Sunday, November 13, 2005

Forget Peres

With all the excitement about the off-year US elections last week (a great day all around for the Democrats, from New Jersey to Virginia to Long Island to Dover PA to St. Paul to California; the only significant Republican victory was by a candidate who refused to appear in public with Bush), I totally missed that the Israeli Labor Party primary was even happening! And there has been a major shakeup: Histadrut chair Amir Peretz narrowly beat Shimon Peres to become the new head of the Labor Party (continuing Peres's streak of being Israel's William Jennings Bryan and never winning an election). Peretz's platform focuses on the social and economic issues that have been swept under the rug for the last 57 years, as Israel has faced one existential crisis after another. Perhaps attention will finally be paid to these issues, so that Israel can start to move towards being a light to the nations.

ZT quoted Lecha Dodi ("al yad ish ben Partzi, v'nismechah v'nagilah"... the redemption is heralded by the house of Peretz) to suggest that this is the beginning of the redemption, as progressive policies come to the forefront in Israel. I replied that I wasn't counting any chickens yet; it's too early to draw any conclusions about how successful anything will be.

Labor has wasted no time in pulling out of the coalition, leaving the Likud almost alone. For the last year or so, there have been no-confidence votes in the Knesset about once a week, and Labor has been providing the "safety net" to defeat those votes. Without that safety net, it looks like the government will crumble soon, and we'll have early elections long before November 2006. (Has the country ever sat still for the full 4 years?) Before the candidate lists are even drawn up, there is likely to be a realignment. It remains to be seen whether there will be a "little bang" (the Likud splits into pro-disengagement and anti-disengagement camps, as it has been effectively split since the disengagement plan began) or a "big bang" (the "little bang", plus Sharon and Peres join forces to form a geriatric centrist party).

Having been back in the US for almost 3.5 years, I don't pretend to have a handle on which way Israeli public opinion is going right now, but I think it's safe to say that the Israeli left has much more support now than it did in January 2003. Peretz is also likely to gain support for Labor from Mizrahi and working-class voters, winning them back from Shas.

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't kept up recently with Israeli political minutiae the way I did when I lived in Israel (back in 2001-02, political eons ago), so I was surprised to go to the Knesset website and find that the Knesset has fissured into no fewer than 15 factions. Developments that I think I missed (maybe you know the story behind them and can fill me in):
  • United Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi haredim) has split back into Agudat Yisrael (hasidim) and Degel Hatorah (misnagdim).
  • Effie Eitam and Yitzchak Levy have left Mafdal (National Religious Party) to form "Renewed National Religious Zionism". Oh right, this is ringing a bell: they left the Sharon coalition over the disengagement, but the rest of the party didn't follow
  • David Tal, formerly of Amir Peretz's Am Echad faction, has formed his own faction called Noy. I know nothing about him, but his bio said that he was previously part of Shas, so I'm guessing that he had left Shas for Am Echad because of the economic issues mentioned above, but didn't want to go along with Am Echad in joining those pinkos in Labor.
  • Joseph Paritzky has left Shinui to start his own faction called Zionism Liberalism Equality. I don't know what that's about either. Wait, never mind, read that Wikipedia article. Whoa.
With the merger of Yisrael Ba'aliyah, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Democratic Choice into the Likud, Ichud Leumi, and Meretz respectively, there are no longer any parties specifically focused on immigrants from the former Soviet Union. I guess they served their purpose and weren't needed anymore. The parties, I mean, not the immigrants.

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