Israeli democracy is alive and well

January 24, 2013

Yair Lapid celebrates at his party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv


A few observations concerning the Israel election results

Notes by Tom Gross

* Despite all the doom and gloom from commentators in left-leaning international publications like The New York Times, New York Review of Books and The Guardian, who predicted the virtual end of Israeli democracy, Israeli democracy is alive and well.

* For example, last week The Guardian prominently highlighted a quote from Foreign Policy magazine by Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East and north Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, saying: “This election will likely mark an acceleration of Israel’s long-predicted … journey toward a hegemonic nationalism resembling apartheid-era South Africa”. (Levy, despite consistently getting things wrong, is a favorite invited guest “expert” on TV networks like the BBC and France 24.)

* The Guardian got it wrong, wrong and wrong again. Piece after piece in The Guardian predicted that the Israeli elections would bring “a more hawkish and pro-settler government then ever” or “a more right-wing and uncompromising government than Israel has ever seen before”.

* And Andrew Sullivan in last Sunday’s (London) Sunday Times wrote “Israel looks likely to elect the most far-right government in its history.”

* But as Walter Russell Mead points out, “the most shameful piece of journalism was David Remnick’s 9,000-word feature in last week’s New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel’s radical right.” That didn’t happen.

* There were 32 parties on the ballot. 12 parties or party-blocs gained seats in the new 120 seat Knesset (parliament). Almost every shade of opinion is represented in the new Knesset. The Communists got 4 seats, the Islamists 5, and the Arab nationalists 3.

* The New York Times, The Economist and others also proclaimed that voter turnout among Israeli Arabs would fall below 50 percent.

In fact, voter turnout across all Arab cities in Israel was considerably higher than this, and in many towns exceeded Jewish voter turnout. For example, in the Israeli Arab city of Sakhnin, voter turnout was almost 80 percent.

This compares with an Israeli national turnout of 68 percent and an American voter turnout in last November’s U.S. elections of 57.5 percent. (Many Israelis live abroad and are not allowed to vote by absentee ballot, so the real voter turnout by Israeli citizens actually present in Israel was considerably higher than this.)

* A record number of female MKs were voted into the 120 seat Knesset. In Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid centrist party, 8 of his 19 MKs are women (42%). The Likud has 7 women, three of whom are from Yisrael Beitenu. Labor has 4 women. Meretz has 3. The right-wing Jewish Home party has 2. Tzippi Livni is the only woman MK in her party. The Arab Balad party also has a woman MK.

* Pnina Tamano-Shata, number 14 on the Yesh Atid list, will be the first female MK from Ethiopia. She moved to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of three. She is a lawyer who in the past worked as a reporter on Channel 1 News. Now, she will be making history as an MK. Previous MKs from Ethiopia have all been male.

* Israelis are most concerned, like everyone else, with those issues that most affect their lives: housing, prices, the economy, education, government reform, and the like.

* Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party became the second largest in Israel’s Knesset, winning 19 seats in Tuesday’s elections, is no left-winger, but in fact represents the Israeli mainstream. He backs the retention of Ariel (an Israeli city in the West Bank), supports Israel’s retention of other major settlement blocs, and is opposed to the division of Jerusalem. He says the capital represents the country’s ethos, the reason the Jewish people are in Israel.

* On economics, the next government will be firmly right-of-center. Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett (and Tzippi Livni if she joins the government) are all economic free marketeers. The Tel Aviv stock market welcomed the election results, climbing 1.8%.

* It turns out you can succeed in Israeli elections without generals: There were no high-profile army figures on the Yesh Atid list.

* In the final vote tally released today following the opening of soldiers’ votes and absentee ballots, Ahmad Tibi’s Raam-Taal party dropped from five seats to four, while Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party gained one seat.

So in the final count, 12 parties or party blocs were elected to the 120 seat Knesset: Likud-Beitenu won 31 seats, Yesh Atid 19, Labor 15, Jewish Home 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism seven, Meretz and the Tzipi Livni Party six each, the three Arab parties won a total of 11 seats, and Kadima two. This gives the Right bloc 61 seats and the Center-Left-Arab bloc 59 in the next Knesset.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has begun the process of building a new governing coalition with his Likud Beitenu ally Avigdor Lieberman and the big winner in Tuesday’s election, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu agreed with Lapid and Lieberman that the next government would focus on reducing housing costs, reforming the electoral system, and equalizing the burden of military and national service. But they did not agree on which parties should be in the coalition and who should receive the top portfolios.

Netanyahu would prefer to give the Foreign Ministry position to Lapid, who speaks excellent British-accented English and whose moderate image could improve Israel’s ties with the United States and the European Union. But Lieberman said he wants to return to his former job as foreign minister once he has been cleared of his legal troubles and suggested that Lapid become finance minister.

* Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who is a former IDF chief of General Staff, is expected to be appointed Defense Minister. (Ya’alon is a longtime subscriber to the TomGrossMedia email / weblist.)


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