Monday, January 12, 2009

I've been deliberately avoiding politics during the war but I want to test out a piece I was asked to write about why I'm voting for Likud. Any comments will be duly note for the final version.

The core of the next government will consist of Likud and Kadima. From Netanyahu's point of view, it would be madness to try to hold together a narrow majority including Yisrael Beiteinu and three or four religious parties, each with its own agenda. Once he brings Kadima into the fold, the other parties will line up to join the coalition at virtually no cost.

What then remains to be decided? Only the extent of Likud's leverage in the negotiations with Kadima. If Likud can wield a plausible right-wing alternative in its negotiations with Kadima, it will be the dominant partner; otherwise, it will pay a steep price to land and keep Kadima.

The difference between a Likud-led government with Kadima in it and a Likud-Kadima government may sound subtle, but it is crucial. The next government will be faced, inter alia, with two central tasks. First, it will need to reframe the terms in which the Arab-Israeli conflict has been so recklessly conceived since the Oslo days. It is not a dispute that requires a solution, it is a war that requires victory. Second, it will need to remedy the systemic flaws, beginning with a selectively hyperactive justice system, that permit a self-appointing post-Zionist elite to wield inordinate power over state policy.

I confess that it is not clear that, with regard to these two issues, Likud is the solution. What is clear is that Kadima is part of the problem and Likud offers an upgrade. With regard to the first issue, Bibi, and especially some of his defense advisors, at least appreciate the lunacy of the negotiations in which Kadima, and especially the ever-desperate Livni, are so over-invested, though it is admittedly unlikely that they will withstand American pressure to keep these negotiations on the agenda. With regard to the second issue, Bibi and most of the Likud may fear the ruling elite, but at least -- for the most part -- they don't identify with them. (Unfortunately, I need to temper even that modest claim with the observation that three of the Likud's leading candidates for Justice Minister are poodles of Bagatz -- one out of convenience, one out of willful naivete, and one out of sheer snobbery.)

As unattractive as are the two options -- a Likud government with Kadima in it or a Likud-Kadima government -- it is clear that our objective must be to achieve the former option. There are no others. And the best way to strengthen Likud vis-a-vis Kadima is to vote for Likud.

Those who believe that Mafdal or Ichud Leumi can "restrain Bibi from the right" might consider the real difference between those parties. The Mizrochnikim in Mafdal imagine that failing to kowtow to the powers-that-be is a repudiation of Zionism itself. (For those who've forgotten, Mafdal's failure to leave Sharon's government even on the eve of the Knesset vote on the hitnatkut bill facilitated passage of that bill.) They will sit in any government and will have absolutely no influence. The ideologues of Ichud Leumi, on the other hand, only know what ought to be done lechatchila, and have nothing useful to contribute to politics, which is the art of the bedieved. They will not sit in any government and will have absolutely no influence. For precisely that reason, the more seats they have, the less the chances of a narrow right-wing coalition and hence the less leverage Likud has against Kadima.

In fact, the only party that can restrain Bibi from the right is Likud. So, hold your nose and vote Likud.


Blogger Shimon said...

Is leverage the only factor?Wouldn't there be a difference between a Likud-Livni block of 58 seats and a Likud-Livni block of 62 seats?

1:43 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

The difference between your two scenarios is relatively minor. Plenty of third parties available at low cost.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

The core of the next government will consist of Likud-Kadima is Likud is asked to form the government. If it's Kadima that gets the nod, then it will be a Kadima-Labor-Shas government.

Likud can only wiled a plausible right-wing alternative and be dominant if there are parties to the right of it. So a vote for the Ihud HaLeumi (the Mafdal will not get over the election threshold and it remains to be seen whether the Mizrochnikim will abide by what they themselves have been telling the splinter parties of the right for years and pull out so as to not "waste votes") is what makes your alternative coalition possible (or a vote for Shas....). Bibi can have a wonderful coalition with the Ihud as long as he doesn't got to Wye/Shepherdstown/Annapolis or wherever else President B. Hussein wants to get down and boogie......can he withstand the pressure????
The Likud cannot restrain Bibi from the right for the simple reason that all of the marginal votes will go for all of the regional "no-names" who will do whatever Bibi wants them to do, and all of the Likud ministers will be non-"mordim" leaving a very center-left government running the country. 2003 elections all over again.

