Thursday, January 24, 2013

Israeli Election is Over: Coalition Talks Begin

On Wednesday, we received the official results from the January 22, 2013 Israeli election.  These results have now been slightly adjusted and we have received the "final" official result as of approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday January 24, 2013.  Apparently, there were still ballots to be counted from military personnel, prisons, hospitals and foreign-stationed diplomats.  After counting all of these ballots  (approximately 220,000), a few changes have now been announced.  Naftali Bennett's party, HaBayit Hayehudi has increased by one seat to 12 and the United Arab List has dropped to 4 from 5. Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party have remained stable at 19 seats.  The Yesh Atid party still seems to be in the driver's seat as the front runner to help build a government with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Lapid has a wide ranging and interesting background.  The son of Tommy Lapid, late leader of the Shinui ("change") party, a secular party which reached 15 Knesset seats in 2003, Yair Lapid has politics in his family background.  In addition to his political career, he has also been involved in many other activities.  He has written well known Israeli songs, tried amateur kick-boxing (which he still practices 1-2 hours a day - even while on the campaign trail), acted in Israeli shows and worked as a TV news commentator.  He has also brought a refreshing approach to bridging the secular-religious divide in Israel.  For example, or a number of years, he ran a Shavuoth night "tikkun" - an all night learning program that  focused on a wide range of topics of Jewish interest rather than pure Torah study.

With his new political party, Lapid has emphasized a new approach to politics in Israel and an effort to represent the silent majority - the non-ultra-orthdox, army-serving, middle class, zionist Israelis.  Among other platforms, Lapid has called for efforts to increase the availability of lower cost housing, and to ensure that all Israelis, at the age of 18, including ultra-orthodox and Arabs, serve in the army or perform some type of national service.  He has vowed to insist on these demands as part of his fundamental terms for joining any coaltion government.  He has also vowed to insist that the peace process with the Palestinians be re-ignited.

As of yesterday, the left-centre "bloc" in Israel, including the Arab parties and Yesh Atid made up exactly 1/2 of the new Knesset - 60 seats - with the right and right-centre bloc, including the ultra-orthodox, making up the other 60.  As a result of this afternoon's announcement, adjusting the results, the right bloc now has 61 seats and could, theoretically, form a very right wing/ultra-orthodox coaltion that could hold the majority by 2 seats.  Most commentators feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to go down this road for a number of reasons.  The government would be very fragile.  The Prime Minister would be under constant threat of different coalition members leaving the government if they were not provided with new concessions.  Many of the concessions Prime Minister Netanyahu would have to make, particularly to the ultra-orthodox would be unpalatable to much of the Israeli public including many who voted for Netanyahu's party, Likud.  So there is a real sense that Prime Minister Netanyahu  very much intends to enter into a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid.

But this is where the fun starts.  Lapid has indicated that he has three key demands in order to enter the government:

1.   Most imporantly - an equal sharing of the "burden" of military/ national service.  Lapid proposes that all Israelis, with the exception of a very small number of ultra-orthodox, super-bright scholars, will be required to serve in the army or perform national service.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made statements indicating that he is prepared to support this idea, although it is unclear whether he will be willing to follow it through.  The other left and left-centre parties - such as Labor, Meretz, Hatenuah and Kadima would support this type of legislated change.  It may also be the case that Naftali Bennett's party, Habayit Heyehudi, would also support a modified version of this type of law. Bennett might also support changes to Israeli laws that deal with zoning restrictions on land and other laws that would, generally, help bring about a lower cost of living in Israel.  So there is a good chance that Lapid could wind up in a government with Netanyahu and Bennett, which would make significant domestic changes that many Israelis would appreciate.  It is hard to imagine that these terms (at least universal conscription) are terms to which the Shas party (with its 11 Knesset seats) would agree.  So this scenario might see a government without Shas, the ultra-religious party that has historically extracted massive concessions in exchange for joining coalition governments.

2.  Lapid has also indicated that another key demand is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue with a view to negotiating an agreement.  Of course, just starting talks does not mean that they would go anywhere.  Lapid has firmly stated that he would not be prepared to divide Jerusalem and that view probably represents a significant majority view in Israel.  The Palestinian Authority described the visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Kotel on the eve of the Israeli elections as a "provocation."  But this is Judaism's holiest site.  There are no conditions, in the foreseeable future, under which Israel would cede control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Lapid has also indicated that the Palestinian refugee problem should be solved by the Palestinians in their new state when an agreement is reached.  This makes eminent sense and is a view that also enjoys wide ranging Israeli public support.

