(crossposted from the Villages Group blog)
By a miracle of sorts, we had a mostly peaceful day in South Hebron today; such an event is so rare that I thought it might be worth mentioning to you. In lieu of a more substantial report, let me just say that Abu Sharif and Fadil plowed three fields, with an iron plow and a donkey, on one end of the wadi at Umm al-’Amad, just under the settlement of Otniel– lands they were denied access to for some 15 years– and there was a slightly higher-tech plowing, with an old tractor, at the other end of the wadi as well. The settlers and the soldiers kept their distance. The goats grazed freely. The sun was sweet. If the rains come, there will be crops of barley in these newly regained fields.
David Shulman gives traditional farming a hand under the guidance of a Palestinian resident, November 2013
At Umm al-Ara’is, on the other hand, the standard ritual played itself out; the ‘Awad owners were driven off their land, along with our activists, by the soldiers, as happens week after week.
Lest anyone be tempted to think that things are better, I should mention that the committee of the “Civil Administration” that [according to Israel] still has the authority to approve Palestinian development plans in West Bank “Area C”, has rejected the village development plan submitted by residents of Palestinian Susya.
This means that if the final appeal to the High Court [which had heard this case for years - then punted it back to the "Civil Administration" a few months ago] goes against the residents, the entire village, housing some 300 to 400 people, will be demolished and its inhabitants expelled
(the demolition orders have been hanging over them for years, and the “Civil Administration” [see here for a chronology of its torment of area residents in 2008-2011] is talking about issuing final orders to destroy all the tents and shacks and infrastructure).
The “committee” offered the following rationalization of its decision:
“This plan offers no hope that the population can be advanced beyond the state of poverty and ignorance to which its representatives have condemned it….
The city, as the meeting place of diverse populations, serves as a source of cultural, economic, and educational enrichment. On the other side of the scale, the village dwellings are fragmented and scattered, founded upon tribal and clan identities which suffocate the citizen, the individual, and which offer no means for social development or opportunities for making a living, for cultural or educational experience…
The urban structure lets people meet one another, multiplies opportunities, enriches the horizons of each and every one in the family or tribe as in the wider society. Thus, in our view, the present plan is but another attempt to prevent this impoverished population from making progress…
It also prevents the Palestinian woman from liberating herself from the cycle of poverty and closes off opportunities for work and education. Similarly it keeps the Palestinian child away from the opportunities open to everyone else and condemns him to life in a small, degenerate village.”
If anyone had any doubt as to whether the Occupation of the West Bank is a colonial enterprise through and through, this passage should settle the question.
[It must also be noted that the fabled "enriching urban environment" towards which the Occupation wants to cleanse Susya residents, is none other than Yatta - a down-and-out town of ~50,000 residents suffering from inadequate infrastructure, economic suffocation - 75% of residents are day-laborers for Israeli bosses (pdf link), and - at least according to Israeli media - rampant crime]
Military Vehicle keeping a watch upon Palestinians plowing their lands, November 2013
The sheer cynicism is astonishing: you can guess who has kept the Palestinians of Susya in poverty, and who now intends to expel them from their ancestral homes and lands. The West Bank must be the last site in the world where this kind of language, reminiscent of French Algeria or apartheid South Africa or colonial Kenya or Tanganyika [or, indeed, the self-righteous precedent providing the post's title], can still be used without shame.
All comments [in square brackets] are mine. As the links in the post show, this struggle has been going on – and covered by us – for quite a while. Click on those links to learn more.
I insist upon placing “Civil Administration” in quotations. It is a faux government body with a fraudulent name – designed specifically (by Ariel Sharon in 1982) to create an impression of “law and order” when there is none.
As this latest gem from the “Administration” shows, the only guiding principle of that impostor body (which – contrary to its misleading name – is actually a branch of the Israeli military, and whose legal authority is questionable to nonexistent) is: quash the Palestinians and take their lands, and find as many lands as possible to give to Jewish settlers.
The “Civil Administration” hacks will find or invent any legalistic, bureaucratic pretext to cover up this naked racism and thievery. In the current case, apparently, they are stupid enough as to be unaware of the historical context of their charade.
