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France in a State of National Depression

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

France is the sick man of Europe — at least, that is how the French themselves apparently see it. Last month, a survey published in the leading newspaper, Le Monde, found that a large majority of the French believe that France’s economic power and cultural influence have declined over the past decade. One in every two Frenchmen seems to have lost hope, evidently convinced that the decline of France — economic as well as cultural — is “inevitable.”

The French also seem to have lost faith in democracy. Le Monde described the survey’s findings as “alarming.” Three-quarters believe that French democracy is not working well. 62% believe that their politicians are corrupt. The survey indicated that authoritarianism is widely supported, by the Left as well as the Right. More than 70% of the French want a strong leader – a “real chef” – to restore order. So do, obviously, not only 97% of the right-wing Front National party voters, but also an astonishing 98% of the voters of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement, the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and 70% of the voters of the governing Socialist Party of President François Hollande.

A quarter of the French want to withdraw from the European Union; two-thirds want to limit the E.U.’s power and take a stronger stand in favor of France’s own interests. A majority of the French favor economic protectionism; 70% are convinced there are too many foreigners in the country, and 62% no longer feel as at home in their own country as they used to. Front National party leader Marine Le Pen said the survey shows that “The French agree with us.”

Dominique Reynié, a professor of political science at the renowned Paris Institute of Political Studies [Sciences Po], describes the general sentiment, visible in the survey, as “ethno-Socialism.” This is a Socialism that strives for Keynesian full employment and an elaborate social security system, underpinned by nationalist policies.

The survey also showed that 74% of the French consider Islam incompatible with French society, and 25% say that Judaism is incompatible with French society. Among the latter there might be a significant number of Muslims. Nevertheless, the figure is disconcertingly high. 11% consider Catholicism incompatible with French society.

According to the historian Michel Winock, another professor at Sciences Po, “the French are afraid.” They are afraid of unemployment, economic decline, globalization, the E.U., immigrants, Islam. They are suffering from a “profound despair,” which makes them long for strong leadership. In 2007, they voted for Sarkozy in the hope that he would be this strong leader. Last year, they voted for Hollande who promised a national resurgence. In both cases, they were sorely disappointed.

The national malaise also visible in the survey can be seen elsewhere in French society as well. The French are depressed: they are the world’s largest consumers of anti-depressants — twice as much as their English neighbors and three times as much as their German neighbors.

The feelings of national depression were not eased when two weeks ago Michel Sapin, the French Minister of Labor, said in a radio interview that the French state was “totally bankrupt.” Though technically not officially bankrupt yet, France has five major financial headaches.

First, there is the rising government debt. Between 1974, when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing became President of France, and today, France’s national debt rose from 21% to 90% of GDP. This year, interest payments on government debt amount to €45 billion, the largest item in government expenditure, and higher than the total education budget.

Second, there is the pension problem. France has a pay-as-you-go pension system. In order to keep future pensions payable, the French government either has to raise the working population’s pension contributions by 1.1%, cut actual pensions by 5%, or raise the retirement age, currently at 60, by 9 months. Last June, President Hollande cut the retirement age from 62 to 60, reversing the raise introduced by his predecessor Sarkozy in 2010. Minister Sapin, a pragmatic Socialist, opposed this move, but Hollande felt compelled to fulfill his electoral promises.

Third, there is the labor market. 18% of France’s active population is unemployed. Over half a million people have been out of work for more than three years. Three years ago, fewer than 300.000 people were in this situation. Wage costs are too high, productivity is dropping, and talented people are leaving France to work abroad.

Jewish Home to Likud: Ball in Bibi’s Court

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

The criticism leveled by senior Likud officials against Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, accusing him of violating his promises to his own voters, have received this a quick response from Bennet’s people.

“Netanyahu is the one who cheated his constituents,” said a senior official in the party that won 12 seats in the elections, insisting it is inconceivable that Bennett would compromise his principles. “Anyone who thinks that Bennett will fold just doesn’t know him. He has nerves of steel. There is no chance he will blink first.”

Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked on Sunday attacked the conduct of the Likud party in the coalition negotiations, saying that “If Netanyahu wanted to – he could quickly form a government with us in it.”

According to Shaked, “the Likud statements, as if our understandings with Yair Lapid constitutes a deception of voters, shows contempt for the public’s intelligence.”

Shaked added that “despite the mudslinging campaign against us before the elections, we recommended Netanyahu to form the next government. The campaign is over, stop attacking the Jewish home and just form a government.”

Meanwhile, another senior Jewish Home official has told Arutz 7 that the Religious Zionist movement is not Netanyahu’s pet.

“Since the elections, Likud has been pushing us away and excluding us. Initially, there were those devastating attacks against our rabbis, then Netanyahu’s whole conduct was an attempt to humiliate us. He preferred to meet with Tzipi Livni, Yacimovich and Zahava Gal’on before getting to the Jewish Home.”

Bennett’s relationship with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, another spot the Likud has been attacking, was described by Jewish Home officials as a strong alliance. “The person who should take pride in forging the relationship between us and Lapid is none other than Netanyahu. He has pushed us there. His actions will keep closer and his actions will push us away. The way they’ve been pulling the rope, they’re just bringing us even closer to Lapid.”

The same sources have estimated that “Netanyahu wanted a leftist government with Livni, Kadima and the Haredim. But the election results forced on him a different government. We have principles, and as long as they’re not met, we will not accept and not even discuss government portfolios. Their entire attitude is derogatory. Not only to Jewish Home, but to the entire National Religious public which has followed Netanyahu for years.”

Winning the Minority Vote

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

After the 2012 Waterloo, Republican consultants retreated to some party boats and hotels, and began planning their comeback. Bereft of ideas, they took the media’s explanations for why they lost at face values. What they have delivered is a liberal’s eye diagnosis of why they lost and so they debuted a plan to win over Latinos with amnesty and to end their negative image with a new gentler look.

Mostly what they have proven is that they are even more clueless than they were a year ago.

Senator Marco Rubio seems like a nice guy, but if the Republicans are counting on him to deliver the Latino vote, they might want to take a closer look at his Senate win. While Rubio did indeed win the Cuban Latino vote, he only won 39 percent of the non-Cuban Latino vote. That’s the same Latino margin of victory as Rick Perry got. It’s the usual best score that Republicans get among Latinos.

Marco Rubio could be a guy named Mark Richardson for all the impact that he made among Latino voters. But that’s because the “Latino” vote is a ridiculous oversimplification. Latinos consist of Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, to name just a few. And they don’t necessarily align.

Mayor Bloomberg ran against a Puerto Rican candidate and won the Mexican vote. Bloomberg may speak Spanish about as well as your Aunt Sally, but that didn’t really matter because he didn’t waste a lot of time telling stories about growing up poor in the slums of San Juan. Instead he worked with Mexican community leaders who were tired of being sidelined by Puerto Ricans, and advertised heavily on their radio stations and in their papers.

Race is certainly a factor, but it’s not the only factor. Most Black voters initially supported Hillary Clinton. If Herman Cain ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Clinton would beat him by a high margin. A Zogby poll shows Rubio beating Clinton among Latino voters, but how well that poll would hold up after Latino leaders have spent enough time getting the word out is another matter. Clinton beat Obama among Latino voters on Super Tuesday. Assuming that she won’t do the same to Rubio only because of his race is a risky bet.

There are two types of minority groups in the United States. Segregated and integrated. The more integrated a group becomes, the less of a bloc vote it is. A bloc vote is not simply a consistent pattern, it is the result of a segregated community that interfaces with the rest of the country through its leaders and local media. And those two interfaces are key.

It doesn’t really matter how many Latinos speak at the Republican National Convention or how many Republican senators sign on to Amnesty. These events will, for the most part, be processed through the filter of those community leaders and their associated newspapers and radio stations. Republicans imagine that they’re addressing Latinos, but aside from Univision appearances they mostly don’t even have access to them.

