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20 2011

Israeli Politics 101 – Part 2

Syndicated from: Steve Paikin

Why are Israeli politics twice as confusing and fascinating as Canadian politics? Because in Canada, elections tend to be about one thing: the economy. The party that almost always wins is the party that convinces the largest number of voters that it has the best economic vision for the country. In Israel, it’s the opposite of former Bill Clinton advisor James Carville’s famous maxim: it’s NEVER the economy, stupid. Israel’s main electoral axis isn’t about the economy. It’s about security. So rather than having a choice between parties offering a more versus less interventionist role for the state in handling the economy, Israelis’ prime choice is between “Hawks” and “Doves,” according to Political Science Professor Reuven Hazan of Hebrew University. Political Science Professor Reuven Hazan of Hebrew University explains the Israeli political system. “The Hawks want to keep the (disputed) territories (the West Bank and Gaza), and the Doves don’t,” Hazan says. At the moment, the Israeli government is run by the Hawks: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has 27 seats. “Israel Is Our Home” --- a party made up of immigrants from the former Soviet Union --- contributes 15 seats to the coalition. The National Union Party, which represents some of Israel’s most hardened, ideological voters --- the “settlers” in the West Bank --- offers four seats. But, do the math, and that only gets you to 46 seats, well short of the 61 needed for a working coalition. That leads us to the next axis in Israeli politics: religious Jews versus Israeli Arabs. There are three religious parties: “an orthodox one, an ultra-orthodox one, and an extremely ultra-orthodox one,” says Prof. Hazan. No, Israel is not a theocracy, but because its religious parties are essential to creating a workable coalition government, this supposedly secular Jewish state has many theocratic aspects to it.  (For example, the national airline, El Al, is prohibited from flying on the Jewish Sabbath). Meanwhile, Israeli Arabs also have three parties to choose from: a pro-Palestinian party, a pro-Communist party, and an Islamic fundamentalist party. “There’s no other Western democracy in the world where Islamic fundamentalist parties are elected into Parliament,” adds Prof. Hazan. And by including the seats contributed by the religious parties and some other smaller ones still, Prime Minister Netanyahu has a working majority, 65-55. But this isn’t the end of the story. We still haven’t talked about the party that got the most votes in the last two Israeli elections, and that confuses political scientists because it doesn’t fit either axis described above. We’ll talk about “Kadima” next time.

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