Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What to look for in tomorrow's Israel elections by Rabbi Dov Fisher

Our Young Israel shul is comprised not only of people who like Israel or who visit Israel or who “love Israel” — but of the most uniformly passionate Israel supporters imaginable.  When I get up to speak on Shabbat, I usually avoid politics of Israel, but I safely can speak of the right of Israel to every inch of Judea and Samaria.  We are a shul whose families have sent more people to serve in the IDF in the past five years than any other synagogue or temple in Orange County.  With that as background, here is what really to look for intomorrow’s Israel elections.  Anything you read in the newspapers tomorrow that contradicts what I write below is wrong:

1.  There are 120 seats in the Knesset.

2.  Approximately 10-12 different parties will win seats in the Knesset.

3.  Any party that wins fewer than 4 seats tomorrow is disqualified, and all the votes it gets are wasted and flushed down the toilet.

4.  Basically, they tally all the votes of the parties that get more than 3.25 percent of the total vote.  They then divide that total by 120.  That amount is the number of seats that wins a party one seat.  A party that gets four times that number gets 4 seats.  Eighteen times that number gets 18 seats.  And so on.

5.  Obviously, when dividing the numbers, there will be a remainder.  (If the math confuses you by now, just go down to the next item, Item #6.)  That remainder would be lost and those votes would be wasted.  Therefore, to offset some of the loss and waste, typically two different parties (where those two parties do not differ too much) cut a formal, open deal whereby they agree that they each will pool their two remainders, and if the combined remainders gets them an extra seat, then the one with the higher remainder gets that extra seat.  For example,  say that 150,000 Israelis cast votes.  (The number will be in the millions, but this is to simplify.)  Say that 30,000 of the votes are for cockamamie parties that do not get at least 3.25% of the vote, or whatever.  Well, those 30,000 votes are flushed down the toilet, and those who cast those votes can congratulate themselves for being fools who voted their consciences, even though they had twelve other viable choices.  (It is a little bit like the people who voted for Ralph Nader because Al Gore was not left enough, so they got G.W. Bush — or like libertarians who vote Libertarian because the Republican is not libertarian enough, so they get Obama.)  Now that the 30,000 votes in our hypothetical have been flushed down, that leaves 120,000 votes that count.  Since there are 120 seats, we divide 120,000 ÷ 120 = 1,000.  That means, according to this hypothetical, that a party gets 1 Knesset seat for each 1,000 seats it won, as long as it got at least 4,875 votes (namely, at least 3.25% of 150,000).  Now let’s say that Party Q wins 5,673 seats.  Well, they get 5 seats, and their other 673 votes are flushed down the toilet.  And let’s say that Party P gets 9,380 votes.  So Party P gets 9 seats, and their other 380 seats are flushed down the toilet.   But if Party Q had a formal signed deal with Party P before the election to pool their remainders, then their two remainders in this hypo (673+380) tally to 1,053 — so they get an extra seat out of it, and the remaining 53 votes are flushed down the toilet.  Inasmuch as Party Q had more remainder votes than did Party P, it will be Party Q that gets that seat, even though Party P got more votes all together.  Of course, Party P regrets not getting that extra seat, but they at least prevented their remainder votes from being utterly wasted because they chose Party Q for the pooling deal since the two parties are somewhat close in perspective (e.g., an Arab Party that wants to destroy Israel and turn it into Hamas, sharing with an Arab Party that wants to destroy Israel and turn it into Al Qaeda).

6.  The Labor Party, headed by Isaac Herzog, almost surely will get 2-4 more seats than will Netanyahu’s Likud.  Herzog will probably win 23-25 seats, and Likud 20-22.  The liberal newsmedia will report that Herzog won the election.  They will not know what they are talking about.  That’s what they are paid for.

7.  In addition to Likud winning 20-22 seats, other parties that incline to align with Likud in a coalition also will win seats:

A.  Jewish Home (led by Naftali Bennett) — Modern Orthodox, Religious Nationalist, more reliably conservative than Likud, less likely to compromise or sell out (the party I would vote for), supports holding Judea and Samaria forever, wants more respect for religion and Shabbat than Likud would opt for.  They support Orthodox young people joining the Israeli Defense Forces and believe it is a Torah mitzvah to serve in IDF and to defend the Holy Land. They definitely will align with Likud.  Jewish Home probably will win ~ 12 seats.

