Never trust the exit polls – Israeli Election 2015

Now with final results

Likud 30

Zionist Union 24

The Joint List 13

Yesh Atid 11

Kulanu 10

Bayit Yehudi 8

Shas 7

UJT 6

Yisrael Beytanu 6

Meretz 5

So what is the story of this election?

If we split the parties into the right, left, center, ultra orthodox and arab + Hadash parties we can see who took from who in this election.

Right – (Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytanu) 44 (+1) – The right managed to pick up a seat on this election.

Left – (Zionist Union, Meretz) – 29 (+8) – looking at the results it might surprise people that the left got 7 more seats. 6 of these are because Livni moved from the center directly into the left camp, but the left also managed to win an additional mandate.

Ultra Orthodox – (Shas, UJT) 13 (-5) – With Yachad still under the threshold (and they may pass it as the solider votes are counted) you can see the ultra orthodox losing almost a 3rd of their strength due to the wasted votes and infighting by Deri and Yishai

Center – (Yesh Atid, Kulanu) 21 (-6) – the six went to the left with Livni joining the Zionist Camp. The center actually held with Kulanu taking Yesh Atid and Kadmia’s votes

The Joint List – 13 (+2) – the joining of the parties and the GOTV campaign led to arab turn out of 67% (up from 54% in 2013) this led to more votes and mandates.

Looking at the bloc votes what we can see is that the religious right bloc actually went down by 4 seats from 2013. Bibi left the Ultra Orthodox out last time (he was forced to by the Bennett Lapid union) so his traditional right-religous bloc of 61 was not the foundation of the coalition. This time the right-religious bloc is not a majority, its only 57 – therefore the need to get Kulanu to join from the center to put him over the top.

Kahlon will do what ever he will, though I find it nearly impossible that he won’t recommend Bibi given his 6 seat win over Hertzog.

So what was the story of this election, we saw a shrinkage of the religious right bloc but a domination by Netanyahu over the bloc. In the last days of the election he moved the Likud to the right and in doing so took votes from within the bloc on solidified his position as the undisputed leader of the right and returned Likud back to a major power without the need of a unity list.

On the left – Livni crossing from the center to the left has the same effect on Hertzog – making him the first Labour leader in years to get more then 20 mandates. The left did grow by a seat, by the 4.1% boost in turn out clearly did not only go to the Zionist Camp. The left did grow by 2 (excluding Livni) so there were some votes that came into bloc that it had not captured before.

The Left Arab bloc in 2015 is 42 (+10) a ten seat gain. Now this is not the same bloc as the religious right as the current Zionist Left and Joint list have not worked a way to work better together. However if the left is ever to hold a stable coalition, they are going to need to find a way to work together.

With 2015 – I find it very hard to believe that anyone but Bibi will be PM. Like everyone else I think that Kahlon will join the religious right coalition and Bibi will have a government of 67 (Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytanu, Shas, UJT, Kulanu). He will want others to join so that it is not so ideologically right (given how the outside world will see it) but I predict he will fail to attract anyone else to it.

Bibi will have a much stronger government then the one he formed in 2013 – and given his abandonment of the 2 state solution and the aggressive stance he took on the election day against the arab minority, he is the right prime minster to lead a coalition that wishes to annex land and pass loyalty tests to citizens.

Whether it was the woe is me (Gevalt!) campaign or the scare tactics that Bibi used, he won this election, hands down. What we all need to understand with clear eyes, is that his fear tactics worked. He also demonstrated that the entire right wing bloc is his base vote. That says a lot about where Israeli society is up to. It also demonstrates the depth of the challenge that those of us who wish to see a less fear driven Israel, face.

Forget cutting subsidies to ultra-Orthodox; focus on settlers

Ha’aretz 3/14/13

A few weeks ago, I spent Shabbat with a friend of mine in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The shul he belongs to reminds me more of a yeshiva than the one I normally frequent but, nevertheless, I felt at home among the hats and coats. The rabbi’s speech was of particular interest. Toward the end, he commented on the Israeli election and ongoing coalition talks, warning that his community should be vigilant against those “who would attack the Torah way of life and give in to Arabs who want to destroy us.”

