Jauary 19, 2013

EDITOR: The Mock elections in the Mock Democracy are about to change nothing whatsoever

‘In order that nothing changes”, writes the great Sicilian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, ‘everything must change!’. So next Tuesday, many Israelis will go to the polls to make sure than nothing changes. They will vote mainly for ‘new’ parties, like Likud Beitenu, Hatnuah, Yesh Athid, Habatit Hayehudi – none of which existed before this election as such; together, these ‘new ‘parties’ will get the most votes, and will make sure that nothing changes in Israeli politics. So, despite the mock protest of hundreds of thousands in Summer 2011, when the tent protest joined the Arab Spring raging all around Israel, a clutch of old and tired faces, in the main, has put forwards new masks, much mascara and facelift, and nothing new. Most of the parties, including the largest, led by Netanyahu and Lieberman, and sure to win this round of mock democracy, have not seen fit to even publish a platform or manifesto before the election. That is not surprising.  Publishing such a document, would be dangerous, if it was to be truthful.

If published, it would have to say that Israel will continue to control the whole of Palestine, never allowing the setting up of the mini-state which was foreshadowed in the Oslo Agreements. It will have to say that the vision of the two-states is dead and buried, never to be revived again. It will state that the Palestinians will never have full human or civil and political rights under Israeli control, and that the Israeli state controlling them will now become a fully-fledged Apartheid society. It will also clarify that all the claims and demands of the protest movements would be disregarded, and that the poor will become much poorer. It will reveal that the Israeli deficit was miscalculated, and is more than twice of what was claimed by the government. Such a manifesto will also reveal that Israel is planning more wars, in Gaza, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and that the cost of these wars will further improve the standing of the rich, and will further undermine the poor, who will pay for them. It will have to tell Israelis that most of them will pay for the 600,000 settlers, whose life is made especially easy and plentiful by government edicts and regulations, so that they will continue to terrorise the Palestinian population. This manifesto will also reveal that the next Knesset will continue in its attack on democracy, human rights and transparency, and make sure the government cannot be legally or publically challenged when it breaks the law, and that the courts will be emasculated to guarantee that result, especially the Supreme Court; It will have to also tell Israelis that the Palestinian citizens of Israel will loose more of their limited rights, and that the attack on them as the largest minority group in Israel will intensify.

And that is not all. The putative document will also have to reveal that the attack of the environment will continue unabated, with more damage to and, sea and air, and that developers, speculators and environmental criminals will have even an easier time in the future; It will also tell Israelis that the power of the Jewish religious minority will continue to distort Israeli society, and underwrite the unequal values of the Jewish democracy, making it a democracy for Jews only; It will reveal that Israel will continue to invest in death and destruction more than in education and health, and that new technology will be used not to improve life, but to endanger it. It will also tell the public that the dangerous and aggressive foreign policy of the last government will be further intensified by the next one.

In a word, this manifesto which was not published would tell Israelis that there is no hope, that fear and loathing will continue to rule their lives for the foreseeable future.

It is clear enough why such a manifesto cannot be printed and published, and won’t. Yet it is a mistake to think that Israelis do not know the contents of such a manifesto. That is the reason that large sections of the Israeli public plan to avoid voting. In the past, it was the malaise of the Palestinian minority – they have abstained in large numbers, on the understanding that in a democracy for Jews, Arabs can make no change.They were of course right about this. But this time, also many Jews will join them, believing that in a state of the powerful and corrupt, the poor can make no change.

This will of course guarantee that no change is possible. Because most Israeli Jews are supportive of the package of no change, though it deeply damages their interests. They support the status quo, because the idea of change – of a real democracy for all, of social justice, of just peace, of the end of the occupation and apartheid – frightens them beyond belief. Such an idea of change is always frightening to a colon. So it was in Algeria, or South Africa. So, they agree, somewhat begrudgingly, to continue the bad old ways, so the the good new ways would not threaten them.

The Democracy for Jews only is safe for now. It is in the good hands of Netanyahu and Lieberman. It is safe from change, and seemingly also safe from history. A mock election, in a mock democracy, will bring about a mock result. But the price to be paid will be real enough.

Below are some articles dealing with this odd political juncture.

MK Dov Khenin can putt from the political rough: Haaretz

The Hadash party member is an unabashed communist, a far-left radical, an outspoken anti-Zionist – and the best MK in the outgoing Knesset.

By Asher Schechter | Jan.19, 2013 | 9:35 AM

Khenin isn't so much resigned to the political fringe as he is cool with it.

