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Israel is sleepwalking to election day

19 January 2013

Maybe it’s the unconscious effect of the Sabbath, but here in Tel Aviv a soporific atmosphere hangs over next week’s Israeli elections. Among the Israelis I have spoken to (mostly secular Tel Avivians), apathy prevails. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to win whatever happens, it seems, and he is going to have to come to some agreement with the hard right-winger Naftali Bennett. ‘The television wants to make it exciting,’ an old Labor voter told me earlier today. ‘But it is not. Everybody knows.’ His wife nodded from behind her sunglasses, and smiled. Another elderly fellow told me that he would only vote for the ‘least bad one – it’s always that way.’

The political story of this election is of a hardening Right and a paralysed Left. The rise of Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party – expected to win 14 Knesset seats – is an intriguing phenomenon that has been covered in America and Britain. (See David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Bennett.)

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There’s no doubt Bennett has pushed Bibi to the Religious right. In yesterday’s Jerusalem Post, he waxed about ‘the need to deepen Jewish values’ and stressed the importance of his heritage programme to ‘take the biblical sites and the sites of early Zionism and bring them back to life’.

One might have expected this rightward tilt to have galvanised the Left, but there is little sign. Haaretz – rather breathlessly – reports that, in the last published poll before election day, the centre-left is enjoying a late rally. (The poll also found concern about the rich-poor divide was a key factor – 47 percent cited socioeconomic issues as their main concern; 18 per cent said the Palestinian issue.)

But the mood here is that the election is so predictable as to be hardly worth talking about – at least not to annoying know-nothing western hacks.

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  • anyfool

    Sleepwalking means that the writers leftie brothers have nothing to say that the voters care about, ergo the voters are stupid.

    • HooksLaw

      The writer is a lefty? He used to write for the American Conservative. A right wing magazine. Not loony toon Right admittedly, but Right none the less.

      • David Lindsay

        He used to be my editor on it.

        • HooksLaw

          Yeah? No wonder he left.

          • David Lindsay

            The late, great PostRight is much missed. We were way ahead of our time.

  • Augustus

    “But the mood here is that the election is so predictable as to be hardly worth talking about – at least not to annoying know-nothing western hacks.”


  • Daniel Maris

    The Israel of Tel Aviv, the secular and enlightened voice of the Jewish people, seems to be being drowned out by the religious and political zealots of Jerusalem and the Russian migration. Very, very sad, speaking as someone who much admired the Jewish achievement in Israel.

    I am becoming more and more depressed at the prospects for Israel. Rejection of a genuine two state solution really might seriously undermine its future, as it hands the initiative to its Islamic enemies.

    What is important here is not that Israel hands over territory but that it signals its genuine willingness to do so as soon as the Arabs give up their genocidal project of wiping Israel from the map.

    • Colonel Mustard

      You really think that a two state solution will obviate the “Arab project”? How naive.

      • HooksLaw

        He says ‘Rejection of a genuine two state solution …. hands the initiative to its Islamic enemies’. He does not claim (in print anyway) it will obviate the arab project.
        Indeed he says that Israel should signal a willingness ‘as soon as’ the Arabs themselves give up their project.
        Netanyahu himself gave a speech endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River in June 14, 2009.

        • Daniel Maris

          Exactly. I think Israel’s position is simply not stable enough to last. It needs its military and diplomatic friends. I

          That speech, though, does NOT back a Palestinian state. Nowhere is the word state used by Netanyahu. He talks about there been a Palestinian flag and government – well Scotland and Catalonia have their own flag and government. They aren’t independent UN member states. Other parts of the speech e.g. issues over control of air space etc make clear he isn’t talkiing about an independent state. He’s talking about a Palestinian self-governing entity existing within what he calls “Samaria”.

          And I just read that Likud’s constitution specifically refers to Israel’s border to the East as being the Jordan River. Is he proposing to change the constitution…somehow I doubt it.

          This is all a great shame because Israel proper – which was in the main a manifestation of secular leftist Jews – is/was a wonderful country, a cultural marvel.

    • Augustus

      Israelis don’t see themselves as standing at a historic juncture. They don’t believe that Middle East circumstances are ripe for peace, and they don’t expect their prime minister to be making any dramatic diplomatic moves. That is why any politician with an ‘I can bring peace’ messaging hasn’t made any headway. As a result, Israelis are not looking for revolutionary change. They are waiting-out the Arab Spring and other storms in the surrounding areas, taking no irresponsible risks and voting for steady hands at the helm of state. In fact, what Israelis expect is more of the same, and what
      they want to see is Netanyahu in government with parties of both the Zionist
      Right and Left. They expect another complicated coalition government, with
      built-in checks and balances. Apocalyptic analyses are out, and so is the dethroning of Netanyahu.

