.
I’ve never liked her but that shouldn’t influence my vote. She has taken a moribund party and reinvigorated it.
The trouble is she has also helped to eradicate peace from the national agenda. She has made overtures to the settlers and their allies.
She pays obligatory lip-service to the two-state solution, but has done nothing to further it.
She has promised not to join a Netanyahu-Lieberman government, but experience tells us not to take such pledges too seriously. There’s always a “national emergency” lurking round the corner.
Even if she keeps her word a peace-denier can do a lot of damage from the opposition benches. So Labour’s not for me.
Yachimovich’s main competitor is Tzipi Livni. On the face of it she’s the opposite – her main and almost sole election plank is the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Fine, but Livni and her former boss Ehud Olmert were in power for almost four years, during which they started two wars (Lebanon II and Cast Lead) and didn’t make any progress towards peace. Why trust her now?
I have never heard Livni utter a single word of sympathy or compassion for the Palestinian people. My suspicion is that she is interested in an endless “peace process,” not peace itself.
Then we have another interesting character – Ya’ir Lapid.
What does he stand for? Well, he’s a former TV personality who looks good on TV. He reminds me of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.”
For me he is “Lapid lite” compared to his late father “Tommy” Lapid, who also moved from TV to politics. Father Lapid was a more complicated character – likeable in personal contact, very offensive on TV, an extreme rightist in national affairs and an extreme enemy of the religious camp.
His son just wants to be a minister under Netanyahu. Not for me.
The Arab national lists are clearly not pitching for Jewish votes, meaning they’re doomed to impotence. Which leaves us with two potential lists which might deserve a vote – Hadash and Meretz.
Both are close to what I believe in – they are actively engaged in the struggle for peace with the Palestinians and social justice at home.
How to choose?
The driving force in Hadash is the Communist Party. Should that deter me?
I’ve never been a communist. I’d say I was a social-democrat. I have many memories of the Communist Party in the cold war, some positive, some negative. I don’t like Stalinism and they were once Stalinist. But that’s not the point. We’re voting for the future, not the past.
Hadash is a joint Arab-Jewish party, in fact the only one. This is enormously to its credit.
Sadly for the majority of Israelis it is viewed as an “Arab” party, since 95 per cent of its voters are Arabs. It does have a Jewish Knesset member, the very active and commendable Dov Hanin. If he headed a list of his own he could have attracted many young voters and conceivably changed the electoral landscape.
Then there’s Meretz. There is something old and dreary about this party. It says all the right things about peace and social justice, democracy and human rights. But there are no new ideas, no new slogans.
A large number of leading intellectuals, writers and artists have come out for Meretz. The party has taken great pains not to list leftists without clear Zionist credentials though.
A significant presence in the Knesset for either Hadash or Meretz would still change Israel for the better. But neither is likely.
The day after these disastrous elections the effort to create a new landscape must begin. Never again should we be faced with this dilemma.
Let’s hope that next time we have the chance to vote with enthusiasm for a dynamic party that embodies our convictions and our hopes.
A party that can change the appalling course of Israeli politics.
Uri Avnery is founding member of Gush Shalom and a former member of the Knesset.