Uri Avnery on Israeli Elections

Uri Avnery, three-term member of the Israeli Knesset, writer and founding member of the independent peace movement Gush Shalom. He is also a founding member of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
Uri Avnery, three-term member of the Israeli Knesset, writer and founding member of the independent peace movement Gush Shalom. He is also a founding member of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Given this country’s sycophantic & blindered — blind, in fact — endorsement of the ODME “only democracy in the Middle East,” by the “newspaper of record” as well as the US government, it may be useful to get information elsewhere. Here is Uri Avnery’s take on the upcoming elections:

Weird Elections

IN A few hundred years, a professor looking for an especially esoteric subject will ask his students to research the Israeli elections of 2013.

The students will come back with a unanimous report: the results of our research are incredible.

Faced with at least three grave dangers, they report, Israeli parties and voters just ignored them. As if joined in a conspiracy, they tacitly agreed among themselves not to talk about them. Instead, they bickered and quarreled about totally insignificant and irrelevant issues.

ONE REMARKABLE fact was that the elections were called early – they were not due till November 2013 – because of the Prime Minister’s declared inability to obtain Knesset approval for the annual state budget.

The proposed budget was shaped by the fact that the state had developed a huge deficit, which made drastic measures inevitable. Taxes had to be raised dramatically and social services had to be cut even more than during the last four years of Binyamin Netanyahu’s stewardship.

(This, by the way, did not deter Netanyahu from making election speeches about the Israeli economy being in excellent condition, far superior to the economies of the major Western countries.)

For comparison: the recent elections in the United States were also held in the shadow of a severe fiscal crisis. Two basic conceptions about the solution were presented by the antagonists, the main debate was about the deficit, taxes and the social services. This went on even after the elections and a kind of compromise was achieved just in time to avert national bankruptcy.

Nothing of the kind in Israel. There was no debate at all.

True, the Labor Party, expected to garner about 15% of the vote, indeed came out with a grandiose economic plan for the next years, composed by an assortment of university professors. However, this plan was quite irrelevant to the crucial problem facing the state on the day after the elections: How to stop the hole of tens of billions of shekels in the 2013 budget.

The Likud did not say a word about the budget which it had intended to present to the Knesset. Neither did the Labor Party mention it, nor any of the other dozen or so parties that were competing.

When we put our ballot papers into the ballot box, what are we voting for? For higher taxes, surely. But taxes on whom? Will the rich pay more, or will the fabled “middle class” pay more? What will be cut – aid to the disabled, the sick, the old, the unemployed? What about the immense military budget? The settlements? Is Israel going to lose its favorable international credit rating? Are we going to slide into a severe recession?

It is obvious why no party wants to go into details – any serious proposal would cause it to lose votes. But we, the people – why do we let them get away with it? Why don’t we demand answers? Why do we accept fatuous generalities, which no one takes seriously?

Riddle No. 1.

ISRAEL IS faced with a severe constitutional crisis – if such a term is applicable to a state without a constitution.

The ODME (“Only Democracy in the Middle East”) is threatened from within, along a wide front.

The most immediate danger faces the Supreme Court, the strongest remaining bastion of what was once a flourishing democracy. The court tries – rather timidly – to resist the most egregious actions and bills of the right-wing Knesset majority. Applications to the court to annul glaringly anti-democratic legislation are postponed for years. (Including my own application to annul the law that levies huge penalties on anyone advocating a boycott of the products of the settlements. The case – “Avnery v. the State of Israel” – has been postponed again and again.)

But even this timid – some would say cowardly – performance of the Supreme Court arouses the fury of the right-wingers. Naftali Bennett, the leader of the fastest rising party in these elections (up from 6% to 12% in a few weeks) promises to stuff the court with his favorites.

Israeli judges are appointed by a committee, in which sitting judges play a major role. Bennett and his allies in the Likud want to change the rules, so that rightist politicians will choose the judges. His declared aim: to put an end to “judicial activism”, deprive the Supreme Court of the power to annul anti-democratic laws and block administrative decisions, such as those about building settlements on private Palestinian land.

The Israeli media are already to a large extent neutralized, a creeping process not unsimilar to what the Germans used to call Gleichschaltung.

All three TV channels are more or less bankrupt and dependent on government handouts. Their editors are practically government appointees. The printed press is also teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, except the largest “news” paper, which belongs to Sheldon Adelson and is a Netanyahu propaganda sheet, distributed gratis. Bennett repeats the ridiculous assertion that almost all journalists are left-wingers (meaning traitors.) He promises to put an end to this intolerable situation.