These two issues, Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem, have supposedly caused or contributed to collapses in talks in the past.  But realistically, no Israeli government, even a left wing government would be prepared or even able to make major concessions on these points.

On the other hand, Lapid has indicated a willingness to support a two-state solution and to come to terms with Palestinians on mutually agreeable borders, which could even include the removal of some Jewish settlements.  It is quite clear Bennett's party is not prepared to make any such concessions and would refuse to join a government that planned to do so.  So while Bennett may be prepared to support some of Lapid's domestic agenda, he will not support Lapid's foreign policy. 

3.  Lapid's third demand is for a reform to education to ensure that everyone studies secular subjects in school. This is strongly opposed by Shas, but not necessarily by Bennett.  Netanyahu has indicated that he would be prepared to support this type of change.

Overall, Shas is on the opposite of Bennett on a number of these issues.  While they might support Bennett's foreign policy views, they would oppose most of his domestic agenda and would insist on continued support for much of the ultra-religious political agend, which Lapid has staunchly opposed, and which make up two of his three main platform ideas. 

So it looks like the Netanyahu-Lapid coalition, if it happens, will either include Shas - and maintain much of the status quo on the domestic front while moving ahead on the diplomatic front - or it will include Bennett and it will make signficant changes domestically but drag its feet on foreign policy matters including negotiations ,with the Palestinians, if they take place at all.

For now, the likeilhood seems to be the addition of Habayit Hayehudi.  This may well result in some very real and tangible gains for the left-centre, domestically, but it is unlikely to result in any progress with respect to peace talks and peace efforts.  Of course, if Lapid is able to demonstrate tangible accomplishments for at least part of his platform, that may well improve his political capital and open the door to changes in other areas in the future.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering that the Shas party negotiators are very experienced in these matters.  They may yet offer some concessions on the issue of universal conscription and may show a willingness to support a broad peace initiative.  It is quite conceivable, though, admittedly less likely, that Shas could be part of a Lapid-Netanyahu government that could make progress in a few different areas.

Some commentators are estimating that it may take up to six weeks for this coalition negotiation process to unfold.  This is where we will see the real results of this election.  This process is sure to be even more interesting than the election itself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Israeli Election 2013 - Official Results

Here are the final results of yesterday's Israeli election - according to the Israeli press.  These results could still change slightly - though they are apparently based on more than 99% of the actual polling station results.  If there are any changes from these numbers, they would be very minor.

Likud 31                     Right/Right-Centre            Same as exit polls
Yesh Atid 19             Left/Left-Centre                 Same
Labour 15                   Left                                     Down 2 seats from exit polls
Shas 11                       Ultra-Religious                  Down 1
Bayit Yehudi - 11      Religious/Right                  Down 1
Meretz 6                     Left                                      Down 1
Hatenuah 6                 Left-Centre                         Down 1
Yehadut HaTorah 7   Ultra-Religious                  Up 1
Hadash 4                    Arab/Left                             Up 1
Raam-Taal 5              Arab/Left                             Up 1  
Balad 3                       Arab/Left                             Up 1

Kadima (Mofaz) 2     Centre                                  Up 2

With these new numbers, the "right wing bloc" as it is referred to by the Israeli press - which includes Likud, Bayit Yehudi and the two religious parties, Shas and Yehadut HaTorah sits at a total of 60 seats, which would not provide them with a sufficient number of Knesset members to form a government (61 would be required).  To form a government, Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to make compromises with at least some of the centre or left-centre parties to get them into a coalition government.  In doing so, Netanyahu will have some very interesting challenges.  He may choose to start by negotiating a deal with the number two party, Yesh Atid.  Assuming he could come to a deal with this party, the deal would probably be attractive to Tsipi Livni and HaTenuah as well.  That would put the three parties at 56.  They would then either need to add religious parties (who have 18 seats - between Shas and Yehadut HaTorah) or they would have to add the right wing Bayit Hayehudi (with 11).  Much of Lapid's campaign has focused on reducing the influence of the ultra-religious parties in Israel - ensuring that the ultra-religious are conscripted to the army, reducing the amount of money paid to Yeshivas.  So it is hard to see how Netanyahu will be able to build a government with both Yesh Atid and the religious parties.

