On January 22 Israel held elections for a new Knesset. Despite the small size of the country, the event received worldwide coverage. Both those who hate and who admire Israel were looking into the results for confirmation of their views. Israel has the unique position of being a tiny island of sanity within an ocean of Muslim barbarism.
Even the most ignorant people can predict the results of the elections in the Muslim countries surrounding Israel (many of them don’t even hold elections). In the Israeli democracy that’s much harder. The low threshold (a party needs only 2% of the votes to get a seat in the Knesset) makes it possible for many tiny political parties to enter the competition successfully.
That makes the Israeli political life very complex. If you go through the lists of the past Knesset members, you’ll find small parties that don’t exist anymore; large parties that split into smaller entities; parties that have quickly gained influence and then just as quickly disappeared.
The whole thing resembles a huge maze, where most people feel lost without a guide. Such a knowledgeable guide is Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a prominent scholar from Bar-Ilan University (Israel). In a lecture at Temple Sinai Congregation in Toronto on January 27, he patiently led his audience through the election maze, making sense of the results.
He is uniquely qualified to discuss the complicated realities of the Middle East. Representatives of the organizers – David Freedman (from the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) and Shirley Anne Haber (from The Speakers Action Group) – introduced us to his background.
Dr. Kedar is a descendant of Polish Jews, who immigrated to the land of Israel before the Shoah. All of his relatives, who remained in Poland, were killed. He speaks fluent Arabic and is often interviewed on Arab TV and radio stations, including Al-Jazeera. Unlike many other journalists and scholars, who don’t speak the local language, and rely on the disinformation provided by their handlers, Dr. Kedar has first-hand knowledge about the events in the Middle East.
He started by stating that unlike many other elections in the past, those in 2013 clearly show deep changes taking place in the Israeli society.
The results, which still are not final (although any additional changes will have a minor effect) show a distribution of seats which is different from what many analysts expected: Likud-Beiteinu – 31; Lapid – 19; Labor – 15; Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) – 12; Shas – 11; the Tzipi Livni party – 6; Meretz – 6; Haredim – 6; Kadima – 2; Arab parties – 12.
The main news is the failure of the Likud-Beiteinu block to win the expected seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman signed their agreement expecting that their coalition would gain at least 42-43 seats, which was the combined number for the both parties in the previous Knesset.
Why did Likud lose so many seats? The centerpiece of their election platform was the national security, yet the Israelis didn’t buy that. What was the reason?
The main reason for Likud’s unsatisfactory performance, according to Dr. Kedar, was the so-called Arab Spring. That process, which started as a series of riots demanding better life, caused such deterioration within the social structure of the Arab countries that they are no more the threat they were before.
After overthrowing Mubarak, the Egyptians are much worse off. The poverty is rampant – in many areas people live in “houses” resembling boxes with no phone, no internet or even electricity. (Does anybody still remember the imaginary “Facebook revolution” in Egypt, which CNN and Time Magazine promoted?)
The new government is even less competent than the old one. The World Bank refuses to lend them money, unless Egypt ends the subsidies for foods, which in the case of the bread reach 80% of the price. If they do so, there will be riots again; if they don’t, the riots would come a little bit later when the country gets bankrupt. Either way the results will be horrible – Egypt is slowly but surely approaching an abyss and its next revolution will be driven by hunger.
Egypt has practically lost its tourism industry, which was a major source of foreign currency. The foreign investments have dried up as well, because nobody wants to invest in a country controlled by unpredictable Muslim fanatics. The only remaining source of income is the tax collected from the ships that pass the Suez Canal.
Egypt is not a threat, because it is barely capable of feeding and equipping its army.
The situation in Syria is even worse – so far over 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting. There are thousands of refugees; whole towns have been totally destroyed. It would take a long time before the country recovers enough to become a military threat to Israel.
Although Jordan is still relatively peaceful, there are already demonstrations calling the King to go. The ancestors of the Jordan royal family were Saudis brought to power in Transjordan by the British. The locals still dislike that family. The domino effect of the Arab world events will soon reach Jordan. It’s just a matter of time.
Although Hezbollah in Lebanon is still a real threat, its positions have been weakened. Israel has dealt with them before and it may happen again. The turmoil in Syria changed the situation – the country was the corridor that Iran used to deliver weapons and supplies to Hezbollah. The situation makes it very unlikely for the terrorist organization to attack Israel when they can’t rely on steady supplies from Iran.
That’s why the Israelis, who are carefully watching the situation within the countries surrounding Israel, didn’t take Netanyahu’s position seriously. They wanted the government to put emphasis on dealing with social issues like poverty, affordable housing, etc.
The pressure to deal with those problems started a few years ago – there was an “Occupy Rothschild Boulevard” movement, which was the prototype of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of the people, who took part in it, are now new members of the Knesset from Lapid and Labor parties.
Likud failed to read the map – they didn’t pay attention to the change in the young generation. The party lost its support, because they didn’t understand how to address the housing and other concerns. That transition in the social values and concerns found its way in the election results.
The case of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) deserves special attention. Dr. Kedar described their constituency as people like his late old father – who had very traditional views. The party, which was called before National Religious Party, was losing support, but under its new leadership it managed to get new blood and enhance its appearance.
