To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.
There is no sound so delightful as the whimpering of leftists in the morning.
There is no message so hope-inspiring as the screams of outrage from the world and the
accusations that Israelis have voted against “peace.”
There are grounds for all of us to recite a collective Hagomel blessing, for the Jewish
people has just been rescued, at least for the moment, from imminent danger of (self-)
destruction. But the danger is not past. And there are more than enough reasons to doubt that the
new Sharon government will have what it takes to rescue Israel from the Oslo war process.
The clearest and most obvious conclusion from the election is that Israel's Oslo Left is
imploding. The once-mighty Israeli Labor Party, now led by Amram Mitzna and the party's
radical wing, received only 19 Knesset seats (out of 120).
Fewer than one Israeli voter in five voted for the Labor Party, meaning the party now has
about the same degree of popular support as Ross Perot's party received in the 1992 U.S.
presidential election. The local Haifa weekly ran as its banner headline ?Mitzna the Leader of the
Small? (a play on words, since in English ?small? means little and in Hebrew it means Left).
But the loss of seats by Labor does not tell the full story of implosion of the Israeli Oslo
Left. In the last Knesset, the Oslo Left held 42 seats, counting Labor, Meretz, and the “Center
Party.” The latter was nominally a centrist party, but was clearly pro-Oslo and featured Yitzhak
Rabin's daughter as perhaps its best-known leader. In the new Knesset, the Oslo Left is down to
25 seats, a loss of over 40%.
The Labor Party itself dropped from 26 seats to 19, losing only a quarter of its seats. I say
“only” because since its policies had resulted in the murder of 1200 Israelis, I was expecting a far
greater loss. In part, the loss was “small” because much of the hostility by voters to Oslo was
already expressed in Labor's losses in previous elections. Labor also capitalized on the alleged
“scandals” regarding Sharon and on the unwillingness of the leftist media to report properly on
Mitzna's own track record of corruption and sleaze.
Mitzna had benefited from the open endorsement of most of the world's leaders (notably
Britain?s Tony Blair) and from financial resources flowing into Israel from those in other
countries who enthusiastically support any Israeli leader who promises to lead the country on the
path to national suicide.
On the other hand, the endorsement of Mitzna by the PLO and Syria no doubt hurt Labor.
And the party?s pathetic attempts to stampede Israeli voters into supporting Mitzna by running
campaign clips with Yitzhak Rabin were complete failures. Only the halo was missing from
Rabin's head in those clips. Israelis can no longer be persuaded to fast-march to their own
oblivion by the flashing of sentimental camcorder tapes of Rabin.
The aforementioned “Center Party” did not even run this time. But perhaps the most
wonderful piece of news is the collapse of leftist Meretz, which lost 50% of its Knesset strength.
Meretz had 10 seats in the last Knesset, but at the last minute added two more when part of the
Shi'ite wing of the Israeli Labor Party (Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan) bolted and joined Meretz,
promising to bring over some Labor votes.
Only one Israeli voter in 20 voted for Meretz this round. Meretz was left with only six
seats. Yael Dayan blubbered on TV the day after the election that the collapse of Meretz votes
meant the new Knesset would have no open homosexual sitting in the house!
Clearly Meretz collapsed because the voters, even erstwhile Oslo supporters, understand
that Meretz's policies represent national self-annihilation. Meretz leader Yossi Sarid had the
decency to resign as party chief, and later said Meretz had collapsed because it had failed to
denounce Arafat and the PLO. But my pet theory is that a good part of Meretz's collapse has to
do with its adoption of homosexuality as its number two cause. Meretz, banking on that old myth
about ten percent of the population being homosexual, no doubt expected to pull masses of
voters out of their closets. Not only is the ten percent assumption patently false, but the very
endorsement of homosexual “rights” no doubt drove away many Meretz voters, especially Arab
Meretz voters, always a non-negligible portion of Meretz?s strength.
The Israeli far Left still maintains a near totalitarian stranglehold on the Israeli media, the
courts, and the universities, but this tiny totalitarian elite is now negligible in the Knesset. Will
Sharon have the moxie to challenge their remaining power bases? In the past he has not.
The contraction of Labor was also delicious comeuppance for the party that had led the
anti-democratic assault on the Israeli voting system. In the last election, Israelis could vote
directly for their prime minister. The Left, upset because Israelis voted for the ?wrong?
man for prime minister in 2000, sought to set things right and corral voters back into the Labor
party by leading the fight to revoke direct voting for the prime minister. The result is Labor's
pitiful 19 seats.
The Likud doubled its seats from the last Knesset to 38 seats. In fact, Likud strength had
been up all along and could have been capitalized upon in the 2000 election. The problem was
that for bizarre reasons, Sharon was afraid to reap it.
The 2000 election was a vote for the prime minister only and not for the Knesset. Had it
been a general Knesset election, Likud would have shot up even higher. But that would have
required a Likud primaries campaign, where Netanyahu would have run. Netanyahu had pledged
loudly and publicly that he would not run unless there were a general Knesset vote, and Sharon
and Labor were able to keep Netanyahu quarantined and out of that election, each for different
motives, by restricting it to a vote for the prime minister alone.
Sharon will be trying to get Labor to again join a national unity government. The only
way Labor can join is if it first ousts Mitzna, who has pledged never to join. I do not rule that out,
as most Laborites are more attached to their perks and pork than to Mitzna. (That grinding sound
you hear is the sharpening of long knives within the Labor Party.)
