What's left of Israel's left
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What's left of Israel's left

February 5, 2001


Israeli Prof Urges Blank Vote

What's left of Israel's left is in a fractured and demoralized state of affairs. Not only is Ariel Sharon about to become Israel's Prime Minister, but in all likelihood he is to be swept into power tomorrow in a landslide unprecedented in Israel's history. Worse yet, many on the left are reduced to having General Barak and Shimon Peres as their champions. It's a cruel twist of fate; but it is also one that has been nurtured for decades now by the failure of Israel's left, coupled with "liberal" American Jewry, to come together and present a credible and principled alternative.

For some on the left like Uri Avneri, they have been doing what they could to rally the vote for Barak and for Oslo. They've failed miserably. But then Avneri, while an insightful and even courageous journalist, has been largely discredited by his fronting for the Arafat regime no matter what, not to mention by his decades of building a reputation as someone not to be personally trusted. Indeed just some 20 months ago Avneri was jumping up and down cheering and partying upon the election of Ehud Barak and shouting how the era of peace had finally come. We've written before about the dark contrast between Avneri's energetic activism and his lack of personal integrity and credibility.

For others on the left, like Professor Tanya Reinhart, integrity and credibility are high, but following very limited. Rather than cheering when Barak was elected, Reinhart was writing profound articles explaining that Barak had created a government of retired army generals and top intelligence agents; that Barak's policies were deceptively treacherous, dangerous, and that war clouds were already gathering. MER published many of those articles back in the days when applauding Barak and proclaiming the new era of peaceful relations between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arabs was near universal in the major media.

The likelihood is that the what's left of the left will be rejuvenated by the coming of Sharon. There will be articles, demonstrations, protests, dialogue meetings with Palestinians. But don't expect any of this to amount to very much very soon. The "BullDozer" (that's Sharon's latest nickname for those who may have forgotten) isn't going to be stopped by what's left of the left; a left which needs a total ideological as well as political facelift and makeover, not to mention a new champion.


Tanya Reinhart*

[Yediot Aharonot - Feb 1, 2001].
Beneath the surface, there is deep anxiety in Israeli society: The media is full of reports of war preparations: "Home Front Command to stage 'mother of all exercises' " (JP, Jan 22); "Ministry tells purchasers to prepare for emergency" (Ha'aretz, Jan 25); "U.S. sends Patriot missiles s to Israel" (AP, Jan 27). The feared war is of a new and unfamiliar kind, as the region is loaded with missiles and nonconventional weapons. It is enough, for example, that one missile will manage to penetrate the nuclear plant in Dimona, despite all the defence patriot missiles to send us all to Chernoville.

Even if no one seriously intends this, in the tension generated the last few months, even one single spark can ignite the whole region. Only a sane and responsible leadership will, perhaps, still be able to prevent the deterioration into a regional war.

But the leadership standing for elections is the same leadership that brought us to this situation: Sharon has always proposed to withdraw from Lebanon, wait for some incident, and then respond with total war. Barak has left Lebanon, but he insisted on keeping areas of conflict, like Har Dov, or Ghajar, which continue to be a source of tension and potential incidents.

Ever since 1967, all Israeli governments were careful to keep the holy sites (Temple Mount/ Al Aksa) out of the public discourse, and in collaboration with the Israeli chief Rabbinate, they even crowned the Wailing wall as the substitute of the Western Wall which is supposedly located in Temple Mount. Barak and Sharon changed direction. Barak prepared the soil politically, demanding that the Palestinians will recognize once and for all Israeli sovereignty over 'Mount Temple', and Sharon lit the match for him. From a conflict over lands and borders, they dragged us into a religious conflict with the whole Muslim world, which may well lead to a holy war.