B.  Shas — Sephardic Orthodox Jews, associated with the “Black Hat” Orthodox community of Sephardic Orthodoxy.  They want to make sure that a major part of the budget is spent on supporting Sephardic yeshivot, giving stipends to Sephardic people who learn in Sephardic yeshivot, giving stipends to Sephardic families, giving stipends to help young Sephardic couples buy homes.  They oppose drafting young men to fight in the IDF.  Under the right set of circumstances, they would support giving up land for a peace agreement, as they supported the Oslo Accords, but they no longer believe that the right set of circumstances exist.  They hate the anti-Orthodox and G-d-less parties of the extreme Left, such as Meretz, and they particularly hate Yesh Atid and Yair Lapid for forcing through legislation last time to draft yeshiva boys. They would align with Labor, if offered enough money in the budget for their priorities, but probably not if Labor includes Meretz and Yesh Atid — which it must. They probably will align with Likud. Shas probably will win ~ 7 seats. 

C.  Agudath Israel — Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews, associated with the “Black Hat” Orthodox community of Ashkenazic Orthodoxy.  They want to make sure that a major part of the budget is spent on supporting Ashkenazic yeshivot, giving stipends to Ashkenazic people who learn in Ashkenazic yeshivot, giving stipends to Ashkenazic families, giving stipends to help young Ashkenazic couples buy homes.  They oppose drafting young men to fight in the IDF.  They hate the anti-Orthodox and G-d-less parties of the extreme Left, such as Meretz, and they particularly hate Yesh Atid and Yair Lapid for forcing through legislation last time to draft yeshiva boys. They would not align with Labor, even if offered enough money in the budget for their priorities, because they know that Labor will include Meretz and Yesh Atid — which it must. They probably will align with Likud.  Agudath Israel probably will win ~ 6 seats

D.  Otzma / Yachad / Ha’am (led by Rabbi Eli Yishai)— Same exact as Shas, except that they never will agree to give up an inch of land.  They absolutely will align with Likud.  Yachad / Ha’am probably will win ~ 4-5 seats.

E.  Israel Is Our Home (led by Avigdor Liberman  / ןאביגדור ליברמ / Эве́т Льво́вич Ли́берман) — He is a former Netanyahu lieutenant, an immigrant from Russia, and his party appeals to Russian immigrants.  They would give up parts of pre-1967 Israel that have heavy Arab populations but no Jews (e.g. Umm el-Fahm), but only in exchange for parts of Judea and Samaria that have heavy Jewish populations but no Arabs (e.g., Ariel; Maaleh Adumim; Betar; Gush Etzyon; Karnei Shomron).  The Arabs never will agree to it, but it makes for great arguments every night about “Well, what IF the Arabs WOULD agree?”  The party is anti-Orthodox because these are the Russians who came to Israelwithout religion, and they feel that the Orthodox impose on them with Shabbat rules, marriage restrictions, etc.  Every election, Liberman promises not to be in a coalition with the Orthodox, but the Russians hate the Communists and Socialists more, because they lived under Brezhnev/Kosygin/Andropov/Putin first-hand, so they always end up in a Likud coalition with the Orthodox, hoping for better next time.  They probably will align with Likud.  Israel Is Our Home probably will win ~ 5 seats.

Bottom Line:  The Likud probably emerges with a coalition of 55 seats.

