The 2019 Elections – The Rise of the Far-Right

This first appeared in the Jerusalem Post March 25th 2018

by Jeremy Saltan and Joel Braunold

With the threat of new elections out of the headlines, the non-stop polling of the past month is expected to slow. During that time most analysts focused on the strength of the Likud, averaging at 31 seats over the past seven polls. Some analysts went deeper, looking at the shifts between the religious-right coalition and the center-left-Arab opposition blocs, particularly with both Shas and Yisrael Beitenu hovering around the electoral threshold. However, it is a trend that we have been tracking for some time that could have the biggest impact on the next Knesset – the quiet and rapid growth of the far-right vote.

In the 2013 Elections the Otmza L’Yisrael Party led by the secular Prof. Aryeh Eldad & Kahanist Dr. Michael Ben-Ari received 66,775 votes. The ultra-nationalist list’s 1.75% of the vote missed the then electoral threshold of 2% by about ten thousand votes. In the 2015 Elections the Yachad list led by former Shas leader Eli Yishai, former Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun, who represented the more Chardal side of the party, and Kahanist Baruch Marzel received 125,158 votes. The 2.97% showing would have been good enough for three seats and change. Instead it fell underneath the new 3.25% electoral threshold.

There are various rumors and media reports that we might see an expanded far-right list in the next Israeli election that could include other groups such as the late Lithuanian Rabbi Aurbauch’s Etz Party, Moshe Feiglin’s new Zehut Party, and the Chardali Tekuma party that is currently affiliated with Bayit Yehudi. There is also a possibility of a Chabad candidate reaching a realistic spot in such a coalition. What all these parties have in common is that they all fall to the right of Naftali Bennett, who is currently leading what is considered by many as the most right-wing party in the Knesset.

There are data to suggest that a coalition of parties to the right of Bayit Yehudi may go further than just passing the threshold – it might receive a considerable number of seats. By appealing to a younger Sephardi Haredi audience with Yishai and a younger Chardali audience with Chetboun the far-right was able to double their numbers in just two years from 2013 to 2015. Expanding that to include additional groups should be enough to get that coalition over the electoral threshold next time.

Additionally, we are talking about a base that enjoys the fastest growing population in the country. A recent study on the “Fertility rates in Israel by religion and level of religiosity and their effect on public expenditure” was conducted by the Knesset’s Research and Information Center for the Knesset’s Appropriations Committee. Based on its findings, with seven new potential Haredi voters and four new potential national religious voters for every three new potential traditional voters and two new potential secular voters, the trend is quite clear.

The gains between the 2013 and the 2015 elections made by the far-right are quite impressive across the board and can be seen especially in the Haredi settlements. In Beitar Illit support grew from 5% to 14%. In Emanuel it went up from 14% to 32%. In Kochav Yaakov it went from 14% and third place to 32% and first place. In the 2015 Elections Yachad finished first place in settlements with large Chardali populations such as Nahliel, Yitzhar, Bat Ayin and Ma’ale Hever. The number of new voters in each of these settlements will be considerable before the next election.

Support also grew in the top-20 populated cities that also have large religious populations. Jerusalem increased from 3% to 7%. Bnei Brak went up from 1% to 5.5%. Bet Shemesh went from 3% to 7%.  Additionally, there were impressive gains in the south such as Netivot where the numbers jumped from 2% to 19%. In Mitzpe Ramon it went up from 3% to 16%, and that is in a city where Shas only had 5% in the 2013 cycle. Other areas where there could be significant gains are in Kfar Chabad where it started at 54% and went up to 75%, Elad where it jumped from 3% to 14%, and Yad Binyamin where it went up from 13% to 40%.

All of the cities above are growing in population at a rapid pace, above the national average, and if additional right-wing splinter groups agree to run on a joint list we could see significant increases.