If Netanyahu chooses to add Bennett's party (Habayit Hayehudi), there will also be significant hurdles.  While Habayit Hayehudi might go along with some form of universal conscription (they are a religious party but a party of "modern Orthodox" who serve in the army), Bennett is strongly opposed to some of Lapid's ideas with respect to the peace process.  If this type of coalition is arranged, it might lead to significant domestic policy changes but it is hard to see how a government that includes Bennett would make any meaningful changes to the policies of the current Israeli government with repect to the Palestinians.

So in either case, it will be tricky for Netanyahu, who will likely be required to include Yesh Atid plus either the ultra-religious parties or the more nationalist party, both of which have interests that conflict with those of Yesh Atid.

Netanyahu could aim for a broader coaltion with Lapid, Labour and even Meretz.  However, this seems quite unlikely.  Labour's leader Sheli Yacomovitch has attacked Netanyahu at every opportunity and has railed against the possibility of another Likud led government.  She has stated very clearly she would not join.  While this might be a wonderful bargaining tactic, it is hard to see how Labour would wind up in a goverment with Likud this time around.  Meretz is even further to the left.

One other option is that the left and left-centre bloc could try to form a coalition with the religious parties and take over the government.  T|his is what Labour leader Yacomovitch was suggesting last night that she would try to do.  However, she is sitting at only 15 seats.  Even if she added 18 ultra-religious seats, that would get her to 33.  Add Meretz and she has 39.  She could add Tsipi Livni and get up to 45.  She could get the support of the Arab parties and that would get her to 57.  Would Lapid want to join this type of government, which would rely heavily on including 18 ultra-religious Knesset members and 12 Arab members of the Knesset?  This seems extremely unlikely.  I would have to conclude that Labour is going to be part of the opposition unless it dramatically changes its rhetoric very soon.

So overall, it looks like a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and moderated, perhaps significantly, by Yair Lapid.  We should see some signficant changes in direction.  If the government includes Shas and Yehadut HaTorah but not Habayit Hayehudi, we may see movement towards reopening peace negotiations with the Palestinians but not nearly as much domestic change as Lapid might have liked.  If the government includes Habayit Hayehudi but not the ultra-religious parties, we could see signficant domestic change but not necessarily any movement on Israeli-Palestinian issues.  Of course, coalition negotiations in Israel never cease to amaze, so we could see some very interesting surprises.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is very experienced in handling these negotiations and has managed to put together some very stable Israeli governments.  As he said in his speech last night, it is time for him to get to work and start negotiating.

The next few weeks - or even months of coalition building and horse trading will be fascinating.  We will only understand that real results and meaning of this election once we see the make up of the new coalition government.  In either case, it is almost certain that there will be some movement to the left on either domestic issues, foreign policy issues or perhaps even both.  

Postscript:  See my subsequent posts - but the "final results" have Bayit Hayehudi at 12 and Ra'am-Tal down to 4.  I have discussed the implications of this in my Jan 24 post - Election is Over: Coalition Talks Begin.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Election Night Israel 2013: Summary of Election Night Speeches

Update at 1 a.m. - the night of Israeli elections - 2013:

As a political junkie (in three different countries), I enjoy election night speeches.  I have watched the speeches of the major party leaders tonight - which have been given even before the official results are in.  Here are my short summaries (paraphrased in some cases) of their speeches:  (Roughly in order that speeches were given):

Shas:  Shas is strong, thank G-d.  (Biblical quote, followed by another Biblical quote).  We have won 11 or 12 seats and plan on playing a major role in the next government.  (Additional Biblical quote).  Thanks to G-d and to all of our voters.  (Excerpt from the Hallel prayer follows).

Bayit Hayehudi (Naftali Bennett):  Israel is turning a new page.  We are proud to be Zionists.  We strongly support our soldiers and the Israeli Armed Forces.  Everyone is welcome to join with us - at least everyone who supports Israel - our version of Israel.  (Spoken while a range of Israeli/religious music blares on at set intervals).  We are not afraid to stand up for Israel even in the face of domestic and international pressure.  We don't believe that a single Jewish person should be required to move from his or her home as part of any peace deal.  In fact, we don't believe a peace deal is possible.  This is only the beginning for us.

HeTenuah (Tsipi Livni):  Okay I seem to have won less seats than expected.  But I didn't start my own party to quit.  I plan on staying in the Knesset.  Maybe I'll even join the government.  I'm still here...for now...