Khenin isn’t so much resigned to the political fringe as he is cool with it. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

So let’s get this out of the way first: Dov Khenin is the best!

No, seriously. It’s really tough to find something bad to say about the Hadash party Knesset member, try as you might.

Just ask his detractors. Sure, they might point out that he’s a communist, which is true. They could claim he belongs to the radical left, which he does. They could snarl that he’s anti-Zionist, and he probably wouldn’t deny it.

But then they’d have to explain why he is the No.1 legislator in the 18th Knesset, proposing no less than 529 bills in the last four years, of which 27 were approved. They would also have to ignore the awards and honors he’s received, among them the Knight of Quality Government Award from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Parliamentary Excellence award from the Israeli institute for Democracy. They’d also have to admit that he is the most socially and environmentally conscious Member of Knesset there is.

And then they’d have to explain why they cooperated with him on so many bills. Khenin is such an enigma that even his most ardent enemies have a hard time demonizing him. So they just leave him alone.

The point is you can say what you want about Khenin, but you can’t deny he’s probably the most committed, hard-working MK in Israel in recent memory. That’s why unlike his peers, such as Balad’s Hanin Zuabi, Meretz’s Zehava Gal-On or even Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich – it’s hard for the right wing to attack him.

Yes, he is unashamedly communist. He supports nationalizing the banks, the profits from the Tamar and Leviathan deep-water gas prospects and the mineral wealth of the Dead Sea. What of it?

Khenin is so open about his communistic world view that it’s hard to accuse him of being covert. And he speaks just as much about social and environmental issues as he does about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not more, so it is hard to stamp him with the “leftist” label that in Israel dooms you to the fringes of society.

Khenin is already in the fringiest fringe anyway. And he is destined to stay there. And he knows it. And that’s fine. He has learned to make the best of it. In July 2012, Kadima MK (and Hatnuah party candidate) Meir Sheetrit said in a televised interview: “Dov Khenin comes from a small party, but his influence is far greater than all of Kadima.”

Kadima, with 28 seats, was the biggest party within the 18th Knesset. Hadash, with three seats, was one of the smallest.

‘I think I can, I think I can’

It’s not so much that Khenin seems resigned to his marginal status, as that he seems cool with it.

A lot of politicians in Israel would despair of being stuck in third place on the list of a small far-left Arab-Jewish party that has never exceeded three seats in the Knesset and probably won’t this time either (according to recent polls). Many would give up. Many did. But like The Little Engine That Could, Khenin is always forging ahead. It is easy to imagine him telling himself in moments of self-doubt: “I think I can, I think I can.”

The tenacity with which Khenin, married with three children, has engaged the margins of the political debate, and his ability to make lemonade out of some really tart lemons, can be explained by his background. He was born into the political fringes in 1958, his father being David Khenin, a leader of Maki, the Israeli communist party. Khenin is a member of the Maki central committee himself.

His mother, also a communist activist, was a preschool teacher. Young Dov developed a keen interest in politics from an early age, earning his first stripes in Banki, Maki’s communist youth movement, and other left wing youth organizations. Being a communist in Israel, even in socialist Israel, was akin to being a social pariah. In some circles, it still is. Yet he hung on, and stuck to the family tradition. When it came time for him to enter the Israel Defense Forces, he did, but he refused to serve in the Occupied Territories, foreshadowing a lifelong support for conscientious objectors. “I have never tried to hide any detail of my past. I am at peace with everything I’ve ever done,” he told the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon in 2006.

In 1982, he completed an undergraduate law degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has described his university days as a time of intense social and political activity. One of his activities was pushing for combined Arab-Jewish political activities and agendas. In 1984, he began working as a lawyer at the firm of Amnon Zichroni, famous for being one of the first conscientious objectors in the history of Israel – declaring himself a pacifist in 1954 – and for being the lawyer of Israeli nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu.

During his first years as a lawyer, an occupation he continued practicing until 2004, Khenin led some influential human rights cases, including that of five left-wing conscientious objectors, known as Mishpat Hasarvanim (“The Trial of the Refuseniks”). During this period, he also received a PhD. in political science from Tel Aviv University, completed post-doctoral work at Oxford, writing about the relationship between environmentalism and social issues, taught at Tel Aviv University, wrote two books and edited various other books and articles and continued with his political and environmental activism. In 2002 he became the chairman of Haim VeSviva (“Life and Environment”), an umbrella organization comprised of more than 100 environmental organizations and causes in Israel.