Benett’s assertions are only slightly more extreme that those of the Likud and the religious parties.

In the annual gathering of the heads of Israel’s diplomatic missions in the world, a very senior diplomat asked why the government had announced the building of a huge new settlement in East Jerusalem, a decision denounced throughout the world. The question was loudly applauded by the diplomats. Netanyahu’s spokesman, until recently the most senior Orthodox kippa-wearing army officer, curtly told the diplomats to resign if they have problems with government policy.

A few weeks ago, the commanding general in the occupied West Bank decided to elevate the status of the college in the Ariel settlement to the rank of a university. It may be the only university in the world which was given its charter by an army general.

There is, of course, not the slightest sign of democracy or human rights in the occupied territories. The Likud threatens to cut off international funding to all the NGOs which try to monitor what is happening there.

Does this process of de-democratization evoke a furious debate in these elections? Not at all, just a few feeble protests. The issue is not a vote-catcher.

That’s riddle No. 2

BUT THE most puzzling riddle concerns the most dangerous threat: the question of peace and war. It has almost completely disappeared from the election campaign.

Tzipi Livni has adopted negotiations with the Palestinians as a kind of election gimmick – without emotions, avoiding the word “peace” as far as possible. All other parties, with the exception of the small Meretz and Hadash, don’t mention it at all.

In the coming four years, the official annexation of the West Bank to Israel may become a fact. Palestinians may be confined to small enclaves, the West Bank may be filled with many more settlements, a violent intifada may break out, Israel may be isolated in the world, even the crucial American support may weaken.

If the government continues on its present course, this will lead to certain disaster – the entire country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will become one unit under Israeli rule. This Greater Israel will contain an Arab majority and a shrinking Jewish minority, turning it inevitably into an apartheid state, plagued by a permanent civil war and shunned by the world.

If pressure from without and within eventually compels the government to grant civil rights to the Arab majority, the country will turn into an Arab state. 134 years of Zionist endeavor will come to nought, a repetition of the Crusaders’ kingdom.

This is so obvious, so inevitable, that one needs an iron will not to think about it. It seems that all major parties in these elections have this will. Speaking about peace, they believe, is poison. Giving back the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace? God forbid even thinking about it.

The weird fact is that this week two respected polls – independent of each other – came to the same conclusion: the great majority of Israeli voters favors the “two-state solution”, the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and the partition of Jerusalem. This majority includes the majority of Likud voters, and even about half of Bennett’s adherents.

How come? The explanation lies in the next question: How many voters believe that this solution is possible? The answer: almost nobody. Over dozens of years, Israelis have been brainwashed into believing that “the Arabs” don’t want peace. If they say they do, they are lying.

It peace is impossible, why think about it? Why even mention it in the election campaign? Why not go back 44 years to Golda Meir’s days and pretend that the Palestinians don’t exist? (“There is no such thing as a Palestinian people…It is not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away. They did not exist.” – Golda Meir, June 13, 1969)

 So that’s riddle No. 3.

THE STUDENTS in a few hundred years time may well come to the conclusion: “Those Israeli elections were really weird, especially considering what happened in the following years. We have found no reasonable explanation.”

The professor will sadly shake his head.

 

 

 

 

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2 opinions on “Uri Avnery on Israeli Elections”

  1. I note with some interest that there are other writers in Israel who do not share Mr. Avnery’s opinions. Some even write articles but I confess, none have a beard so neatly trimmed. I wish I could grow a beard. If my mouth took the place of my Adam’s apple, I’d be a Smith Brother!

    Avnery bangs the same drum over and over. Are we sure he doesn’t work for the Potsdam Institute? Like Potsdam, Avnery chooses to ignore facts he cannot fudge. But hey, we have wankers and characters in our own Parliament. How they get there is beyond me but I am convinced they are re-elected for their amusement value as they offer no other tangible assets. Of course Avnery does have that nice beard. I confess. I’m jealous.

    To Avnery, if you do not agree with him you are a right wing zealot, amoral and just plain wrong. You are also a manipulative crook. The Knesset seems to operate with the same black and white philosophy as the U.S. Congress. Small wonder both economies are circling the bowl. Israel, however, will receive vast amounts of newly printed U.S. dollars which, although they will be of less and less value, they will suffice until both countries solve the shale oil and gas issues. In any case, most of the surrounding Arab countries have little to no economy of their own and are in almost complete turmoil. If there is a brain anywhere, it will have better things to do than fight. The ‘Palestinians’ might consider using the vast amount of foreign aid on infrastructure rather than rockets. They depend too much on Israel for jobs, water, electricity and such. Israel might decide this is a strong bargaining chip. Besides, dependence breeds resentment and I think there is already enough of that. Also, there is pride in accomplishment. They might try that.