12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have not factored -- or even mentioned -- the war into the imminent elections. why not?

3:00 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Because I'm assuming that the war will mostly shift votes around within blocs but not across blocs. But maybe I'll be proven wrong.

3:03 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

Sorry to say this, but I find the type of political cheshbon of this post disconcerting. This country is full of people who vote based on "chances of getting in" on not based on ideology. It is really a magnification of the political culture of parties like kadima that is seen on the national level.

The simple voter should vote for parties that represent what he believes in. I am voting for the most meshugane right wing party that is running. I don't care if they get in or don't get in. I want my concience clear. If I was a person who voted for Sharon pre-expulsion, I would not be able to easily forgive myself today. Luckily I voted marzel in those elections and while he did not get it, I did not contribute my voice to parties that were in one way or another accomplices to the crime.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

I tend to agree with the sentiments of Chardal. The last few election cycles have only proven that there simply is little (or no) form of repesentative democracy in Israel and that a top-down approach to reforming the system from within simply isn't working (and probably can't work).
So all of these sorts of calculations as to who might be a better justice minister and how to "stengthen Bibi" will not work. Meretz "himritz et Rabin" nor because of how many seats they had in the Knesset but becuase of their ideological hold on the power centers of Israel. They could have done it with 3 seats just as well as they did with 12 - and the total disappearance of Labor hawks as well as the ultimate shift of Labor MK's to Meretz views only proves this.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous YK said...

You do not take into account the fact that Barak will get a major boost for running the war. At this point Kadima & Labour should have enough votes with [pick your sideshow "coalition partners"] to create a government. Livni gets PM while Barak keeps defense or gets the foreign portfolio.

At this point that seems much more likely than a Kadima/Likud government.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im with yk on this one.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I really don't think your ability to say "yadeinu lo shafchu es hadam hazeh" is really that important. It's actually rather selfish. But since your chances of effecting the outcome are so small, I admit that it's perfectly rational of you to just do the feel-good thing.

Same for you, BB, although you could be right that extra-parliamentary pressure is more effective than intra-parliamentary pressure. In any case, you haven't persuaded me that a strong Ichud Leumi constrains Bibi in any way or makes a narrow right government more likely. It seems quite obvious that the opposite is true.

YK is just being a Cassandra as usual. The Labor-Kadima scenario is highly unlikely. It is not the first choice of Shas or of Lieberman and even in the unlikely event that they agree to join such a government it would be a narrow one. Likud will get the first chance and Kadima will only be able to stonewall if a narrow right government is obviously not possible. And that can happen only if Ichud Leumi makes it so, either by killing Mafdal or by being difficult.

10:21 PM  
Blogger ben said...

Being an opponent of the far right parties, I am perfectly happy when people choose to vote for them. One less vote that can make a difference.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

why is it the Ihud Haleumi's responsibility to provide the Likud with options? and why should they make an effort not to kill off the Mafdal in order to support Bibi? (In all honesty they are trying NOT to kill off the Mafdal - they actually came out with a very clear call for moderate and left-wing national zionist voters to vore for the Mfdal so that it can get over the threshold - it's religious voters in the Likud - hint, hint - that will kill them off....... ).
A stronger Ihud Haleumi will give Bibi more leverage and thus more options. He can't form a right-wing government if there are NO parties to the right of the Likud. I'd rather have Dr. Ron Breiman in the knesset than some regional flunky who received 757 votes to get to number 29 on the Likud list (the polls always overcount the big parties at the expense of the small ones), so that's about where the marginal votes are going). He will be a much better parliamentarian and a clearer voice of the rational right-wing than the latest version of Aflalo, Ben-Lulu, Ruchama, etc.