      • Dimoto

        I think Israel is doing pretty well economically, so there is no interest in a change of government. That’s all.

    • Nigel Jones

      You sometimes say sensible things Daniel, but on this one you are being hopelessly naive. ‘as soon as the Arabs give up their genocidal project of wiping Israel off the map’ means never. Because in their hearts that’s what ALL ( or almost all) Arabs want.
      Remember Sadat? He agreed ( or pretendted to) to recognise Israel. And look what happened to him. And his killers rule Egypt today.
      Israel has to look to its own defences and not rely on the weaselly west. That means more Mossad assassinations and more nuclear weapons. Depressing maybe – but that’s reality, baby.

      • Daniel Maris

        You said “Look at Sadat” – I do and I have never read anything that suggests he was insincere in his quest for a lasting peace. If and when the Muslim Brotherhood fail to create stable, successful societies, we may see a reaction, and a return to Sadat’s vision.

        But the issue remains: has Israel ever signed up to a two state solution. As far as I know it never has. It needs to make clear its commitment to that solution – the original mandated solution. Only then can we make progress. Israel is the occupier of the land – it has a duty to make clear that it does not wish to annex the land. But sadly, I think it probably does want to do just that.

        • Vindice

          You do not confront Nigel Jones’s point at all in your reply. You instead focus your attention to his 3 word contention that Sadat’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist might have been insincere.

          You do not explain why the onus is on Israel to sign up to a two-state solution when most of its neighbours are committed to its destruction. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran et al are explicit in word and deed. They make no attempt to hide their intentions at all. Iran arms Hamas with precision missiles with a range of 80 miles. Why are your attentions focused on Israel’s accommodations of enemies that describe Jews as descended from pigs and dogs?

          Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq have shown no sign that even they support a Palestinian state. In fact they are the very reason that one has never existed. These countries prevented Britain from establishing a Palestinian state because of their own imperial ambitions.

          Gaza was Egyptian territory before 1967, the West Bank was Jordanian territory before 1967, the Golan Heights: Syrian. I would bet every penny I have that the majority of educated Westerners believe that these territories were seized from “the Palestinians”. The only reason that Israel took control of these tiny parcels of land is that they were the launch-points of the invasion of Israel. The Gaza strip and most of the West Bank has been relinquished by Israel. What is it you want Israel to do? Allow Arab armies to base themselves there? That didn’t go so well last time round.

          • Daniel Maris

            Well it’s not true Gaza was “Egyptian territory” before 1967. It was occupied by Egypt but de jure had been PLO territory since 1964 with conscription to the PLA being introduced from that time. Between 1948 and 1959 it had been under the nominal control of the “All Palestine Government” – an inconvenient fact you’d no doubt wish to forget, preferring to pretend that the idea of a Palestinian state was a late 1960s creation.

            The West Bank was incorporated into Jordanian territory (a decision since reversed of course) but that was against the post war UN resolutions. However, the Arab League’s position formally did not accept that, as far as I know.

            I don’t think anyone disputes the Golan Heights were part of Syria’s territory.

            I say the onus is on both sides (because that was the legal decision of the UN in 1948). It would help Israel’s friends get behind it if Israel made its position clear. That’s all I am asking for – a definite and clear commitment to a two state solution based broadly on the 1967 boundaries.

            • Vindice

              Gaza was occupied by either the Ottoman Empire or Egypt from the 16th Century until the British took control following victory over the Ottoman Empire in WW1.

              I have not argued that a Palestinian state was a 1960s creation. The British sought to establish a small Jewish state and a much larger Arab state towards the end of the 30s. The Arabs rejected the plan.

              The United Nations sought to establish a Palestinian state in 1947. The Arab League as a whole, and its constituent regional powers, rejected the plan. As soon as the British Mandate expired war broke out, after which Gaza was occupied by Egypt until 1967.