Since 1990, Khenin has been a member of Maki’s leadership. In 2003, he made his first foray into parliamentary politics, running in the fourth spot on the Hadash-Taal party list. He had originally been in third place on the Hadash list, a slot held before him by the much-admired (and strikingly similar in gaining admiration from all ends of the political spectrum) Tamar Gozansky. But Hadash, a Jewish-Arab socialist party and the de facto political arm of Maki, banded with the Arab Taal party for the elections, winning just three seats and leaving Khenin less than 1,000 votes short of qualifying. It was the first time Hadash had not sent a Jewish party member to the Knesset.

The partnership between Hadash and Taal did not last long, and in the 2006 elections for the 17th Knesset Khenin was placed third on the Hadash list, finally making it to the Knesset and becoming a MK. He was quick to become one of the most active Members of Knesset, becoming the head of the social-environmental lobby, the biggest lobby group in the Knesset, together with the Rabbi Michael Melchior of Memad.

Darling of cats and the coolth of Tel Aviv

Khenin was especially active on social and environmental issues, writing dozens of bills relating to human rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights, as well as animal, environmental and child protection laws. Together with Labor MK Eitan Cabel, he was responsible among other things for the prohibition of declawing cats, which won him the support of, well, the entire freaking Internet.

Then, in 2008, he really made his mark with the Israeli public, going from an anonymous MK from a small party hardly anyone knew to the total darling of Tel Aviv leftists and hipster wannabe-leftists. The event that upgraded his status was his decision to run against Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai in the municipal elections. Khenin, who was not perceived as particularly charismatic then, ran as the mayoral candidate of Ir Lekulanu, a non-partisan Arab-Jewish-Green municipal party established in 2008 and composed of social and environmental, as well as Hadash, activists. Khenin did not have an easy time running against the incumbent Huldai, who was popular and established and enjoyed the endorsement of the Labor party. Plus, the voting rate in the municipal elections in Israel is patently low.

Still, Ir Lekulano gave one hell of a fight, running a viral Facebook (in the relatively early days of Facebook in Israel) and Youtube campaign, directed specifically at young people living in Tel Aviv, most of them in their 20s and early 30s, leaning to the left, riding bicycles and having a hard time dealing with the rise in rental prices that was effectively forcing them out of the city. The campaign recruited many celebrities and created a political, activist climate in Tel Aviv that would contribute to emergence of the social protest movement three years later.

But still, Khenin lost. He gained 34.3 percent of the vote, compared to Huldai’s 50.6 percent. Ir Lekulani, despite losing the mayoral race, still gained the most votes in the municipal elections and won five seats in the city council. To this day, it remains a viable political force in the Tel Aviv political scene, struggling for affordable housing and better public transportation.

After the mayoral elections, Khenin went back to the Knesset, having lost the race but won the affection and admiration of Tel Aviv’s young adults. In the elections for the 18th Knesset, he was placed again in the third place in Hadash. Upon entering the Knesset, he again headed the social-environmental lobby, this time alongside Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz. During his second term as MK Khenin sustained his energetic style, remaining highly involved in issues relating to social and environmental issues, winning the title of ‘most social MK’ twice in a row by the HaMishmar HaHevrati (“The Social Guard”), a nongovernmental organization established following the social protests of 2011 to keep track of the activity in the Knesset and report it to the public.

Singlehandedly, he elevated Hadash’s image with the Israeli left, projecting an agenda that could be mistaken for social democracy if it wasn’t for his candid, outspoken style.

To read the rest of the article use the link above.

Palestinian activists set up another tent encampment near Jerusalem: Haaretz

The camp, erected in the village of Beit Iksa, was set up in protest of Israeli settlement and comes a week after a similar camp was erected in the E-1 corridor and later evacuated by Israel.

By  | Jan.18, 2013 | 10:00 PM |  22

Palestinians erecting a tent city in the E-1 corridor, January 11, 2013.

Palestinians erecting a tent city in the E-1 corridor, January 11, 2013. Photo by AFP

Palestinian activists have set up a protest camp in the West Bank to demonstrate against what they say is an Israeli land grab.

They say they set up a mosque and several tents Friday in the village of Beit Iksa near Jerusalem.

In a statement, activists said they were securing land from Israel.

The Israeli military said soldiers were monitoring the area to prevent disturbances.

On Sunday, hundreds of Israeli security forces evacuated some 100 Palestinians from a protest tent camp set up two days earlier in the E-1 corridor east of Jerusalem.

The evacuation – which involved about 500 Israel Police officers and Israel Defense Force soldiers – was carried out despite a temporary injunction issued by the High Court of Justice preventing the state from evacuating the encampment for six days, pending deliberations.