In our previous two joint installments on these pages we illustrated the trend of young Israeli voters moving to the right side of the map on issues ranging from security to religion and state. With the traditional religious parties of Shas and UTJ losing voting share among their youth, many among the younger religious population ranks are going to the edges of the right side of the map.

These are edges that can include racial hate, bigotry and threats of violence. There are many among this fringe that justify price tags and the impulses behind the work of Torat HaMelech and religiously justify the dehumanization of the other. Within these far-right circles, current Tekuma MK Bezalel Smotrich would be viewed as a moderate. His bemoaning the sharing of maternity wards with Arab citizens and doctors made headlines across the country just two years ago. While you cannot ascribe all of the potential voter bases these views; people’s preference for parties are for varied reasons, their votes may elect to the Knesset those who follow a racist ideology.

The changing demographics of the Jewish community in Israel will give rise to new blocs as the axis of right and left in Israel adapt around the changing demographic nature of the Knesset. It is yet to be seen how a stronger joint list of the far-right would play in the traditional right-religious bloc, but the next election could rewrite coalition politics as we know it. It is difficult to poll first time voters, yet when you look at the election results of the past two national elections, combined with the data of steady birthrates among the past twenty years, you can’t help but conclude that the far-right is coming.

Joel Braunold is the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace. Jeremy Saltan is a municipal politician, Bayit Yehudi’s Anglo Forum chairman and one of Israel’s leading poll analysts.

All views presented are those of the individual authors.

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What Comes Next?

This appeared in the Jewish Journal January 18th 2018

There were many things that President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem was not. It was not the start of the apocalypse. It was not the start of a successful political peace strategy. Nor was it earth-shattering in terms of its actual practical effects.

So, what was it? It was an international humiliation for a Palestinian community that believed in negotiations. It was an abdication of the role of sole arbitration by the United States. And it was a reality check for everyone concerned.

The United States, at least for the next three years, will not be able to singlehandedly bring the parties back to the table. Of course, even before this, the reality was that even if negotiations had — by some miracle — restarted, few were confident that the societies or their respective leaders were ready for a credible process.

If the Jerusalem announcement has stopped the fake horizon of talks, what replaces it? What credibly fills the vacuum?

There are many who would like to use this moment to push a pressured or coercive approach — the idea that with more force the decision-making calculation will change and a different outcome will result. Given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada and the structural violence that the occupation brings daily, the evidence does not indicate that what we need is more force. If there were a coercive solution to this problem, it would have happened already.

Coercion is seductive, as it puts all the pressure on the party on the other side of the equation. Supporters of both Israel and Palestine can point to the pressure points they feel are most effective and motivate others to apply pressure there while ignoring the significant challenges within their own communities.

Ignoring the power of coercion within decision-making is a mistake, but so is fetishizing it. If this isn’t the moment for pressure, what is it the time for?

To confront the generational challenge, we need a long-term strategy.

Israeli and Palestinian young people truly mistrust one another. With limited or no interaction with one another, they rely on their media and leadership to inform them about their counterparts. The result has been anything but positive. Annual polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that large majorities believe that the opposing community harbors extreme exclusionist or genocidal views.

To confront the generational challenge that the conflict presents, we need a generational long-term strategy to re-engage the communities — something broader than traditional people-to-people programs. We need an agenda that considers how to create community resilience against violence and develop leaders to create constituencies for peace when a credible political process eventually occurs.

As the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, I have been pushing for the creation of a multilateral international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace that can help answer the question, “What are we doing to make sure that the next generation does not hate one another?” The need has never been higher.

Beyond the fund, however, we need to move beyond the politics of demographics. For the past few years, more and more voices in the center and left of both Israel and the Jewish Diaspora have been pushing the politics of separation to make their case for peace now. The American-Jewish community funds shared-society programing in Israel while also paying for billboards that bemoan the demographic threat posed by the Arab community. That needs to stop.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation.

One could make the spurious argument that you can use racism to motivate voters if you believe that peace is just a vote away. It is not. If we are in a generational struggle, then we need to tackle the educational challenges created through ethnic conflict, not exacerbate the worst fears of the populations.