Labour (Shelly Yacimovitch):  (This was the craziest speech).  Even though we have won 17 seats - and Netanyahu has 33 - the results show that the Israeli public has rejected Likud and chosen the left.  Stay tuned to the results and you may see that Netanyahu will not be able to build a coalition and may not be the next Prime Minister.... We will fight with all our might to stop Netanyahu and his capitalist, anti-peace agenda which has created massive poverty in Israel.  (Here I am paraphrasing - but this is the gist of her speech).

Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) (Clearly the best speech):  Although it is exciting to win so many seats, we have a significant responsibility to our voters to try to bring about change in Israel.  We will push our priorities - education, universal enlistment or national service, improving the lives of the middle class in Israel and working towards a peace deal with the Palestinians.  We will not give up on our principles and forget about those who elected us.  Our party is 50% women, 50% men.  It includes religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, right wing and left wing members.  It is truly a centrist party and we hope to build on our success to date with the goal of improving Israeli society.

Likud (Prime Minister Netanyahu):  This speech was given at the exact same time as Lapid's.  Some TV stations used split screens and showed both at the same time (with sound).  Others (state run TV) only showed Netanyahu.  It was one of the shorter speeches:
I am the Prime Minister for a third time.  In case you didn't hear me, I am still the Prime Minister (repeat a few more times - six in total, I think).  We will aim to build a broad coalition based on the principles that we support.  (Interestingly, he mentioned universal enlistment or national service and lowering the price of housing in Israel - bones to Yair Lapid...).  In case you didn't hear me - I am the Prime Minister and will continue to be the Prime Minister.  Now I have to go and put together a 61 seat coalition - or more.  So excuse me - I have to leave.  Oh - thank you to Avigdor Lieberman for joining this group - and helping us go from 43 to 31 seats...hopefully you will stay out of jail Avigdor (he didn't say that).

Still waiting for the actual results...

Israeli Election Results - Exit Polls

The first exit polls have been announced from the various Israeli TV stations.  Here they are:

Likud 31                    Right/Right-Centre
Yeish Atid 19            Left/Left-Centre
Labour 17                  Left
Shas 12                      Ultra-Religious
Bayit Yehudi - 12      Religious/Right
Meretz 7                     Left
Hatenuah 7                 Left-Centre
Yehadut HaTorah 6    Ultra-Religious
Hadash 4                     Arab/Left
Raam-Taal 3               Arab/Left
Balad 2                        Arab/Left

This estimate puts the "right wing" and religious parties at 61...and the centre, left and Arab parties at 59...very interesting...

No votes for the ultra-right "Otzma L'Yisrael," the Green Leaf party, the Pirate party - or, suprisingly, Kadimah - which was once up to 28 seats.  Many other parties were disappointed and did not obtain enough votes to win a seat in the Knesset.

These are only exit poll results and could still change somewhat when actual results are reported.  

Right now, it seems fair to say that the big winners include Yeish Atid (a new centrist party that has won an estimated 19 seats), Bayit Yehudi (a right wing/religious party that has won an estimated 12 seats and Meretz - a left wing party  that is up to 6 or 7).  Prime Minister Netanyahu has been reduced to an estimated 31 seats (with the Yisrael Beitenu party) but will still, almost certainly, be the Prime Minister.

The big losers appear to be Kadimah (a centrist party that appears to have been reduced to 0 and eliminated from the Knesset), Hatenuah (Tsipi's Livni's centrist party - at 7) and Labour (Historically one of Israel's strongest parties, now at an estimated 17 and in third place).

If these results hold up, Prime Minister Netanyahu would be in a position to put together a razor-thin, right wing/religious government that had a bare majority of 2 seats - 61-59.  Most commentators feel that this is unlikely.

Alternatively, Prime Minister Netanyahu could put together a much more centrist coalition including Yeish Atid and possibly HaTenuah.  This will be challenging since the Prime Minister will have to balance very conflicting demands from right wing and religious parties with the demands for change from centrist parties.  Yeish Atid leader Yair Lapid has insisted throughout the campaign that he will only join the government if Prime Minister Netanyahu makes significant concessions.  Lapid's most significant demands include equal military conscription or national service for every Israeli citizen (something that the 17 ultra-religious Knesset members will staunchly oppose), wholesale changes to education and housing (also opposed by the ultra-religious) and meaningful efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians (which the right wing and ultra-religious parties will oppose).  If Lapid joins a coalition without significant movement on these issues, he will lose credibility and support.

