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May 22, 2015 / 4 Sivan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Zehava Gal-On’

Understand Israeli Elections – Here’s a Primer, Part 1

Friday, March 13th, 2015

The Israeli political system is radically different from the one in the United States. The most obvious differences are that Israel is a parliamentary system with more than 20 potential parties in the mix, unlike just the two standard American parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.

This year 26 parties are vying for positions in the upcoming vote, 11 of which are likely to pass the threshold requirement for becoming part of the next Knesset.

The first step of this year’s Israeli election to determine who makes it into the Knesset at all, then which parties will form the governing coalition, and finally, who will be the prime minister of the state of Israel, takes place next Tuesday, March 17.

The date was set by a formal meeting in early December, of all the then-current Knesset party leaders. Those leaders chose the date for the election to take place in just four months. While four months is a dramatically short campaign period by American standards, Israeli law permits only five months to elapse between the dissolution of one Knesset and the election for the next.

Election day is a big deal in Israel. Virtually everything, except the polling places, is closed. Free transportation is provided for any voter who needs it to reach their regular polling place.

On March 17,  all eligible voters – every Israeli citizen over 18 years of age – can vote. That includes Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews, men and women, able-bodied and those with disabilities. There is no voter registration system; every citizen is automatically registered once they turn 18. Nearly six million Israelis are eligible to vote in this year’s election.

MARCH 17: THE BALLOT BOX

Eligible Israeli voters go to polling places in their neighborhoods. There are more than 10,000 polling places throughout this tiny country. Most open at 7:00 a.m. and remain open until 10:00 p.m.

Turnout for Israeli elections has been declining for years, but it’s still well over 60 percent. In the U.S., turnout has been in the low-to mid 50 percent zone since the early 1970’s.

Before entering the voting booth, each voter is handed an envelope. Inside the booth is a tray, with different strips of paper. Each strip of paper includes the name and symbol of a party. The voter chooses the slip of paper which has the name and symbol of the party for whom they wish to vote, and puts that piece of paper in the envelope they were handed. After leaving the booth the voter places the envelope with their chosen party slip into the ballot box.

Israeli voters choose parties, not individual candidates, which, among other things, means their national representation is ideological, not geographic, and the vote is proportional, meaning the 120 Knesset seats are divvied up in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total vote. There is a minimum threshold for a party to meet before it can sit in the Knesset. That minimum is currently set at 3.25 percent of the total votes cast, which translates into four seats.

PHASE TWO: HORSE TRADING

Once the polling places close and the ballots are counted, the second phase of the Israeli election begins, the one frequently described as “horse trading.” In order to have the right to form a government and choose the prime minister, a group of parties needs to be able to control a majority of the Israeli Knesset, the single chamber Israeli legislature. The Knesset has 120 seats.

With so many parties competing, no single one has ever attained that magic number of 61 seats, and it is even likely that three or more parties need to agree to work together to form the ruling coalition. Therefore, parties which have been thrashing each other in public now start eying each other as potential dance partners, trying to figure out with whom they can create a functioning coalition to run the government.

This coalition building phase is a little bit like when, after a brutal primary in the U.S., the second place vote getter and the winner frequently kiss, make up, and agree to live with each other as their party’s candidate for president and vice president during the general election. But several different parties and lots of individual members of those parties are all added into the Israeli decision making mix. It isn’t easy.

But first let’s back up. How were the individuals on each party’s list chosen?

     PARTY LISTS

As soon as the Knesset is dissolved, either because it reached its four year expiration date, or because it is dispersed for some other reason (such as happened in the current case, when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the Knesset to disperse and the Knesset unanimously agreed, on Dec. 8), the parties begin internal negotiations to determine who will be on their official “list,” and in what order. The higher up on the list one is, the greater the likelihood of actually making it into the Knesset.

There are various systems for determining who are included, and where they are placed, on each party’s list, including voting by the party leadership. Additional factors are taken into consideration, such as whether enough women are included, whether there are security experts represented, whether certain ethnic minorities will be included.

     PRIME MINISTER SELECTION

How does one of the party members then become the prime minister? Israel’s president, currently former Knesset member Ruby Rivlin, selects the member of Knesset believed to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government, given the election results. This can take some time until the parties are able to align so that they can govern together.

Some of the horse trading here involves party leaders with high numbers demanding significant ministry positions in exchange for pledging their party’s support. Compare this to the ability of the U.S. president, once elected, then deciding who will become the various cabinet members.