Protesters refusing to evacuated leave were carried down the hill by Israeli officials, but there were no reports of injuries. “Everyone was evacuated carefully and swiftly, without any injuries to officers or protesters,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the evacuation order on Saturday, and by late night the IDF had the area surrounded and were preventing supporters from entering. Activists said they would oppose any attempt to forcibly remove them.

Netanyahu said Sunday that he had ordered the area sealed off immediately after hearing of the tent encampment. “I immediately called for the area to be closed off so there would not be large gatherings there that could cause friction and breach the public order,” he said.

“We will not allow anyone to touch the corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim,” Netanyahu added.

Haaretz has determined that the tents were put up on private Palestinian land. In preparing the plans for area E-1 in the West Bank, the state in 2005 examined the records for the lands on which the settlement is to be built. The plan shows an area of 1,500 dunams (375 acres) out of the total 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres‏) allocated for construction that Civil Administration figures indicate is privately owned by Palestinians, although the land was not registered officially.

Palestinian citizens wearily eye Israeli elections: The Electronic Intifada

18 January 2013

“Who are you leaving it to?” asks a billboard erected by a Palestinian party in Israel.

(Atef Safadi /EPA/Newscom)

As Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority, gears up for the country’s general election next week, the most common poster in the city features three far-right leaders noted for their virulently anti-Arab views.

The posters, paid for by one of the largest Palestinian parties, are intended to mobilize the country’s Palestinian citizens to vote.

The most prominent of the faces staring down from billboards is that of Avigdor Lieberman, the recently departed foreign minister who is under police investigation for fraud but still heads Yisrael Beiteinu. His party wants to strip some of Israel’s 1.4 million Palestinians of their citizenship by redrawing the boundary with the West Bank, while the rest would be forced to take a loyalty test.

Alongside him, wearing his trademark grin, is Michael Ben Ari, a former leader of the outlawed Kach movement, which demands the expulsion of Palestinians from both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel. He won a parliamentary seat at the last election for the similarly racist Strong Israel party (Otzma LeYisrael).

Between them is the bearded Baruch Marzel, also a former Kach official who leads the extremist settlers occupying the center of the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. He has repeatedly made headlines by organizing provocative far-right marches through Palestinian towns inside Israel. (He staged a special election one this week in the village of Musmus, close to Umm al-Fahm.) Marzel is expected to enter Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, for the first time, joining Ben Ari in Strong Israel.

The posters around Nazareth pose a blunt question in Arabic: “Who are you leaving it [the Israeli parliament] to?”

Dilemma

Polls suggest that on 22 January, Israel’s Jewish majority will elect the most right-wing Knesset in Israel’s history, returning prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power in a coalition packed with ultra-nationalists. For Israel’s Palestinian citizens, comprising nearly a fifth of the total population, the dilemma has been how to respond to this all-but-inevitable outcome.

Lieberman, Ben Ari and Marzel are part of ever-widening circle of right-wing politicians who want an “Arab-free” Knesset.

The share of the Palestinian electorate prepared to cast a ballot for one of the Zionist parties has shrunk dramatically over the past 15 years. In 1999, 31 percent still voted for a Zionist party; by 2009 the figure had fallen to 17 percent, with more than half that number accounted for by Druze and Bedouin communities that serve in the army.

Instead, the overwhelming majority vote for one of three Arab or Arab-dominated parties (two other Arab parties are not expected to pass the threshold). Over the past 15 years these Palestinian parties, though without influence in the political system, have grown increasingly noisy in demanding equal rights for their constituents. They may not be able to effect change, but they have shown a talent for embarrassing their Jewish colleagues by using the Knesset — and platforms outside it — to express truths Israeli Jews would prefer remained unspoken.

The continuing presence of Palestinian representatives in the Knesset is threatened by two related developments: a consensus among the dominant right-wing parties that the Arab factions are a “fifth column”; and an internal debate among the Palestinian electorate about the value of taking part in national politics given the current climate.

Silencing

The Zionist parties, especially on the right, have been formulating ways to silence the Arab parties, along with human rights groups and what is seen as the too-liberalIsraeli high court. On the issue of the Arab parties, they have found support from Israel’s domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, which has warned that the Palestinian minority’s demands for equal rights — encapsulated in its program for a “state of all its citizens” — constitutes subversion and that Israel should act in accordance with the principle of a “democracy defending itself” (“Democracy for Jews only,” Haaretz, 30 May 2007).