1:33 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

>I really don't think your ability to say "yadeinu lo shafchu es hadam hazeh" is really that important. It's actually rather selfish. But since your chances of effecting the outcome are so small, I admit that it's perfectly rational of you to just do the feel-good thing.

I don't think that it is fair to accuse me of selfishness in this regard. I am not saying that a guild free concience is the only reason I vote for the far right. I happen to think that far right ideas are the only ones that have any long term viability and that the fact that they are currently not feasable is more a function of people voting for what is politically possible than what they think is right. I agree that the ideas of the far right are not practical now. But that is simple a function of a cycle where people only vote for what is practical now and never for what they think SHOULD be done in a hypothetical future. Such voting paterns are a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Lets use Rav Kahane as an example. He ran three times and did not get in. He came in narrow on the third try and was polling at 8-14 seats for the 88 elections before he was banned. Why the geometric shift? The answer is that people voted what they thought was practical. When they thought it was a wasted vote, Rav Kahane was not able to get in. Once he proved he could get in, many who agreed with him before went ahead and voted.

My point is not to argue for kach here. But it is that the psychology of practical voting is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we work to change the political culture so that people vote based on ideals on not based on practicallity, then ideas that were not practical before become practical. Further, such a societal change would probably make the parties on the edges larger at the expense of kadima type center parties, which is always a good thing in my book

1:35 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

I think that Chardal makes a good point - the ideas of Matzpen, Mapam, and other elements of the Israeli left in the 1960's and 1970's were no less beyond the pale than the ideas of the right-wing today. Yet they became mainstream and even acceptable to center-left (and eventually center-right) parties as well.

The ideas that YOU (B.C.) are trying to advocate will have a much better chance at becoming normative through the public voice of a Aryeh Eldad, Dr. Ron Breiman or Avi Rat than the next incarnation of Eli Aflalao or Inbal Gavrieli. [Even Dr. Michael Ben-Ari is a positive way beyond what we could have expected from Marzel or Wolpe]

3:34 PM  
Blogger Ben said...


The debate between us is an ancient one. Should we vote sincerely (as you propose) or strategically (as I propose).

Your arguments are that:
1. if everyone votes sincerely our side will benefit
2. in the long run sincere voting allows outliers to become more influential
3. sincerity is always a good thing

I don't want to argue against any of those arguments too strenuously since they all sound like arguments I probably would want to use one day myself (and probably have used already).

The only counter-argument I have is that right here right now a few more votes going to Ichud Leumi rather than Likud would do more harm than good. I understand that you disagree even with that claim, but that's the part you haven't convinced me of.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Y. Ben-David said...

I must say I find BC's argumements a little hard to follow.
A few facts I take into consideration:
(1) The "far Right" has not been effective in the past.
(2) If this war is seen to come out in a positive way, I don't see the "Right-wing bloc" (if there is indeed such a thing....the Likud and Religious Zionists have worked very hard over the years to push the Haredim out of it) getting a majority, there will probably be an even split, unlike what the pre-war polls were showing.
(3) Tom Segev wrote a couple of days ago in the Washington Post that "the peace-process is dead and there isn't going to be a Palestinian state.
(4) Netanyahu is working very hard to show he is NOT a "right-winger" and he said quite openly to a delegation from YESHA that he is not committed to the settlements. Benny Begin is willing to give up the Golan. Meridor would be happy in MERETZ and Yossi Peled has no principles at the Likud is NOT in our camp, regardless of the fact that they do have some good people on their list.

(5) Given number 4 we have to ask what is the greatest danger we (of the Religious-Zionist-pro YESHA Right) are facing. I believe that Bibi, Feigele Weiss (Tzippi Livni) and Barak will be pressured by B. Hussein (credit to Ben Bayit) in the White House to "show our good will to the Palestinians" and throw the Jews out of the yishuvim outside the security wall. Pending General Dayton's completion of his mission to make an effective Palestinian armed force, the IDF will remain in order to prevent rocket fire and other terrorism, or possibly foreign forces will be sent in to make the Palestinian feel better.
I think this is what the Israeli ruling clique wants. Bibi could go along with it saying "we are giving up Judea/Samaria in order to save Jerusalem", he may also argue for keeping a few settlements like Beit El and Ofra to show he is still on "The Right".

