It ain't easy deciding about the upcoming Israel election. 

First one should decide if you want to influence what the next government does, or find a party (or a party leader or some other individual) who comes closest to your political ideal.

If you are looking for an ideal candidate or party, you have lots of choices. Polls are showing eleven parties likely to get enough votes to pass the minimum and enter the Knesset.

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If you want to influence policy, you are more limited. Only two parties are polling enough to be able to name the prime minister and other major figures (i.e., defense minister, finance minister, foreign minister), or maybe three. Likud and Zionist Camp (i.e., Labor's current self-designation) are leading, and virtually tied in most polls, with Jewish Home polling enough so that it might leverage its support in exchange for one of those key ministries.



Israeli voters select a party, whose candidates get into the Knesset depending on the number of party votes and the ranking of each candidate on the party list. Each of the candidates sufficiently high to become a likely MK may affect voters' choices, but except for those high enough likely to get a major ministry, the voter's calculation is more in the range of who do I like or do not like?, rather than how is my party vote likely to have an influence?.

Benyamin Netanyahu has led in most polls over Yitzhak (Boji) Herzog with respect to Israelis' preferences for a Prime Minister. Moreover, Netanyahu's party Likud has impressed most commentators with the best chance to form a government with majority support in the Knesset. 

The simplest arithmetic looks like Likud, Jewish Home, Kolanu. Yisrael Beitenu, and the ultra-Orthodox parties, amounting to 68 Knesset Members. The addition of Lapid's There is a Future (problematic) would bring the total to 75. 

The most obvious calculations for Zionist Camp do not get above 38 MKs, with Meretz, and There is a Future. It's conceivable that they could add Kolanu, Yisrael Beitenu, and the ultra-Orthodox parties to reach 68, but that would require left-leaning Zionist Camp and Meretz MKs and the outspoken secular MKs of There is a Future to accept the ultra-Orthodox and Avigdor Lieberman. 

The 64 shekel question is What about the united Arab list?

Most expect it to increase Arab turnout and the number of MKs beholden to it. It's polling along with other middle-range parties at about 11 MKs. A minority view sees the united list as reducing the Arab representation, due to the more secular and Islamic Arabs not wanting to vote for a list that includes the other.

And will the MKs of the united list seek to align with a coalition headed by Zionist Camp? The name itself might put off some. And at least some MKs of a Zionist Camp led coalition might object to the price demanded by the united Arab list.

There are tensions in several of the parties that provoke some interesting questions, likely to bother voters who have not made up their minds.

One problem has occurred to Jews who had considered supporting Hadash, which derived from the Israeli Communist Party, attracted mostly Arabs, but some Jews, had a prominent Jewish MK Dov Khenin, with impressive academic credentials and may be the best informed MK in the field of environmental policy. The party had recently attracted Avrom Burg, a former Labor Party MK, former Knesset Chair and former head of the World Zionist Movement and the Jewish Agency, who aspired to political cooperation between Arabs and Jews. An Arab intellectual who is close to such things estimated that the Jews who voted for Hadash did not amount to the number necessary to elect one Knesset Member. He described Khenin as "the minority's gesture to the majority." Hadash has four MKs in the outgoing Knesset. 

Dov Khenin supported the unity of Hadash with the more entirely Arab parties, and joined other prominent figures in the new alignment in a media appearance indicating that they were considering support of Yitzhak Herzog in a joint effort to unseat Benyamin Netanyahu.

However Burg, and presumably other Jews seeking a party that encourages cooperation between Jews and Arabs, has been put off by Hadash's alliance with Arab parties that are explicitly Islamic and/or anti-Zionist.

Burg attended a meeting of Hadash members, and stressed his objection to a unified list with a nationalistic agenda. He had left the Jewish political arena because it turned nationalistic and did not intend to support another form of nationalism.

Arabs who have been prominent in the Labor Party are having a similar problem from an opposite perspective. One candidate likely to get into the Knesset, Zuhair Bahlul, and other Arab activists object to the name Zionist Camp, asserting that they are not  Zionists. They prefer the old name of Labor, or calling the party Israel Camp. Their demands have fed into the Likud campaign that its most prominent opponent is not Zionist, but post-Zionist or anti-Zionist.

Jewish Home is carrying the flag of Israeli rightists both against the name Zionist Camp and its prospective MKs. One of the Jewish Home candidates has demanded that the Election Commission ban the use of the name Zionist Camp due to the anti-Zionist expressions of its activists, and the regulation that forbids a list of candidates to adopt a name that would deceive the voters. Other Jewish Home campaigners  quote one high ranking Zionist Camp candidate saying that the national anthem is racist, and others speaking against sending children to the IDF, saying that the expression Jewish State is deceptive and offensive,  allowing IDF soldiers to opt out from being posted to the "occupied West Bank," and proposing that Memorial Day for Holocaust victims be linked with the Palestinian Day for the Nakba.

Likud is pondering a step that might complicate its campaign in behalf of the experience, skill, and moderation of Benyamin Netanyahu as a national leader. He is said to be mulling the appointment of Caroline Glick to one of the sure slots on the party list that is his prerogative as party leader.

Ms Glick has an impressive resume academically, as a columnist for Jerusalem Post and in several other functions, but her place on the ticket would not sit well with Netanyahu's earlier success in rid Likud's list of the religious-nationalist extremist Moshe Feiglin. Glick is arguably a secular equivalent, known for opposing the two-state solution and favoring the extension of Israel to all of the West Bank. 

Getting in the way of Netanyahu deciding to give her a sure place on the Likud list is what she wrote about him in connection with her opposition to the exchange of prisoners for Gilad Shalit. 

"At best, Netanyahu comes out of this deal looking like a weak leader who is manipulated by and beholden to Israel’s radical, surrender-crazed media. To their eternal shame, the media have been waging a five-year campaign to force Israel’s leaders to capitulate to Hamas. At worst, this deal exposes Netanyahu as a morally challenged, strategically irresponsible and foolish, opportunistic politician."
 

Her latest column is Bibi-friendly.

It begins with "The role of an Israeli leader is to adopt the policies that protect Israel, even when they are unpopular at the White House." It proceeds to detail the charge that Iran is intent on producing nuclear weapons. 

"With Obama’s diplomatic policy toward Iran enabling rather than preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, members of the House and Senate are seeking a credible, unwavering voice that offers an alternative path. For the past 20 years, Netanyahu has been the global leader most outspoken about the need to take all necessary measures to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, not only for Israel’s benefit, but to protect the entire free world. From the perspective of the congressional leadership, then, inviting Netanyahu to speak was a logical move. . . . 

For the past generation, the Israeli Left has insisted Israel’s role on the world stage is that of a follower. . . 

All resistance to White House policies is dangerous and irresponsible, leaders like Herzog and Tzipi Livni continuously warn. 

Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu exposes the Left’s dogma as dangerous nonsense."

Bibi has a few more days to finalize his party's list. Then the rest of us will have until March 17 to decide, or not to decide.

We should remember that much of politics is theater,  the language is slogans, and the actors have overdeveloped egos. Neither Paradise nor disaster is likely to result from this, or any other election in a democracy.

For that we can thank those politicians who understand the nuances, and the professionals (i.e., senior bureaucrats) who guide them through the realities.

 


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