Israel votes (& Washington Post latest to report IDF didn’t hit Gaza school)

February 09, 2009

* Israeli election polls show Kadima, Likud now almost neck and neck
* A Likud-Kadima-Labor government: better for Israelis and Palestinians alike
* Senior British diplomat arrested in London after saying Jews and Israelis “should be wiped off the face of the earth”



1. Washington Post latest to report that Israel didn’t hit Gaza school
2. Time magazine finally reports about Hamas’s summary executions
3. Why mainstream Israelis should vote
4. Too many parties, not conducive to good governance
5. Here today, gone tomorrow
6. The benefits for Israelis and Palestinians of national unity
7. A Kadima-Yisrael Beitenu coalition?
8. Netanyahu: a workable two state solution, not a phony one
9. But won’t that cause a humanitarian catastrophe?
10. A key election issue: did war end too soon?
11. Livni vs. Livni
12. Holocaust survivors’ party teams up with pro-marijuana offshoot
13. Senior British diplomat arrested over anti-Semitic gym tirade
14. A long list of parties

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


This is an update to previous dispatches on this list.

On Saturday, The Washington Post became the latest paper to acknowledge that its reporting on Gaza in January was incorrect.

Its story on Saturday, by Middle East correspondent Griff Witte, was headlined “U.N. Says School in Gaza Where 43 Died Wasn’t Hit by Israeli Fire.”

To his credit, Witte actually went to the scene, and seems to have talked to a number of different people.

However, the story was hidden on the paper’s inside pages of the Saturday edition, which is by far the least read edition of the week. I don’t recall the original incorrect coverage of the Jan. 6 incident, which was highly unfair to Israel, being tucked away on the inside pages of The Washington Post.


As previously reported on this website, leading news publications in Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany and elsewhere have already informed readers that media coverage of events in Gaza in January grossly misrepresented Israel’s actions.

Readers of papers like The New York Times and The Guardian and viewers of broadcasters like BBC and CNN International have yet to be told this.

(The BBC’s most prominent channel, BBC One (which usually has entertainment programs), is broadcasting what I have been told will be yet another viciously anti-Israeli program on its prime time schedule tonight: ‘Gaza: Out of the Ruins’ by its notoriously biased Chief Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen at 8.30pm. The BBC has been heavily promoting the program in advance. Please see also the item further down this dispatch about greatly increased anti-Semitism in Britain generated at least in part by highly inaccurate British media coverage of Israel.)



Also on Saturday Feb. 7, Time magazine posted on its website the news that Hamas is “punishing [political opponents] by summary execution or shooting off their kneecaps.” That news was reported on this website over a month earlier. However, the Time article still stated that “over 1,300 Palestinians” died in the war without mentioning that many impartial observers say that the Hamas figure of 1,300 is a substantial exaggeration.

Also over the weekend, the independent Palestinian-run Ma’an news agency confirmed the reports outlined in my dispatches of last month. Ma’an wrote: “Hamas has used hospitals and clinics in Gaza as interrogation and detention centers, where medical staffers have been expelled.”


The Palestinian-run Centre for Human Rights reported in a press release yesterday (February 8) that yet another Palestinian has been tortured to death by Hamas in a Gaza hospital. The PCHR named him as Jameel Shafiq Shaqqura, 51, from Khan Yunis.

So-called human rights groups in the West, as well as the Red Cross, seem to have nothing to say about the fact that Gaza hospitals they helped fund are being used as torture centers by Hamas.



Tomorrow, Israel holds general elections.

Hundreds of Israelis subscribe to this email list, and thousands more visit this website (according to data provided by the server).

This is the fifth time in a decade that Israelis have been asked to go to the polls, and the gaps in policy positions between the three main parties (Likud, Kadima and Labor) are much narrower than they used to be. So it is understandable that as many as 30 percent of potential voters have been telling pollsters that they have yet to decide which party to support, and record numbers may in the end stay home and abstain.

I would urge them not to. Even if they can’t decide which of the main three more centrist parties (Likud, Kadima and Labor) to support, it is well worth voting for one of them in order to keep smaller special interest parties from gaining too many seats.



Groups supporting special-interest parties (such as the religious, or pensioners, or settlers, or far left or far right parties, or the ethnically Sephardi Shas party) are much more likely to turn out and vote.