This phase is incredibly complicated. For example, right now at least five different parties will be needed to join together to create a ruling coalition. And it is not as if just the top five vote-getting parties will join together, because of differences in ideology.

For example, the tiny far left Meretz party, which currently is polling at five seats, thought it would be able to create a power bloc by pairing up with the Joint Arab List. The Arab group dashed those hopes, claiming they would not join with “Zionists.”

Another complicating factor is that certain parties have claimed they will not join in a coalition with Netanyahu, and the Likud has ruled out creating a coalition with other parties, including the current frontrunner, the so-called “Zionist Union.” That party is a joining together of the center-left Labor party and Tzipi Livni and her entourage. Livni has changed parties so many times in the past few years most people just refer to this new party as Labor-Livni.

Once finally selected, the prime minister announces the formation of a new Knesset and the offices each minister will hold.

January 29 was the deadline for all parties to submit their lists of candidates. As of that date, the following parties had the following members in the following order (the parties are listed in terms of their most recent polling status):

ZIONIST UNION (1) Isaac Herzog (2) Tzipi Livni (3) Shelly Yachimovich (4) Stav Shaffir (5) Itzik Shmuly (6) Omer Bar-Lev (7) Hilik Bar (8) Amir Peretz (9) Merav Michaeli (10) Eitan Cabel (11) Manuel Trajtenberg (12) Erel Margalit (13) Mickey Rosenthal (14) Revital Swid (15) Danny Atar (16) Yoel Hassan (17) Zuhair Bahloul (18) Eitan Broshi (19) Michal Biran (20) Nachman Shai (21) Ksenia Svetlova (22) Ayelet Nahmias Verbin (23) Yossi Yona (24)Eyal Ben-Reuven (25) Yael Cohen-Paran. The left-center Zionist Union was forged by combining Labor and Tzipi Livni and her followers, has very recently been polling at between 20 and 24 seats.

LIKUD: (1) Benjamin Netanyahu (2) Gilad Erdan (3) Yuli Edelstein (4) Yisrael Katz (5) Miri Regev (6)Silvan Shalom (7) Moshe Ya’alon (8) Ze-ev Elkin (9) Danny Danon (10) Yariv Levin (11) Benny Begin (12) Tzachi Hanegbi (13) Yuval Steinitz (14) Gila Gamliel (15) Ophir Akunis (16) David Bitan (17) Haim Katz (18) Jackie Levy (19) Yoav Kish (20) Tzipi Hotovely (21) Dudu Amsalem (22) Miki Zohar (23) Dr. Anat Berko (24) Ayoob Kara (25) Nava Boker. Likud has been polling at between 26 and 20 seats, most recently declining.

YESH ATID (1) Yair Lapid (2) Shai Piron (3) Yael German (4) Meir Cohen (5) Yaakov Peri (6) Ofer Shelah (7) Haim Yalin (8) Karine Elharrar (9) Yoel Razvozov (10) Alize Lavie (11) Mickey Levy (12) Elazar Stern (13) Pnina Tamano-Shata (14) Boaz Toporovsky (15) Ruth Calderon. Yesh Atid focuses on social and economic issues and was brand new for the last elections. Yesh Atid has been polling at around 10 – 13 seats.

JOINT ARAB LIST (1) Aiman Uda (Hadash) (2) Masud Ganaim (Islamic Movement (3) Ahmad Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) (4) Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash (6) Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Islamic Movement) (7) Haneen Zoabi (Balad) (8) Dov Khenin (Hadash) (9) Taleb Abu Arar (Islamic Movement). The Joint Arab party has been polling between 11 and 13 seats.

BAYIT YEHUDI (1) Naftali Bennett (2) Uri Ariel (3) Ayelet Shaked (4) Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan(5) Nissan Slomiansky (6) Yinan Magal (7) Moti Yogev (8) Bezalel Smotrich (9) Shuli Mualem (10) Avi Wortzman (11) Nir Orbach (12) rabbi Avi Rontzki (13) Orit Struck (14) Anat Roth (15) Ronen Shoval. Bayit Yehudi, the religious Zionist party, has recently been polling between 10 and 14 seats.

KULANU (1) Moshe Kahlon (2) Yoav Galant (3) Eli Alalouf (4) Michael Oren (5) Rachel Azaria (6)Tali Ploskov (7) Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton (8) Eli Cohen (9) Roy Folkman (10)Merav Ben-Ari. Kulanu is a brand new party created by its number one on the list. Kahlon is understood to have destroyed the cell phone monopoly in Israel. Kahlon has not ruled out joining with Likud or Zionist Union. His determination to be the next finance minister is well-known. Kulanu has been polling around 8 – 10 seats.