Naftali Bennett was the person who contributed most to that change. He was a member of a very elite unit of the IDF and not just a simple soldier, but a Major. That gave him good credentials with most Israelis. He even worked in the Netanyahu government. He is a multi-millionaire, who founded, developed and sold a highly-successful high-tech company. Many people in Israel see him as a leader, who won’t need to get secret envelops with cash to pass legislations or do favours. He is the dream of many Israelis.
Bennett introduced a new type of people into the party, who are not religious. Ayelet Shaked, a young-looking woman married to a combat pilot, is one of the new secular leaders of Bayit Yehudi. The new faces and the ideology, which is now based more on national than purely religious values, showed that everybody who shared those values was welcome. That contributed to the growing popularity of the party.
As of the religious party Shas, its popularity remained the same. Maybe even many of their voters (the Orthodox Jews) moved to Bayit Yehudi. The main purpose of Shas is to defend the interests of the Orthodox Jews, so they could join either a right-wing or left-wing coalition, if it supports their demands like religious school funding, etc.
The Livni party and Kadima is what’s left from a party that a few years ago held the power in Israel. The Kadima position is shaky, because they barely passed the 2% threshold and they may lose their seats if the final vote count changes the percentages. The Meretz leftists increased their seat numbers, but that doesn’t make them a factor in the political life.
The Arab parties deserve a special note. Arab citizens are 20% of the population of Israel, so theoretically they could get 24 seats in the Knesset. However, they never reach that number for several reasons. First of all, the Knesset is not their game – many of them wouldn’t want to vote for a budget, which includes expenses for defense and security. Most militants would consider that treason. Also, they don’t want be a part of any Jewish coalition. Those who take part in the elections want to be in the Knesset to disrupt, protest and shout “Discrimination!”
Of course, that’s good – opposition is necessary in every democratic parliament. Another reason for underrepresentation is that the militant groups urge Arabs not to vote – they say that the Arab voting de facto legitimizes Israel and their main purpose should be its destruction and establishing of an Arab state.
Again – it is important to stress the fact that we are witnessing a shift from a security-oriented to socially-oriented society.
In the future we may see an increase in the popularity of the religious parties, because of demographics. Compared to the secularists, the religious people in Israel have many more children.
Dr. Kedar also mentioned the threat of Iran as seen by the people in Israel. Many of them are against its public discussion – they acknowledge the threat, but think that it is an issue, which should be dealt with by the army and the security forces behind the scenes. The constant open discussion of the Iranian nuclear threat destroys the element of surprise that is necessary when handling such issues. They are actually saying: “Deal with it and let us know when it’s done.” Besides, the general public doesn’t have enough data to form a credible opinion about the nuclear capabilities of Iran.
During the Q&A session the listeners asked quite a few questions, some of which were out of the scope of the lecture.
Asked who is going to be a member of the new government coalition, Dr. Kedar replied that it was impossible to predict, because nobody is a prophet. The forming of a coalition is a complicated psychological warfare between the parties in the Knesset, complete with secret dealings and deceiving moves, but that’s how the political culture in Israel works.
Of course, somebody asked the question, which is on the mind of so many people – what is the situation with the two-state solution in Israel and who is promoting it?
That was a complex question, so Dr. Kedar’s answer was long. He bluntly stated that no reputable Israeli politician wants to get engaged with that issue – the people in Israel saw what happened after the “peace initiative” in Gaza. After winning elections and a war with PLO, Hamas took complete control and now is a major threat. Doing the same in Judea and Samaria would almost certainly produce the same result. Nobody in the world is capable of preventing a repetition of what happened in Gaza.
No Israel would take the risk and see the same thing happening. Hamas control over Judea and Samaria would mean that the whole territory of Israel could be attacked by the terrorists’ rockets. And if the things go that way, none of the promoters of the two-state solution around the world is going to help Israel. The only person taking this seriously is Shimon Peres, who still thinks that Abu Mazen is going to put the people of Hamas in jail.
Nobody has a viable solution – even annexation for one-state solution is not good.
Dr. Kedar has proposed his own solution, based on the nature of the Arab society, which he explains on the website http://PalestinianEmirates.com
His point is that the Arab societies are tribal. All Arab countries are artificial creations, most of which have been established by the colonial powers. The population there thinks first and foremost from the point of view of the clan – people trust or mistrust each other depending on the clan or tribe they belong to. Belonging to a nation is a secondary consideration (if ever considered). This is a very basic element of the Arab culture, including among the people under the Palestinian Authority.
The “Palestinian nation” is an artificial construct, in fact those Arabs are divided into clans. The only viable solution is to establish emirates in the West Bank, which will unite the Arabs from the same clans living in the urban areas. There are 8 such clans, which will provide the basis for that new structure. Then Israel can provide security to the people who live outside of those emirates.
Another important question was about the relations between Obama and Netanyahu.
Dr. Kedar answered that although they are not as cozy as the relations between Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush were, the Obama administration has no other choice but to face the reality of the Middle East, so the differences are not always that deep. During the last two years the White House figured out how incorrectly they evaluated and handled the situation in the area. When the demonstrations in Egypt started, Dr. Kedar was contacted by people from the State Department asking what the best way to handle Mubarak is. He told them that whether they support him or not, it will not make any difference, because the people are against him for their own reasons and the position of the USA is not going to change anything. It has been a while since the USA has lost its positions there and is considered just a paper tiger.
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