Here are some addresses and numbers you might try, in order to protest these policies:
Israel’s defense minister, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +972 3 6975349 Fax: +972 3 6976218 /691 6940 / 696 2757 / 691 7915 / 697 6711 (they are said to hate faxes),
or the ministry’s US outlet (email@example.com, fax 212-551-0264).
And of course… feel free to share and cross-post this widely.
One of the great successes of the Israeli government’s “Brand Israel” campaign has been the re-branding and re-packaging of Israel as a “Start-Up Nation”, attributing the source of its current wealth to its burgeoning hi-tech sector.
As we know, the best propaganda is based on grains of truth, aided by people’s short memory and selective access to information. To wit, the “Hi-Tech Israel” sales vibe is much louder and unchallenged in America than in Israel itself – where the majority of the population has seen little to no benefit from this sector, and where the young generation of many demographic and geographic sectors continues to be barred from entering hi-tech by neglect in education and (in the case of Israel’s Palestinian citizens) discrimination in hiring.
Some 9% of Israel’s non-government employment is provided directly by hi-tech. But as this article shows (Hebrew), at least 1/8 of them actually work in huge state-affiliated military industries, “grandfathered into” the hi-tech count by Israel’s government statistics bureau (notorious for providing the government the type of numbers it desires). That said, there is no denying Israel’s hi-tech is far stronger than the country’s size, and has driven growth. The question is, since when?
I happen to know firsthand. My father founded and ran a start-up company in Israel in 1982-1989, before they were known there as “start-up”; I even worked there myself in various minor roles. After employing up to ~50 employees and introducing novelties such as the flexible workday, it finally went bust. One of the main reason was, it was premature. Apart from a couple of branches of huge multinationals and a handful of success stories, Israeli hi-tech was a fringe phenomenon until sometime in the 1990s. In particular, finding reliable investors was ridiculously difficult. My older brother started university in Jerusalem in 1987, during one of hi-tech’s global cyclical downturns. Friends and relatives wondered why he’s taking up computer science, now that this esoteric sector has “dried up”.
Besides the stints for my dad’s ill-fated venture, I also worked in the Israeli hi-tech during its first major heyday, 1997-2002. Things have changed fast in this sector – it is globally fast and Israel has its own hectic pace to compound matters (that also explains some of its relative edge in hi-tech). To sum it up: Israeli hi-tech is young and its roots shallow. Israel was already wealthy compared to most nations, before the 1990s when its hi-tech finally became a major force.
Any other Explanations for Israel’s Wealth?
In August I researched and put together a long blog post that was finally published in Hebrew on September 1st on the Haokets (“The Sting”) website, a site dedicated to social, economic and ethnic justice in Israel-Palestine.
An English translation was posted on the influential 972mag website last week. That translation was laid out very nicely by the editors, with many pictures. I’m too lazy to just copy it now, and besides it won’t look as nice. What I’ll do here is a short “Cliff’s Notes” summary, together with some FAQ that keep arising around that text, and observations about the sad state of talkback threads
The Gossipy Context
The story leading up to Janet Yellen’s Fed nomination had a farcical doppleganger playing out in Israel, almost simultaneously. In both cases, the outgoing Central Bank head recommended his deputy as successor, which would make her the first-ever woman at the job. In both cases, the government had originally looked for someone else having a more “appropriate” set of chromosomes instead. And in both cases, the woman was eventually nominated, with the government getting nicely embarrassed in the process.
Dr. Karnit Flug, recently appointed Governor of Israel’s Central Bank, despite her lack of a Y chromosome
The Israeli case was more grotesque, with Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu opposing the nomination of Dr. Karnit Flug for longer, more openly and more vehemently than Obama ever did. Bibi’s hostility towards Flug could not be explained by male-chauvinism alone (although that does exist, of course). Rather, sources point towards a 2007 macro-economic research report lead-authored by Flug (pdf; is it in English), analyzing Israel’s growth and recession cycles in 1960-2006 (the first year for which comprehensive data exist). While praising Israel’s adherence to neoliberal recipes in recent decades and claiming it does have a “statistically significant” positive effect on growth, the authors had to concede that the impact of Treasury policies in Israel is dwarfed by what they euphemistically called “geopolitics”.