The final, actual results could be very significant, particularly if they change the right wing-left wing balance that is currently projected at 61-59 for the right.

Stay tuned...

Israel Election Day Jan 22, 2013

Polling Station Sign
Israeli election day is finally here - my first opportunity to vote in an Israeli election.  There are many choices - more than 30 parties, of which 13-16 are expected to win seats.  There are more than 5,600,000 eligible voters.  As of 5 p.m. this afternoon, estimates are that the voter turnout is approximately 5% higher than in the last national election, although polls will still remain open in most areas until 10 p.m. and some people may have simply voted earlier this election.  To win a seat in the 120 seat Knesset, a party needs 2% of the total votes.  With an expected voter turnout of approximately 80%, that would translate into a total of 4,480,000 voters.  Parties will get one seat for each 89,600 votes, approximately.

Party List and Abbreviations
We decided to head over the local polling station at about 3 p.m., figuring that this might be an "off-time."  Our polling station was at a local middle school, which was using three rooms as three different polling stations.  At the polling station, there is a list posted of all of the eligible parties and a short letter combination as the symbol for each party.  

At our polling station, we had a line up of about 20 people waiting to vote.  Each station allows only one person into the room at a time and there is only one ballot box. So we had to wait for a total of about 40 minutes until we were able to vote.  In order to vote, you are required to present appropriate photo ID - a driver's licence, valid passport or national I.D. card ("te'udat zeut") proving that your current address matches the polling station and, of course, that you are eligible to vote.  Israelis must be in Israel, physically, to vote with a few limited exceptions.  Unlike the U.S., you cannot generally vote as an "absentee voter."

View Inside Ballot Box
The voting system itself, to someone who is not used to this system, seems to be a bit confusing.  Inside the ballot box, there are piles of paper in compartments representing each of the different parties.  Each paper has the name of a different party written on it - or at least the 2 or 3 letter abbreviation for the party.  Voters pick the piece of paper with the party for whom they are voting and place it in the envelope.  They seal the envelope and then bring it over to the four polling station supervisors and place it in the ballot box in front of the witnesses.  The whole process seems to me to be unnecessarily complicated.  I would have thought that there should be a pre-printed list with the thirty or so parties, clearly named, and an opportunity for people to place an "X" next to whichever party they choose.  Nevertheless, this has apparently been the system for years and there is always some inertia to these processes. 

I just can't figure out why the parties should all be abbreviated into a letter or two, which bear no relation to the party name.  This just seems to add an unnecessary layer of confusion.  The party name should be first and foremost in large, clearly legible letters.  If it must be abbreviated, it should be a simple abbrevation of the party's actual name - for example, the first two letters.  Instead, the one or two letter abbreviation that is used is completely unrelated to the name of the party.  While I had narrowed down the list of which party would be getting my vote to two or three parties, I had checked in advance which two or three letter abbreviations they were using. 

So I made my decision and placed the sealed envelope into the ballot box. The next step is to wait for the results, which will begin rolling in at about 10 p.m. Israel time. 

Meanwhile, Israeli T.V. is reporting that Israelis are greatly enjoying election day.  It is a national holiday.  Shopping malls are open and have apparently been quite full with many election day specials taking place.  The beaches have also been quite crowded as it has been a beautiful, sunny day.   Many others have been travelling to national parks, barbecuing outdoors and spending time with family and friends.  Closing everything on Election Day is a big expense for the Israeli economy but it creates an atmosphere of a very special event.  It will be interesting to see whether there is anything special about the results.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Israeli Election 2013: One Day to Go

Israeli Ballot Box
It is Monday morning here in Israel which means that there is only one day to go until Israel's national election.  The allegations and mud slinging have intensified as has the political activity.  However, after an expensive and hard fought campaign, it appears likely that the next Israeli government will be very similar to the incumbent leadership.

I have put together a few different thoughts about some aspects of the upcoming elections.