Meantime, Labor (Herzog) and Tzipi Livini probably will win 23-25 seats.  Tzipi Livini was in Likud.  Then she followed Ariel Sharon when he broke off and formed Kadimah.  After Sharon (who now is dead) went into a long-term multi-year coma, arising from a massive stroke, she was number two in Kadimah, behind Ehud Olmert.  He ended up messing up the war against Hezbollah in South Lebanon, then got indicted for a bunch of money things, so Livini ended up Prime Minister briefly.  She soon lost it.  Since then, she has been hopping from party to party, looking for a chance to be a major player again.  She has a deal with Labor that, if Labor forms the government, then Herzog will be Prime Minister for the first two years of his four-year term, then will step down and let her be Prime Minister for the remaining two years.  Because she is unpopular, many believe that Herzog hurt himself making that deal.  Today, the day before the election, she announced a bombshell: If Labor wins, she agrees not to be Prime Minister the latter two years of the four-year term.  That may help Herzog, or it may convince voters that the Herzog-Livni thing is cockamamie — sort of like the way that it hurts the former Secretary of State when a new story emerges each day, or the way it hurt McCain against Obama when suddenly McCain said “Let’s stop campaigning” during the economic collapse.  So that may shake up a few seats.  Maybe not, because no one believes her anyway.

A.  Meretz — This party is a bunch of anti-Orthodox leftists who regard Labor as too right-wing.  They have been endorsed most recently by American comedian Sarah Silverman, a coveted endorsement among Israelis (all of whom never have heard of her).  They want the Orthodox Rabbinate to stop influencing the character of Israel, want to give Abbas a country of his own, and historically are associated with the image of regarding Sephardim as uncouth.  Meretz probably will win ~ 5 seats.

B.  Yesh Atid (led by Yair Lapid) — Lapid is a very charismatic guy, who is disgusted with Israeli politics and the way both main parties operate.  For years he was a TV and newspaper commentator, then formed his own party.  His party is centrist-liberal, but not as socialist as Labor, nor as even-more-leftist as Meretz.  He is focused on Israel’s economic situation, the plight facing many in Israel’s lower economic strata, and even its middle class.  He would give up “land for peace” and endorses a “two-state solution,” but he is not in a rush to cut a bad deal.  He has some Orthodox rabbis in his party, Modern Orthodox rabbis, and they are pretty good guys.  In the last coalition, he allied with Likud, and he was Finance Minister.  Alas, things did not change the way he expected they would.  He felt Netanyahu was too focused on foreign affairs, and some of Lapid’s economic ideas clashed with Bibi’s.  He also felt that the Orthodox parties wrongly get too much funding for programs to support their world view that endorses young men not joining the IDF but instead signing up to learn all day at yeshivot.  So he got, as part of the last coalition, agreement to pass a bill that will lead to drafting many of those young men.  Therefore, the Orthodox parties (except for Jewish Home) hate him and will not sit with him in a coalition.  And Jewish Home will not sit with him because he would be softer on foreign affairs at a time they believe Israel needs to stand strong against the Iranians and Obama.  Lapid will align with Labor this time because he feels that Netanyahu sabotaged some of his economic initiatives, and now it is time for pay-back.  Yesh Atid probably will win ~ 11-12 seats.

Bottom Line:  The Labor coalition probably emerges with a coalition of 41 seats.

Next: The Arab Parties.  There are three separate Arab parties, each of which appeals to Arab voters and to Jewish self-haters.  The three parties differ on how best to destroyIsrael: Arab Nationalism, Arab Communism, or Arab Terrorism.  Israel lets them all contend freely for seats in the Knesset because Israel is a fascist racist apartheid state, unlike its fuzzy neighbors (SyriaLebanonIraqIranLibyaSaudi ArabiaKuwaitOman, etc.)  The three Arab Parties never before have coalesced, but this time have agreed to run together as one “Let’s Destroy Israel” Party. The Arab Parties.  probably will win 13 seats.

So, in a Parliament of 120 seats, the Likud Coalition comes in with approximately 55 seats, the Labor coalition with 41 seats (though Labor and Herzog/Livini outpoll Likud/Netanyahu by 3-4 seats), and the Arab Parties with 13 seats.  Note that 11 seats are missing in this analysis, so far.  And that is where the next government will be decided — all by one guy, Moshe Kahlon, head of the Kulanu (“All of Us”) Party.  (Get it?  Kahlon/Kulanu.)