The percentage of the Latino vote that is accessible to Republicans largely comes from those Latinos who have integrated and are in the Middle Class. That is why the Republicans did so much better with the Latino vote in Ohio than Virginia. Median income and English language skills remain a fairly reliable predictor of the Republican vote.

Winning the minority vote is not simply about policy or diversity. That is an elementary lesson of the urban political machine that the Republican Party has bizarrely forgotten, even though it’s a lesson that goes back a century and a half in American politics. Diversity is not about finding binders of qualified candidates, but about elevating community leaders from minority groups who can deliver a share of the vote from their community.

It’s not pretty, but it is practical politics. Lincoln understood it and applied that methodology right down to the appointment of generals. The Democrats built an entire network of votes in every state by taking their urban political machine national. But the Republicans seem to think that it’s enough to have someone out there speaking Spanish. It’s a nice touch and the urban political machines used it. Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., the son of General MacClellan, spoke a bewildering number of the languages that his constituents did. Mayor LaGuardia also juggled languages. But those are campaign tricks. They are not how the vote is delivered.

The Road to Serfdom

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“I am Hashem your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2).

Values always come on a ladder. They have no significance if they are not set out in the proper order of preference; what is more important, what comes first, is the foundation for all the rest.

The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is the starting point and the foundation for the entire structure of values that follows. There is a G-d who redeemed us from slavery. We serve Him and Him only. Throughout history, despots who desired to rule the entire world have found themselves in serious conflict with the Nation of Israel. From Pharaoh to Ahashverosh, from Hitler to Stalin – these despots concluded that they must destroy the Jews simply because the Jews cannot be enslaved: They already have a King, “I am Hashem, your G-d.”

Many values are held aloft in our world: Equality, liberty, liberalism and more. They are all fine and good. But usually, they are not founded on the first of the Ten Commandments. “My Nile River is mine and I created myself,” said Pharaoh according to the Midrash, just one example of a king who thought he was a god. The more that a leader puts himself at the focal point, the more he diminishes G-d and attempts to “replace” Him, the more that slavery takes root until the entire state becomes one large concentration camp: a “house of bondage.”

The danger of enslavement has greatly increased in modern times. The state’s ability to control and revoke its citizen’s liberty is very enticing to a regime that has no G-d. The excuse will always – always – be security. “We must revoke your liberty so that we can protect you.”

Do we really need to be biometrically marked like animals just to counter the plague of forged identity cards? Is there no technological solution better than a simple photograph that can easily be removed and replaced? Of course there is. Smart chips are already in place in all sorts of identity cards, and they are extremely difficult to forge. But the prime motivation for the Orwellian biometric law is the abrogation of liberty; to entice us all into a house of bondage – in the name of security, of course.

Wherever G-d has been completely removed from the picture – in atheist or communist regimes – human life and honor have no value at all. In China they raise people in locked farms so that they can sell their organs for transplants or horror shows, like the one that recently featured in Israel.

So when you hear someone talking about lofty values, be sure to check his entire message. Who is his G-d? Who works for whom? Does he work for G-d, or vice versa?

And the Winner is…

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

I have no clue how many religious Jews are in the Israeli Knesset now after the election. But I have been told that if they would all combine, they would be the single largest party in Israel. That – in and of itself – is a pretty sad commentary on the state of Achdus. If there is anything that should unite religious Jews it is the fact that they are religious. Nothing should be more important to us that serving God through his Torah. And that is what all of us try to do. What unites us should therefore be far greater than what divides us.

But as can be plainly seen that is hardly the case. Especially in Israel. Just to cite one example of why it isn’t – is the way the observant Kipa wearing Naftali Bennett, head of ‘HaBayit HaYehudi’ was treated by differing rabbinic leaders.

Rav Ovadia Yosef the spiritual head of Sephardic Jewry in Israel condemned him telling people they dare not vote for him. (Actually Israelis do not vote for people but parties. But it is often the party leader that people are really voting for when they vote party.)

