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January 11, 2013
Elections in Israel are fast approaching, and the notoriously fractious Israeli political system continues to prove volatile and fascinating. That is not to say that the voting outcome is unpredictable. Most Israeli commentators agree that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is poised to win another term. It is less certain, however, whether Likud’s Netanyahu will opt for a centrist and secular coalition or a right-wing religious one.
The political campaign to date has been animated and not without controversy. Reporting on one such episode, Arutz Sheva’s Elad Benari discusses the fallout from a campaign ad posted by the Shas, a conservative Orthodox party: “After originally defending its controversial TV ad which depicted Russian immigrants as non-Jews who did not convert according to halakha, Shas agreed on Wednesday evening to pull the ad....Following the complaints over the ad, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein who chairs the Central Elections Committee contacted Shas, who agreed to pull the ad for ‘the sake of peace.’...Earlier, Shas leaders Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri explained to the Elections Committee that the broadcast was not directed against any specific group or community but was rather ‘intended to convey a message about the danger to the country's Jewish identity due to fictitious conversions and mixed marriages.’”
The Globe, the voice of the Israeli business community, has a hard-hitting piece by Adrian Filut, who takes aim at the Labor’s economic platform, which, according to Filut, “is built on fantasies and ignores the tough questions…. The economic platform presented by Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich yesterday faithfully reflects her political outlook, but it is liable to lead the Israeli economy to a severe financial crisis and low growth, and to miss its main target. The plan exposes her limitations and weaknesses....There is nothing clever about pointing out the malaises of the Israeli economy; they are clear to every man and woman in the street. Much harder is to show leadership and to determine where money has to be taken from and who has to be confronted.”
Convinced the upcoming elections are Netanyahu’s to lose, Yoni Dayan, in a Jerusalem Post article, evaluates the various governing coalitions that can emerge from the vote: “With Labor and Meretz out of the way, and with no chance an Arab party would be invited into government, there remains but one large question for the 19th Knesset: Will Netanyahu choose a haredi/religious orientation or a secular/centrist one? ...A COALITION composed mainly of Center-Right secular/national-religious parties could form the basis of a large unity coalition....If Netanyahu chooses this path, and succeeds in forming the coalition, he would find himself heading a government increasingly focused on mending the secular-religious divide, one which would by and large support settlement construction while leaving the door open to negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Still, some argue there are many reasons why voters should consider voting for other political alternatives besides the Likud and its allies. For example, left-leaning Haaretz’s Shlomo Avineri believes a Netanyahu-led coalition needs a credible counterweight, suggesting that “Even if Netanyahu and Likud-Beiteinu assemble the next government, the makeup of that government and its policies will be influenced by the relative strength of the center-left parties....It’s impossible to know if Labor will join a Netanyahu-led government. At this point, it doesn't matter. That only becomes relevant when the post-election balance of power is known. Right now, one thing is clear: an increase in Labor’s power will have real political repercussions.”
Similarly, the Gulf Today editorial makes the case for a united Israeli/Arab political front that could provide a check against potentially discriminatory policies: “Politics apart, the ground reality is that most Jews of Israel see Arab Israelis as alien and never came to terms with accepting that they represent the original inhabitants of the land where their state was created....Today, they are suffering from gross discrimination in the hands of the Jewish political establishment ruling Israel. They do not have the representation that they deserve in the Israeli parliament despite accounting for 20 per cent of the population....If the Arabs of Israel want to hear their voice heard, then they have to unite. That will be the first but most effective step.”
But domestic politics might not even be the most important legacy of the next Netanyahu government. target="_blank"With Iran and a possible Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Eitan Haber is convinced “Upcoming elections in Israel not about quality of life, but about [the] survival of Zionist enterprise….The elections are about life itself. Those who are still undecided due to the price of cottage cheese and small radish may find themselves in a few months faced with a question that will have a crucial influence on their lives: Should Israel bomb Iran?... Israel's leaders will have to make a decision in April 2013, more or less, for a number of reasons. Benjamin Netanyahu, who considers the prevention of a nuclear Iran to be the country's most important goal, is wisely letting nature ‘take its course’.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.