Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It is true that the cannons are speaking now, but what is most interesting about this war is the silence of certain key players. In each case, this silence is either promising or ominous.

First, Olmert et al. have been silent about the objectives of this war. The proper objective is victory, namely, pounding the enemy into submission. Yet, one wonders whether the actual objective is to replace Hamas with some "more moderate" party to whom Israel can surrender Yehuda and Shomron with honor. Or, perhaps the objective is to flex muscles and obtain quiet until the elections. One shudders to think. So long as Olmert doesn't say anything stupid, we must set aside these doubts and support the war.

Second, the ground troops are silent. There are two possibilities. The good one is that we are wisely not walking into traps and instead are planning to use technological means to destroy the tunnels that run through Gaza along with everybody and everything hiding inside them. The bad one is that Ehud Barak has simply lost his nerve, as appears to have been the case over the past several years and as almost stated outright by MK Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael.

Third, Hizaballah is silent. This might mean that they are weary and wary after the summer of 2006. Or it could mean that Syria is trying to build some international goodwill and will be sending the bill once Obama takes office. Or it could mean nothing and tomorrow will look different than today.

Finally, Obama has been silent. I think that means he's busy playing golf.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I promised no more Likud posts but I can't resist a brief expansion on some earlier off-hand remarks.

The Likud primaries rule book is here. Read it!

Three things are absolutely clear:

1. Clause 12 makes clear that the top 21 places on the list are reserved for the leaders on the national list. There is no basis for removing Feiglin from the 20th slot.

2. Clause 27 makes clear that Ratzon and Yatom should not leapfrog into the vacated spots unused by women.

3. Clause 18d makes clear that, since there are four women above 29, Miri Regev has no case whatsoever to be moved up to the 29 spot (now the 27 spot due to the removal of Feiglin and Ratzon).

So two of the three decisions by the court are flat out wrong and rather egregiously so.

There is one drop of justice in all this. MY abandoned principle and arranged an unsavory marriage of convenience with Gila Gamliel, in the expectation that the deal would get enough additional votes for Feiglin to improve his rank on the list. Instead, as a result of votes she got from MY supporters, Gamliel beat Feiglin by 0.2% (I have all the numbers) knocking Feiglin from 19 down to 36. Ouch.

But just as Feiglin's machinations have come back to bite him, Bibi's much worse machinations are going to come back to bite him big time. (And rightfully so. If he can be sent into self-destruct panic mode by Feiglin, how's he going to react to Mr. Ahmadinejad?)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One post-mortem post on the Likud primaries and then we can hopefully move on to topics of broader interest.

The interesting story isn't who did or didn't get in to the top 40. There weren't really that many surprises there (I'll mention the exceptions below). The interesting story is how innocent looking features of the decision mechanism can have significant impact on results.

In this case, the innocent looking feature was the guarantee of the 10 and 20 spots to women. Here's how that played out. Voters had 12 slots to fill on the national list. They correctly realized that by choosing two women (which they were not formally required to do) they'd be getting more bang for their buck, since it would be sufficient to have your favorite women pass the other women, even way down on the list, and they'd shoot up to 10 and 20. (To get the idea, imagine that they said that the top vote-getter with purple hair gets the top slot on the list regardless of how few votes s/he got. You'd probably include a purple hair person on your list.)

Well, since there were only around six women running with any traction at all, they all got disproportionately large numbers of votes. In fact, no fewer than four women came in higher than 20th (Ness, Livnat, Hotobeli and Gamliel). But, this anomaly actually triggered a cascade effect. According to the rules, if a slot reserved for women opens up (because a woman came in higher than that slot on her own, so the guarantee wasn't needed), the slot is filled by the next highest vote-getter on the national list. (This is as opposed to the rule used in previous primaries in which everybody -- including those in slots reserved for regional candidates -- moved up.) As a result, the vacated women's slots at 20, 24 and 29 were filled by Feiglin, Ratzon and Yatom, all of whom are regarded as hard-core right-wingers. Had this rule not been in effect all three would be much further down the list. (As a result Bibi has sent his lapdog, Ofir Akounis, to the Likud court to try to roll back the rule. The man never misses an opportunity to make an ass of himself.)