SHAS (1) Aryeh Deri (2) Yitzhak Cohen (3) Meshulam Nahari (4) Yakov Margi (5) David Azoulay (6) Yoav Ben-Tzur (7) Yitzhak Vaknin (8) Avraham Michaeli. Shas (the Sephardi Haredi party which has experienced severe upheaval since its leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s death in Oct. 2013) has been polling pretty consistently at 7 seats.

UNITED TORAH JUDAISM (1) Yaakov Litzman (2) Moshe Gafni (3) Meir Porush (4) Uri Maklev (5)Menachem Eliezer Moses (6) Israel Eichler (7) Yaakov Asher (8) Eliezer Sorotzkin. UTJ, the Ashkenazi charedi party, has recently been polling between 6 and 7 seats.

YISRAEL BEITEINU (1) Avigdor Lieberman (2) Orly Levy-Abekasis (3) Sofa Landver (4) Ilan Shohat (5) Sharon Gal (6) Hamad Amar (7) Robert Ilatov. Yisrael Beiteinu is identified with the Russian immigrants and is considered right wing, although it does not believe in annexing Judea and Samaria. It has been polling at 5 seats for quite some time.

MERETZ (1) Zehava Gal-on (2) Ilan Gilon (3) Issawi Frej (4) Michal Rozin (5) Tamar Zandberg (6) Mossi Raz (7) Gaby Lasky. Meretz, which is left on social and Arab-Israeli issues, has been polling pretty consistently at around 5 seats.

YACHAD (1) Eli Yishai (2) Yoni Chetboun (3) Michael Ayash (4) Baruch Marzel (5) Sasson Trebelsi. Yachad, only recently created as a split off from Shas, has been polling between 4 – 6 seats.

Other parties which are not expected to reach the threshold number of votes include the Green Party, the Green Leaf (legalize marijuana) Party, Rent with Honor Party, the Economics Party, a Charedi Women’s Party (called Ubezchutan) and even something called the Pirate Party. Gotta love Israelis.

JewishPress.com will post another primer once the elections reach the second phase: assembling the ruling coalition.

Labor Chair: Israel Must Capitulate to US, Stop Making Waves

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

MK Shelly Yachimovich who is both the chairperson of the Labor Party and head of the Knesset opposition parties, warned Prime Minister Netanyahu that he’s picking too many fights with the Obama Administration, putting Israel in a disadvantage.

“We’ve opened a front against the United States,” Yachimovich told Israel Radio Sunday morning. “That’s our great weakness, and that’s our mistake.”

Referring to the growing gap between Israel and the U.S. on the Iran nuke issue, Yachimovich warned that it’s obvious the Americans “are sick and tired of us, and they’re saying very harsh things—about the freeze Israel is insisting on maintaining, and about the fact that the status quo is not a permanent thing, and it can reach a very tough escalation should there be no new developments in the talks with the Palestinians.”

About the failed Iran talks in Geneva, the Labor leader expressed the same concern as everyone else regarding the fact that the deal in the making does not end the Iranian nuclear program, only puts it on hold in return for removing economic sanctions. But then she made a sharp turn that almost gave this reporter whiplash, saying it was all because of Israel’s failure to give in to American directives on returning to the pre-1967 boders.

Gliding effortlessly from the Iranian talks to Judea and Samaria, making the direct connection in a way that most politicians at least attempt to conceal, the Labor party leader basically said Israel must give up any and all resistance to the American line, or face the unpleasant consequences.

“It’s a situation of a quarrel and a strife which Israel cannot afford,” Yachimovich insisted. “Creating several confrontations with the U.S. is unhealthy for us, it’s not good for our security, not good for our diplomacy, it’s not good for Israel.”

In other words, the goal of Israeli foreign and defense policy is to ingratiate the United States, and anything that gets in the way of Washington’s satisfaction is bad for Israel.

Yes, the Labor party has come a long way from the days when some of its current members sang the praises of Comrade Stalin, Sun of the Nations, who would bring revolution and prosperity to the oppressed American workers.

It’s the same spineless adulation, but now it’s for Comrade Obama…

Both Yachimovich and the man who’s trying to unseat her as party chief, Labor MK Yitzhak Herzog, expressed vociferous objections to Netanyahu’s plan to reinstate MK Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister, possibly because Lieberman has a spine, one heck of a spine, really, considering the 17-year legal ordeal he has emerged from unscathed last week.