This admission invoked Bibi’s wrath. For years he has built his reputation as “Mr. Economy”, who supposedly “saved” Israel’s economy in his 2003-2006 tenure as finance minister. Flug’s report, while polite and even reverent regarding Bibi’s macroeconomic leadership, still indicated that his claim to saving the Israeli economy is about as truthful as the proverbial fly riding on an elephant and boasting “Look how much dust we’re making!…”
It is this report that I dug my teeth into, easily finding what I had looked for. I called the original post “Dr. Karnit Flug’s Dark Secret”, an ironical reference to the failed-nomination farce that has been playing out in full swing at the time. Of course, to clarify: Flug has no personal “Dark Secret”. Rather it is Israel and entire its economic-intellectual elite, that is lying to itself about the nation’s economy.
Israel’s Biggest Boom – and Its Worst Busts
In essence, things are really really simple. Here is the article’s “Table 1″ of raw economic data summarized by major episodes, as identified by the authors. The most recognizable and internationally comparable number, is the per-capita growth rate (3rd column of numbers).
One episode sticks out as exceptional: 1967-1973, the “Post Six-Day War” Period. It has by far the highest growth, and is also among the longest periods (by rights it should have been the longest episode, but the authors had for some reason cut it 9 months short in December 72 instead of September 73).
In the article’s entire study period of 1960-2006 – and, now we know, also beyond it to 2013 – there is no other episode whose impact upon Israel’s economic growth has been so positive and so dramatic.
My article painstakingly goes through the consensus boilerplate theories explaining Israel’s relatively phenomenal growth since the 1950s, and shows that none of them even remotely accounts for the 1967-1973 growth boom.
What can? What really happened during these years: Israel redefining itself as “Greater Israel”, and setting up the Occupation regime. First and foremost, by far the greatest single factor, was the incorpoation of Palestinian day labor into the Israeli market. Within a couple of years after 1967, almost no manual labor was done by Israelis anymore; it was all Palestinians, with Israeli former laborers becoming their bosses. Add to this the exploitation of newly controlled natural resources and captive market, and the use of Occupation and its crises as a vacuum-pump siphoning in billions of foreign money – and you have a 4-cylinder boom-generating engine.
Look at the Gapminder map below. In these 6 years Israel’s per-capita GDP grew some 70-80%. It took Israel another 25 years or so, in fits and starts, to grow the next 70-80%.
Gapminder.org trace of Israel’s annual per-capita GDP growth in 1961-2010 (vertical), vs. the existing per-capita GDP (horizontal, long-transformed). The huge 1967-1973 boom is impossible to ignore… unless you are Israeli.
Here’s the thing: the fact that our biggest economic boom happened in 1967-1973, is largely unknown among Israelis – not to mention outside of Israel. If you care to read the comment threads to the Hebrew and English versions, you’ll see that much of what went on there was people trying to deny the fact, or deny that it signifies anything, and being insulted at my “leftist” attempts to explain it (rather than ignore it as everyone else conveniently does).
Par for the course, Flug and Strawczynski who wrote the report didn’t feel compelled to explain the 1967-1973 boom, beyond the “geopolitics” lip-service.
What about Israel’s rather frequent economic busts? Start with the one that ended that very boom: the crisis triggered by the October 1973 war. The Israeli media in recent months has been full of stories and features commemorating that war’s 40th anniversary. But its fundamental nature is usually blurred.
The 1973 war was first and foremost an Occupation-generated crisis. Political memory in Israel is notoriously selective. People don’t realize that pre-1973, the Occupation’s crown jewel was not the West Bank, but the Sinai. Not only was the Sinai huge and spectacular; it also contained oil wells that could meet half Israel’s consumption.
It was Israel’s insistence on holding the Sinai indefinitely, that led Egyptian leader Saadat to launch the 1973 war. This war hurled Israel into one of its worst politico-economic crises. At its height, people had to down their vehicles for one day a week to save gas, and Israel immigration balance turned negative for the first time in its history.