Israel’s overly-democratic electoral system makes it easy for small parties to gain entrance to parliament. If centrist “mainstream” Israelis don’t turn out, these smaller parties will again gain a disproportionate allocation of seats, meaning it will be all the more difficult for whoever wins the election to govern efficiently and effectively.

The winner will have to build an even wider coalition, pandering to the demands of small interest groups, and making it very difficult to concentrate on getting anything of major importance done – whether tackling the economy, dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, trying to achieve a lowering of tensions and greater peace and coexistence with the Palestinians, or engaging in long-term infrastructural projects such as building a train system in Tel Aviv.

An unstable Israeli government is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the region.

An array of 33 parties will compete for 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. I attach that complete, extraordinarily long list at the end of this dispatch. There are even three rival green parties.



The present system allows small parties to come and go with ridiculous speed.

For example, in the 2003 Israeli election, a party called Shinui (the Hebrew word for “change”) surged in the polls and gained 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament. (Shinui was standing on one issue only, to reduce the influence of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties.)

It didn’t last long. In the next election, Shinui all but disappeared. Israel’s undecided voters moved on to the latest fashionable cause: young people voted in huge numbers for a party claiming to represent pensioners.



If mainstream voters turn out in force tomorrow, then a centrist coalition may well emerge with only three parties in it: Likud, Kadima and Labor, the very same three parties that have an interest in changing Israel’s electoral system to make it much harder for small parties to gain parliamentary representation.

(Small parties should then form interest or lobby groups as they do in other democracies instead of actually holding Knesset seats and making it extremely difficult for larger parties to govern.)

In the past, smaller parties have made budgetary and policy demands that have torpedoed Israeli coalitions, including Netanyahu’s previous administration in 1999.

The current system leads to chronic instability and governments that don’t complete their terms and constantly have to do deals with smaller parties to hang on to power.

My own prediction is that if the Likud wins, its leader Benjamin Netanyahu will form a coalition with Labor and Kadima and he will invite Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to stay on as foreign minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak, who is intimately knowledgeable about the Iran issue, to stay on as defense minister.

Netanyahu, from what I can tell, would prefer to form a centrist coalition rather than a rightist one. He does not want to clash with U.S. President Barack Obama, especially since the Iranian nuclear issue is the gravest threat Israel has faced in decades. He also wishes to stabilize the economy, which is best served by national unity.

My hope is that he would choose a non-politician as finance minster, such as the internationally respected governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer. (Fischer was formerly Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and has been a candidate for head of the World Bank.)



Polls show the anti-establishment Yisrael Beitenu party, or “Israel Is Our Home” party, led by Moldovan-born Avigdor Lieberman, has been gaining strong ground.

Polls suggest Yisrael Beitenu could replace Labor as Israel’s third-largest party.

Yisrael Beitenu is generally viewed as a right-wing party (though some of its policies are left-wing). It formed part of the previous coalition under Kadima’s former leader Ehud Olmert.

If Kadima wins tomorrow’s election, Tzipi Livni may well once again invite Yisrael Beitenu – rather than Likud – into government.

This would be unwise in my opinion, not least because Netanyahu is far and away the most able politician in Israel regarding the economy.



As part of their Israeli election coverage I was asked to provide a quote on Netanyahu for ConservativeHome, the influential website of choice for Tory Members of Parliament and policy-makers in Britain and America.

The following was published:

Tom Gross, the former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, says “Netanyahu is often vilified in the media as being against a two-state solution. In fact he is open to the creation of a Palestinian state but only if it is a durable state that will live peaceably with Israel. And for this, Netanyahu argues, you can’t simply wave a magic wand at some fancy signing ceremony on the White House lawn and say ‘hey presto’ – which is exactly what leftist politicians tried to do at the Oslo signing ceremony in 1993.

“First the Palestinians need to do the hard work of building institutions that would allow such a state to succeed – a functioning economy, the rule of law, and so on. And Netanyahu is very willing to offer Israeli assistance in building such mechanisms.”



In general, the war in Gaza has given a bigger lift to Israel’s right wing parties than to those in power.

Almost completely unreported by the international media, Palestinian rockets and mortars continue to be fired daily into Israel. Among the rockets yesterday was another large grad that hit Ashkelon.

With one million Israelis still under the threat of Hamas rockets, many are angry with Livni and Barak for bowing to international pressure and ending the war too soon before the rockets had stopped and before the IDF had been given time to destroy the arms-smuggling tunnels.

Also yesterday, an American college student was knifed by three Palestinians in the old town of Jerusalem after he asked for directions.