The uncertainty of the moment should lead all of us to return to the basic values and principles that motivate and guide us. There are hundreds of opportunities to invest in values we can all stand behind, whether by investing in the bilingual communities of the Hand in Hand school network, working with youth across Jerusalem’s faith communities with Kids4Peace or supporting agricultural cooperatives with the Near East Foundation.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation. We should support young people as they build communities that demonstrate that a different future is possible, one of collective humanity and mutual dependence. This is a generational struggle, but one that depends on people themselves rather than the geopolitical currents that are buffeting our global society.

Birthright’s Move To Exclude Arab-Israelis From Its Narrative Is A Crisis — And Here’s How We Fix It.

This first appeared in The Forward November 8th 2017

Birthright Israel’s education department recently announced that all providers of its signature 10-day trip to Israel for young Jews must stop including meetings with Israeli Arabs in their programming.

The move has hit a nerve. It has brought out the raw feelings surrounding the funders of the program, those who safeguard the educational content and those who lead the largest segments of the US Jewish community.

Birthright continues to be a crown jewel in the crown of US Diaspora relations. Given Birthright’s prominence, both in terms of costs, impact and cultural significance, it should not come as a surprise that people care deeply about what trip participants are exposed to.

Gil Troy, the chair of Birthright’s educational committee, in his passionate response to Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ press release on the decision which called Birthright “out of touch,” couches the adjustment of the program as a result of evaluative feedback rather than a rejection of the values of shared society:

“We’re perfectionists in Birthright. We reevaluate any program that gets mediocre feedback… When our Beit Midrash (religious study hall) tanked, we didn’t oppose Jewish learning. When our entrepreneur track sputtered, we didn’t stop celebrating Israel as “start up nation.”

While I’m sure that it was internal evaluations that lead to the adjustment, Israel’s relationship with its minorities is more than a little different from the virtues of the “start-up nation” or the values of Jewish textual learning. While the aim of Birthright is to connect unconnected Jews to themselves, there is an ethical question of whether or not one can ignore the impact the Jewish nation state has on its non-Jewish citizens. To what extent does the efficacy of the Birthright experience trump the ethics of editing Israeli Arabs out of Israeli society?

There are 1.8 million Arab citizens of Israel, a full 21.6% of the population of Israel, according to the latest census data. They are an essential part of the story.

I don’t envy the curriculum authors or the educators on the ground. Birthright participants are not blank slates who soak up whatever they are told. Participants come with their own array of ideas, political assumptions, experiences and backgrounds. Trying to get anything to stick on a 10-day emotional and hormonal visit is extremely hard. Arab citizens of Israel, however, are an essential part of the story of Israel — and how the Jewish majority relates to them is a test of our values on a national level.

Rather than assume that Birthright will forever ignore the complex relationship between Israel’s Arabs and Jews, I do think that they will continue to attempt to find a way to address this issue. The organized Jewish community in the US and UK provide a workable model worth considering.

The Interagency Task Force on Arab Israeli Issues (and its UK equivalent) have for years been bringing together the major forces in the diaspora Jewish community, from federations, to advocacy organizations and funders, to have a deep understanding of the realities of the situation of Israel’s Arab minority. Together, a subgroup created the Social Venture Fund, now run by the Jewish Funders Network, which finds the best and brightest organizations working on these issues and collectively gives to them.

An educational module crafted by these organizations, and adapted for the different types of Birthright trips could provide credible, and at times challenging, programing that the heart of the organizational Jewish community supports. It could provide the follow up bridge for the Birthright alumni to get involved, if they so chose, to access these issues with expert information and giving circle opportunities.

Another option is to connect Birthright groups to programs that are supported by the US government. A little known fact is that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the largest funders of shared society programing in Israel through the office of Conflict Management and Mitigation. Here groups can visit organizations vetted and supported by Uncle Sam, who are working on a range of issues spanning education, employment, sports, technology and environment.