Again, the 1973 war’s Occupation-caused nature is routinely sidestepped, ignored, even denied in mainstream Israeli discourse.
Schematic map of the 1973 war – fought because Israel had insisted it can continue to control (and economically exploit) Sinai, Golan, and all the other Occupied Territories, for as long as it sees fit. Most Israelis still largely support this stance (sans the Sinai).
Two other major economic crises – in the late 1980s and in 2001-2003 – were directly triggered by the Palestinian revolts. The 2001-2003 one was perhaps the worst in Israel’s history in terms of relative depth and duration (of course, it was exacerbated by the global 9/11 recession; but we started our crisis many months earlier).
The period between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s provides an illuminating contrast. These years, divided into no less than 4 episodes in the Flug-Strawczynski table, have seen perhaps the worst economic mismanagement in Israeli history. Finance ministers changed almost every year, and switched policies even more frequently. Reckless experimentation alternated with strict austerity and crass electoral bribery of the public. To boot, the military invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied half of that country for 3 years, saddling the government with a huge additional debt. A bubble-generated stock-market collapse in late 1983 sealed the deal, forcing the government to buy all major banks, leading to a 400% hyperinflation in 1984, and to talks about indexing the Shekel to the US Dollar.
But throughout this period, except very short spells of grazing around 0% per-capita growth (on absolute level growth was still positive), the economy didn’t grind to a halt and people’s standard of living hardly suffered. I went through my teenage year and into military service during that time. Having prices creep up every week was inconvenient and even unsettling. But people’s salaries were COLA indexed, and there was almost none of the massive suffering associated with the deep recessions mentioned above. What gives?
“What gives” is that the Occupation prosperity-generating engine was at its zenith during that time. Palestinian labor was fully harnessed and still docile (not for much longer…). New settlements were established at a record pace, and mainstream Israelis discovered the advantages of buying a much larger home for less, on (stolen) West Bank land, and receiving far better government services there than at the crowded central-Israel cities. And the peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979 (in exchange for returning the Sinai) reduced the Occupation’s overall geopolitical risk, and opened up new trade opportunities and more ways to receive foreign aid.
So the economy of a small 30-year-old nation survived almost unscathed, a dose of economic mismanagement that would have completely downed a much larger beast (think Argentina 2001). Mostly thanks to the Occupation.
Nowadays the tables have turned: Israel is larger (population-wise) and wealthier. Israelis still depend upon others for most manual labor – but nowadays Palestinian laborers are outnumbered by a motley crew of temporary(?) foreign migrants. Israel’s economy has increasingly gravitated towards its hi-tech sector (which really came into life only in the 1990s). As the 2001-2003 crisis showed, Israel’s hyper-modern economic aspirations are incompatible with an Occupation in the back yard. Certain sectors and businesses still profit from the Occupation, but overall it has become more of an economic burden than an asset – even before factoring in the resurgence of economic sanctions.
But it’s hard to get rid of something, when you deny its existence and impact.
Doesn’t It All Remind You of Something?
Here’s a bit that was *not* mentioned in the full texts, in either language:
From an economic-history perspective, Israel’s Occupation experience clearly identifies it as an experiment in colonialism. The world has seen it all before: at first, massive exploitation of labor, natural resources and captive markets delivers a sugar-rush of wealth. For a while, it seems like the perfect system for the ruling nation. Then the backlash: revolt, conflict, spiralling military costs. Corruption and rot destroy the colonial structure from within… and finally it’s over.
How can Israel’s experiment survive for so long? Perhaps because it is unique in so many ways:
- The colony is in the home-country’s own back yard. Some of the new Territory was even added to Israel’s capital city.
- All previous borders between “home country” and “colony” were erased from all official and quasi-official maps.
- Israeli citizens were settled inside the Territories and gradually afforded all amenities and political-participation rights as if they still lived inside Israel;
- Occupation expenses and revenue are embedded in a zillion places in the national budget, without demarcation;
- The very nature of this experiment in colonialism is denied, and again, deliberately blurred.
- Israel embarks upon this experiment, right after the very last major global colonialism projects are being dismantled. Politically, this makes the Occupation hard to justify from the get-go.