The three main parties vying for Palestinian votes can be described as loosely representing the communist, nationalist and Islamist streams, with each party historically winning three or four seats in the 120-member Knesset.

All have faced attacks from the Zionist parties and more widely from the media for what is seen as their “treasonous” behavior in supporting the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But even in pursuing their domestic agenda — the campaign for equal rights — they have found themselves accused of acting as a “Trojan horse”: that is, seeking to undermine Israel as a Jewish state on behalf of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. It has been this paranoid perception by the security establishment that has increasingly fueled demands from the Israeli government that the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for peace talks.

In the increasingly hostile climate in Israel, the Communist Front has fared best, even though its leader Mohammed Barakeh has been subjected to a series of dubious legal actions by the state and is currently on trial for allegedly assaulting a soldier during a West Bank demonstration.

The Communists have gained some protection from their status as a joint Jewish-Arab party, one that includes a Jew among its current four Knesset members. However, in line with the long-term collapse of the Israeli Jewish left, the overwhelming majority of the Front’s members are Palestinian; the rump Jewish caucus almost operates as a party within the party.

The Islamist stream, known as the United Arab List, includes, in practice, not only the southern wing of the Islamic Movement but socially conservative factions and the one-man Taal party of Ahmed Tibi, long vilified by Israel for his close connections to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the focus of Israeli politicians’ outrage has been the National Democratic Assembly party, which was established in 1995, in the wake of the signing of the Oslo accords. Its original leader, Azmi Bishara, who popularized the slogan of a “state of all its citizens,” treated the Knesset principally as “an arena of confrontation,” using it to expose the limits of Israel’s democracy.

Bishara has been living in exile since 2007, when the Shin Bet accused him, improbably, of having helped Hizballah target sites in Israel with its rockets during the Israeli attack on Lebanon a year earlier.

His place as Zionism’s public enemy number one has been usurped unexpectedly by Haneen Zoabi, who was elected to the Knesset on the NDA ticket at the last election, in 2009. She is the first Palestinian woman to sit in the Knesset for a Palestinian party.

Her main crime in the eyes of the Jewish parties was her participation in the aidflotilla that tried to break the siege of Gaza in May 2010. The lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, on which Zoabi sailed, was attacked by the Israeli navy in international waters, and nine humanitarian activists were killed.

Zoabi returned to Israel with an eye-witness account of Israeli brutality aboard the ship that gave the lie to Israel’s account of what took place and helped stoke international criticism of Israel’s action. As a result, she has been relentlessly hounded in the Knesset chamber; demonized by politicians and the media; and subjected to a wave of death threats from the Israeli public.

Banning

Questioning the right of the Palestinian parties, especially the NDA, to contest national elections has become an established feature of each campaign of the past decade. But the Zionist parties have been able to move beyond mere threats into concerted efforts to disqualify the parties and individual candidates.

This has been possible because a highly partisan body called the Central Elections Committee is charged with overseeing how the campaign is conducted. The committee, dominated by representatives from the main Zionist parties, is given a facade of legitimacy by having a high court judge sit as chairman.

In the 2003 and 2009 elections, the committee tried to ban the NDA, both times with the open support of the Shin Bet, and also targeted elements of the United Arab List. The committee’s decisions have always been overturned on appeal to the high court. But it is widely assumed that, were one of the Arab parties to be disqualified, the others would pull out of the running too.

It looked as though this election would run according to the same script. But while several motions from the right were proposed to ban the NDA and the United Arab List, they were ultimately rejected by the committee, narrowly in the case of the NDA.

Instead, the committee singled out the NDA’s Haneen Zoabi, barring her from running again for the Knesset. The decision was reached despite an advisory opinion from the attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, that there was “no sufficient, exceptional critical mass of evidence” to disqualify her.

The Basic Law on the Knesset makes disqualification of a party or individual candidate possible if they have: incited racism; denied Israel’s Jewish and democratic character; or supported armed struggle or terrorism against Israel.

The committee pointed both to Zoabi’s participation in the 2010 aid flotilla to Gaza, declaring it “support for terrorism,” and to her rejection of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The case against Zoabi was so insubstantial that few observers doubted it would be overturned by the high court.

NDA officials pointed out that she had not personally chosen to take part on the Mavi Marmara. The High Follow-Up Committee, a body representing the whole community, had decided that the Palestinian minority should be represented, and her party had selected her. Similarly, her ideological positions about Israel’s character simply reflected the NDA platform.

The party vowed to boycott the election should she be banned.