Again the experience would not have to stop when the trip was over, with Birthright alumni being able to convey their experience to their Congressional representatives, having seen first hand what the US is doing in the Israel.

The more taut the relationship between the US Jewish community and the Government of Israel becomes, the greater the friction on the signature program between the two communities. In today’s Israel, coexistence is not an apolitical concept and we would be foolhardy to assume that programs that create a shared society would be entirely uncontroversial.

Yet rather than abandon the hard educational challenge, this crisis can be converted into a showcase of how the U.S., both as a country and a Jewish community, are tackling this complexity in a ways that can both educate and connect the most unconnected among us.

Getting to Yes

This appeared in the Jerusalem Post July 11th 2017

Many in the pundit world are scoffing at Jared Kushner’s brief trip to the region to meet with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Thinking that the administration is on a fool’s errand they have mocked them for their perceived naivety in wading into a perilous conflict.

They ridicule their lack of plan or progress and roll their eyes at the official readouts of the meetings with the leaders.

It’s important to remember that the President does not need to spend time or political capital doing this.  Mr. Trump can make a difference in the lives of millions scarred by decades of conflict. It serves no one to mock him or his team in their efforts. Looking at the outcomes of the latest trip, Mr. Kushner and Greenblatt did not leave empty handed. In each official account there exists the same operative statement:

“The United States officials and (Israeli/Palestinian) Leadership underscored that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking.”

Both parties agreed publically to do everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking. Since the collapse of the previous rounds of talks, the effort of both leaderships has been to find reasons why the other is undermining the environment to peace building rather then trying to build such an environment themselves.

The Palestinians point to the creation of a new settlement deep in the West Bank and the continued growth of existing settlements. The Israelis point to the new dedication of a square in Jenin named for martyrs who killed Israeli civilians and the continuation of the incentives offered to those who attack Israelis through the martyrs fund.

Each claim to be held hostage by their political realities and the Americans get lost in the minute details trying to find wins amongst the ongoing wreckage.

Rather then going down the rabbit hole of previous efforts, the Trump administration should utilize the love for the President in Israel, and the curiosity of him in Palestine to find positive ways to lessen the incredulity of the average Israeli and Palestinian to the peace process itself. People simply don’t believe its possible, so there is no pressure on their leaderships to step outside of their comfort zone.

Belief is created through a change of facts on the ground and by shifting attitudes.  The fault line in the land for peace formula is that each side gives the other what they don’t want. While Israel’s leaders have spoken about their desire for peace, no land has been transferred from Israeli to Palestinian control in the West Bank since before 2000. While the Palestinian security cooperation has lessened violence, a culture of peace has not followed in the way that many Israelis believe necessary for a true peace to come.

The US Administration managed to get the Israeli cabinet to agree to some transfers of area C to PA control, and should continue focusing on getting real wins for those on the ground who believe land for peace is just a mirage. Simultaneously, a process needs to start that goes further then just a tri-lateral committee against incitement, where each side goes to the referee if they believe they have been maligned. A culture of peace is something that both sides want, and know is essential if they are not to bequeath this conflict to their grandchildren.

In other successfully resolved conflicts success can be seen not just through the reduction of violence, but from how optimistic the younger generation are about their attitudes to the other. Despite the stereotypes of the Oslo years, there was never a serious attempt on the civic side of the peace building equation, for each people to get to know the other and build a different reality together. As the populations got younger, they have become more distant and more distrustful of each other.

If Mr. Kushner and Greenblatt are serious about getting the parties to yes they need to create the political space for the leadership to take risks. Creating positive facts on the ground while draining the swamp of hate should be the twin pillars of their strategy.

