Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The Election about Nothing
By Steven Plaut
Quick. Name all the Israeli parties that did NOT run in the recent
election on a platform focusing on lowering the price of housing and
the cost of living! After that, name all the Israeli parties who
understand what has produced the rapid increase in housing prices and
have a plan for coping with and lowering them!
If you were unable to answer those two questions, then you
actually answered both of them correctly. You also accurately summed
up the essence of the last Israeli election!
It was an election about nothing. By parties running on the same
platform: "social justice:, equality, and better standards of living.
Every single party running in the Israeli election ran on a
platform that emphasized concern over the rising cost of housing and
promises to lower them. And not a single one of these parties
exhibited the least bit of understanding of what produced the rapid
increases in housing prices in the first place. With Iran building
nukes and Palestinian terror and intransigence growing worse by the
day, with an increasingly hostile Obama administration re-elected, the
dominant theme running throughout the Israeli election was the
desperate desire on the part of every single party in the country to
co-opt and capitalize on the "social justice" protests from the
previous year, the exhibition of frustration and anger by adolescents
and post-adolescents over housing prices and the cost of living.
Paris is 6266 kilometers away from the capital of Mali; Israel is zero
kilometers away from Gaza. But Israelis were voting as if this does
And the irony is that the rapidly rising housing prices are a
collateral effect of two positive trends in the Israeli economy. The
two causes of it are the general prosperity in Israel and rising
incomes, and the low-interest easy-money policy by the Central Bank.
Housing prices are shooting up because Israelis are doing well
economically, are generally prosperous, have lots of capital, and use
their capital to bid up housing prices. Hence housing inflation is a
bi-product of success. In addition, the Bank of Israel has kept money
loose and interest rates low to avoid a serious recession. Israel
experienced a far softer downtown during the global financial crisis
than the US, Japan, or Europe. Today the only real way to drive
housing prices down in Israel is to push the country into a deep
recession and to drive interest rates up in order to cause housing
demand to be slashed, thus making housing less affordable, and THAT is
something that none of the political parties propose or even
Since every single Israeli party was running on the same "social
justice" platform and none had any real ideas about how to improve
"social" conditions or reduce inequality, just what was the election
about? The answer is that it was essentially about nothing. And the
proof is that the biggest surprise in the election was the success of
the party and politician who most faithfully represent and believe in
That surprise was the success of TV host Yair Lapid and his Yesh
Atid party, which won 19 Knesset seats (out of 120), twice what the
polls had been predicting. Yesh Atid became the second-largest party
in the country's parliament. To understand this development, you
would need to imagine Ellen Degeneres waking up one morning in the US
and running for Congress as head of a party that nudges out the
Republicans for second-place. If you ask Israelis just what Lapid
represents, they will say concern over housing prices and promises to
bring them back down, with no explanation of how it will be achieved.
In other words, he represents nothing and promises the same thing that
every other party promises.
Is Lapid in favor of or against a Palestinian state? Is he in
favor of or against settlements? No one knows. One Israeli in 6
voted for a party that has no platform. In essence, these are
Israelis sick and tired of parties that want things or advocate
things, and they prefer a Seinfeldian party, a party about nothing.
The second biggest surprise was the poor showing of the Likud.
It ran as an amalgam of two parties, the regular Likud, which had 27
seats on its own in the last Knesset, and Lieberman's party, Israel
Beitenu, which held 15 seats. From that joint 42-seat power base, the
amalgam party shrank to 31 seats, losing a quarter of its strength,
although retaining its position as the largest party in the Knesset.
Netanyahu's failure was due to two strategic errors in the
election itself and one far greater set of errors in general Likud
governing policy. The two election errors were the merger with
Lieberman and the devotion of the bulk of Likud election resources to
trashing Naftali Bennett and his party, rather than attacking the Left
and the Seinfeldian Center parties.
The merger with Lieberman was so foolish that it is hard to
explain what the politically shrewd Netanyahu was thinking when he
made that call. Lieberman had built a powerhouse mainly upon the
votes of Russian immigrants in Israel. Lieberman had also attracted
a lot of votes from the non-Russian Israeli Right. But these were
abandoning Lieberman, since Bennett's party was a more credible
expression of anti-Oslo ideology, and so his star was eclipsing. A
lot of Right-leaning Israelis dislike Lieberman, and even Lieberman's
Russian base is assimilating and becoming "more Israeli," voting more
for the mainstream parties. To top it off, Netanyahu had sat by
smugly while his leftwing Attorney General attempted to destroy
Lieberman's career with phony corruption charges and partisan legal
harassment. Netanyahu's hand was in that assault against the very
same Lieberman that Netanyahu recruited at the last minute to save
Likud prospects via merger. It did not work. Any "economies of
scale" Netanyahu hoped to gain from the amalgamation with Lieberman
vanished within hours of its announcement.
The other strategic error of Netanyahu was the decision to focus
Likud energies and resources in the elections on trashing Naftali
Bennett. Two months before the election, Bennett and his Jewish Home
party were the talk of the town and had the Likud running scared, and
the leftist media running even more scared. Bennett was being
attacked by the Left and even by the Obama Administration as a "danger
to peace," and Netanyahu decided to join the feeding frenzy. Dirty
attack after dirty attack, Netanyahu's people falsely accused Bennett
as running a party of Kahanists, of women haters, of crackpots
plotting to blow up the Temple Mount mosques. To a point, it worked.