- But for a self-denying, camouflaged colonial experiment, the timing is actually good because people don’t expect to encounter “classic” colonialism anymore – so this helps Israel to maintain “Plausible Deniability” about the Occupation.
- Nowadays, the colonial regime can make use of post-modern technological tools of bureaucracy and surveillance.
- The regime is heavily subsidized, if not completely funded, thanks to massive American military aid.
Finally, to clarify what the full-length post tried to convey, here are two “money quotes” from there:
“Start-Up Nation”? The most amazing start-up in Israeli history remains the establishment of the Occupation regime. One teeny problem: we forgot to make our strategically timed exit…
…If you are still confused as to what this little post’s message is:
Post-1967, Israel’s economy became an Occupation economy first and foremost. Setting up the Occupation regime gave us our biggest economic growth spurt. Since then, the Occupation’s woes have given us our worst crises.
Yes, there is also Israeli hi-tech, and there is also macro-economic policy. But studying Israel’s macro-economy without explicitly entering the Occupation regime into the picture, is – my apologies if this offends anyone – tantamount to economic malpractice.
Ok, enough Cliff’s Notes. Feel free to comment on them, or about the full-length post, down here.
A friend wrote to us about a young ill Palestinian mother who was recently arrested in the West Bank, and their efforts to free her. This is the kind of ocurrence that happens routinely, yet is rarely covered in the press. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel documented in 2008 how these kinds of actions are often used to recruit low-level collaborators, as described here. It is very rare to hear directly of the physical and psychological costs on those arrested and their families. See the letter below and click on the link at the end to learn more about this case, and how you can help.
Last Monday my dear friend Hiba was arrested by IDF soldiers in the
middle of the night. I ask you to join us in our efforts to free Hiba
who is being held without charges. We would appreciate it if you would
act quickly as there is another hearing scheduled for Wednesday, 10
April 2013. We hope your letters will influence the hearing. We are also
worried about her health. The prison authorities have changed her
medication and she is having allergic reactions to the new medicine. I
have attached a letter with more info and contact info. Please, please,
please take time to write letters and to share this message widely with
everyone within your circle by email, Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc.
Your help is very greatly appreciated by her family and friends.
Here is a link to the letter:
A picture of tear gas being shot by the Israeli army on unarmed protesters in the Palestinian village of Jayyous, who are holding Friday demonstrations to protest their land being taken by Israel. Photo by Mohammed Othman. You can follow what’s happening in Jayyous here.
Over the past couple of months, there seems to have developed growing disconnect between most of Israel’s political analysts – and the actual dynamics of the campaign for Israel’s general elections, which will take place in only 3 days.
In October when the election was announced, there was near-universal agreement that it’s all going to be one big garbage time. Prime Minister Bibi will cake-walk it to a second consecutive – and third overall – term in office, and the Right-dominated Israeli status quo of the 2000s will continue. I tended to agree with this view, but with this caveat: in Israel, anyone who calls the election results 3 months in advance is a fool.
Then, from mid-November the campaign became more and more interesting by the week. By now, I must confess that for me it’s been one of the most entertaining campaigns to follow. As a non-state-emissary expatriate I cannot vote, and in the 3 previous elections during our stay here I was far less engaged. Maybe it’s Facebook, and the incessant stream of punch lines and visual memes from fellow Israeli progressives (check out the memes in my previous diary from December). Maybe.
But also, my eyes tell me that something is happening. And yet, the dominant pundit line (parroted all over the English-language news universe, too) has continued to be “garbage time, garbage time, the election’s in Bibi’s pocket, the Left’s finished, …. b-o-r-i-n-g ! …”
“King Bibi”? What a Joke.
First, the myth of “King Bibi” is once again (for the umpteenth time) proven baseless. Most Israelis really don’t like Bibi. The massive, unprecedented protests of summer 2011 (now, perhaps prematurely, seen almost as a “Midsummer’s Night Dream” with no sequel) were in a large part personally directed against him.
And now during the campaign itself, Bibi has become more and more vulnerable:
- He launched a bloody offensive on Gaza in mid-November, in a cynical transparent attempt to boost his electoral standing, but emerged with multiple eggs on his face.