              In 1994, as per the Oslo agreement, the PLO took over the administration of Gaza. In 2005 Israel forcibly removed all Jewish settlers from Gaza. Since that time there has been the closest thing to a Palestinian state that has ever existed. The people of Gaza elected a theocracy committed to the total destruction of Israel. Hamas promptly converted Gaza into a prison. Quasi-statehood is not going well. Yet you propose that Israel should do more to bring about genuine statehood?

              As for the West Bank, didn’t the international community split it between Jordan and Israel in 1949?

              • Daniel Maris

                I’ve made my position quite clear: Israel should make clear in principle its acceptance of a two state solution, with a Palestinian state being based on the Gazan and West Bank territories. We are a long way from that becoming a reality. But it is an important first step.

  • judyk113

    Interesting that this writer regards the choice polls so far indicated of the Israeli electorate choosing parties not to his liking as “sleepwalking”. Good heavens, a politician of the Jewish state campaigning to strengthen Jewish values! Increasing numbers of Israeli voters liking what he has to say! Whatever next? President Obama has already made it quite clear that he thinks he knows better than Israeli voters and politicians what’s best for them. Perhaps this writer should get together with him to supply the Spec with some sagacious posts of this kind.

    • Daniel Maris

      Would you let your friend sleepwalk off a cliff?

      If Israel is not interested in a genuine two state solution, as originally mandated by the United Nations, then let them say it out loud, without duplicity, and we know where we stand. We would have no further moral duty to protect them from the sea of hostility with which they are surrounded.

      • Beauchard

        Excuse me. Who is this “we” who have been protecting Israel?

        • Daniel Maris

          The Western democracies in general.

          The USA has been the prime source of financial and military aid without which Israel would have disappeared from the map long ago.

          But we in the UK have done a lot in terms of trade and diplomacy.

          • Beauchard

            The US supports Israel and many other countries with financial and military aid. Protection is something else.
            The Jewish state can protect itself. It was established so that Jews would never again have to rely on others to protect them.
            No matter who the Israelis vote for, this nuclear power is not going to disappear from the map in the near future; even without the “protection” of “we” the UK.
            Now I (not we) will get back to the on topic discussion of the Israeli elections. All the last polls (not just Haaretz) point to a late rally of the centre-left. They also mention that 15% is still undecided. The Likud of Netanyahu is still predicted to be the largest party with about 28% of the vote. Labour is expected to come second with 15%.
            Most commentators predict that Netanyahu will try to form a centre-right coalition after the elections. The non-existent peace process with the Palestinians will remain non-existent.

            • Daniel Maris

              So you are saying that Israel is secure because of its nuclear weapons?

              That is a complete and utter delusion.

              What is Israel’s response if, let’s say, a terrorist group in Gaza managed to lay a biological poison or similar over Tel Aviv? What are they going to do? Nuke Gaza? – and then poison themselves with the resultant radioactivity? Meanwhile, half their productive economy will have shut down.

              Israel is in reality a tiny sliver of land with a (relatively) tiny population. It is extremely vulnerable to all sorts of action from a vicious, unrelenting foe.

              Israel’s opponent – its Islamic enemy – is not stupid. They will try to destroy Israel bit by bit and make it as difficult for them to respond.

              Israel most definitely needs the support of the Western democracies. It should not endanger that support with its ridiculous settlement policy which in any case is turning it into a haven for unproductive religious nutjobs, who won’t even put their kids in the army.

              • Vindice

                Please forgive the length of this post. I think what I have to say is important. I have done my very best to make it interesting!

                I am reassured that you acknowledge the existential threat that Israel confronts, but I am quite certain that your reasoning is back-to-front.

                Israel believes that, whatever its actions, the West is not a reliable guarantor of its survival. This is a reasonable conclusion.

                The USA is broke. Even by its own accounting, it is $16 trillion in debt, and that figure is rising rapidly. Even this figure is dwarfed by future social security entitlements excluded from its accounts. With record low interest rates, 10% of the USA’s GDP is already spent on interest payments, and that figure will rise very rapidly. By the middle of this decade the USA’s interest payments to China will more than fund the entire cost of the People’s Liberation Army of China.

                Electorates do not vote to reduce Social Security entitlements. Cuts will be made to defence spending instead. The USA currently spends around 4.7% GDP on its military. This is nearly double what the UK spends, and is more than double the spending of France and Germany. European defence budgets have been in free-fall in since 1950. Moreover the USA shows every sign of redirecting its military attentions from the Europe and the Middle East to the Far East.

                Even were the USA inclined to continue to guarantee Israel’s security, it will not be capable of doing so. The evidence is that in any case the USA is not so inclined.