Speaking on Saturday, Herzog actually repeated the same Yachimovich line, but in a more pathetic fashion, if that’s even imaginable. He actually said, according to Israel radio, that the Netanyahu policy has failed and that he has been unable to persuade the world powers to support it, and “had he combined his position with a brave political process [with the Palestinians, he might have reached deeper into their hearts.”

Yes, boys and girls, the contender for leadership at Labor suggested in so many words that maybe—only maybe—an Israeli decision to give up Judea and Samaria would have convinced the world powers to keep the sanctions going against Iran until they surrendered their nuclear program.

In the immortal words of Groucho Marx, “Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you: he really is an idiot.”

Pro-Palestinian Meretz Chairperson Zehava Gal-On also called on Netanyahu not to appoint Lieberman to his old post, because he would weaken even further Israel’s already fraying ties with its friends and allies in the world, and, worst of all, would “have a destructive influence on the negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Gal-On said reinstating Lieberman would be tantamount to placing an explosive charge under the peace negotiations table.

Definitely the kind of imagery a PLO-supporter would use.

Yair Lapid’s Unexpected Failed Affair with Two Mrs. Cohens

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Populism is a double edged sword, as likely to stab the politician who brandishes it as it does his targets. Israel’s new Finance Minister Yair Lapid is a case in point. One of the ways Lapid has distinguished himself as a practitioner of “new politics” has been his Facebook presence. Of course, every Israeli politician, with the possible exception of the Haredim, has a robust Facebook presence, but Lapid, formerly a successful journalist and TV host, actually writes his own entries.

It’s been the secret of his success, being one of the people, the ultimate citizen-politician coming to the aid of his country. He spoke ingratiatingly to the “middle class” (in Israel, with its Socialist and classless history, the term is “middle strata”), singing the familiar tune about the most productive chunk of Israeli society, who pay the bulk of the taxes, serve in the military (including reserve duty, well into middle-age) and carry the national burden on their shoulders.

Who were not among those prized citizens? The populist answer that brought in 19 Knesset seats to his brand-new “Yesh Atid” party was simple: The tycoons, who make millions but manage to evade honest taxation with savvy lawyers who know all the loopholes; and the Haredim, who give nothing and just take, take, take.

Mind you, populist messages don’t have to be true, they only have to sound good. In the case of who is to blame for Israel’s inequality in sharing the burden, it should be noted that the local tycoons pay a whole lot more into the state coffers than do their fellow fat cats in the U.S.; and while the Haredim comprise a mere 8 percent of the population, the majority of Israeli Arabs, comprising more than 20 percent, contribute even less. And as to reserve duty, it has been established that residents of the settlements—who are also vilified as an unfair burden on the state budget—comprising 5 percent of the population, shoulder about 30 percent of the reserve duty burden.

Following his celebrated victory in the last (his first) elections, and then following a brutal stretch of coalition negotiations, Lapid landed one of the top three government jobs that aren’t Prime Minister: Foreign Minister (reserved for the embattled Avigdor Liberman), Defense (retained by Likud and given to former IDF chief Moshe Yaalon), and Finance.

Many Israeli pundits surmised that this was a clever trap laid out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to force Lapid (who fought to get the foreign office) into the worst and most ungrateful spot as the man in charge of the budget (currently in arrears to the tune of $15 billion), or, more accurately, of cutting the budget, and worse yet – of raising taxes. Wouldn’t that tarnish some of this cocky winner’s sheen?

Possibly. The new finance minister was in a bit of a shock after his first encounter with Israel’s budget ailments, which he called “monstrous.” Incidentally, in a world in which the U.S. public debt is estimated at $11.917 trillion, or about 75% of the GDP, going gaga over a puny $15 billion seems a stretch – but Israeli law prohibits a government deficit of more than 3 percent of the budget, which is part of the secret of Israel’s remarkable success, posting a 3 point growth even in 2012 (more than 5 points in 2010).

After his initial, well publicized shock, Lapid’s solution to his Finance job woes was to employ his tried and true, unabashed populism, speaking directly to the voters over the heads of his civil servant experts at the finance ministry. In short, rather than cower before their superior knowledge of economics and markets and all that boring stuff (I’m not making this up, I’m practically quoting verbatim), Minister Lapid forced them into his arena.