The Israeli Electoral System and the Calls for Reform
As I discussed in my blog on the Israeli elections Israeli Elections last week, Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a 120 seat legislative assembly (the "Knesset").  There are no ridings or electoral districts.  Instead, Israel uses a closed-list, proportional representation system.  Any party which obtains at least 2% of the popular vote wins seats in the Knesset.  The system is therefore very democratic since a wide range of voices are represented.  The downside, of course, is that small, extremist parties can make exorbitant demands as the cost of joining and supporting a coaltion government.  The largest Israeli parties, historically, Labour and Likud, have been wary of making changes to the system since they have themselves relied on the smaller parties to form majority governments.  Historically, this has meant tremendous power for religious parties, which have demanded key ministerial portfolios in exchange for joining coalition governments.  Even where there have been "unity" governments made of Knesset members from Labour and Likud, the unity governments have not been prepared to tamper with the system.  It seems to me that it would make eminent sense to raise the threshhold from 2% to 5%.  This would create a tilt towards the larger parties but it would also provide increased stability while still leaving Israel with a very vibrant democratic system.  Only Tsipi Livni's party, "The Movement" and Yair Lapid's party, "There is a Future", seem to be calling, seriously, for this type of change.  While Likud has also indicated that it would prefer a system that favours the larger parties (namely themselves), they have shown very little inclination over the course of their mandate to make any actual changes.  There is little reason to expect that this coming election will bring about any major change to the political system.

Some Election Quirks

There are some fascinating aspects to an Israeli election that I have grouped under the heading "election quirks." 

Surplus Vote Agreements
Israel has a system of "Surplus Vote Agreements."  This allows two parties to make an agreement whereby they can share any extra votes they have with one other party.  These agreements are declared and published in advance of the election.  After the election, the total number of electoral votes are collected and divided into 120.  This becomes the required number of votes that a party needs for each Knesset seat.  A party with a Surplus vote Agreement with another party can either give or take any extra votes to the party with whom it has made the advance deal.  These surplus votes therefore do not simply go back into the general pool of votes to be shared proportionately among the remaining other parties.  Almost all of the main parties that are expected to win seats have declared these agreements and announced which party they will pair up with -  Likud with Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home), Labour with Yeish Atid (there is a Future), Hatenuah (the Movement) with Meretz - and so on.  This does not mean these parties have necessarily agreed to any kind of post-election coalition - only that they have agreed to share "surplus" votes with each other.

Restricted Advertising, Campaigning and Poll Result Circulation

Television advertising in Israeli is highly regulated for political parties during an election campaign.  A recent New York Times article looked at this issue in some detail.  Parties are limited to seven minutes air time each on each of the three different main national networks.  As well, they each get two minutes of airtime for each seat they hold in the Knesset.  As a result, the Israeli public finds itself with much less of a bombardment of negative ad campaigns than one might see in a U.S. or Canadian national election.  While there are certainly Facebook campaigns, text and email campaigns and slogan-touting billboards all over the country, there is a different feel to the type of campaigning than one might see elsewhere.

Israeli law also prohibits disseminating poll results in the final few days before an election campaign.  Further, political parties are barred from campaigning after 7 p.m. the day before the election.  Israeli also has in place various campaign financing rules.

While all of these rules represent restrictions on freedom of expression that might not pass constitutional muster in Canada or the U.S., these types of laws are seen as having the effect of levelling the playing field somewhat.  It is a welcome change to see a campaign that is not simply fought on the basis of repetitive 30-second negative campaign sound bites.

Election Day - A Statutory Holiday

Schools are all closed on Tuesday January 22, 2013, Election Day, in Israel.  As well, many businesses are closed and workers in many types of establishments are paid double time for working that day.  In Canada, election laws generally provide for a certain minimum number of consecutive hours that employees must off to vote.  While people should certainly be given enough time to vote, it is probably an exaggeration to make the whole day into a national holiday. 

However, voter turnout in Israeli elections has averaged between 70 and 75% of registered votes in the past 4 elections.  By way of contrast, in Canada, the voter turn out rates since 2000 have been between 60 and 65%, according to Elections Canada.  The rate has also been less than 60% in the United States over the past number of elections.  So perhaps an Israeli style Election Day holiday would help improve the voter turn-out rate in other countries even if it seems like expensive overkill?

Summary Comments

It does appear fairly clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be the Prime Minister and will form the next Israeli government.  However, this is not a sign, as some are claiming, that Israeli politics are shifting to the right.  Certainly the "Jewish Home" party - "Habayit Hayehudi" is anticipated to pick up a much larger number of seats than its predecessor party had in the previous election.  It could get as many as 14 to17 seats.  However, many of these seats may well come at the expense of the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu coaltion.  Likud and its current partner Yisrael Beitenu held 42 seats following the 2009 election.  Some polls are predicting that they will now only win 32-35 seats.  These seats might move over to Habayit Hayehudi but that will not necessarily have a significant impact on party policies.

