Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Election '09 - Israel Decides

It is one of the most important decisions of our generation, and the repercussions could be felt around the world...No, I'm not talking about the election of Barack Obama, I'm talking about the parliamentary election taking place in Israel next Tuesday. Obviously, Israel has always been a flashpoint in world politics, but a number of on going situations make this election particularly important.

First, there is a great deal of tension between the Israelis and the Iranians. Second, Israel is coming off a major military offensive in Gaza. And Third, US-Israeli relations could become strained if the new Prime Minister's approach differs from that of Barack Obama. So, with the future of the Middle East hanging in the balance, I will be keeping a close eye on this race as it enters it's final week. Today, I'm putting out a quick primer so that you can make sense of Israel's convoluted political scene - this way I will not have to explain as much moving forward.

The race for Prime Minister basically comes down to two people: former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party (pictured top left), a right wing hardliner; and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (top middle) of the Kadima Party, a dovish centrist. Right now, polls show Natanyahu's Likud barely ahead of Livni's Kadima in the race to become the largest party in the Knesset (Parliament). However, one must win a MAJORITY of votes in the Knesset to become Prime Minister, and Israel's election system makes it impossible for one party to win that many seats. In fact, polls currently show first-place Likud winning only about 30 of the 120 seats. There are a plethora of political parties (11 in the last Knesset), all with different individual quirks, and all taking votes from each other - so it is essential to watch at least the top five to understand what's going on.

The third key player other than Likud and Kadima is the left-wing Labor Party, led by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (top left). Labor was once the country's dominant political force, and currently in second place in the Knesset behind Kadima. However, the party has crashed in the polls and will be lucky to finish in third this go-round. In a coalition, Labor would be far more comfortable working with Livni than Netanyahu.

However, to remain relevant, Labor will have to hold off the surging Yisrael Beiteinu Party, and it's charismatic leader Avigdor Lieberman (bottom right). Lieberman's forces, supported mainly by Russian immigrants, scored major gains in the last election, and polls currently show them speeding past Labor into third. The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu represents a HUGE wild card in this election, as most of their votes are being taken from Likud. While most people see Lieberman as closer to Netanyahu in ideology, he also shares several key views with Livni, and could work with either. As of now, Netanyahu's biggest fear seems to be that Livni will win not on her own merit, but because Yisrael Beiteinu will siphon a lot of Likud votes at the last minute.

And finally, the last major force to watch is Shas, led by Eli Yishai (bottom left). Shas is the orthodox religious party of the Sephardim (Jews originating in the Middle East or Spain), and will probably finish fifth. They are right-wing hardliners when it comes to policy on the Palestinians, but skew to the left on domestic issues, as their Sephardic voter base is a poor demographic. They have committed to joining a Netanyahu-led government, but the rub is that they may have a hard time working with Yisrael Beiteinu in a coalition.

So, have I confused you yet? I'm guessing that's a "yes", but I'm doing this now so that I can just cover the horserace when the election actually happens (otherwise I'd have to explain this stuff all in the middle of my coverage...which would REALLY annoy you). For now, just be glad I'm not talking about all of the other parties that will come up later - like Meretz, United Torah Judaism, the Gil Pensioners Party, the National Union, Jewish Home, Hadash, Balad, or the United Arab List-Ta'al.

If you want actual coverage right now (assuming I haven't melted your brain with my list of people and parties), the two leading English news outlets in Israel are Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post. This race is going to be a lot of fun to cover.


  1. Elegantly brief elucidation of Israel's political scene, Adam. We can all pray that the leader who will best protect Israel wins this upcoming election.

    What do you think of Netanyahu?

  2. I happen to be a big fan of Netanyahu's...he's an aggressive defender of his country who understands that terrorism is evil and not to be appeased.

    I have some questions about what he will do after this election, as he has been trying hard to run to the center and has recently suggested that he wants to head national unity government that includes both Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak...which would result in a more centrist government. Another big issue is that he will probably clash with Barack Obama on both policy level and the personality level.

    Also, he is more likely to take an agressive stance toward Iran and Hamas...which I like...but I'm hoping he isn't TOO rash in his actions (which he probably won't be if he has to deal with Livni, let alone Barak, in his Cabinet).

  3. this is crazy.. now hollywood wants a stimulus

  4. I hope that Benjamin Netanyahu wins the elections. Regardless of whether or not he has a good relationship with Pres. Obama, it will not be for lack of trying. Netanyahu also has connections with the Christian community here in the U.S.

    I know his committment to Israel, and I will pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

  5. here is a fascinating article on terriorism, written by the father of daniel pearl, who was a reporter who was killed by terrioists.

  6. Adam, I would love to hear more after the election. That is, what you think of the outcome and how that impacts relations with America.

    The Iranian missle launch scares me a lot.

  7. [url=]video[/url]

    [url=]full audio[/url]

    i guess the conspiracy theorists that were accusing him of not defrosting the engines in time (as though huge chunks of ice can form in between flights) can be quiet now.. they found bird remains inside the engines.

  8. darn i forgot not to use ubb code

    full audio

    i guess the conspiracy theorists that were accusing him of not defrosting the engines in time (as though huge chunks of ice can form in between flights) can be quiet now.. they found bird remains inside the engines.

  9. I go for Netanyahu. Harry Reid also says he has enough votes to pass the Porkulus Bill. Please stop this bill. We will have all these Liberal spending programs that this country does not need. There are rumors that Reid and the Dems are making the bill worse in the Senate.