Here’s Lapid’s Facebook entry from Monday (while the rest of us were in shul, celebrating the splitting of the Sea of Reeds):

“I want to talk about Mrs. Cohen,” I told senior Treasury officials few days ago.

They paused, surprised.

We were in a large meeting that dealt, as usual, with trying to close the deficit. The long table was littered with cups of long since chilled coffee, and the big screen was showing yet another infinite column of numbers.

“Who is Mrs. Cohen?” someone asked from the far end of the table.

“Ricky Cohen from Hadera,” I explained. “She is 37, a high school teacher. Her husband has a minor hi-tech job and they make together a little over 20 thousand shekel (exactly $5,538.94) a month (or $66,467.28 a year). They own an apartment and they travel abroad every two years, but they have no chance of buying an apartment for any of their three children in the future.”

A few smiles broke through around me.

“We sit here,” I said, “day after day, talking about balancing the budget, but our job is not to balance Excel sheets, but to help Mrs. Cohen.”

“We need to help her,” I continued, “because she is helping us. It’s because of people like Ms. Cohen that our state exists. She represents the Israeli middle class – people who get up in the morning, work hard, pay taxes and do not belong to any interest group, but carry on their backs the Israeli economy. What are we doing for her? Do we remember that we’re her employees?”

The smiles were replaced with thoughtful looks.

“I want us to hold a special meeting about Mrs. Cohen,” I said, “where each of us will suggest how we—as the Ministry of Finance—can help her. I want structure for her programs and reforms to help her make ends meet, to improve the quality of her life, to lower her cost of living, to make her feel that her tax money really works for her.”

Now, that’s well written populism. And it was rewarding to imagine Minister Yair Lapid, in his leather jacket and James Dean hairdo, forcing his Finance bigwigs and wizards not merely to sit through the kind of stump speech one could hear anywhere there was a barn and a bale of hay on the great American prairie, anytime between 1920 and 1928 – he actually made them turn it into a policy discussion. Bravo.

But he who lives by Facebook would most likely die by Facebook. And he who makes populist brownie points using Mrs. Ricky Cohen can end up staring into the unamused gaze of an altogether different Mrs. Ricky Cohen.

“Finance Minister Lapid, look into my eyes and tell me how we get from here to a new reality in Israel? It’s unacceptable that children would come to school hungry,” this Mrs. Ricky Cohen, a social activist and a single mother of five children, said to Lapid through the kind services of a Channel 2 morning show.

She added that, unlike the Mrs. Ricky Cohen from Hadera who vacations abroad every two years, she only dreams of vacationing, and while she’s at it, she’s also dreaming of one day maybe owning a car. Because she only makes 4 thousand shekel a month ($1,107.79, or $13,293.48 annually before taxes).

Lapid’s Facebook entry has been bombarded with mostly angry, make it livid, responses, each one putting the self-made wealthy journalist deeper in his place. It also turned out that with her and her husband’s combined income, Mrs. Ricky Cohen from Hadera is nowhere near Israel’s median, income wise – she is closer to the top 80 percent.

Lapid’s enemies on the left quickly showed him what real populism sounds like.

“The post published by Lapid reveals that our new finance minister has no idea who the Israeli middle class is,” accused Meretz Chairperson MK Zehava Gal-On. “Lapid’s remarks are arrogant and out of touch,” she said.

“It must be that an income of 20 thousand shekels is not a lot of money for Lapid and his millionaire friends,” accused Gal-On’s fellow faction member MK Issawi Farij. “Lapid said today clearly for whom he came to work: for the top 20 percentiles of Israeli society – not for his imaginary Mrs. Cohen from Hadera, but for Mrs. Levy from Ramat Hasharon and Mrs. Berkowitz from Ramat Aviv,” Freij slammed the new finance minister.

I must admit it’s fun to watch Lapid doing his first public stumble in his new job. It’s probably a thousand times more fun to watch if you’re a senior Finance Ministry official who’s just been lectured on your civil service duties by a guy without a high school diploma.

But don’t expect this embarrassing Mrs. Cohen incident to come even near sealing Yair Lapid’s stint as the man who authors Israel’s budget plans. True, his name and both Mrs. Cohens’ will remain forever together on Google, but Lapid has already shown the kind of political skill you don’t get from a high school diploma, and he’s going to learn the lesson and come back with a better thought out tune.

Perhaps a tweet this time.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/yair-lapids-unexpected-failed-affair-with-two-mrs-cohens/2013/04/03/

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