Israel Votes for A National Unity Government Under Tzipi Livni. Will It Get A USA-2000 Style Election and War, Or a Stab At Peace? Is Israel really a Democracy? Why Netanyahu Lost. Israel is New Jersey.
Israel is New Jersey. About the same size (7,500 and 7,800 square miles), with the same voting populations (about 5 million), the results from Israel’s election are in. Clearly, a country this small, is punching way, way above its weight internationally only because of the financial and political backing of the Jewish Lobby in the United States and Western Europe, plus the military arms and might of France, Britain and the United States.
One way in which New Jersey and Israel differ is that voters in New Jersey can cast absentee ballots while voters in Israel can not. Consequently, one-eighth of the Israeli electorate, which lives abroad, is disenfranchised by the Israeli electoral laws. Now, it is always dangerous to speculate on the political opinions of people who do not vote, but I would guess that the Israelis who live abroad, who are living in peace and security in non-Jewish states, would be more open to living with Arabs and Palestinians on an equal basis, seeing as they are already doing it abroad. My guess is that the peace parties would have fared far, far better had the expatriate Israelis, the richest, most cosmopolitan segment of the Israeli people, been permitted to vote. Another difference between Israel and New Jersey is that Israel banned two Arab parties from participating in the elections.
This analysis is only a prelude to saying that in spite of the disenfranchisement of 12% of Israel’s electorate, Tzipi Livni still won the February 10 election because Kadima gained 28 seats in the new Knesset to Likud’s 27. Throughout the entire history of Israel, the leader of the biggest party in the Knesset has become Prime Minister, although once there was a rotating leadership in a national unity government.
The problem is that the right wing parties won 65 of the 120 Knesset seats to the left’s 55. (Ironically, New Jersey’s legislature also has 120 members, 40 State Senators and 80 State Assembly representatives. Now, imagine New Jersey as a separate country. Jon Corzine would be Prime Minister. Frank Lautenberg would be minister of Finance. Bob Menendez would be Minister of the Interior. Who would be Minister of Defense, Rush Holt? Get the picture? Stop thinking of Israel as a country and start thinking of it as a medium sized American state.) The Prime Minister during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir, who was a school teacher from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There is a revolving door of Jews moving from different countries to and from Israel. Israel’s politicians are not statesmen of a great nation, they are political hacks of a state.
Benjamin Netanyahu moved to the United States when he was 14. He graduated from Cheltenham High School in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, about 5 miles from New Jersey. After High School, Netanyahu served in a reconnaissance unit of the Israel Defense Force, and returned to the United States at the age of 23 to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received a BA in Architecture, then a Masters from the MIT Sloan School of Management and then studied political science at Harvard. Then he worked in Boston. So, Netanyahu has spent decades living and going to school in the United States. His father is a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Bibi has benefitted and flourished in the non-sectarian civil democratic society of the United States where he went to school with Arabs, Palestinians, Christians, Moslems and Athiests.
The problem is that Israel is not really run by the political leadership, it is run by the army, the Israel Defense Force. Palestinians frequently seek redress through Israel’s courts and often win, but the Israel Defense Force just invokes the force majeure of national defense to do what it wants. Another problem is that the fastest route to political power is through the IDF. Every Israeli serves in the army. And the winning Generals go on to become Prime Minister. Itzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, to name two. Netanyahu, while not a victorious general, has built his political career on the corpse of his older brother Yonatan who was killed in the Raid on Entebbe in 1976, while Bibi was safe and sound at MIT. I guess Bibi has survivor’s guilt and that’s what makes him such an intolerant, hypocritical, scum bag toward the Palestinians.
Like the revolving door of Israelis moving to and from Israel, the military and political establishments of Israel are a revolving door too. People move from the army into politics and back into the army. It is the mandatory service in the military, and the civilian benefits that flow from that service, that is the major tool for segregating Arabs and treating them as second class citizens in Israel. This is why Avigor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu grouping, a right-wing secular party, while advocating expelling some Arabs from Israel, also provides a path to full citizenship. And why not? Even though the specter of Lieberman, who comes from Moldova, telling Palestinians they can not live in the country were they have lived for centuries, is revolting and reminiscent of Meyer Kahane, who grew up in Brooklyn, standing by the side of the road screaming at Arabs to get out.
So, what was Netanyahu’s position on the Palestinians during the recent election campaign? He’s going to get them jobs, but they are not going to get any rights, certainly not a state of their own. Even though Israel claims its legitimacy from the United Nations resolutions, for some reason a huge segment of its population denies the same legitimacy to the Palestinians who also have United Nations Resolutions supporting statehood. One of the overwhelming complaints about Hamas is that it refuses to recognize the state of Israel and refuses to abide by prior agreements. That is why the Hamas government in Gaza is not recognized and is considered a “terrorist” organization. Netanyahu ran on a platform of not abiding by prior agreements. Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State under Richard Nixon was once asked what was the most difficult thing about negotiating with the Israelis. “Getting them to agree to their own proposals,” was his answer. The Israelis, even without their expatriates, voted for Livni because only an Israeli government committed to upholding prior agreements with the Palestinians has any hope of bringing peace, at the very least with its Arab neighbors like Syria. War can still come, and probably will come, with a Livni government. But war will definitely come with a Netanyahu government because Bibi has no peace plank.
The other reason Netanyahu lost is that only in Israel would Kadema be perceived as a leftist political grouping. By international standards, especially after the outrageous attack on Gaza, Kadema is right-wing.
So, the Israelis clearly voted for a national unity government under Tzipi Livni, but will the old boys club of the Israel Defense Force, like the crooks on the United States Supreme Court, change the rules for this election and give the Prime Minister’s post to Benjamin Netanyahu rather than Tzipi Livni, a woman, who won a narrow victory? (Q: Why do Israeli men ejaculate so fast? A: They can’t wait to tell their friends.) This is the election that will answer, once and for all, whether Israel really is the only democracy in the Middle East. Maybe it is just another dictatorship, but a Jewish one. Only Shimon Peres, veteran of the Lavon affair, knows for sure. Stay tuned.
Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page