Those satisfied with this state of affairs may vote for one of the generals. The question is what all the others can do. In the media and the internet, an intensive debate is taking place between the answers 'vote Barak while holding your nose' and 'blank ballot'. This debate is no longer relevant: Barak has no chance. Those who determined the results of the elections are the Israeli Arabs and the left who decided already that they won't give their vote to Barak again. (In the polls, 15%-20% of those surveyed state they will vote for neither candidate.) Without their votes, Barak cannot be reelected. The question for Sharon's opponents today is whether Sharon's election can be prevented.

This may sound like a lunatic question, given that there are only two candidates, but not if we examine the spirit of the Israeli elections law. The elections system for a prime-minister in Israel requires that a candidate can be elected in a single round only if he has absolute majority. (This differs, for example, from the system in the US, which requires a relative majority). As the law states it: a candidate should have over 50% of the valid votes. The catch is that when the law turns to define and list the valid votes in sections 76 and 78, it neglects to define the abstaining blank ballots as valid votes.

One need not be a law professor to observe that the definition of valid votes contradicts the spirit of the elections law. Whenever elections or other decision procedures, in any forum, require absolute majority, those abstaining can determine the results by not allowing a 50% decision. Indeed, The high court discussed this following an appeal after the elections of 1996, and ruled that the way the law is formulated, blank ballots are not 'valid', but it added that this is not obviously the preferred state-of-affairs, and possibly the parliament (knesset) should discuss this explicitly.

The last week, several appeals were submitted again to the high court, concerning the blank ballots. The court ruled that it is too late to discuss this before the elections. Still it is reasonable to demand that the required discussion should take place also after the elections, the same way that discussion of the interpretation of the elections laws in the US took place after the elections.

Given the spirit of the law, if Sharon does not get 50 percent of the total number of votes, including the blank ballots, he has no mandate: His election is based only on a technical neglect in the formulation of the law. At the moment, the polls indicate that he might have the required 50%, but in practice, his race towards the 50%, like that of any candidate in previous elections, is a tight one. In the polls, at least 5% of the 52% voting for Sharon switch to Peres, in case he runs. These are not right wing voters, but another segment of the 'just not Barak' voters, who vote Sharon out of no choice, and may still consider casting a blank ballot instead.

In a close race, every vote counts.

Many of the opponents of both Barak and Sharon, are still hesitating between boycotting the elections (not voting) and voting blank. But only those who vote can harm Sharon. As far as the law is concerned, there is no way to distinguish between those who do not vote because they boycott the elections, and those who do not vote because they 'don't care about politics'. The absolute majority required by the elections law is determined by the number of actual voters.

A blank ballot vote at this stage, is a vote against Sharon - the vote that can decide if Sharon will have mandate for war.

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* Tanya Reinhart is a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. She can be reached at Tanya@MiddleEast.Org.



by Dalia Shehori

[Ha'aretz - 5 February]: Prime Minister Ehud Barak yesterday pubalicly apologized to Israel's Arab citizens for the deaths of 13 of their community killed in clashes with the police last October.

At the weekly cabinet meeting Barak took formal responsibility for the deaths and on behalf of the government expressed his sorrow for the deaths.

"As Prime Minister I have overall responsibility for all that goes on in the state during my term in office, and also for the incidents in which 13 Arab citizens were killed. On the behalf of my government and myself, I express deep sorrow for the killing of Arab citizens. In demonstrations, even if they are illegal, civilians are not supposed to get killed," he said.

The Prime Minister said that there are some links between the sensitivities currently felt in the Arab sector on the eve of the elections and the events of last October.

Barak directed a promise to the grieving families, of 13 Arab and one Jewish citizen killed in the incidents, saying the government would do all in its power to prevent a repetition of similar occurances.

"It is very important that Israeli Arab citizens feel this is everyone's country and that the citizens in it are all equal and that all blood is dear to us," he said.

The prime minister expressed confidence that irrespective of what the new government will be like, "whether it is ours or another government," it would adopt the recommendations of the Public Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the October events. Barak also called on all the citizens to make an effort to restore the delicate fabric which linked the Arab and Jewish communities together.

