The Surprising, Crucial Element in Israel’s Next Elections

timesofisrael.com

To better understand what’s at stake in this election round, what change it might bring—if any at all—and especially what that new, surprising (even crucial) element is, we better analyze first where we are with these elections, and what to expect.

Not much, indeed, by way of a change. Let’s say a rich uncle has suddenly materialized in my life and is handing me a hundred dollars (a thousand, a million, all the same) to bet on the elections. Right away, I will put 50 bucks on the result of ‘no change.’ Things will stay the same, with no one being able to form a government (but hang on, as such result is important to that surprising element I promised you at the top). In other words, no side—either Netanyahu’s Likud and his rightwing block, neither the center-left block—will be able to form a sustained coalition. A stalemate, in short, will ensue.

How come? Well, essentially, nothing much has changed in the makeup of the Israeli public and electorate since the first election in this cycle took place, some two years ago. In this, the fourth round, the Knesset will be divided just as much, if not exactly right vs left but with Netanyahu’s block against the rest. No one will be able to secure a majority and therefore the impasse will remain; Netanyahu will continue to rule as a Prime Minister in transition, until another round of useless election is called and commence.

So next, I will put thirty dollars of my uncle’s money on Netanyahu succeeding after all to form a governing coalition. I’m betting here on his ability to pull another rabbit out of the hat, mainly due to him taking full credit for the vaccination success in Israel, beating down the coronavirus pandemic, and the normalization of relations with several Arab and African countries. Also, his appeal to the Israeli Arab population (his sworn enemy in the last three elections) on the one hand, and the racist Kahanist party on the other. Right now the Israeli polls indicate a slight improvement in the possibility of such an outcome, and these polls, it must be said here upfront, were pretty accurate the last two rounds.

Now to the twenty dollars left for me to bet on. I’ll put them on the opposing, anti-Netanyahu forces being able somehow to form a government. The chances are not good, but I have twenty bucks left (and it’s not my money, to boot). In fact, as I write this post, some polls do predict a slight advantage to this camp. So why only twenty dollars on them? Because this camp, while united in its disdain for Netanyahu, is so fragmented on all other issues facing the country that it will not be able to come to an agreement. Not on who will lead them, and not on what to do once they are in power. Furthermore, even in the unlikeliest scenario that they will be able to form a governing coalition, it will collapse soon thereafter and bring a new election round.
This brings me to the surprising element I promised you at the top, and to the dark horse of these elections. His name is Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White Party, and currently the Defense Minister, the acting Justice Minister, and the government Prime Minister in reserve. He is the one who actually won the second election round but was unable to form a coalition, though he had a slight majority. He is the one who promised to never join Netanyahu’s government—but did just that anyway.

He decided, in the dead of night of the coronavirus pandemic outburst to end the debacle, hold his fingers to his nose and join the coalition. In a blogpost on April 26, 2020, titled: The Lesser of Two Evils, I supported his move. It was the right move for Israel and Israelis, I thought, but the wrong, disastrous move for him politically. I was in the minority then, supporting him, and I now find myself in the single-digit minority still thinking he did the right thing.

He prevented the annexation of the West Bank by Netanyahu; he protected the integrity and independence of the judicial system (and Netanyahu’s trial going forward); he helped to muster the resources to fight the pandemic; he served as a gatekeeper for Israel’s democracy, against Netanyahu’s attempts of destroying it. And indeed, as predicted by all, Netanyahu negated to go ahead with the agreement to rotate the premiership, and use the one loophole available for him not to pass a budget. Hence the elections. And hence the collapse of Gantz’s Blue and white party. A party all the polls are indicating is teetering on the edge of not even making it to the next Knesset. Of not passing the electoral threshold.

But guess what: If he does get into the next Knesset, and if as seems most likely the stalemate continues following this election, and the next one too, he would become the next Prime Minister on November 17! Yes, you read me right. By a basic law that the Knesset had enacted under this coalition, he would assume power—if he is still a Knesset member—November 17. No joke!

Now, to be sure, there are so many ‘ifs’ for such a scenario to become reality, that’s it’s almost unthinkable. Hence no money is put on it as a bet. But one fact remains intact: Despite all opinions, predictions and popularity contests showing otherwise, he might still be the best option to replace Netanyahu in power. So I say to all Israelis (I am one, too, but I cannot vote unless I fly back home for the elections): Vote for benny Gantz and Blue and White.

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Any Consequences for Israel’s Love Affair with Trump?

Israel Flag

middleeasteye.net

You bet. But first, let’s spend a minute analyzing the picture above. We see three prominent flags being carried above a river of people—demonstrators, rioters, terrorists—on the way to the Capitol building in Washington D.C. The citadel of our fragile democracy. We don’t know whether the people we see will eventually storm the building too. Maybe they are just behind the storming mob, and will stop at the steps of the Capitol. No matter, we look at their faces and see that they are eager participants, following President Trump’s orders.