There were other obvious problems with the case. The attorney-general had closed the investigation into her participation on the Mavi Marmara in 2011, having found no evidence she broke any law. Furthermore, Israel had not declared the IHH, the Turkish group behind the Mavi Marmara, a “terrorist” organization at the time of the flotilla. In fact, one of her lawyers, Hassan Jabareen of the human rights group Adalah, surprised the court by revealing that the IHH had not been designated as such until a few weeks before the court hearing.

But as a Haaretz editorial noted, evidence was beside the point: “what we’re dealing with is a political crusade against all the Arab political parties” (“The Zuabi test,” 30 December 2012). An opinion poll in December showed 55 percent of Israeli Jews thought a ban on Zoabi would be justified.

The high court overturned Zoabi’s disqualification and did so unanimously. Following the decision, Zoabi observed that “this ruling does little to erase the threats, delegitimization and physical and verbal abuse that I have endured – in and outside the Knesset – over the past three years” (“Supreme Court: MK Zoabi can run for Knesset,” Ynet, 30 December 2012).

For dramatic effect, she had hoped to make her statement to the waiting media as she left the courtroom. But instead she had to be ushered out of a back door to safety as more than two dozen right-wing extremists, led by Michael Ben Ari, blocked her path and started shoving and threatening her escorts. Ben Ari and his Strong Israel party activists were left in charge of the courtroom to denounce the judges’ decision.

Legislators from other right-wing parties criticised the decision too. Yariv Levine of Netanyahu’s Likud party said: “Unless MK Zoabi blows herself up in the Knesset, the high court justices won’t understand that she has no place there” (“Right lambasts court after Israeli Arab MK cleared to run,” Israel Hayom, 30 December 2012).

The joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party issued a statement saying it would introduce yet more legislation to restrict the rights of the country’s Palestinian citizens and their representatives: “any expression of support for terror should be grounds for disqualification for running for election in the Israeli Knesset. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu will immediately act during the next Knesset to fix the existing laws” (“Supreme Court allows MK Zoabi to run for election,” +972, 30 December 2012).

Center-left’s flip

The Central Elections Committee’s decision not to ban the whole NDA list came as a surprise to observers, especially given the dominance of the right. Tel Aviv law professor Aeyal Gross suggested that committee members realized from their previous efforts that they were doomed to failure (“The Supreme Court has again rescued the shards of Israeli democracy,” Haaretz, 30 December 2012).

However, it is fairly difficult to believe that most of the committee members were capable of thinking so dispassionately. In any case, disqualifying Arab parties, whether ultimately futile, has other benefits for the right: it reinforces the message to Jewish voters that the Palestinian public is a fifth column, and it reminds them that the high court needs to be radically overhauled to make it more accountable to public opinion.

Awad Abdel Fattah, secretary-general of the NDA, offered a different reading of the committee’s behavior. He noted that the right-wing parties voted as feverishly for a ban of his party as ever. It was saved by a switch of positions among what has been termed the “center-left” bloc.

The so-called “center-left” — a term the bloc has embraced to signify its ability to become a genuine alternative to Netanyahu and the right — might in countries other than Israel be described as the “center-right.” Its three principal parties – Shelley Yacimovich’s Labor, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, and former TV anchorman Yair Lapid’sYesh Atid – are still heavily influenced by neoliberal economic doctrine; they have not challenged the ballooning defense budget or proposed a way to plug the resulting record deficit; and they have kept the Israeli-Palestinian conflict well in the background of their platforms.

In this case, the parties’ claim to left-wing or centrist credentials derive from their emphasis on reducing the tensions that Netanyahu has allowed to escalate between Israel and its sponsors, the US and the European Union. The center-left is concerned about Israel’s image abroad and making the necessary concessions — including reviving an endless peace process with the Palestinians — to prevent a further deterioration in Israel’s strategic position.

According to Abdel Fattah, the “center-left” is starting to panic, fearing that the momentum of the shift rightwards may soon prove unstoppable. Without concerted action to shore up a credible opposition to Netanyahu, Israel is hurtling towards full-blown fascism at home and pariah status abroad.

Far-right coup

The lurch to the right is discernible in two key developments during the election campaign.

The first was an effective coup by the far-right in the Likud’s recent primaries. The party’s last few “moderates” have now been replaced by ultra-nationalists, including religious settlers. Moshe Feiglin, this latter group’s controversial figurehead, won the 23rd slot on the joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu, ensuring his place in the parliament for the first time.

The second is the rapid rise during the campaign of the Jewish Home party, under its new leader Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff. Bennett has reinvented the faction, shedding its image as simply a settlers’ party. A hi-tech entrepreneur, Bennett has injected political glamour and won converts from the center by emphasising a “return to Jewish values.”

