Smaller parties reckon with the political wilderness

Though Tzipi Livni's unexpected win in Tuesday night's elections may have exhilarated Kadima supporters, candidates from the smaller parties - especially those on the Left - went to bed grumbling. Of 33 competing parties, only 12 were able to secure seats in the new Knesset, leaving many out in the cold for another electoral cycle. Perhaps the most significant victim of Kadima's final surge was the new partnership between former Labor faction Meimad and the Green Movement, which had hoped to win one or more seats by combining resources. Although it turned out to be the strongest of the small parties, it still walked away from the election with only one percent of the vote. "Clearly it was disappointing," said Professor Alon Tal, one of the Green Movement's founders. "You don't go into these things to lose. The question we have to ask is whether the Israeli public has given up on small parties." Tal was not the only one asking. The partnership between the Green Leaf Graduates and the Holocaust Survivors' parties, an unorthodox pairing that made national headlines, was undergoing similar soul-searching. "How are we going to be successful, if we weren't this time?" asked Michelle Levine, a spokeswoman for the Graduates. She said that the party leadership was considering pursuing their cause of increasing "humanitarian aid" to Holocaust survivors through other channels, including a possible bid to found a nonprofit organization that would lobby the government and raise private donations. "When we said that some Holocaust survivors don't have food to eat, it wasn't just because there was an election," she said. Levine added that the partnership was actively seeking to bring other small parties into the fold - although she would not specify which ones, revealing only that the party leadership had "a list of names." Less clear was the future of Ephraim Sneh's Strong Israel party, which campaigned on anti-crime agenda that spokesman Tom Wegner admitted had failed to resonate with the voting public. "The next government will have to take on crime as a national mission," he said. "If it's not addressed properly it will only be more of an issue in the next election." Whether Strong Israel will be around to gain popular momentum from that eventuality remains to be seen. "It's not the end of the world for Strong Israel," said Wegner. But the spokesman did confirm that Sneh, once a minister with Labor, "doesn't know what he's going to do" in the near future. "The struggle between Livni and Bibi badly hurt the smaller parties," he added. Yaakov Schlusser, of perennial oddball the Men's Rights party, also blamed Kadima for his loss, although he had his own twist. "First of all, the little parties all didn't win - I'm not alone," he said. His reasoning was true to the party's anti-feminist principles. "Livni won in the end because of feminism. Women in Israel voted for Livni because they wanted a woman for Prime Minister. You can tell because of how much Meretz lost," said Schlusser. But despite his bad luck, the candidate and party founder was able to see a bright side. "My small revenge is that Zehava Gal-On, from Meretz, didn't make it back into Knesset," he said. "She was the first feminist." For now, the party organizers will be returning to their day jobs: Levine as an international coordinator for a volunteer dental clinic, Wegner as an outsourcing consultant at a public relations firm, and Tal as a professor at Ben Gurion university. But Tal, at least, intended to shepherd his Green Movement to the next election. "The elections came unexpectedly, and we decided we would run," he said. "But we are now the predominant Green party in Israel. This is a longer-term project."