Kulanu/Kahlon is basically the same idea as Yesh Atid/Lapid.  Kahlon has been a long-time member of Likud.  But he is deeply concerned that Netanyahu, though rightly concerned about Iran and Hamas, has become obsessed with foreign affairs and security at the expense of focusing on the home front and the economy.  (Both Bush presidencies were marked by this same kind of phenomenon, so we can relate.)  In Israel there really are some messed-up things financially.  Because the Labor Socialists (Ma’arakh) and Marxists (Mapam) ran the Israeli governments non-stop through its first 30 years, from 1948 through the Begin Mahapakh (Reversal) of 1977, they had time to create a socialist infrastructure.  Netanyahu, who is American-educated and a student of American capitalism, has worked to make Israel a First World western capitalist economy, with great success.  But we all recognize that, with capitalism’s strengths, there also is a greater divide between rich and poor, haves and have-nots.  In Israel, that tragically overlays other issues stemming from the way the socialist Russians deprived the Sephardic immigrants from Arab countries when they moved to Israel during Israel’s formative years.  To this day, although Sephardim have made enormous strides, inequality remains.  Against that backdrop, certain inequities in Israel’s economy are striking.  The socialists, for example, created a plethora of government monopolies.  Over time, many have been broken up and sold off the private investors, but other kinds of monopolies exist in Israel, leading in some cases to crazy pricing.  Of all the things over which to turn a country upside-down, the symbol of it all has been the price of . . . cottage cheese.  At one point in 2011, hundreds of thousands of Israelis joined a nationwide boycott of cottage cheese.  You can read more about it here, or just take my word for it — or both:

Kahlon formed his Kulanu party kind-of like another Yesh Atid Party.  The same idea, propelled by Lapid’s failure to achieve success last time with his version of an Economy-First Party.  So Kahlon feels that this time he will try to make it happen.  Kulanu will probably win ~ 11 seats.

So there it is:

If Netanyahu can induce Kahlon to join the Likud coalition — which absolutely must mean that Kahlon will be the next Finance Minister — then Likud has a coalition of 66 seats and can govern handily.  But the day that any of its parties gets miffed, they can pull out of the coalition and bring down the government.  So Liberman will have to abide the Orthodox.  The Orthodox Parties will have to live with a budget that gives more power to Kahlon’s vision than to theirs.  Netanyahu will have to keep everyone happy.  If he says “Two State Solution,” then Jewish Home leaves, and the government falls.  If he tries to draft yeshiva students, then the government falls.  Etc.  But that coalition should hold for remaining 22  months of Obama, and Obama will be the glue that holds them together — because Obama is deeply hated by all Israelis, even the liberals, and particularly by the religious-nationalist coalition.

On the other hand, if Herzog and Labor can induce Kahlon to go with them, then Herzog has to give the Finance Ministry to Kahlon, too — which will miff the heck out of Yair Lapid, whose whole raison d’etre is to have the Finance portfolio and pursue his economic vision.  But this is politics, and Lapid would rather see Netanyahu ousted, and the Orthodox drafted, even if it means conceding the Finance Ministry to Kahlon.  The thing is, even if Kahlon joins the Labor coalition, that still leaves Herzog with a coalition of approximately 52 seats, compared to Likud’s 55.

So the only ways that Herzog can get to the 61-seat majority that he needs to govern is by aligning with the 13 Arab Party seats that exist to destroy Israel.  If he does that, he knows that a brief governing majority will tarnish Labor for a generation.  Moreover, he cannot possibly pass any kind of “peace plan” through Knesset that relies on Arab Party votes to carry.  So he would have to find 9 or so seats another way.

One way could be to try bribing Liberman.  I do not think Liberman would accept that kind of bribe, but even if he did, then Herzog still would need to buy someone else, too.  He could try bribing Shas with promises of more budget money and a promise not to draft their young men, but then Kahlon and Lapid would revolt.  Bottom Line:  Even if Herzog forms a government — and it does not look like a great shot for him — the thing never will last a full four years before the parties bolt.

BOTTOM, BOTTOM LINE:  The mainstream media will report tomorrow night that Herzog has won and that the Israeli voters have rejected Netanyahu.  But that is not what will happen because either Netanyahu still will form the next coalition government, or Herzog will form something that will never last because of too many internal contradictions.