The importance of President Trump’s political capital in making the ultimate deal

This appeared as the main print Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post on May 9th 2017

With Jeremy Saltan 

Despite the time, effort, and attention of the Obama administration, Israelis never trusted President Obama. No matter the level of security assistance, Israelis just did not like him and felt that he ignored public opinion. When trying to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, trust, fondness and respecting Israeli public opinion matters. Given the current global and regional security dynamic, Israel likely would have to take significant risks to agree to change the status quo. Any future final-status agreement would require that Israel reduce the access the IDF currently maintains within the West Bank/Judea & Samaria.

Israeli public opinion polling shows Israelis agree to make adjustments to the status-quo in three potential scenarios. A) If Israelis believe their security will increase after a deal is made because the threat emanating from the Palestinians will decrease. B) If Israelis believe they could place themselves in a worse position by saying no to a potential deal. C) If Israelis believe they will be more secure because there is an opportunity to enjoy a security pact with a world superpower. This requires a peacemaker they like and trust.

Israelis do not believe that a deal with the Palestinians will make them safer, and public opinion is trending downward. The latest poll conducted by Professor Mina Tzemech for the Jerusalem Center on Public Affairs found that support for the Clinton Parameters is the lowest on record with only 29% supporting. That number drops to 18% if the deal does not include full Israeli security control of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria. It becomes even more complicated with the non-security-based elements of the Clinton Parameters as just 10% of Israelis support the transfer of the Temple Mount to Palestinian sovereignty.

While support for the Clinton parameters is at a historic low, desire for American involvement has increased strongly under President Trump. Israelis were asked if they could rely more on a settlement with the Palestinians under President Obama or under President Trump. 54.3% of Israelis responded they would rely more on President Trump’s involvement compared to 16.3% who responded Obama. A great majority of Israelis, 74%, answered that it is important the Americans are involved in any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Israelis clearly trust President Trump more than his predecessor his word is not enough. He will need to take action. His word only brings 31% to support a withdrawal from the West Bank/Judea & Samaria. However, if a final-status deal came with a guaranteed security pact with the United States, 51% of Israelis would agree to the Clinton Parameters. With his current approval ratings in Israel a narrow majority of Israelis believe that under President Trump a US security pact is strong enough to overcome their security fears of what a final-status agreement would require.

President Trump clearly has the political capital needed to make major progress towards the ultimate deal that he desires. He is in a better position than his predecessors. His unpredictable style also makes the 60% of Israelis who believe that the US-Israel special relationship is central to Israel’s security wonder what the President who is chasing the ultimate deal would do if Israel is the one who says no.

Starting from this strong position, President Trump’s trip to Israel is a key opportunity to increase his political capital so he can move closer to his goal. In addition to meeting politicians he needs to bring his case to the Israeli people with an approach that takes their public opinion into account. Prime Minister Netanyahu learned from his defeat in 1999 what it means to have a difficult relationship with a popular US president in the eyes of the Israeli public. President Trump’s challenge will be to show the Israeli people that they have placed their trust in someone who will not abandon them without cause and lives up to his commitments. In addition President Trump needs to show the Palestinians that he can move the ball meaningfully forward in a way that changes their day-to-day reality. Undoubtedly, this will be a difficult act to pull off.

Hope is a scarce commodity among the communities that have experienced failure for decades. Only 10.1% of Palestinians and 24.8% of Israelis expected President Trump to try his hand at restarting negotiations according to the latest joint polling. Given that few believed President Trump would attempt this so early, if at all, he suffers from none of the high expectations that followed President Obama into office. While it would gall many on the left that it could be President Trump who makes the ‘ultimate deal’, it would be a grave mistake and counterproductive for them to mock his efforts.

Despite the lowered expectations, no one should doubt President Trump’s commitment given he has chosen to visit both the Israelis and the Palestinians as part of his first international trip. When President Trump arrives in the region his mission will be to show that he has Israel’s back and that an eventual deal between Israeli and Palestinian people is possible. The data show he starts in a far stronger position than those who came before him. It is in the interest of everyone that we wish the President of the United States of America the best of luck.

