U.N. Anti-semitism and Seinfeld Elections in Israel–a message from Steve Toltz
Shalom Friends and Family,
Since the mid-1960’s, Israel has been under the shadow of Palestinian terror attacks. True, you can document them back over a century, but I’ll use the 1964 founding of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) as a starting point. Interestingly enough, the PLO likes to talk about its founding as a response to Israel’s “occupation” of Judea and Samaria, a.k.a. the West Bank as well as Gaza. In 1964, Jordan was the “occupier” of the West Bank and Egypt of Gaza. It wasn’t until the Six-Day War in 1967 that Israel was able to defeat the Arab armies and expel Jordan and Egypt from these lands. The PLO was founded by the “Father or Modern Terrorism”, an Egyptian named Yasser Arafat. That’s right — an Egyptian. Arafat was not even a Palestinian! Under his leadership, kidnapping, hijacking, murdering the elderly, women, and children, and bombing venues became commonplace. For 50 years, Israel has lived under this specter, constantly telling the world that we were on the front lines and soon it would be coming to the rest of the world. Look around — guess we were right — unfortunately. From Australia to Iowa, from Nigeria to Bali, on every continent this has become a problem. And what does the world do about radical Islam? Instead of following the lead of Winston Churchill, we have chosen to follow Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. Wake up, people. It won’t work. The War on Terror is not over, Mr. President; it is growing larger and stronger every day that you deny it.
For some bizarre reason, (maybe it’s just bad PR) Israel seems to still take the brunt of the blame for the evils of the region if not the world. The UNHRC still constantly singles out Israel as the #1 abuser of Human Rights. Not China. Not Iran. Not Cuba. Not North Korea. Not Syria. Not Sudan. Not any other country but Israel. The constant badgering about being an “Apartheid State,” abusing Palestinian rights, committing countless war crimes, and causing pain and misery to the Palestinians is laughable. The only way to explain it, honestly, is anti-Semitism. We live in a region where we are the only nation that guarantees freedom of worship to Christians, Jews, Muslims, and any other minority religion that practices here. In fact, the city of Jerusalem gives out free Christmas trees to our Christian citizens! Just show up on Monday at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City and receive one! We recognize gay marriage and have been sited in many guidebooks as one of the top locations for LGBT acceptance. Our universities accept anyone who qualifies, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background. We have Arabs in the government, Christians and Muslims in the IDF, and Druze citizens who serve in every branch of the military. We have absolute freedom of the press and the right to assemble in protest both for and against the government. We only have the death penalty for Nazi war criminals and it has only been carried out once in our history. A former President sits in jail, convicted of sexual misconduct by a Christian Arab judge and a former Prime Minister awaits sentencing on corruption charges. Women serve on the Supreme Court, in the Knesset, and have equal rights in all walks of life to men. While Israel has its social problems, many centered around the economy and the poor, compare us to our neighbors — it is like night and day. But still, even the Geneva Convention has only held 3 War Crime tribunals in its history — all to accuse Israel of war crimes. If this isn’t anti-Semitism, what is?
Elections. Oy. As many of you know, we had elections in 2013. In our Parliamentary system, people vote for a party; the head of the party that has the best chance of making a coalition of more than 60 votes (50% of the Knesset) is give the chance to for a government by the President. Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu was able to form a government and became the Prime Minister for the third time. But this time, it was different. In the past, he has always included the ultra-Orthodox parties as they were needed to pass the 61 seat majority needed. This time, he excluded them, much to the delight of the electorate and partnered with a neophyte politician, Yair Lapid, who was a TV personality that created a populist party and Naftali Bennett, a former aid of Netanyahu’s, who also had a good showing at the polls. Since Bibi’s Likud party had made a joint list with Avigdor Liberman’s “Yisrael B’eitanu” party, this was enough to form a government. Tzipi Livni joined with her 3 seats and became the Justice Minister. Unfortunately, Lapid’s inexperience and arrogance proved too much and he could not get along with the PM. He and Livni openly defied the government’s policies after the latest war with Gaza and were fired, causing the coalition to fall apart. Most in Israel still have no idea why this government couldn’t succeed and what the issues are that caused it to fail. People are referring to the upcoming election in March as the “Seinfeld” election — the elections about nothing.
So, we go to the polls on March 17th — Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Likud and Yisrael B’eitanu have decided to split their allegiance and run as separate parties. This is not because of ideological differences — they will still be together as partners in the government or in the opposition, but rather due to practical reasons that polling shows that they will get more seats running separately than they would running together. Labor and Hatnua, Tzipi Livni’s party, are running together with an agreement that should they be able to from a government Livni and Labor’s Isaac Herzog will each take two-year turns as Prime Minister. This power sharing arrangement worked once before when Yitzchak Shamir and Shimon Peres formed a unity government in the late 1980’s. Since the Knesset raised the threshold to 3.5%, the smaller parties need to combine somehow if they hope to get representation. The three Arab parties are trying to do this, but they have philosophical differences between themselves which will probably not allow this to happen. While the elections are still a long ways away, my prediction is that we will get a more right wing government, again led by Netanyahu, which will include Lieberman, Bennett, the ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas, UTJ, and possibly a new party formed by Shas renegade Eli Yishai), and perhaps another small party or two. In a poll out today, it showed Bibi’s Likud party in 3rd place, but only 3 mandates behind the number 1. Labor and Hatnua along with Lapid’s party (combining with a new party led by a former Likudnik, Moshe Kahalon) are both ahead, but neither of the top 2 parties would be capable of forming a coalition of 61 seats. It’s a strange and confusing process — I’ll try to break it down more as the elections get closer.
On the personal level, things are great. Our Fall semester is almost over; kids go home next Thursday night. Most of my work now is in preparation for the Spring semester, when over 70 students will come to study with us beginning the end of January. That, and watching my Red Sox rebuild a starting rotation, is keeping me busy! After the rainiest November on record (which is well needed, of course, in this part of the world), we have had beautiful sunny days. Temperatures in the 50’s-60’s during the day and down to the 40’s at night — perfect December weather, especially considering our freak snowstorm of last year at this time!
So that’s about it from me in the Holy Land. Happy Chanukah to those of you who celebrate. And to my friends who observe Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas during this holiest of times. May the Peace that we all dream of during this time of year be a reality in the near future. Happy and healthy New Year to all!