After the last election, the Labour Party held 13 seats, Kadima 28 and Meretz 3 for a total of 44.  These left and left-centre seats are likely to be redistributed amoung Labour (15-17), HaTenuah (6-9), Yeish Atid (8-12), Meretz (3-6) and Kadimah (2-4).  The total could be 34-41 or it may even be as high as 44.  The left and left-centre block may win the same number of seats overall - even though it may be differently distributed.  The real issue will be whether some or most of this bloc has the ability to negotiate successfully with Prime Minister Netanyahu and enter a coalition government in exchange for some genuine concessions.  This will all depend on the relative strength of this bloc cumulatively as opposed to  the strength of the right wing and religious voting blocs.

The various party leaders have been jockeying for negotiating positions by staking out the concessions they will be seeking as terms of joining a coalition.  Some, like Labour leader Sheli Yacomovitch, have stated that they will not join a Netanyahu led coalition under any circumstances.  Others have expressed a willingness to join.  Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has stated that he wants to be the third hand on the steering wheel while Prime Minister Netanyahu is driving...Understandably Prime Minister Netanyahu responded by noting that a car being driven by two drivers simultaneously could crash and flip over.  Yeish Atid leader Yair Lapid has suggested that he would join a Netanyahu-led coalition but only in exchange for meaningful policy concessions.

Suffice it to say that the weeks and even months following election day in Israel will be as interesting as the election itself as the various parties clamour to put together a stable and endurable coalition government that can lead Israel for the next four years, while maximizing the benefits that the members of the coalition governments will receive for themselves and their followers.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rami Kleinstein Zappa Jerusalem Jan 18, 2013

I wrote a detailed review of a Rami Kleinstein concert at the Zappa Club in Jerusalem on November 6, 2011. Last night, January 18, 2013, we went back to Zappa to see him again and I'm not sure I have much to add.  The concert was simply excellent, once again!

This picture was taken from the front row.  If you arrive early enough at Zappa, you have your choice of seats.  We were seated in the first row, right next to the stage.  One of two young women sitting next to us got up and danced with Rami on stage.

The show was about two hours long and it was energetic, musically interesting, and, overall, quite entertaining.  The menu at Zappa has undergone some changes and probably wasn't quite as good as the last time we were here.  But the venue is tremendous. The sound is excellent and the atmosphere is just pefect for a concert.  And the Jerusalem location is Kosher, though the menu is certainly not cheap!  So we had lots to eat and drink and enjoyed a great evening of musical entertainment. 

Zappa has locations in Herzliah, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, though only the Jerusalem location is Kosher.  You can join the club for an annual fee, which includes a credit towards a pair of tickets, some food for your first show and a discount on all other concerts.  Even as a member, tickets for these shows can be in the range of 100 to 200 N.I.S. - and the food can easily cost more than that if you eat a full meal at the club.  But the venues are small so you have the opportunity to see an entertainer in a very intimate setting.  Shlomo Artzi recently announced a series of Zappa concerts but apparently he sold them out quite quickly.

We have now seen Rami Kleinstein twice at the Jerusalem location.  I'm sure we would enjoy seeing other performers at the various Zappa locations, though price-wise, these are certainly special evening events.
Rami Kleinstein at Zappa in Jerusalem, Jan 18, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Israeli Elections Humour...Simpsons Poster

For my last blog, I had a look at the various candidates running in the upcoming Israeli Knesset elections (Tuesday January 22, 2013).  I'll provide an update shortly with some of the latest poll results and how that might change things.  For now - I couldn't resist adding this Simpsons' poster that someone put up on Facebook.  I would attribute credit - but I'm not sure who put it together.

For those of you whose Hebrew might be less than fluent, the title of the poster is (roughly) "List of Candidates for the 19th Knesset."

Top row (left to right): Labour party led by Sheli Yacimovitch, Likud-Beitenu, Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz;
Second row:  The Jewish Home (led by Naftali Bennett), There is a Future (led by Yair Lapid) and Shas;
Third row:  Otzma L'Yisrael (Strength for Israel), the Pensioners' Party and Meretz;
Fourth row: Torah Judaism, the Green Leaf Party, Balaad (Arab Party);
Fifth row: The Movement (led by Tsipi Livni), The Pirates, the Green Party.

The funny thing is that at least 10 or 11 of these are perfect matches...