    I appreciate that Americans, with fixed elections might find it “remarkable” that elections were called early. Of course, most of the world finds it “remarkable” that the President failed to present a budget for 3 years. In parliamentary systems the consent of the House is required to pass the ANNUAL budget. In minority Governments, common when more than 2 parties are represented, majority support is often difficult to achieve and a Government must resign if it loses a budget vote. Rather than lose and resign most call an election. Avnery knows this so, as usual, fudges the facts he is not ignoring. Majority governments get the opportunity to do as they promised during the election. They are required to present their bills to parliament for debate but at the end of the day, unless they are incredibly inept, they do what they said they would do. If it doesn’t work, they lose the next election which is why both left and right usually get a shot at the job. Avnery knows this too. Israel has way too many parties. I believe there are 22 in the Knesset. Good luck trying to find a majority there. We have 5 and people complain that the winner only gets 40%! And of course, Avnery knows this too. Ho hum.

    Almost every country is running not only a large deficit but worse, a large debt. Most of this started after WW2 when countries naturally tried to improve the lot of their citizens who, in some cases, had been utterly destroyed. Subsequent politicians discovered that the road to success was promises, promises and so they did. We’re all saddled with terrific benefits we cannot afford. There are, unfortunately, not enough rich people to tax to death and with current tax levels there won’t be too many coming along. I do wonder if Avnery knows the difference between deficit and debt. I hope so.

    His comparisons to debates in the U.S. are laughable. The U.S. has a huge market that even Obama can’t kill, cripple yes, but not kill. “National bankruptcy” was not averted, merely kicked down the road. This can be continued until a miracle occurs. In the U.S. anything is possible. Watch for more kicking.

    Avnery knows that the Israeli Supreme Court selection process is not unique. The ruling party always nominates judges that are aligned to their thinking. Over the years the philosophy and interpretations of the Court adjusts as successive and opposing governmental appointments take their place. Candidates in the U.S. are nominated by the President but the Senate must approve the nomination by a majority vote (51). Some 29 over the years have been rejected, at least initially. This is part of the system of checks and balances that is supposed to prevent abuse of power. Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada are appointed by the Governor General-in-Council, a process whereby the governor general, the vice-regal representative of the Queen of Canada, makes appointments based on the advice and consent of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. By tradition and convention, only the Cabinet (elected), a standing committee in the larger council, advises the governor general and this advice is usually expressed exclusively through a consultation with the prime minister. In truth, the PM gets those he wants despite all the pageantry. Thus, the provinces and parliament have no formal role in such appointments, sometimes a point of contention. Avnery knows this. He’s a bright guy. How could he not?

    To Avnery only the right is “egregious.” You want “egregious?” How about some history?

    In 1947, the United Nations voted for the partition of what was then the British Mandate for Palestine. This would have created one independent state for the approximately 500,000 Jews (with an Arab population of 400,000) and one for the 725,000 Arabs (including some 10,000 Jews). Jerusalem was to be maintained as an international area. The Jews accepted the partition. The Arabs did not. Before the UN vote, Jamal al-Husseni, vice-president of the Arab Higher Committee (the ‘Palestinian’ Arab political organization) had this to say to the UN General Assembly: “We are solidly and permanently determined to fight to the last man against the existence in our country of any Jewish state, no matter how small it is. We will drench the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood.” And so it began. “Egregious?” In word and in tone, I think so. What does Avnery think? Who knows? What he can’t fudge, he ignores.

    It is amusing to see Avnery’s concern over the state of the Israeli media. Those that are “more or less bankrupt” are so because no one watches or reads them. I’m thinking Israelis have access to the internet and know as much about me as I do about them. I won’t even mention the telephones and travel which exposes people like never before. Think Berlin Wall or Tiananmen Square. The word gets out. Think Egypt, Libya, Syria. More specifically, think right here in North America. Good Grief, we live in the Twitter Universe. Everyone knows everything even though much of it is untrue. The Israelis are neither idiots nor ill informed. They just happen to disagree with Avnery which, by his definition makes them right wing ideologues, “extreme” and “egregious.” Ho hum.

    So Netanyahu’s spokesman told diplomats to resign if they have problems with government policy. Huh? Any diplomat, or for that matter Cabinet member, in Canada or the U.S. is expected to resign if they disagree with government policy. Duh. How can you represent a government you don’t agree with?