According to recent polls, Jewish Home, which has been plundering votes from Likud, could become the second or third largest party, after Likud-Beiteinu. Unlike the deceitful equivocation of Netanyahu on Palestinian statehood, Bennett is plain-speaking: “I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That’s the equation.” He demands that Israel immediately annex most of the West Bank. (“Naftali Bennett interview: ‘There won’t be a Palestinian state within Israel’,” Guardian, 7 January 2013).

Faced with these trends, the so-called “center-left bloc” appears to have wavered. In the 2003 and 2009 elections, it voted with the right in the Central Elections Committee to ban the NDA. This time it switched to opposing disqualification. Rather than wanting a Knesset empty of Palestinian representatives, the “center-left” appears to have decided that a Palestinian presence may be in their interests.

This possibly explains the unorthodox, and patronizing, editorial in the liberal Haaretznewspaper this week that urged Palestinian citizens to participate in the election – and did so in Arabic. Its headline ordered them to: “Get out and vote!” (“Get out and vote!”, 15 January 2013).

Boycott calls

The cause for the concern expressed by Haaretz has been a steady decline in the Palestinian minority’s turnout at each election over the past decade. In 1999, amid the greater optimism of the Oslo period, three-quarters of the Palestinian electorate voted; 10 years later, in 2009, that figure had fallen to 53 percent, the lowest in the community’s history.

Surveys taken by Asad Ghanem of Haifa University indicate a likely scenario in which, for the first time, less than half the Palestinian electorate vote in a Knesset election (“What’s the point?” The Economist, 12 January 2013).

The falling interest in voting reflects various developments within the Palestinian minority.

Some of it can be attributed to a formal boycott movement initiated in 2006 by the small secular Palestinian nationalist movement the Sons of the Village (Abna al-Balad). The Popular Committee for Boycotting Knesset Elections has attracted backing from academics and intellectuals.

This weekend boycott activists were due to lead a day-long motorcade spreading their message through dozens of Palestinian villages and towns, starting in the central Galilee, passing through Nazareth and then ending in the Triangle area south of Umm al-Fahm.

A boycott has also been the default position of the northern Islamic Movement, led by the popular figure of Sheikh Raed Salah, since the movement split in 1996. The southern wing contested the election in the belief that an Oslo-inspired two-state solution was at hand. Salah has been the chief beneficiary of the gradual discrediting of the Oslo process.

But according to Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Arab Association for Human Rights in Nazareth, more significant than the boycott movement has been the much wider assumption in popular discourse that voting is a pointless activity and that the Arab parties are ineffective.

The alienation of Palestinian citizens from the political system was highlighted in a survey presented at Haifa University in December. It showed 79 percent had little or no faith in state institutions, including the Knesset, and 67 percent lacked confidence in the Arab parties (“On my mind: Arab voters,” The Jerusalem Post, 24 December 2012).

Zeidan pointed to a lack of campaigning in Palestinian communities, apart from the billboards. “It’s almost as if the [Palestinian] parties themselves are too embarrassed to show their faces by electioneering.”

He also noted a frankness among people stating that they would not be voting. “Among the youth this trend is especially strong. They are clear that the Knesset and the [Palestinian] parties do not represent them.”

This is an assessment even the parties themselves are prepared to concede. Jamal Zahalka, head of the NDA’s Knesset faction, said: “We’re trying to encourage Arabs to vote because it’s important, but you can’t blame them when they see how little power we have in parliament” (“Israeli Arabs unenthusiastic about Jan 22 vote,” The Huffington Post, 19 December 2012).

Mostly out of view, the parties have been deliberating how to deal with the rapid decline in turnout. The posters featuring Lieberman, Ben Ari and Marzel – part of the NDA’s campaign – were intended to play on the community’s fears of the far-right.

But according to surveys, the most likely way to increase voting would be for the parties to present a joint list for the Knesset. Back in October, when the election was announced, a campaign on social media was launched urging the parties to cooperate more closely so that they could win a larger number of seats and have a greater influence.

However, the Communist Front is reported to have vetoed the move, apparently worried that a union with the two other Arab parties would drive away Jewish support and end its tradition of being a Arab-Jewish party.

A more radical solution, again opposed by the Communist Front, would be to abandon the Knesset and set up an Arab parliament with direct elections. One of its first acts would be to demand cultural and educational autonomy.