Saving the yeshivot has become synonymous with saving the settlements in the mind of many Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora. This has occurred due to the longstanding coalition partnerships between Likud and the rightwing and ultra-Orthodox parties. Their joint governments have traditionally been a one-stop shop for supporting a conservative social agenda as well as West Bank settlements.

But with the ultra-Orthodox parties cleaving from the political right in Israel’s incoming government, those who support both values find themselves at a crossroad.

The gloves came off when Shas declared it was willing to evacuate settlements, and Moshe Gafni, the ultra-Orthodox chair of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, revealed the true amount that the state has spent on settlements.

This new political environment forces a divide between those who support the conservative parties who have declared war on the settlement enterprise, like Shas, and those who support the alliance between national religious Habayit Hayehudi and centrist Yesh Atid, which aims to challenge the make up of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Particularly, this new political environment forces us to choose between whom we wish to support economically: the ultra-Orthodox, or the settlers.

Both sectors guzzle massive sums of Israeli tax funds, and while in an ideal world both issues would be addressed simultaneously, realistically, the Israeli government will probably have to start with one. If it were up to me, I would start with the settlements. Why?

There is no doubt that the ultra-Orthodox pose grave demographic challenges in Israel. According to The Metzilah Center, by 2028, 33 percentof Jewish children in Israel will be ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-Orthodox employment figures lag a good 40 percent behind the rest of the population, according to an OECD report. This situation needs to improve – and quickly.

Unlike the settlements, however, there are signs that the problem has been understood and steps have been taken to addresses it. Between 2009 and 2013, employment went up by 6 percent in the sector, and there has been a huge push through both state and philanthropic endeavors to get the ultra-Orthodox into the workplace.

Importantly, the global Diaspora has a vital role in helping integrate the ultra-Orthodox. Both the American and European Jewish communities have large ultra-Orthodox communities that work and are generally sustainable. There is a unique opportunity to learn the lessons of the global Jewish Diaspora and apply it to Israel. The solutions exist and there are many willing to help out on this problem.

Unlike the problems of the ultra-Orthodox, the settlement challenges are not trending in the right direction. While there are, of course, many issues that stand in the way of a final status agreement with the Palestinians, there are none as self destructive and wasteful as the continued subsidization of the settlements.

The economic and political costs are astronomical and create a long-term strategic threat to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett represents a constituency that receives far more taxpayer support than his own neighbors in central Israel. Between 2011 and 2012, the cost of the settlements was, according to Peace Now, around NIS 2 billion, covering costs ranging from transportation to agriculture and housing.

Official channels of the Israeli government encourage the Diaspora to discuss Jewish challenges, including the problems that the country faces with its ultra-Orthodox community. They put settlements, however under the rubric of security, thereby deeming the topic “off limits” in the official Israel-Diaspora discourse. By doing so they restrict the Jewish world from helping in any way with the settlement problem, urging them instead not to ask questions.

By highlighting a populist issue such as the universal draft, the settler community has managed to morph themselves into the Israeli middle-class while demonstrating the clear “otherness” of the ultra-Orthodox population. By turning the ultra-Orthodox into hated figures, the Yesh Atid-Habayit Hayehudi alliance risks backsliding on the positive trends that the ultra-Orthodox community has made in the past few years, and masks the fact that the settlements are just as dependent on the state as those they attack.

Had he started by addressing the cost of the settlements, Lapid could have found more money for Israel’s middle classes, and helped the ultra-Orthodox integrate into society. Instead, he risks alienating a community he is trying to help while “koshering” a group that not only takes, but decimates Israel’s image in the world.

This election has demonstrated to overseas supporters of both the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers that Israel cannot square the circle at a time of fiscal tightening. Targeting the issues posed by the settlements offers us the best chance at dealing with both important public policy challenges successfully rather than through a populist push that will achieve neither.

Why Purim is not Jewish Halloween

Ha’aretz 2/24/13

The commandment to get intoxicated on Purim and the tradition of fancy dress have led many Jews to treat the holiday as a “Jewish Halloween”, while glossing over its real message and relevance today. Purim, while it appears boorish from the outside, is actually a festival of great philosophical significance.