But Rav Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and nearby Hevron – a strong supporter of right wing Religious Zionist settlers enthusiastically supported him.

Mr. Bennett’s party was expected to win big in these elections. His newly minted party is said to have taken over where the National Religious Party (Religious Zionists) left off. But Bennett is so right wing that he makes Netanyahu look like a liberal. Bennett’s political views are much closer to those of Rabbi Meir Kahane. He advocates abandoning the peace process and annexing certain portions of the West bank right now. This is a position that has a lot of sympathy among the right wing in Israel. A lot of Israelis see the peace process going nowhere and simply say, “Let’s do what we have to – and let the chips fall where they may”.

The fact is that even though Mr. Bennett’s party won big with 11 seats, it fell short of predictions. The big surprise is Yair Lapid’s centrist, “Yesh Atid” party. He unexpectedly won more seats than Bennett did. With his 19 seats he is second only to Netanyahu’s combined Likud / Yisrael Beitenu coalition with 31 seats.

How did this happen when all the predictions were for a right wing blowout election that – by including Bennett’s party in a governing coalition – would have ended up with the most right wing government in Israel’s history?

And what about the religious parties, like Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7 seats)?

How is this all going to break down? What will a new government look like?

To me it looks like the new governing coalition will include Lapid’s centrists instead of Bennett’s right wingers. It will probably also still include the religious parties as it always has making the coalition consist of 68 seats. That is a very comfortable majority of the 120 member Knesset. Bennett may very well be out of the coalition.

Yair Lapid is the son of the anti religious (although he claimed he was not) Tommy Lapid who led the Shinui party and who won six Knesset seats in 1999.

But this Lapid is not his father. Although he favors drafting Haredim into the military, I don’t see him doing it as an anti religious move. Because if that is considered anti religious, so am I. I too think Haredim should be drafted. But that is not the issue here.

I believe that his views are pretty much the mainstream views of most Israelis. Which is why his party is referred to as centrist. His list (of members filling those 19 seats) includes Rabbi Dov Lipman, a velvet Kipa wearing Haredi Rav with Semicha from Ner Israel. People may remember him from his activism in the Sheinfield area of Bet Shemesh, where he lives.

He was in the forefront of the opposition to Haredi extremists from neighboring Ramat Bet Shemesh who terrorized 8-year-old Naamah Margolese as she walked to her Religious Zionist elementary school every day. Rabbi Lipman is a man of great integrity and courage. He would never join forces with a man who is anti-religious.

I don’t know how this will all shake down. But I for one am glad that the new government will not be take the right turns everyone expected it to. Much as I would like to reclaim all of the Eretz Yisrael – which is the policy of the right, I realize that this is currently an impossibility. Trying to do so can only lead to disaster. Netanyahu is smart enough to know that. Which is why I support him.

So even though I liked and even admired Bennett, I was not thrilled with the idea of a governing coalition that included him. My feelings about him are similar to those I had about Meir Kahane… a man who spoke the truth but whose ideas about how to deal with that truth were so dangerous that in my view they could have destroyed the State of Israel.

The one thing people like Naftali Bennett do not factor in enough is the importance of the relationship with the United States. The financial, military, and intelligence benefits of this relationship are immeasurable. It is extremely naïve to think that U.S. support for Israel is open ended. Even though there may be members of congress or political candidates that might even go so far as Bennett does (Newt Gingrich comes to mind.) support for Israel may erode if Israel thumbs its nose at a U.S. administration that hardly has the warmest of relations with it right now.

An Israeli Government that would move even further to the right with Bennett’s influence could seriously damage and further alienate an administration that already disapproves of Israel’s current settlements policies.

If building new settlements upsets the current administration now, wait till talk of unilaterally annexing parts of Judea and Samaria enters into the political discourse. Fortunately that doesn’t seem as likely now that the Israeli electorate has spoken.