I believe, assuming that the election results come out as I indicated, with Likud with say 25, Kadima and Labor with an average of 20 each, that there will then be an easy majority for this fiendish plan. (Add to the Left 10 Arab seats and 6 MERETZ, so only a few Likud renegades would be needed-don't forget they would argue that Bibi would have to be kept in power 'cause you don't want the Left in, do you' and that they would saying they are 'saving Jerusalem'). Thus, it will be on the ground and in extra-parliamentary activity that the struggle will conducted.
A strong Ihud Leumi would show the outside world that there are still a lot of "extremists" that need to be taken into consideration.
I will not you my vote to the Knesset to put Miri Regev or Uzi Dayan into the Knesset. My vote will not go to someone who will turn around and support policies I strongly oppose. I will only vote for someone I can trust will represent my interests and values. I believe the Ihud haLeumi is presenting a fairly attractive list this time. Both Benny Elon and Zvi Hendel are retiring which is good because both burned out and became ineffective. Katzele is an attractive figure, Uri Ariel is one of the most effective parliamentiarians, Dr Eldad is a very intelligent man and a man of integrity, Avi Rat is a good spokesman, Ron Breiman can speak to the intelligentsia (I know him personally). Thus, they will get my vote. This will be my statement to the world.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Ben said...


When the right decides to carry out leftist policies (and, theoretically, when the left decides to carry out rightist policies), nobody can stop them because they inevitably have a large majority supporting them. If Bibi goes Sharon on us, Ketzele isn't going to save us.

I have no quarrel with you about the quality of the Ichud Leumi list. They just won't do us any good.

I also have no quarrel with you about there being several turkeys on the Likud list, Meridor being the worst of them. Most of them are not bad, though, and if anybody can save us from Bibi, it will be them.

But mainly, I have no idea why you'd want to make a "statement to the world". The world isn't listening.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

I believe that a strong Ihud Leumi list this time (especially taking into account who is on the list and who is no longer on the list vesrus 2004-5) will make the extra-parliamentary activities - that are probably the only tactics that can effectively act against further withdrawals - that much more effective.
And I would also add that the editor of Besheva, called on the Ihud Haleumi to fly the flag of constitutional reform (and I believe that they will do so much more effectively having jettisoned the Mizrachi folks - see all of your older postings on this). So frankly a vote for the Ihud is much better for the parliamentary (and extra-parliamentary as well) work we all want to do on judicial and constitutional reform.

I don't see the harm.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

would you still say that RZ voters should vote for the Likud if not voting for the RZ parties cause one or both o fthem not to go over the threshold and thus swing the blocs in the knesset back to the left - i.e. provide Barak/Livni with a blocking majority so that they can do their rotation agreement?
While I think that the right-wing bloc will have a clear majority, it is by no means certain that this will be the outcome - and either of the two RZ parties not making it in make it less than certain.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I agree that there is a compelling argument to vote for a party you like that is near the cutoff. Since the difference between getting in or not is (approximately) 3 seats, the marginal value of your vote is 3 times as great as that of a vote for a party that will definitely get in.

Nevertheless, for the sake of accuracy, Daum's argument is exactly half right. If the total potential of Mafdal + Ichud Leumi is 5 seats and those votes are all wasted, it is not the case that 5 seats are lost to the right. Those votes are effectively distributed over all the other parties (indirectly; the number of votes per seat is diminished). So the loss to the right is actually around 2.5 seats, not 5. Definitely a bad thing, but probably not fatal.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

His argument is more like 75-80% correct. Because the parties in the other parties in the "right-wing" bloc - especially Lieberman - who are likely to get some of this distribution are also more likely to go along with the Kadima-Labor gov't scenario. Basically the 2.5-4 seat swing can tip the scales of the bloc the other way, leaving Bibi out in the cold.

Food for thought.

11:22 PM  

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