                The USA lost in Korea, lost in Vietnam, lost in Afghanistan, lost in Iraq. The West has helped bring about Islamist governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Syria will likely go the same way. The West has no answer to the threat of Iran. Pakistan is a mess. The West has no effective answer to Islamic fundamentalism in Mali. The USA does not wish to be involved.

                The West left Israel unprotected repeatedly throughout the 20th century. Western media even now advocates that Israel should return to the 1967 borders that left it hopelessly vulnerable to attack. Three times in the 20th century Israel faced the threat of total annihilation at the hands of its neighbours.

                Regardless of one’s political persuasion, Western demographics do not look good for Israel. In fact they look terrible. A combination of Islamic immigration and relative high Islamic birth rates signal that Western governments will accomodate Islamic opinion. American demographics are changing. WASPS will account for less than half of the electorate in this century.

                The Russian army is on course to be majority Islamic in this decade.

                Israeli demographics don’t look good without immigration either. Its population is 20% Arab. Jewish birth rates are lower than Arab birth rates.

                Even with a functioning democracy that offers representation to its Arab population; even with a military that spends a fortune seeking to minimalise civilian casualties in Gaza; Israel has lost the battle for public opinion in the West. Things are only going to get much worse.

                Whatever Israel does, before long it will be alone in the world. If you believe that Israel can secure the survival of its “tiny sliver of land” from the aggression of its “vicious, unrelenting foe” by reducing Jewish immigration and withdrawing its settler population as it did in Gaza, then you are either ignorant or an idiot.

                • Daniel Maris

                  Well, before composing a long response, it’s best to read the original post and save yourself a lot of wasted time attacking an argument that was never put forward. I did not argue that Israel should give up any land at present, or indeed in the future. I am arguing it has to state credibly its willingness to do so, once the Arab side demonstrates through many acts that it is prepared to accept, as a legitimate state, Israel with a primarily Jewish identity. That would be a long process, involving a series of confidence building measures.

                  Your response just appears to me as an act of sophistry disguising the fact that you want Israel to be able to annex, de facto or de jure all, much or most of the West Bank territories lost by Jordan in 1967.

                  Its premise that this is somehow necessary to Israel’s security is not persuasive. How wide is the West Bank? How far is Egypt’s border from Tel Aviv? We are talking about a tiny bit of land that would offer very little protection in the event of an all out assault. But of course, Israel doesn’t really have a lot to fear from an all out conventional assault. It is the rocket assaults by small groups of terrorists – and similar threats – that really have it by the throat.

                  There is a sensible deal in prospect with Israeli citizens on the West Bank becoming non-voting residents in a Palestinian state and a proportion of Arab Israelis becoming non-voting residents within Israel. Jersualem needs to be shared and/or internationalised.

                • Vindice

                  Daniel, please, my argument is a direct response to what you wrote. It is exactly as I wrote it, and not sophistry. To suggest that I have not read what you wrote is ridiculous.

                  Your argument was that Israel needs to do whatever it takes to secure the support of Western populations so that the West continues to guarantee its existence. My reply is as above.

                • Daniel Maris

                  Do you want to annex any part of the West Bank to Israel – why not be clear on that if you are not indulging in sophistry.

              • Julian_F

                Ahem – Israel coped admirably enough in 1948 and 1967 in combating its vicious, unrelenting foe. As far as I’m aware, the US and the UK were nowhere to be seen…

                • Daniel Maris

                  Julian –

                  In case you haven’t noticed, 1967 was nearly 50 years ago. Things have moved on a lot since then. We have proliferation of WMD in the middle east, the advent of small rockets and now a growing proto-Caliphate of states controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

                • Julian_F

                  Indeed and, if anything, Israel’s foes were even more determined then than now (Morsi is no Nasser). And, in case YOU haven’t noticed, Israel has very effectively contained asymmetric warfare in the very recent past (the Second Intifada), again without military assistance. The Settlements policy is a very necessary continuation of this and will not be the wheel on which international alliances are broken. Israel is also pretty much single-handedly disrupting Iran’s nuclear programme. It is, of course, strategically vulnerable, but Israel is tactically superior to its enemies in almost every way.

  • Curnonsky

    Could the fact the Labour has, by its fruitless engagement in the “peace process”, lost all future credibility as a defender of Israel’s future survival have anything to do with the matter?

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