- Immediately afterwards, Palestine was accepted to the UN as an observer state, with only Israel, the US and a handful of tiny US satellites voting no – an outcome that Bibi had spent immense diplomatic efforts over more than a year to prevent.
- On the “Bibi’s stable economy” front, the bad news just keep coming. The most recent: the budget shortfall in 2012 was $10B, or 4.2% of the GDP – far more than the government had previously reported. It is my contention, that Bibi’s main motive for calling elections a few months early despite a reasonably stable coalition, was the wish to get them over with – before the bad news and deeply unpopular austerity steps he’ll doubtlessly try to push through. Many Israelis begin to suspect that Israel’s surprising relative resilience during the global crisis, faring far better than most of its trading partners, might have been obtained using Lance Armstrong methods.
On top of this: nobody mentions that, but Bibi is a lousy campaigner. In 4 election campaigns in which Bibi led Likud, his party never emerged the largest. Even in 1996, the country’s first direct-personal elections to the Prime Minister in which he upset Peres 50.5%-49.5%, Likud came in second to Labor in Knesset seats (32 vs. 34, out of 120). Then, in 1999 Bibi was voted out, and Likud fell to 19 seats. He wouldn’t get his hand dirty sitting in opposition, so he “retired” right away… for a couple of years, that is. The next time he led Likud was 2006, and Likud came in fourth with only 12 seats. Last elections – 2009 – he managed to score a come-from-ahead upset loss to the center-right Kadima party (27 to 28), gaining the premiership only via dirty back-room maneuvers.
0 out of 4 is not a coincidence. Not when your side of the political map is the one dominating the nation. Interestingly, the only thing that’s sure about Tuesday’s elections, is that this time – finally – Bibi will emerge as the head of the candidate list that wins the most seats.
How did he manage to guarantee that? In another signature back-room deal, he agreed with his deputy Lieberman (whose personality-cult party “Israel Beitenu” has cornered the market on the “Russian” vote in the past two elections), to run in a single list on a 2:1 alternating ratio. He didn’t bother to ask his party members, who were less than thrilled. Bibi – always the hysterical Basil Fawlty type of decision-maker – just couldn’t bear the thought of failing for a 5th time. Mind you, this is not a party merger: in another one of the endless string of news embarrassments Bibi has produced for himself this campaign, it became known that the parties split their ways, each taking its own marbles, the day after the election, and Bibi will have to negotiate with Lieberman almost like with any other party.
Anyway, together these two lovely parties won 42 seats in 2009. Given that Kadima had disintegrated to smithereens – and it’s a good thing, because it was always more hoax than genuine party, and given that further left, Labor is still picking up its own pieces – there is nothing nearly close to that size around.
But since its announcement, the Likud-Beitenu amalgam has been on a steady gradual decline, losing 1-2 seats per week. It is now polling mostly in the low 30′s. Take out Lieberman’s cut, and come government-maintaining time, Bibi might have barely 20 seats to his name, with which to dominate a 120-seat chamber.
So the election’s real story is Bibi’s deep unpopularity, and the public’s general malaise.
Unfortunately, as I detailed in December, by refusing do draw a contrast with Bibi on any topic except the economy, Labor’s leader Yachimovich has missed a golden opportunity. We might have been talking now about a tightening race; instead, we’ll likely have a fragmented Knesset parliament with no “King” or “Queen”.
Yes, Bibi is still the overwhelming favorite to be Israel’s next Prime Minister. But the odds now seem even greater that he’ll be much weakened, and will face a far more energetic opposition, than in the current term.
It’s all academic, some say; ending the Occupation is not on the menu anyway so the elections are just a game of distraction. I beg to differ. One of the hallmarks of uphill struggles against oppressive systems, is that they seem dominant and even scornful of your feeble attempts – right until the last moment. Then some internal fault cracks open, and it’s over. See under Soviet Union. See under Apartheid. See under U.S. Slavery and segregation.
Similarly, an election whose results are humiliating for Bibi, and after which no one can set up a government that lasts very long, could be such a crack. And given the huge number of undecided or unsure – most polls quote 20%-30% – the crack might open with the bang of an election-night surprise.