The first flag in the foreground, on the right, is the QAnon flag, slightly folded by the wind. QAnon, of course, is the largest and most notorious (alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring, etc.), most influential of all the Republicans’ conspiracy theories. A completely baseless, alternate reality gibberish. Which, nonetheless, making true believers of the president’s anti-reality, anti-truth supporters. At the center, most prominently, we see the American flag. And then on the right, farther from us, is none other than the Israeli flag.

So what are we to make of this Holy Trinity? We know that Israel was on top of the list of a few countries to benefit from the Trump administration. Any wish Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters—qualifier: almost any wish, as the annexation of the West Bank was not granted, yet was a future possibility—was happily granted by Trump and his sycophants, Ambassador Friedman and Jared Kushner. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: check. The Golan Heights recognized as Israeli territory: check. Disregard, discredit, marginalized the Palestinian issue and people: check. A hurried exit of the Iranian Nuclear Deal: check. More money and more sophisticated weapons and fighting aircrafts: check. And so on.

If you ask yourselves why this lovefest was so strong from the get-go, you couldn’t be more wrong if you thought it was Trump’s love for the Jewish State and the Jewish people. Nonsense. (He could never get used to Jared stealing his beloved daughter Ivanka away from him.) When he came to office he couldn’t point Israel, or Jerusalem, on the map if you put a gun to his head. Two reasons then: First, the Evangelical movement. His greatest supporters. And devotee supporters of Israel’s occupation, annexation, apartheid, you name it. How else will the Messiah come back to earth? And do you know that, even while the pandemic is raging on, and the country is in lockdown, some Evangelicals were allowed to enter the country to volunteer for picking up grapes in the settlements?

The second reason was that he’d hoped—stupidly, of course—or was sure that by granting all Netanyahu’s demands and wishes the majority of Jews in America will vote for him. Fat chance. We know now that between 66-76 percent (depend on the pollsters) of Jews have voted democratic, for Biden. (As yours truly had predicted, and was attacked for so predicting, in a previous post, Why Most Jews Vote Biden, 10/30/2020). Which brings us naturally to the question of what the consequences are, if any, for Israel’s love affair with Trump.

“If Israel were a U.S. state, it would be the reddest state in the Union,” said Alon Pinkas (to the New Yorker), a former consul-general for Israel in New York. But why? But how? Some adulation can be attributed to the dimwitted, or naive belief that to be good to Israel and its people, to safeguard its security and future, a president must grant every wish of its Right-wing government and majority. (Which is, of course, utter nonsense.) The other, and even more problematic, is that the anti-democracy, anti-truth, anti-reality forces in Israel are just as strong, just as large (population-wise) as in America. And that the threat of a criminal dictator like Trump—i.e. Netanyahu—is just as prominent. Hence the continuous struggle, and year-long demonstrations by Israelis fighting for the state young—in comparison to America—democracy. And without a constitution to safeguard it. As a result, the residue of the lovefest with Trump will continue to resonate as the country and its people continue the fight to retain its democracy.

The other consequence is that the gap between Israeli Jews and American Jews—not only liberals, not only reforms, but among conservatives too—is wider than it has ever been. American Jews, on the whole—excluding the ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservatives, and evangelical-prone Jews—abhor autocracy and despise anti-fact, anti-truth conspiracy theories and alternate-reality nonsense. They sew clearly what was in front of them when Trump was in power, and didn’t like it one bit. Just as they didn’t/don’t like what they see going on in Israel. Which, even if they don’t admit it loudly, know it’s way ahead into becoming an Apartheid state.

One hopes that with the change of a president, an administration and party in America, things will change—and they will, to a large or small degree—regarding Israel’s occupation and grand ambitions. But the way things are moving, especially in Israel, I don’t see this gap narrowing any day soon. This will create a fissure, and complications in Jews’ reaction to Israel. Assuming the coronavirus would be defeated at some point in time, soon hopefully, and Jews will return to services at their various congregations, they and their national organizations—even AIPAC, another Trump’s enabler when it comes to Israel—will have to work hard to narrow this gap.

Finally, in Israel, time will tell. And much will be determined in the next elections. The demographics don’t look good, though. As in Israel, unlike America—wherein seven of the last eight elections the majority of the people voted for the Democratic presidential candidates—the majority goes the other way. Traditionally the Likud and Netanyahu were always supported by the majority of Mizrachim, or Sephardim, Jews from Arab and North African countries. Joining them—the fasted growing segment of the population in Israel, and the majority of the West Bank settlers—are the Haredim, the ultra-orthodox. The fervent religious zealots. The most ardent of Trump’s supporters.

The struggle for democracy continues then, both in America and in Israel, with the consequences of the alliance of Trump and Israel to vibrate for years to come.

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