The Egyptian newspaper al-Gomhuria reports this morning (Monday) that a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas is expected to be signed within the next 48 hours.



Tzipi Livni’s brother Eli Livni has surprised the Kadima leader by meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and then announcing “I’m with the Likud.”



Sometimes smaller parties have joined together for campaigning purposes. For example, here is a joint advertisement for the Green Leaf (pro-Cannabis) Graduates party, and the Holocaust Survivor’s party.

Personally, I find it offensive to link a generally trivial issue such as whether to legalize cannabis in Israel, with the needs of Holocaust survivors. It is demeaning and lowers the Holocaust to cheap kitsch. But at any rate both these groups should be pressure groups in Israeli society, not separate political parties that take votes away from serious parties of government.

The Green Leaf Graduates split from another larger political party known for its advocacy of the legalization of cannabis.

The Holocaust survivors party accuses the government of misappropriating funds, donated by Germany, that were supposed to be given to Holocaust survivors to help them in their old age. The survivors’ party alleges that these funds were instead used to ease the government’s pension burden.

Yaakov Kfir, the party’s leader, said he joined forces with the Green Leaf Graduates to attract more attention to the survivors’ cause.

“The fact that I am being interviewed by so many media outlets indicates that the decision to hook up with the Green Leaf Graduates was smart,” Kfir said.

Michelle Levine, a spokeswoman for the Green Leaf Graduates, voiced strong support for Kfir’s cause. She described the government’s failure to address the concerns of Holocaust survivors as a “national disgrace” and hoped that younger voters drawn to the party would be given additional incentive to vote in order to support the survivors’ cause.



On Friday UNRWA said it was suspending all aid to Gaza after armed Hamas militia seized a shipment of 300 tons of supplies, the second theft of its kind in three days.

Sunday’s planned transfer of 40 truckloads of humanitarian supplies was canceled.

Israeli officials said the announcement by UNRWA constituted de facto “UN agreement with Israel’s position that Hamas was using the Palestinian population in Gaza cruelly and cynically and was solely responsible for the hardships there.”



A high-ranking diplomat at the British Foreign Office has been arrested after witnesses said he launched a foul-mouthed anti-Semitic tirade, reports today’s (London) Daily Mail.

Middle East expert Rowan Laxton, 47, was watching distorted BBC coverage of the supposed humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as he used an exercise bike at the London Business School’s gym on January 27.

Other gym members said they were then surprised to hear him shouting “F**king Israelis, F**king Jews… They should be wiped off the face of the earth.” The gym staff called security and asked him to leave.

Laxton has been arrested for inciting religious hatred and bailed until next month. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is a seven-year prison term or a fine or both.

Laxton, who is still working normally, is head of the South Asia Group at the Foreign Office, on a salary of around £70,000. He has worked extensively in the Middle East and has been deputy ambassador to Afghanistan. Laxton, an Oxford University graduate, also ran the British High Commission in Pakistan for three years.

Next week, Britain is hosting an international summit on combating anti-Semitism, with politicians from 35 countries attending. Last week, a British bishop who denies the Holocaust became the center of an international row.

The Israel page of the Foreign Office website says: “The Government has a shared responsibility to tackle anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism and prejudice.”

There have been daily reports of attacks on Jews in Britain recently, many of which are being reported only in the Jewish press, not in the national media. For example, a 12-year-old Jewish schoolgirl (the only Jew in her class) was assaulted in Birmingham by a mob screaming “this is for what you did to the Palestinians.”

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


A record 43 parties registered with the Israeli parties registrar, compared to 31 for the 2006 elections, although in the end, “only” 33 parties submitted a list of candidates. They are:

* Kadima
* Labor Party
* Shas
* Likud
* Yisrael Beiteinu
* Gil (Pensioners)
* United Torah Judaism
* Meretz-New Movement
* The Jewish Home
* Hadash
* United Arab List-Ta’al
* Balad
* National Union
* Green Movement-Meimad
* Tzomet
* Yisrael HaMithadeshet
* Da’am
* LaZuz
* Yisrael Hazaka
* Koah Lehashpi’a
* HaYisraelim
* Leeder
* Ahrayut
* Tzabar
* Ale Yarok
* Or
* Lehem
* Koah HaKesef
* The Greens
* Lev LaOlim
* Holocaust survivors & Ale Yarok
* Brit Olam
* Man’s Rights

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.