As for the list itself, Miri Regev, Assaf Hefetz and Uzi Dayan, all left-wingers jumping on to a rising ship, were dumped way down the list. But Dan Meridor and Yossi Peled made the top 20, which is very unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that Miki Eitan is as low as 16 since his leverage for the Justice Ministry is now close to zero and the alternatives are considerably worse. But, other than that, there is nothing unexpected about the list other than the aforementioned success of the women (especially Hotobeli) and, if you didn't see it coming, Feiglin getting in at 20 (and maybe the poor performance of Yechiel Leiter).

As for Feiglin's impact on the list, you need to understand how MY's recommendation list was constructed. As I've explained, MY exists to advance Feiglin. The other people on the list were chosen according to three criteria that all serve that purpose. Some people were chosen because they were going to get in ahead of Feiglin anyway. The fact that all these ended up at the top of the list is not a result of MY's support for them but rather the reason for MY's support for them. Some were chosen because they were hopeless and therefore no threat to pass Feiglin (I suspect Hotobeli was an example of this that backfired). Finally, some were chosen because they made deals with Feiglin. The most egregious of these was Gila Gamliel and ironically the result of this deal was that Gila Gamliel passed Feiglin and almost bumped him deep down the list (and still might if Bibi's nefarious plot succeeds).

Other consequences of MY's recommendations are that Miki Eitan (not recommended by MY) is down at 16, Yariv Levine beat Gabi Avital in the Shfela region (both are good), Boaz Haetzni beat Yossi Fuchs in Yesha (both are good but Yossi probably would make the better MK) and Sagiv Asulin is in the 35 spot. Neither of MY's olim recommendations got in. All in all, then, MY had some impact on the results but it could hardly be said that the impact was especially positive.

But Feiglin is in at 20 (which I think is a good thing) and, take my word for it, Michael Fuah doesn't give a damn about all the rest of them.

Update: Here is the Likud's takanon bechirot. As far as what to do when the women's positions open up, the plain reading of clauses 12 and 27 would indicate that Feiglin has a strong case (clause 12) but Michi Ratzon and Ehud Yatom have a problem (clause 27).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

In this follow-up to my previous post, I will add a few updates regarding the Likud primaries, but mainly I'll discuss Manhigut Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin.

First of all, Netanyahu did manage to get a few rules changed at the last minute for reasons I discussed earlier. Voters will choose 12 (rather than 10) candidates from the national list. In addition, voters choose two olim separately. Finally, voters choose a single regional candidate (no change there).

I mostly stand by what I said earlier. However, given the expanded national list and the fact that two women will get high spots regardless, I'm inclined to include two women on the ballot. Certainly, the best candidates among the women are Tzipi Hotobeli and Leah Ness. These candidates are far superior to Limor Livnat, Gila Gamliel and Miri Regev.

I am now more positive about Moshe Kahlon, Gilad Erdan and Yechiel Leiter than was expressed earlier.

Another very worthy newcomer I failed to mention earlier is Moshe Muskal.

Since you need to choose two oleh candidates, I support both Asya Entov and Ariel Bolshtein.

Finally, as a result of another rule change, Ayoub Kara is a shoo-in, so I wouldn't waste a vote on him.

In short, my list currently looks like this: (Updated Sunday Dec. 7, 9:00 PM)

(After Jeffrey's persuasive arguments (see comments below), I have added Zev Jabotinsky. I have removed Yechiel Leiter (nobody seems willing to stand up for him) and, with great reluctance, I've removed Michi Ratzon, who is a good guy. I have stuck with the dark horse, Moshe Muskal, who led the revolt of bereaved parents against Olmert following the Lebanon fiasco, for emotional reasons. My list and that of My Obiter Dicta are now identical except that he prefers Ratzon to Feiglin, for reasons I myself explain below. I suspect that when he's finished, Jameel's list will also be fairly similar.)