At its essence, Purim is about how Judaism views spirituality. Unlike many other religions, Judaism believes that true holiness is found by fusing normal earthly acts with holiness. It is not a religion that honors those who remove themselves from everyday life to concentrate on the holy: our rabbis are expected to be married, and we mark holy days with meat and wine rather then deny ourselves of such earthly pleasures.

Purim is the zenith of this concept. In the Book of Ester, G-d’s name is famously absent. Yet the entire story is seen as G-d acting through these mundane events and lays out how we should expect to experience G-d in the modern era.

Through festive meals, drinking, charity and telling the story of Purim, the Megillat Esther, we mark how Jewish holiness comes from the way we inject spirituality into our surroundings, rather than removing ourselves from that physical reality – via asceticism – in order to reach a high level of spirituality.

This of course is not an excuse for drunken brawls or tomfoolery, as one of my rabbis used to say. The message of Purim that he preached was that one should work on himself for the 364 days leading up to Purim so that the person he presents to the world on Purim is one who can celebrate excess as a mensch.

Today, Purim is often overused as a festival in political circles. With Megillat Esther’s Persian setting, it has been used as a frame of reference for those who wish to highlight the seriousness of Israel’s concerns about the intentions of the current Iranian regime. So many of us have been fixated on updating the story of Purim to today’s geopolitics that its spiritual message on our own understanding of religious practice has been neglected.

For far too many of us, Jewish practice is restricted to acts of worship that take place in the synagogue alone. We abscond from infusing our normal life with Jewish meaning, seeing that as the domain of the ultra-Orthodox alone.

Fundamentally, this is not the case. Judaism belongs to every aspect of our lives and by celebrating it we demonstrate our ownership of it. This was exemplified recently by MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid), whose maiden speech to the Knesset went viral through its thoughtful Talmudic reasoning and message of unity.

For me, the most important part of Purim is its end. The majority of Jewish holy days – be it Shabbat or a festival – end with Havdalah, a religious service that marks the separation between the end of the holy day and the start of the week. For Purim, there is no Havdalah; Purim never ends. Its message is supposed to stick with us all year round.

Initial thoughts on the Israeli election #israelvotes

So I am happy to say I was wrong, like most other people – Yair Lapid was the major winner of the elections.

Of course the important factors are who will make up the coalition. In that regards I see a Bibi,Bennett,Lapid,(Mofaz if he makes it) being the core and the option for the religious parties to join if they want, but with few if any sweeteners.

There are three burning issues, the budget, religious /secular and the Palestinians, this coalition can go some way in answering the first two, and hopefully due to the size of Lapid’s bloc, can at least attempt to do no harm to the third. Though I work for the two state solution day and night, the fact is that Lapid is in the mainstream of the Israeli public discourse, sure on Two States, just uncertain how to get there. He will block any annexation attempt so it seems for now that worry is gone.

Additionally Bibi will not be able to dump him without going into the arms of the ultra-orthodox and in doing so destroying more of his base vote.

Interestingly it will be the Likud party that will be the hardest for Bibi to wrangle with and the least practice on a whole range of issues.

Despite the dictatorial nature of Yesh Atid (Lapid cannot be removed as party chair for 8 years) he seems to have genuinely brought in some great talent to the Knesset. I am very excited about Rabbi Piron and Rabbi Lipman going a long way to help heal the religious secular divides. Added to this Bennett who shares a lot of the same concerns on this issue.

What you will see is a far more moderate modern orthodox approach to both the office of the Chief Rabbi in Israel and other issues in education et al then we have seen before. I don’t believe that the progressive streams, Reform, Conservative, will get anything from this (their hope still is with Meretz and Labor) but the ultra-othodox hold over every aspect of state and religion seems to be crumbling.

The 6 for Livini and the 6 for Meretz shows that there are 10% of Zionist voters who put the Palestinain issues ahead of all others. There are of course people who value it who voted for Labor and others but those who put it front and center represent 10% of the country for sure. I worry about the lack of urgency but am happy that the anti-democratic far right vision that could of happened.

Additionally the healing of society on religious secular issues can go a long way to paving the way to have real discussions on other issues such as Two States among other things not from a tribal political standpoint but as a nation that is more united then divided.