But I also do not rule out the possibility that Sharon might “pull a Begin.” After Labor
collapsed following the 1973 Yom Kippur War debacle, Likud soundly thrashed Labor in 1977,
but Menachem Begin recruited Labor?s Moshe Dayan as his defense minister. Sharon could do
the same, to “pretty up” his government in the eyes of the world, and it could even be through
recruiting Shimon Peres as foreign minister. Do not pooh-pooh that horrendous possibility.
The biggest change is of course the growth in Shinui. Originally Shinui was a party of
reformist liberals and leftists in the 1970's. Its more radical leftists left the party when Meretz
was formed, combining there with the Marxist Mapam party and with the Ratz party of Shulamit
Aloni, the Madame DeFarge of Israel?s far Left. That left the flaky Avraham Poraz as the
one-man Shinui party. Poraz's main cause at the time was animal rights and protecting the
self-esteem of circus animals.
But then Poraz recruited the loud-mouthed vulgarian Tommy Lapid and together they
turned Shinui into a party of anti-Orthodox bigotry. Shinui grew to six seats in the last election,
and this time around shot up to 15.
I doubt that the growth of Shinui has anything to do with escalating anti-religious bigotry
in Israel, despite the fact that Shinui does not stand for much else. Shinui?s boost, in my opinion,
is attributable to a huge protest vote by people wary of both Labor and Likud. These were Israelis
who did not want a party that claimed to stand for anything. Shinui voters were seeking a
“Seinfeldian” party, a party about nothing. A party neither left nor right — perhaps both at the
same time. A party perceived as non-corrupt. The problem is that Shinui will be a huge loose
cannon on the deck of the new Knesset.
The Arab fascist parties, one of which is nominally Stalinist-fascist, are down to eight
seats from 10, due to low Arab voter turnout. In fact, of course, two of these three parties are
openly pro-terror and had been banned by the Election Board as treasonous, except that the
non-elected anti-democratic leftist judiciary overturned that democratic decision and allowed
those two to run, which is equivalent to allowing Al Qaeda to run for Congress in the US. The
Hadash communist party got three seats, almost all votes from Arab voters but a few from my
university “Post-Zionist” colleagues.
The Sephardic religious party Shas lost six of its seats, and finds itself reduced to
eleven. The main reason was a loss of votes to the Likud, but in part there was hemorrhaging
because a second small Sephardic party led by Rabbi Kadori mounted a challenge to Shas (but
did not win seats). The National Religious Party rose from five to six seats, but this should be
considered a moderate failure. NRP was running the charismatic Effi Eitam as its head, someone
who was expected to turn out new voters in droves. But he failed, probably because the party is
widely perceived as looking out for little more than its own mundane political interests.
The three religious parties together hold 22 seats, compared with 27 in the last Knesset.
This loss of strength reinforces my view that the large turnout for Shinui had more to do with
protest against Labor and Likud corruption than with any sudden fear of the Orthodox bogeyman.
The Am Echad Party of Amir Peretz, head of the Histadrut Trade Union federation,
picked up an extra seat, and now holds three. The subliterate Peretz, best known for his Zapatista
moustache and the impressions of him done by super-comic Eli Yatzpen, is not well-defined
ideologically, and his naked vote buying makes him comparable to Samuel Flatto-Sharon, a
fugitive wanted in France for embezzlement who bought his way into the Knesset in the 1970's.
No doubt part of the jump in votes for Peretz was due to the deep recession Israel is now
in and the unfounded belief that Peretz has some thoughts about how to improve things. I suspect
he has no thoughts about anything, period.
Natan Sharansky's party collapsed, winning a measly two seats, and Sharansky also
promptly resigned from office. Not a bad role model for Mitzna. The era of Russian immigrant
parties in Israel is over. Clearly the immigrants have become Israelis in a political sense and are
voting now as Israelis, mainly for the Likud and the Right.
The Ichud Leumi party, the only list unambiguously totally opposed to Oslo, won a
mildly respectable 7 seats, although I had expected more. In part, it lost seats because the Herut
party refused to merge with it or drop out of the race and drew away voters. The Kahanist Herut
however failed to pass the minimum vote threshold and did not make it into the Knesset.
The remaining Rodeo Clowns, the flock of picayune parties that always plague Israeli
elections, did not get in. Besides Herut, the only one even coming close was the pothead
Tikkunesque Green Leaf party, dedicated to good marijuana and “trance” parties.
The danger of a Mitzna-led government of national self-destruction is now past, although
the Israeli Left is convinced that it was never so correct as it is now, and that the only reason it
lost was that Labor and Meretz did not go far enough in appeasing the PLO and rewarding
But a different danger is now upon us. Ever since 1977, in every single election the
Likud ran on a platform renouncing the ideas of the Labor Party. Israeli voters repeatedly elected
Likud governments precisely because they rejected Labor Party ideas and presumed the Likud
would implement policies completely opposite those of Labor in many crucial areas.
But in every single case where the Likud was elected, once in office it proceeded to carry
out and implement Labor Party policies and ideas in most areas of political life. This included the
Oslo Lite of Bibi Netanyahu and Sharon?s posturing about how a Palestinian state might be
something very nice after all.
The Likud has always been a party of incompetence and bungling. The real danger when
the Likud is in office is that the Likud fails to govern, fails to lead, fails to rule. The Likud in
office always mysteriously morphs into the Other Labor Party. If it does so again this time,
Heaven help us.
Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Haifa University. His
book ?The Scout? is available through Amazon.com. He can be contacted at
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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