Sticking to the Headline, Changing the Bylines?
Pundits don’t like admitting they were wrong. So as the “King Bibi” meme crumbled, Israeli analysts stayed with the bottom line (“garbage time” etc.), but have changed the highlight. They’ve been trying two, in fact: “2013 will be the Right’s biggest victory” and “2013 will be the Left’s worst defeat.”
Wrong and Wrong again. And again.
The Fallacy in “2012-2013 is the Year of the Right and Settlers”
The solid Right + Orthodox bloc of parties consistently emerges with a majority in all current polls. In some polls even 70+ seats (even though most of the recent polls are closer to the halfway mark of 60).
The lazy Israeli pundits compare this to the 65 seats the same bloc had supposedly won in 2009 – at the time, the most ever – and just “do the math” to conclude that 2013 might mark a new record. But they willfully ignore the nature of that 28-seat behemoth of a “party”, Kadima, that is not counted with the Right.
Kadima was founded late 2005 by Ariel Sharon, at the time Prime Minister and leader of Likud. Despite adding to its ranks a few Labor figureheads (most notoriously Shimon Peres), Likud politicians have always outnumbered everyone else there combined, at least 2:1. Sharon’s successors at Kadima’s lead – Olmert, Livni and now Mofaz – all came from Likud. So in 2006 and 2009, Likud pulled the amazing feat of running under 3 brands: “classic Likud”, the Lieberman cult catering to “Russians”, and a moderate-posing “Kadima” brand (headed in 2006 by Tzipi Livni) catering to center and even (thanks to Livni’s gender and campaign style) to left-of-center. And the niche marketing paid off: the 3 arms combined won 70 seats (in 2006 the trio won “only” 52, then poached a few more in post-election wheeling and dealing).
That was the Israeli Right’s electoral high-water mark. I hope that in my lifetime I won’t see anything near that. Seeing two arms of Likud competing for the #1 spot, with one of them suckering votes from left of center, was downright sickening.
By 2013, Kadima has disintegrated. Its two remnants, running under Livni and Mofaz respectively, will be lucky to gather more than 10 seats together; quite likely less. And the number of genuine right-wingers who will enter Knesset under both combined, will almost surely be less than 5. So compare barely 40-45 seats controlled by the various Likud factions, to 70 right now. And compare roughly 70 right-wingers expected in the next Knesset, with about 85 in the outgoing one. The Right has passed its undeserved zenith.
The only ascendant force on the Right this campaign has been the Orthodox-nationalist “Jewish Home” party, led by a fresh and charismatic face, Naftali Bennett (son to US immigrants who converted to Orthodoxy, the Jewish analogue of Evangelist Christians). He’s polling around 15 seats, and – together with Ayelet Shaked, the only secular on the list – successfully and effectively hide the remaining dozen-or-so unappealing or even hideous potential members of the next Knesset on their list (Here’s candidate #14 Gimpel, also an American, in a must-see clip designed to encourage the potential far-right nutcase willing to blow up the Dome of the Rock; Gimpel’s the one on the left). On the merits, Bennett seems like a sleazebag who could sell anything to anyone, or at least try (that apparently is how he sold his start-up company and became a millionaire), and whose true views are far less user-friendly than his slang-sprinkled chummy talk.
Admitted, Bennett is a lucky shot for the Right-Orthodox parties, who for years languished under leaders with the charisma and general-public appeal of a rusty nail. But his rise is grossly over-hyped. His main electoral feat so far has been to bring back home the Orthodox votes that had preferred Likud, Shas or some other non-Orthodox party. He seems to be drawing some disaffected Bibi/Lieberman voters as well. My analysis (and also some recent on-the-ground reports) indicate that this is more due to Bibi’s weakness than to Bennett’s supposed magic.
In particular, the idea that Bennett’s popularity (and Labor leader’s Yachimovich’s cowardice about settlements) is an indication that settlers are now the new leaders of Israeli society, with their role widely accepted and respected – an idea promoted even by progressive analysts such as the 972mag website – is downright ridiculous.