Of course one never knows what will happen. There is no governing coalition yet. Negotiations haven’t started yet with the political parties who might be considered coalition worthy. It is still possible that Bennett’s party will be in and Lapid’s party out. It is possible that both Bennett and Lapid will join the new government, leaving out one of the religious factions – like United Torah Judaism (the Ashkenazi Haredi party).

One thing seems certain. Even though there will be an unprecedented number of religious Knesset members – Haredim are closer to being drafted than at any time in Israel’s history. Whether that will actually happen, how they will ultimately react if it does, and how this will affect the country as a whole – remains to be seen.

Aren’t Israeli politics fun?

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From the US to Israel, Conservatives Stumble

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

The disastrous results in Israel’s election are yet another example of the Right cannibalizing itself. It’s not the first time this happened in Israeli political history or American political history or European political history. It’s an ongoing theme whose motto is still, “No enemies to the left.”

What the “mainstream” conservatives fear most of all is a drift to the right. Some of this is the whimper of whipped dogs. Every party to the right of Stalin has had to spend decades fending off accusations that it was the second coming of the Third Reich, the KKK and Genghis Khan. The Pavlovian training has taken hold and every conservative echelon is expert at going into damage control mode when it senses that its own right might do something that would give the left fuel for their accusations.

But there’s another factor at work here. It’s cultural. Mainstream conservatives have become another arm of the urban technocracy. They want many of the same things that liberals do, but with less regulations and more tax shelters. They aren’t interested in major changes, only the minor ones that will keep the system going. Even when they are dedicated reformers, their vision extends no further than a bunch of high tech cities full of immigrants going to universities and then inventing things.

They are competent, rather than imaginative. The Left repeatedly outmaneuvers them because the Left is always pushing to the Left, while they are content to put a chair against the door and wait for those crazy hippies to get off the LSD, cut their hair and give up. But to their surprise the Left never does.

The leaders of mainstream conservatism aren’t angry, and they dismiss the people who are as loons. When the left does something oppressive or defeats them, they don’t get mad, they get ironically amused. They make detached observations citing Trollope. They are as much a part of the jet setting elite, as their liberal colleagues, and they have an exit strategy, whether it’s Singapore or Thailand.

They aren’t liberals themselves, but their conservatism is an outmoded thing that was only fit for a conservative society. In a conservative society, they are the old guard. In a liberal society, they are still the old guard, standing for the values of moderation, civility and not getting too worked up about things that can’t be changed. In a liberal society, what they conserve is not conservatism, but the liberalism of their youth.

The one thing that worries them is the ascendance of the right. They don’t much like their own base. It’s angry, noisy and ignorant. It doesn’t understand the rules of the game. And it represents a threat to their careers.

They may draw cartoons and sing a few songs, but they aren’t revolutionaries. They don’t want a culture war. And they don’t really want to change the way things are. They may not approve of the politics of their children, and they gasp in horror at debt ratios and proposals to privatize things, but overall they like the way things are. And they imagine that it can remain that way, hanging forever in mid-air, never going further left or further right, a perfect balance that will endure for all time.

They have a simple arrangement with the Right. They pledge allegiance, faintly, to its beliefs, mouth the right words during elections, promise to ban abortion, build settlements, and then they shake their heads ruefully and go back to the club regretting the necessity for participating in this clown show. Between elections they sometimes put their intellectual firepower at the disposal of these ideas, though never when these ideas appear to be polling badly, especially with the young.

In exchange the Right, the real Right, those angry people with quaint ideas about personal freedom, moral revival and national greatness, are expected to know their place. And their place is behind the sawhorses at the rally and in line at the voting booth. When that changes, then they attack their own right with far more vehemence and violence than they ever employ against the Left.

The Left does not worry them all that much. In a way the left has become their career. The opposition defines their work. Its radicalism ensures that they will always have a base, no matter where that base comes from.

The Future Coalition and the Israeli Right

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

So the final results are almost completely tallied and it’s pretty bad for the right-wing, especially Likud-Beitenu, despite the fact that the Benjamin Netanyahu will likely form the next government.