 

We need to have a conversation about DAF’s in the Jewish Community

This first appeared in Ha’aretz April 29th 2017

Over the past year or so, stories of Jewish donor-advised funds blocking grants have started to appear. These moves by the Jewish community are both hypocritical and self-destructive. To understand why, it is important to understand what a donor-advised fund is.

 
If you had to guess what was the highest grossing non-profit in America by revenues received, a hospital, a university or major aid organization would probably top your list. But you would be wrong. The top receipt in 2016 was Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, a sponsor of donor-advised funds (DAF).

 
DAF’s are one of the biggest changes in the non-profit landscape and the Jewish community has been getting involved in the DAF business for a long time. DAFs are a tool in which a donor can transfer the totality of their charitable giving into a fund and get the tax benefit immediately. They then make recommendations to the fund on which registered charities they wish the fund to give to, and the grant is made on their recommendation.

 
By getting the Jewish donors to direct their giving through Jewish communal funds or the federation system, the established community maintains a link with major contributors and has the opportunity to pitch issues the Jewish community cares about.
When a donor uses a DAF they realize that they cannot utilize the funds to fulfill personal pledge commitments or buy tickets to galas or charity auctions. They also know that their recommended beneficiary must be a legal non-profit that does everything above board. Apart from that, the donors assume that the money is theirs to give where they choose.
While the vast majority of DAFs respect the recommendations of the donor, it appears they are not under any obligation to do so as events on the West Coast this past year have shown. In San Francisco, the Federation blocked donors from giving grants to American Friends Service Committee on the basis of guidelines on BDS that were passed after the donors had set up their DAF. In Los Angeles a grant to IfNotNow was blocked given their hostility to Jewish Institutions.

 
The hypocrisy and self-destructive nature of these moves cannot be stressed enough.
Blocking these donations is hypocritical as they only apply to the left of the political spectrum, but not the right. If you support BDS or the goal of a single democratic state, you will be denied a platform and the donors who have placed their resources within the community will be prevented from supporting you. If however you support annexation, settlement or groups that attack equal rights for Israel’s citizens, there is no platform or funding test. In the case of San Francisco, a grant was made to the Hebron Fund even though it was shown to give a stipend to a Jewish terrorist.

 
The blocks are also self-destructive as donors have the choice to remove their funds and go to a fund like Fidelity or any of the thousands of other hosting agencies for DAFs that have none of the hang-ups of the Jewish community. The opportunity to move ones money elsewhere means that the Jewish community does not have the luxury of being the only provider of DAF’s to add politics into the mix.

 
The Jewish community DAFs are one of the few places left where both the right and left of the community use the same resources. It bonds the donor to the Jewish community as they see it as their gateway to giving to Jewish and non-Jewish causes allowing them to express their Jewish values in their largesse. The desire to control where donors can and can’t place their philanthropic dollars will kill this public commons to the detriment of us all as the community will lose one of the last elements of the institutional glue holding back the partisanship.

 
There is a way to save the public commons and keep Jewish donors using Jewish mechanisms for their giving but it requires a shift from control to conversation. On the right or on the left, the donor community will never accept a committee telling them where they can or can’t place their gifts (as long as they are a legitimate charity). Rather then demanding control, the Jewish DAFs should require that donors engage in conversation with each other if they wish to make grants that the fund feels is not within the mainstream of the majority of donors. This should be applied evenly on the right and the left. This can be through the same committee structure that is currently blocking grants. We need to move our mind-set from control to education.

 
Being invited to explain why you wish to support a group, with the express understanding that the grant will be made in any case, utilizes the fund as a platform for dialogue and conversation between our fractured community and keeps everyone invested in it. Donors enjoy the opportunity to evangelize about their chosen causes and the conversation that comes out of these discussions can keep difficult conversations within a common space, something that we are losing.

 
The Jewish communal funds are things that are worth saving. To do so we need to remember our communities strength is not a monolithic approach, but a vibrant never ending passionate conversation, one that we all can be invested in.