Politics: Interesting things come in small packages

Most of the 34 parties running in the election won’t make it into the 19th Knesset.

Great generic picture of Knesset 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Great generic picture of Knesset 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Central Elections Committee opened 2013 by doing something unusual. Rather than telling parties and campaign managers how they should behave and promote themselves, the committee made a suggestion to reporters on Tuesday: Write more about small parties.
Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein asked journalists if they could give more attention to smaller parties, which may or may not make it into the next Knesset.
Of course, Rubinstein wrote, those parties wouldn’t get the same amount of coverage as, say, Likud Beytenu or Labor, but they deserve a chance to be heard.
With 34 parties running and 12 expected to make it into the Knesset, not everyone can get attention, but here are some of the most interesting:
Eretz Hadasha
The smug bad-boy party of this election season is the anti-corruption Eretz Hadasha list. Party leader Eldad Yaniv, an attorney and former adviser to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has put out a series of YouTube videos called The System that has turned him into both a blogger favorite and – at least in his own mind – Public Enemy Number One of the mainstream press.
Together with actor Rani Blair, third on the Eretz Hadasha list, Yaniv reveals in the videos that the most powerful people in Israel act like “the Cosa Nostra” and tells secrets that make them “go in their pants,” as he says in one of the clips. The party has produced 10 The System videos in which Yaniv tells insider stories from his past as a political operative, “without fear,” as Eretz Hadasha’s slogan says. The first clip claims that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu keeps dollars in his socks, which he uses to pay for dirty political maneuvers. Blair plays the role of the unconnected average citizen, asking questions and acting appalled at Yaniv’s tales.
Recently, the party has gone after Yediot Aharonot publisher Amnon Moses, claiming that he controls politicians and endangers democracy.
They protested outside his office and bought a billboard in Tel Aviv – Moses reportedly passes it on his commute – which Eretz Hadasha claims the Yediot publisher pressured Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to remove.
Eretz Hadasha candidate Merav David, a former Ma’ariv political correspondent and second on the list, refused to be interviewed for an article that isn’t exclusively about her party, saying that she is sure it will pass the 2- percent election threshold. Though Yaniv and Blair are the highest-profile candidates in Eretz Hadasha thanks to their video series, David is second because the list was arranged by gender and is half male, half female.We Are Brothers
Although there have been Ethiopian immigrant MKs, We are Brothers leader David Abebe says they have not done enough. His sectorial party will be more effective than the Ethiopian MKs in Kadima, Likud, Shas and Labor have been, Abeze explains, because they will be elected by the immigrant community and will feel accountable to its members.
“The government brought us to Israel but doesn’t know how to absorb us, and it’s getting worse each year,” he states.
By not helping the Ethiopian community, Abebe says, the country is losing out on a new, educated generation – including members born in Israel – who feel they are discriminated against in school and in employment after serving in the army.
The name “We Are Brothers” is a quote from Genesis and is meant to emphasize that even if Jews are different from one another, they are still family.
Abebe also criticizes the “cynical use of the Ethiopian community to get donations from abroad.”
“The government should be ashamed” of the way it treats the Ethiopian community, he says, which is why he calls for members of the community to vote “We Are Brothers.”
“This time, no black man will vote for a white man,” Abebe says emphatically, predicting that his party will get four seats in the 19th Knesset.
The Green Leaf – Liberal List
Green Leaf is best known for the issue its name describes, one that it has been promoting since the party first ran for the Knesset in 1999 – the legalization of cannabis.
In the current election, the party has shorn its dreadlocks and cleaned up its act to promote a wider economic stance, straddling the border between classic liberalism and libertarianism, with an agenda that party leader Yaron Lerman promises will bring freedom of the individual.
Green Leaf’s goals include separating religion and state; transportation on Saturdays; freeing up land belonging to the Israel Land Authority; and lowering all taxes.
“The last government raised all taxes – on gas, electricity, even beer,” Lerman explains, “and the tax money doesn’t go to all citizens, it goes to pressure groups like large unions, haredim and corporate tycoons.”
In addition, Lerman says his party calls for a school voucher system, which would allow for governmentfunded education while encouraging competition and giving parents freedom to choose schools and teachers for their children, rather than giving that power to Education Ministry bureaucrats.
