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.
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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