A coalition of economically progressive NGOs has just commissioned a poll, asking Israelis what they would rather cut to resolve the huge budget hole. Here’s what they found: (emphasis mine)
According to the survey, which was conducted by the Panels research institute among 600 people, 81.9% think settlements should be the first source of budget cuts, followed by infrastructure (50.5%) and defense (40%)….
According to the Panels institute, the majority of respondents who characterized themselves as right wing also supported diverting funds from the settlements to help balance the budget.
82%. Far and away, the first thing nearly all Israelis (including a majority of right-wingers) would cut, is the subsidies to the settlements. So much for these times being “The Year of the Settler”.
Last but not Least: The Fallacy of “The Left’s Worst Defeat”
Granted, the Israeli center-left isn’t looking great these elections and is probably not ready to topple Bibi outright (even though this has become a distinct possibility according to most recent polls). There’s been too much fragmentation for that to happen. But the wailing as if this is a “worst defeat” of any kind, are seriously 180 degrees off mark. In fact, following upon the heels of the 2011 protests, these elections mark the continuation of the Left’s painfully gradual revival.
If this was the Left’s worst year, then for sure the only Zionist party openly running as Left, would have suffered, no? That party would be Meretz, who in 2009 fell to its lowest-ever mark with 3 seats. To make matters “worse” for Meretz, during the November mini-war it had the temerity to oppose, breaking an inglorious tradition of previous leaderships mumbling and reluctantly supporting Israel’s various military adventures. Surely, if this is “the Left’s worst year”, voters would be disgusted with such rampant Leftism, and will do away with Meretz once and for all?
Yes. In all recent polls, Meretz doubles its current strength, sitting on 6-7 seats – and still moving up from poll to poll. This, despite having no new faces and no campaign surprises (except the unplanned one of opposing the war).
The party that’s stuck in the polls is Labor, whose leader vehemently denied being part of the Left or even center-left, and refused to make the obvious settlement-economic connection that 82% of Israelis apparently can. It is no coincidence that labor’s stuck. Voters want a contrast, they want an opposition they can rally behind – not someone running away from herself.
But even so, Labor’s polling around 16-18 seats vs. 13 it won in 2009. And the incoming cohort is far more progressive and reliable than the outgoing one, five of whom (headed by Ehud Barak) are still shamefully sitting in Bibi’s coalition.
So no. 2013 is not a “worst defeat” year for the Left.
The Left’s worst defeat came some 12 years ago, when then-Labor leader, then-Prime-Minister Ehud Barak emerged from a failed round of negotiations with his “No Partner” lie, confirming the stereotype of The Arab as an illegitimate lying crook, and simultaneously letting the military unleash massive deadly fire on the riots that had started spreading. This watershed moment has hurled Israel-Palestine into an abyss, 12+ lost years and counting. The Labor party, in particular, has yet to recover – and in classic Battered Wife Syndrome fashion it invited Barak to lead it into the 2009 elections again, only to be abused by him some more.
Israelis now know who Ehud Barak is: a serial liar, a personally corrupt, deeply unpopular man. Right now he still sits in the Security Ministry, but he’s so unpopular that he gave up running again, and his joke of a “party” (basically, just a theft of 5 seats from Labor) has disbanded itself and will not disgrace the next Knesset with its presence.
Too many Israelis have a hard time letting go of the “No Partner” lie, and can’t seem to connect the dots to what they’ve since learned about the man who invented it. So the road to a full comeback of the center-left camp, to a camp not ashamed to put ending the Occupation and a viable Palestinian state at the top of its policy agenda, is still a rocky uphill one.
But don’t mistake the direction. Regardless of whether Bibi will have the pieces to cobble together a semi-stable government, the next Knesset will have in it a sizable cohort of 35-40 fighting progressives, perhaps even more. Now, this is something Israel hasn’t seen in over a decade.
At last, the direction indicated by the Israeli voter seems to be up, rather than to dig further into the hole we’re in. Unfortunately, most politicians usually lag behind the public, but eventually they catch up. Here’s hoping it happens in Israel-Palestine sooner rather than later.
(crossposted and slightly expanded from Daily Kos)