Bennett was polling 16-18 seats in polls weeks before the election,
but as a result of the coordinated demonization, he ended up with only
11 seats. This is still a remarkable achievement for someone who took
over a party that had been polling before his leadership as winning 2
or 3 seats. But the strategy did not win the Likud any support.
Since Bennett is solidly anti-Left, the combination of Likud,
Lieberman and Bennett still has the same 42 seats that the Likud and
Lieberman alone had in the previous parliament, but of course with a
very different internal mix. So all the media commentary about the
implosion of the Israeli Right, like Mark Twain's erroneous death
notice, represent premature news of demise. Likud seats migrated
into Bennett's camp (and perhaps to a smaller extent to Lapid's).
The Likud's more harmful long-term error was that the Likud has
always exhibited a fear of governing once it is in office. Netanyahu
is a coward who makes his daily decisions based upon this week's
public opinion polls. He came out in favor of a Palestinian state in
the now infamous "Bar Ilan speech." He repeatedly froze settlement
construction. He capitulated to White House arm twisting. He
appointed leftwing activist judges to the Supreme Court and a leftwing
Attorney General to protect the hegemony of the Left. He even
appointed a Leftwing elections commissioner, who used his position to
censor the campaigns of the Right. He did nothing to dislodge the
Left from hegemony over state-run electronic media nor to privatize
Netanyahu refused to confront and intimidate the Histadrut trade
union federation to end its syndicalist terrorism. Instead of
dismissing and repudiating the "social justice" protesters as spoiled
lazy hypocrites, he tried to co-opt them. He appointed a "social
justice" commission to try to buy them off with futile gestures.
Having run on a platform of lowering taxes, he raised them. Netanyahu
refused to challenge or dismember the country's worst cartels and
monopolies, such as in agriculture, while posturing "anti-tycoon"
populism. He sponsored a bolshevik price-fixing scheme for books in
Israel to help the Literary Left. With the exception of approval for
Ariel University, for which he deserves credit and admiration, he did
nothing serious to challenge the hegemony of the Far Left over the
universities. He sat back passively while Israel was inundated with
a hundred thousand African infiltrators, who converted large swathes
of Tel Aviv into the Third World. Ironically, these are areas that
ordinarily vote Likud, so part of the Likud losses were thanks to
Bibi's coddling the Eritreans!
Lapid's startling flash-in-the-pan success is very likely to be
followed be an equally astonishing collapse by the next time elections
are held. You can only be the unknown newcomer for one election. A
similar flash in the pan that disappeared was the "Pensioners Party,"
run by Rafi Eitan (the doofus who recruited Pollard), which went from
7 Knesset seats to zip. In the current election, Kadima was the most
obvious sinking ship. It had once held 29 Knesset seats and governed
the country. In the current election, it had split into two small
splinters. The one calling itself Kadima was headed by ex-general
Shaul Mofaz and just squeaked past the cutoff into the Knesset with
two seats. The slightly larger "Movement" splinter headed by Tzipi
Livni got six seats. I suspect that part of their failure was the
revulsion Israelis feel every time they see the face of corrupt Kadima
ex-head Ehud Olmert on the screen. Olmert's political legacy is
pandering to the Left, Israeli defeat in Lebanon, and the
determination by Israelis across the spectrum to hide the silverware
whenever he would come for a visit.
The Israeli Left was strengthened a little, also capitalizing on
the general "concern" over housing prices and "social issues." The
Labor party, which was once the unchallengeable ruling party of the
country, had imploded to 13 seats in the previous Knesset, thanks
largely to its role in the Oslo debacle. It was up slightly in the
new election to 15 seats because it was not running on a platform of
more Oslo. Its current chief, another ex-television personality (like
Lapid), ran on a platform favoring - you guessed it - lowering housing
The far-leftist semi-Marxist Meretz party had shrunk to 3 seats in
the previous election. It doubled its strength to 6 seats in the new
parliament. While very few Israelis still believe in the "Two State
Solution" and the "Palestinian Peace Partner" rhetoric of Meretz, it
too managed to capitalize on the "social justice" bandwagon.
The religious parties essentially kept the same representation
that they held in the last parliament. So did the three small Arab
fascist parties, surrogates for the PLO and the Hamas, although one of
them picked up an extra seat.
Finally, it is always interesting to note who did NOT make it into
the parliament. The "Green Leaf" party of Tikkunite pot smokers,
promoting legalized hemp, lost yet again. I am sure Michael Lerner is
sitting shiv'a. One more "social justice" mini- party based on
promoting the agenda of the tent protesters failed to get in, as did
the mini-party of the courageous and honorable Rabbi Amsalem. And
one of the parties that had long represented the militant anti-Oslo
Right swept itself into the dustbin of history. The Otzma Party (it
earlier operated under other names) was co-headed by Michael Ben-Ari
and Dr. Aryeh Eldad. It also devoted most of its energies to
attacking Bennett, which got it nowhere. While Eldad is an
intelligent man of integrity, his sidekick Ben-Ari is an open Kahanist
whose campaign was spent cruising about alongside Kahanist thugs
Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir.
Every single time I comment on the fact that open Kahanists are
unelectable in Israel, I get poison pen e-mails from Kahanist cranks.
Well, at least I was proven correct about one thing. Eldad should
have cut ties with Ben-Ari and joined Bennett to form a broader
anti-Oslo front. So should have the Feiglin camp inside Likud.
2. Worth reading: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4335396,00.html