Elul: Reflections And Elections

An Israeli Jewish man casts his vote at a polling station during the Elections of the 21st Knesset (parliament) of Israel, in the city of Bnie Brak, near Tel Aviv, 09 April 2019. EPA

The Boiling Cauldron

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Just as Jews prepare for the coming judgment on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Israel’s politicians are preparing for their own personal verdict next Tuesday. The Knesset could be compared at present to a boiling cauldron which everyone is trying desperately to escape from, some by stepping on stones on the bottom of the cauldron and others by stepping on their friends in their frenzied rush to escape the scalding waters.

Thus, some of the new MKs are vainly trying to find some merits from their brief stay in the Knesset which might justify voting for them again. These are the ones searching for stones to enable them to survive the coming election intact. Other less mild-mannered MK’s are following the famous description by Disraeli of his political rival Gladstone: “A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and glorify himself.”

Many politicians seek to harm those who are closest to them and threaten their voter base. Amir Peretz of Avodah-Gesher will save most of his ammunition for the Democratic camp of Ehud Barak as well as Blue-And-White, while the Likud attacks Liberman who is aiming to deprive them of their Russian voters and Yemina targets Jewish Force which is nipping at its heels and trying to pass the electoral threshold.

Thankfully, Agudah and Shas are not part of this particular brawl, as they have long since respectfully agreed to target different parts of the Chareidi and traditional population. Most of their voters are also faithful to them and continue to support them from election to election, as they recognize that the politicians of these parties genuinely seek to improve the individual fortunes of their voters and do not have pretensions to affect national policies. Yet both parties are concerned that the timing of the elections during the intensive Elul Zman in the Yeshivas may affect both the ability to canvass support for votes and the eventual voter turnout.

In general the elections are proceeding in a much quieter manner than during the pre-Internet period. I still vividly recall a politician coming to my own neighborhood, standing on a soapbox and delivering a fiery oration. This was Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was later disqualified by the Supreme Court in a manner reminiscent of…2019. At that time we used to quip that “before the elections the walls talk to you and after them you are talking to walls.”

These days however politicians tweet, write Facebook posts and target other electronic media in order to convey their messages to as many people as possible. The streets are strangely devoid of overt political activity and if it weren’t for the constant prattle on bus drivers radios, it could almost be mistaken for a regular Elul.

However the ongoing covert war between Israel and its enemies in the north continues unabated, with yet another attack near the Iraqi border Monday night. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which resides in London (there aren’t many human rights in Syria itself) reported that 21 Iranian operatives and militia had been killed and 35 injured in the attack. The IDF reported a number of failed attempts at rocket salvos towards Israel in response.

The IDF continued uncharacteristically to take responsibility for the attack. A statement by the IDF spokesman in Arabic said that “we warn the Assad regime that it will pay a heavy price for allowing the Iranians and Shiite militias to act from its territory.”

Recently Iran established a new army base in Syria and intends to transfer thousands of soldiers to the base, which is situated on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Although the construction of the new base has not been fully completed, the base is expected to become operational in the next few months, say analysts at ImageSat International (ISI), an Israeli civilian satellite company that provided pictures of the base.

The compound is located less than 320 km (200 miles) from a United States army post and has five different buildings – surrounded by massive dirt piles – suitable for housing precision-guided missiles, ISI experts reported.

Israel has also been on high alert since last week’s attack in Dahia against Hezbollah positions as the terrorist group threatened to retaliate for the attacks. The Shiites militias have not responded in the past to Israeli attacks, but Hezbollah may be preparing a showcase response which will coincide with elections in Israel.

Winners and Losers

Much as political commentators hate to predict the results of elections (unlike pollsters who have no such scruples) and then look silly after the real results come in, it is already possible to estimate who the winners and losers may be in this superfluous election. Surprisingly, one big winner is the person most responsible for the election: Avigdor Liberman, who refused to form a government with the Chareidim since they wanted changes in the draft law. Even if Liberman falls in the polls, he will still probably increase his strength from the previous election and could even be the kingmaker of the coming government, although the big parties will likely shun him.

Another winner may be Blue-And-White. Even though two of its leaders have never held political office and are novices in the Machiavellian ways of politics, they may well play a significant part in the coming government. If Netanyahu has less than 61 seats on the right-wing he will almost certainly turn to Blue-And-White and form a unity government with them, and even if he has 61 seats together with Jewish Force it is hard to see him sitting comfortably in such a hardline government and he will reach out to Blue-And-White to provide some balance in the government. Whether there will be enough senior ministries for its four leaders remains an enigma yet to be solved.

The next winner is Jewish Force. Just a short time ago we pondered whether it was a force to be reckoned with, as it has failed on numerous occasions to pass the electoral threshold even when it joined other parties such as Eli Yishai’s Yachad party. Yet poll after poll sees Jewish Force entering the Knesset with four seats and even if in the end it does not succeed, its voters do not care and will remain faithful to the party as they view it as the only authentic right-wing party. Yemina’s attempts to denounce it have served as fuel to the fire and more and more voters stream to the party, which is now the only bona fide religious-Zionist party in Israel (Noam is a tiny party which will presumably withdraw in the next week. Most of its voters will then vote for Jewish Force.)

Amir Peretz, the avuncular leader of the Labor party and Gesher, may be one of the losers. Labor never seems to keep its leaders even when they are successful and besides losing his famous 47-year-old moustache in an attempt to persuade voters that he will not sit with Netanyahu, he may not be sitting anywhere near power in the coming months. Despite adding Orly Levy’s Gesher party to his own, the party has never energized the masses and will find it hard even to replicate the six seats it received in the previous election. It is very simple: Labor’s voter base is almost all Ashkenazi and will prefer the patrician blue-eyed former Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, over the socialist Sefardi from Sderot.

Ayelet Shaked is also a possible loser in the coming elections. Shaked may be leading Yemina, comprised of three factions of religious Zionism, but she has three other leaders to contend with and they will all precede her in receiving ministries. If the party is not significantly large, she may find herself a leader without a ministerial position, as Naftali Bennett craftily took the first ministry for himself.

Is Netanyahu a winner? On the one hand he may survive as prime minister, but it could be a pyrrhic victory if he is forced to share power with his foes. Netanyahu still hopes that his magic will prevail and he will not be forced into a unity government, but the alternative is also not appealing: Itamar Ben-Gvir sitting in the cabinet and maybe taking the justice ministry.

At least Israel itself should be a winner, as the interim government could not accomplish anything and hopefully a real government will be formed to solve the political impasse of the past six months.

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4 years ago

Hashem should finally have all these parties crumble altogether – especially the Frum ones not admitting that it never was nor will it be a Torah Jewish state – with our speedy redemption by the arrival of Mossiach.
May all Klal Yisroel be blessed with a כתיבה וחתימה טובה