    Anytime Avnery does not get his way he complains about “feeble protests.” Well, we allow protests too but our Government also refuses to meet with the representatives from Human Rights groups who point fingers at us while sharing committees with Syria, Libya, China and Russia to name a few. (These are the very same people who wish to control our internet). We do allow Deputy Ministers and other bureaucrats to meet but not an elected official. Any moneys we can restrict to these NGOs, we do.

    Avnery is puzzled by the absence of a meaningful “peace and war” dialogue in the current campaign. Well he can bring it up all he wants, it’s a democracy after all, but I am sure the populace remembers suicide bombers, tunnels full of guns and rockets. They may even have seen Mahmoud Hams Khaled Mashaal ranting away on their computer screens if not on their own poverty stricken and biased tvs. He was cheered by hundreds of thousands. Did they all miss it? Were they so brain washed, read ‘stupid?’ Often with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh by his side, Mashaal repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and pledged never to accept a two-state solution. He also urged Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to heal their rift and work together, a reconciliation that would almost certainly doom any peace process. Now I would call this “egregious.” Who wouldn’t? I mean “destruction” is a final solution is it not?

    Mr. Meshaal showed no signs of moderation during his visit to Gaza. In speech after speech he praised Hamas fighters for standing up to Israel and repeated the movement’s original goal of wiping Israel off the map. All very easy for him as he lives the good life in Qatar while those he encourages struggle or die. He used to live in Damascus, the better to arrange arms deals, but the “good life” became not so good there recently.

    “God willing, we shall liberate Palestine together, inch by inch,” Mr. Meshaal told university students referring to the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and Israel. “We started this path and we are going to continue until we achieve what God has promised.”

    I guess this depends entirely on who is your God.

    “Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it,” he said, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation.”

    But just where is this Palestine he hollers about? Palestine was never a country. The term always described an area that included Israel and parts of the surrounding countries. It was a Roman term, and historically speaking, Jews were more likely to be called Palestinians than anyone else. Oops.

    It is not for Israel to give the ‘Palestinians’ a state. It is for both sides to negotiate without rockets and war, without threats and settlements and without anyone else in the room. Again historically speaking, the ‘Palestinians’ did not express any desire to form a state until right before the ’67 war. I guess they could see the bullets on the wall. In 1947, when Israel accepted the creation of ‘Palestine’, the ‘Palestinian’ leadership decided not to recognize Israel. They figured the surrounding Arab states would win any war and they would get what they wanted eventually. Oops.

    Before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza they were controlled by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Why didn’t they create a ‘Palestinian’ state if it was so historically or culturally important? After their conquest the Israelis discovered, to their horror, the destruction and desecration that had occurred to their holy sites (in particular the Mount of Olives and the Wailing Wall). So, before the negotiations begin it might be wise for the ‘Palestinians’ to consider that while Israel might give up the West Bank and Gaza, most certainly Gaza as they officially pulled out in 2005, they are never going to give up East Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in a vainglorious attempt to trade captured land for peace. In return, Hamas gleefully fired rockets bravely from school yards and people’s homes, sometimes daily. Still, most Jews will accept a ‘Palestine’ in exchange for real peace.

    Mahmoud Hams Khaled Mashaal’s speeches were in stark contrast to an interview he gave CNN. “Hamas,” he said there, “was ready to resort to a peaceful way, truly peaceful way, without blood and weapon.” He also said Hamas had accepted a two-state solution based on the borders of 1967. How can the Jewish state enter negotiations with a Palestinian entity that includes a party bent on its destruction and such a hypocritical, two-faced leader?

    Avnery loves the disaster scenario and like the ‘Palestinians’ invokes the Crusades. Does anyone over there know what century this is? He refers to, but neither cites nor quotes, “two respected polls – independent of each other.” My own research regularly finds the independence of such polls somewhat fabled. They are paid for by somebody and as such they usually get the results they pay for.

    The truth is, of course, that the majority of Israelis would rather live in peace with a ‘Palestinian’ state or any other country in the area. Who wouldn’t? You don’t need much of a poll to tell you that. They are not “brain washed” by their government, their newspapers or television. They are human beings tired of war. Now if they can just sit down at a table somewhere with like minded people there might be the makings of a deal. By the way, groups labeled as terrorists by my government are not allowed. It is not the Arabs most Israelis distrust; it is the terrorists like Hamas or Hezbollah.

    The only sensible conclusion any students of the future could possibly come to is: “How did Uri Avnery ever get to be a professor?” They might also note that he had a nice beard. He does.

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