For my region (Yosh), I'll vote for Yossi Fuchs. For olim, Entov and Bolshtein.

Note that I am voting for Feiglin. I'll use the rest of this post to explain as objectively as I can exactly what is good and bad about Manhigut Yehudit.

On the positive side, Feiglin simply has a better grasp of the core issues in Israeli politics than any of the other candidates. He understands that our problems are systemic and will not be repaired without systemic reform. He understands that our problems are rooted in a crisis of identity among the elites who have a stranglehold on the country (as a result of the systemic problems). And, finally, he understands that these problems will not be addressed until religious and/or right-wing Israelis join mainstream parties.

I also don't buy the spin that he will cost the Likud votes, although I agree that if the spin were true, it should be a very important factor in deciding whether to vote for him.

My problem with Feiglin has to do with Manhigut Yehudit's tactics. (More specifically, I mean Michael Fuah's tactics, since he runs the tactical end of MY completely on his own. For the most part, even Feiglin doesn't have a clue what Fuah is up to.) Fuah has made a series of idiotic moves that can only be understood if you first understand that for him getting Feiglin into the Knesset (and beyond) is not a means to achieving certain worthy ends but rather an end in itself -- in fact, the only end.

As a result, when faced with a choice between advancing Feiglin's career or advancing MY's ostensible substantive objectives, Fuah will always choose the former. Concretely, what this means is that politicians of dubious repute and conviction who are willing to make deals with MY (and it's no surprise that such people are willing to make deals; that's what they live for) will always get MY's support while those who share pretty much all of MY's objectives except the coronation of Moshe Feiglin will always get shafted. Just to give you the flavor, MY supported Olmert in 2003, without which support he would not have gotten into the Knesset. MY massively supported Haim Katz in 2003 in exchange for which he betrayed them, so (like the Woody Allen character who fell into the orchestra pit at a show and repeated the performance the next thirty nights so as not let on it was an accident) they did it again in 2006. In 2006, MY supported a slew of stinkers but gave almost no support to Uzi Landau and Yuli Edelstein.

In 2008, MY is supporting Gila Gamliel (who sold her vote to Sharon for a Deputy Ministry, promotes socialist economic policies and hasn't got any brains or principles to speak of). In the municipal elections in Beit Shemesh, MY supported Daniel Vaknin, who is not only incompetent and corrupt but an enthusiastic hitnatkut supporter. They are following this up by supporting his deputy, Cathy Sheetreet, for the Jerusalem slot (against Fred Moncharsh, who has been one of MY's most loyal and active supporters since the beginning). MY had also negotiated deals to support two of the most odious candidates running in the regional primaries, Carmel Shama (Gush Dan) and Even Tzur (North), but it appears that the threat of revolt has forced Fuah to back down on those. Do NOT vote for any of these candidates, even if MY asks you to.

Moreover, not all of MY's lunacy takes place during election season. During Sharon's nasty reign, Uzi Landau attempted to unify the opposition. But, as a result of some dubious deals designed to advance Feiglin, MY aligned with Yisrael Katz's camp instead. This lead to all sorts of mischief. For example, on August 18, 2004, Sharon tried to bring Labor into his coalition for the purpose of advancing the hitnatkut and needed the approval of the Likud Central Committee. A watered down (but just as pernicious) version of the proposal was opposed by Landau's camp but supported by Katz's camp. Incredibly, Fuah initially announced support for this proposal on the 5:00 PM news. Only under pressure, did MY finally oppose the proposal, which lost by 12 votes (765 - 753). (This was Sharon's first attempt; in December, he did succeed in bringing Labor into his coalition.)

In short, there are good reasons to support Feiglin, but by all means ignore any guidance MY gives regarding other candidates.