The idea of a separate parliament has been under discussion, so far fruitlessly, for more than a decade. But a very low turnout this time may push it higher up the Palestinian parties’ agenda.

Center-left’s anxiety

It is not only the Arab parties that are anxious about the expected low rate of participation. The Jewish “center-left” appears to have realised that it may harm them too, even though few Palestinian citizens now vote for Zionist parties. The damage is possible in two ways — one strategic, the other pragmatic — according to Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University.

The first is that, if the Knesset no longer represents Palestinian citizens, either through a successful boycott or because of a ban by the right, Israel’s rule over its Palestinian minority will look increasingly illegitimate, and more like a variety of apartheid. In such circumstances, the center-left’s role in defending Israel’s standing abroad — its chief selling-point to its shrinking constituency at home — is in danger of becoming irrelevant. The center-left could quickly find itself in vicious spiral of political and diplomatic marginalization.

The second, deeper concern for the center-left is one of “cold political calculation,” says Jamal. A low turnout by Palestinian voters will be reflected in a low number of seats. And that in turn will make the chances of building a credible Knesset bloc to challenge Netanyahu and the right even more hopeless.

Without a strong showing by the Palestinian parties, the center-left has no hope of tasting power. Instead they are more likely to end up squabbling with each other to be allowed to sit meekly on the margins of his coalition.

Jamal said: “Plenty of the members of the center-left parties have no real love of the Arab parties but still they understand that they need these parties strong to reduce Netanyahu’s power.”

Two weeks before polling day, the center-left parties made what looked suspiciously like a desperate, last-minute gesture towards Palestinian citizens to encourage them to vote. They signed a covenant committing to end inequality between Jews and Arabs within 10 years. Of the Arab parties, only the Communist Front attended.

The meeting received little coverage in the local Arab media. Of the few in the minority who were aware of it, most expected the covenant would become another quickly forgotten promise.

Ramez Jeraisi, Nazareth’s mayor and a member of the Communist Front that signed the document, summed up the mood: “We have experienced talk and declarations that were never implemented, and I don’t expect a change in reality.”

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.

In desperation, Shas again plays the racist card: Haaretz

They may have pulled their inciting ad against Russian immigrants, but that didn’t stop Eli Yishai and his party from wielding a new video against African refugees.

By  | Jan.16, 2013 | 10:55 AM |  3

Refugees at Egyptian border

African refugees sit on the ground behind a border fence after they attempted to cross illegally from Egypt into Israel as Israeli soldiers stand guard near the border with Egypt, in southern Israel. Photo by AP

I haven’t met many people over the last few days who admit to watching the campaign ads, but I suspect that they are a guilty pleasure (like sadomasochism) for many Israelis, not just me. At least one party still hopes that the televised propaganda can sway a few voters.

Shas pulled its scandalous and inciting ad against Russian immigrants after using it only twice last week and based its campaign instead on Aryeh Deri’s outdated charisma and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s health. Neither of these seems to be helping the party very much in the polls and on Tuesday they tried the two other members of the party’s leadership triumvirate. First it was Housing Minister Ariel Atiass who tried to convince us that he had built cheap flats in Modi’in for the general population, and not just in Haredi areas. And a new slogan – “Shas – Building the State.”

But that was just a poor attempt. The real thing came next. The last card for Shas to play is Interior Minister Eli Yishai, still the party’s nominal leader. Yishai has had this little video up his sleeve for months now, but Deri didn’t allow him to use it, until now. In the ad Yishai takes credit for Shas being the only party “keeping our neighborhoods safe” from the African scourge. This is Yishai’s famous eight-minute long “infiltrators” video which was somehow leaked onto the web last week on an unofficial website for Shas supporters and last night was suddenly deemed worthy of screening.

It is only a minute-long version of the full thing, but it has it all. Multitudes swarming across the border, mothers in south Tel Aviv afraid to let their daughters out after dark, a weird African supremacist claiming “this is the land of god, not Israel, not the white man” and CCTV footage of anonymous violence. The tagline: “Shas – Guarding the State.” So far the only party to really have tried to make any capital over the African refugees (or “infiltrators,” as they are often called by parts of the media and some parties), has been Likud Beiteinu, which regards building the new border fence with Egypt as one of its proudest achievements. Yishai has been the most virulent voice in government against the refugees, demanding their deportation and accusing them of spreading disease and crime. He wants some of the credit. This late in the game, the only way they feel they can get some is by playing low.

Shas’ leaders claim they are not worried about the polls because the pollsters routinely underestimate their party’s strength. But if they are resorting to this tactic, with only five days left until the election, they must be desperate.

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