Of course, Green Leaf still wants Israelis to be able to “smoke pot at home with no police bothering you,” the party leader emphasizes.
Lerman points to two Geocartography polls not sponsored by Green Leaf in recent weeks, which show the party passing the election threshold with three seats, and explains that major pollsters only call landlines, which means they don’t reach as many young voters – Green Leaf’s main demographic – who only use cellphones. Mock elections at Ben–Gurion University of the Negev and Bar-Ilan University gave Green Leaf 10 and seven seats, respectively, Lerman adds.Da’am: The Workers’ Party
On the opposite end of the economic spectrum is Da’am, a party that is proud to be socialist and puts ending privatization and nationalizing natural resources at the top of its list of priorities.
Da’am’s Asma Agbaria Zahalka, the only female Israeli Arab leading a party running for the next Knesset, emphasizes that her party, unlike Hadash, the other Arab-Jewish party with socialist economic views, is fighting the patriarchal nature of Arab society and refuses to pander to hamulot, or Arab clans. Three of the party’s top five candidates are women.
For those to whom Agbaria Zahalka’s name sounds familiar, she is not related to Hadash MK Afo Agbaria.
Her husband is a distant relative of Balad leader Jamal Zahalka, though she says her political opinions are light-years away from his.
Agbaria Zahalka is one of the leaders of the Workers Advice Center, which she says represents thousands of working-class people, including farmers, truck drivers and others, and fights for employment for Arab women, 80% of whom are unemployed. She calls for an end to the system of contract work, which she compares to slavery.
In addition, Da’am believes that “social justice cannot exist without diplomatic justice, which includes ending the occupation, dismantling settlements, making peace with the Palestinians and lowering the defense budget in order to invest in the public’s welfare,” the party leader explains, calling for affirmative action in that investment for Israeli Arabs and anyone living in the periphery.
“Jews and Arabs cooperate successfully in Da’am,” Agbaria Zahalka says. “I call for people not to vote based on sector, but based on class, to promote the struggle of the workers.”
Koah Lehashpia
Two parties are chipping away at Shas’s voter base of haredim and traditional Sephardim in this election.
The first is Am Shalem, started by rebel Shas MK Haim Amsallem, and the second is Koah Lehashpia, or “The Power to Influence,” started by Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak.
Yitzhak is not running on the party’s list, but plans to serve as a spiritual guide; much like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef does for Shas. He also has said he does not plan to vote for his own party and boycotts all Knesset elections, as he is anti-Zionist. Yitzhak has said in the past that Adolf Hitler and Theodor Herzl were the “greatest criminals” in recent Jewish history.
Yitzhak is a leader of the “Shofar” movement, which claims to have convinced thousands of Jews to become haredi.
The rabbi is probably best-known outside of the haredi world for his fire-and-brimstone speeches, in which he describes the punishments in hell awaiting secular people. He also holds mass becoming-religious ceremonies, in which women cover their hair and men remove earrings and don tzitzit [ritual fringes].
Yitzhak’s speeches, which can be found on YouTube, often warn of the evils of technology. Although Yitzhak has said that smartphone owners should be excommunicated, he was recently seen using an iPhone.
In addition, Yitzhak claims to have prophesied the coming of Operation Pillar of Defense as a punishment to the Israeli government for attempting to force haredim to enlist in the IDF.
As such, one of Koah Lehashpia’s positions is to relegislate the “Tal Law,” which exempted haredi yeshiva students from serving in the army so that they can learn Torah. The party also calls to lower the cost of basic food items by cancelling VAT and subsidizing bread so that it will cost one shekel per loaf. In addition, Koah Lehashpia’s platform includes raising speed limits on highways to 140 kilometers per hour; nationalizing kibbutz lands and building homes for young couples on them; increased furloughs for criminals in prison; and for rabbinical ordination to be considered equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree from a university.
All of these parties hope to pass the election threshold after January 22, though Green Leaf and Da’am have failed at the effort before. Only time will tell whether a Koah Lehashpia MK will tell his fellow lawmakers about hell or Yaniv will have met the people he has been bad-mouthing face-to-face when the 19th Knesset is sworn in.