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Understanding Israel's January 22 Election

The Israeli election set for January 22 and the coverage thereof are very strange in several respects. It is a contest in which his opponents seek to beat centrist Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu, of the Likud party, in a remarkably inept manner, and in which international understanding of the issues is at the low level we’ve become used to seeing.

Here's a simple way to understand the situation: the far right parties and the moderate left parties are each likely to get roughly the same number of seats that they received in the 1999 election. The difference is that in 1999, the right divided its vote among three parties; today the right has largely united into one. The moderate left in 1999 gave their votes mainly to one party, and now are dividing it among four. The basic political geography has not shifted very much.

One can only note, however, that when Egypt elects the Muslim Brotherhood and one-quarter of the population vote for an openly genocidal party we are told this is an exercise in democracy whereas if ten percent or so  in Israel vote for the far right and a centrist prime minister is reelected we are told by the same people that this is proof that Israel is becoming undemocratic and turning to the right.

In addition, viewing the actual electioneering by the moderate left makes one appreciate just how fraudulent political consultants are. They claim that they are going to help the candidate win, but have no idea how to do so. And in Israel they borrow childishly from the latest fads in American politics without regard to the differences.

Here are the themes pushed by the moderate left opposition:

-- Bibi is for the rich. This slogan is unlikely to work in a country where lower income generally corresponds with more conservative voting. The idea is obviously stolen from Barack Obama’s campaign. But Obama was going for large African-American, Hispanic, and student blocs, plus some middle class sectors that could be stirred up over hatred of the rich. This has no relevance for Israel.

-- Bibi will get you killed. This theme is accompanied by a picture of a mushroom cloud. But is the idea that he will get you nuked by attacking Iran, or by not attacking Iran? It isn’t clear. Since Netanyahu has the best claim to preserve the country’s security, that approach is likely to be counterproductive.

-- Bibi doesn’t want your vote. This is the newest poster to appear, though it isn’t clear who’s promoting it. That makes no sense at all.

-- The choice of photographs. Former Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, the candidate of her own party -- and one of the quartet seeking moderate/moderate left voters -- has a photograph on her poster that looks as if it were selected by her worst enemy. In it she appears ugly, angry, and confused.

-- Livni’s ad has several shots of Obama, and one of her standing with expected Secretary of State John Kerry. They seem to argue that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas really wants peace, but Netanyahu blocked it. Perhaps this ad was designed by left-liberal American Jewish political consultants. It won’t go over well.