The only threat to Netanyahu forming the government is a joint Shas-Lapid boycott. Likud-Beitenu and Jewish Home comprise 43 seats. Shas and UTJ (17) bring it up to 61 or Lapid (19) will bring it up to 62. Only if Lapid, Shas and UTJ (or even Lapid and Shas) boycott Netanyahu will Netanyahu not be able to form the government. That scenario would also require Livni and Yachimovitch and Lapid to agree on making one of these three their candidate for Prime Minister, which is even more unlikely. Also, Shas publicly endorsed Netanyahu for Prime Minister in an advertisement prior to the elections, apparently counting on the fact that Lapid will compromise on a universal draft.

Nevertheless, for Netanyahu to form a stable coalition (closer to 70 seats) he would need to Shas and/or UTJ compromise with a plan to draft Hareidim, as he said in his “victory” speech last night that he plans to make a priority and because Lapid is now too large to ignore, especially relative to a weak Likud.

Kadima – which escaped what would have been a well-deserved political death – could be another leftist party which Netanyahu could bring on board to strengthen the coalition, especially if Shas will not join.  This would bring the coalition up to 64 seats, that’s still not that stable, but at least Kadima won’t be able to ask for much with it’s meager two seats.

That would mean giving Mofaz something that Mofaz would feel will make him and Kadima relevant until the next elections, perhaps some lessor ministry or as a minister without portfolio. (Mofaz’s other options to survive through the next elections are (a) to somehow re-establish himself outside the government, which is unlikely; (b) to rejoin the Likud with his tail between his legs, which is also unlikely considering how he treated Netanyahu after Netanyahu brought him into the coalition before; (c) merge with another left-wing party which would be equally embarrassing for him and also unprofitable for the other party; or, (d) wait for Olmert to return and save him).

Some other thoughts:

* The success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in garnering 19 mandates, making it the second largest of all parties is the biggest surprise of the election. It’s almost twice as high as Lapid polled before the elections and 19 more than Lapid had before as this is his first election. Like Liberman before, Lapid will likely be Netanyahu’s major partner as under almost any coalition figuration Yesh Atid can bring down the coalition.

* The Jewish Home’s success was not as great as predicted but it was still quite an achievement to garner 12 Knesset seats. The joint Jewish Home-National Union list represented only seven seats in the outgoing Knesset and only a few months ago hoped to get up to 10 seats in the next Knesset. Kudos to them for running a great campaign, including Anglo candidate Jeremy Gimpel who chaired the English-speakers campaign and Jeremy Saltan who was the English-speaker’s campaign manager, despite the fact that Gimpel himself will not be in the next Knesset.

* The Likud-Beitenu’s drop from 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset to 31 in the next is the second biggest surprise. Liberman said last night that he does not regret the merger: Of course he doesn’t, his party only dropped to 11 seats in the Knesset, from 15, despite the fact that he has been indicted, based on testimony from one of his former lieutenants and was absent during the campaign.

The Likud on the other hand lost its upward momentum and now comprises only 20 Knesset seats (only one more than newcomer Lapid). That’s quite an embarrassment for the what is supposed to be the leading party in Israel.

Not that Liberman/the merger should take all the blame. The campaign was terrible from almost every angle – functionally and strategically – and Netanyahu’s no-risk political philosophy may also be to blame for failing to motivate new voters, even though it is good for managing a coalition and providing much-needed stability to the country.

* The “Right” as a whole lost out. Instead of 65 seats (or more, even up to 71 according to some polls), it now has 61. And, remember, the right-wing bloc is not necessarily all right-wing. UTJ is only right-wing on religious issues. On Judea and Samaria, standing up to the international community and economic issues, it is to the left. Shas is also to the left on economic issues and with Aryeh Deri back at the helm it is not clearly to the right when it comes to security-territory issues. Even without Deri, Shas was the prop that kept the Olmert government together after the Second Lebanon War. So really the Right has only 43 reliable seats (Likud-Beitenu + Jewish Home).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/hadar/the-future-coalition-and-the-israeli-right/2013/01/23/

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