During the final cabinet meeting before Tuesday's elections, the prime minister also reminded his cabinet of the need to vote. "I remind the ministers that it is their civil duty to go to the ballot," he said. Minister Shimon Peres emphasized that "the most important thing is that there be no blank votes, because every blank vote is a black vote."

The exceptionally short meeting was also a pleasant one and the ministers wished Barak luck on Tuesday. There was a lot of back slapping and hugging at the end of the session.

In one of its final decisions, the outgoing cabinet made six new diplomatic appointments, most of them involving assignments for ambassadors already holding specific posts and now required to also serve as non-resident envoys to nearby countries.




TEL AVIV, Israel (AP - 2/2/) -- Israelis fatigued by months of violent clashes with Palestinians are dreading an election in which the biggest question for some will not be whom to vote for, but whether to vote at all.

Less than a week before the election, left-wing peace advocates are the latest group to take up the debate on whether to cast blank ballots in protest against the two candidates for prime minister.

"I think it is the first time in Israel electoral history -- certainly among Jews -- that the idea of nonvoting has become a way to express a political opinion," said Asher Arian, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

He says about a quarter of Jewish voters are still undecided, not just about who to vote for but whether to vote.

Some analysts believe the country -- where 90 percent of people normally go to the polls -- could see an unprecedented low turnout on Tuesday.

Four months of fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinians has further hardened the left's view of Prime Minister Ehud Barak as a leader who didn't try hard enough to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Barak's opponent is right-wing Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli general who is scorned by the left for his hard-line stance in regard to the conflict with the Palestinians. Sharon maintains a double-digit lead over Barak in polls.

Earlier this week, Yitzhak Leor, a charismatic poet and literature professor at Tel Aviv University, bounced around an auditorium stage trying to convince other peace advocates to cast blank ballots.

"The more blank votes, the less legitimate Sharon's victory will be," Leor said during a raucous debate about blank ballots this week in Tel Aviv. "The issue is not who to vote for because it is known that Sharon will win. So, voting for Barak is voting for nothing. Barak already lost."

Leor shouted at those in the audience who disagreed. "The last four months is a terrible crime," he said. "But there is still an obsession with voting for Barak. It is like a social pressure not to go out of the collective."

Shulamit Aloni, a former leader of the dovish Meretz Party, told the crowd a choice must be made. "I have nothing good to say about Barak, but I'm terrified of Sharon," she said. "We will punish ourselves if we don't vote for Barak."

Israel's Arab minority is also struggling with the issue of whether casting a blank ballot would send the strongest message. They are angered by the deaths in October of 13 Israeli Arabs killed by Israeli police fire in anti-government protests.

Without the Arab vote -- which makes up 18 percent of the electorate -- Barak cannot win the election, analysts say.

Russian and other immigrant voters also appear unenthusiastic about heading to the polls. The latest survey of immigrant voters by the Mutagim consulting agency showed only 58 percent were planning to vote.

In a sign of just how desperate some people are, three petitions were filed with Israel's Supreme Court asking that blank ballots be counted as valid votes. Under election law, blank votes are thrown out.

Counting the blank votes would make it more difficult for either candidate to get the 50 percent of the vote needed to win. On Wednesday the court rejected the argument of the petitioners, who hoped to delay the election by forcing additional rounds of voting.

Because of Barak's resignation in December, the election will be the first time Israeli voters go to the polls to chose only a prime minister and not an entire parliament.

"When you have 30 parties, it's easier to find something closer to your views than if you have only two parties," Arian said. "On the one hand there is an ambivalence about one leader, and on the other hand there's a clear dismissal of the other candidate. This leads many to not want to make the choice."

Noga Kadman, 32, and her sister Tamar, 30, sat in a Tel Aviv cafe, pondering the debate. Both consider themselves political leftists and say they will reluctantly vote for Barak.

"We are hopeless," Noga said. Her sister added, "The point of the last election (in May, 1999) was hope that there was a chance for something new."

February 2001


(February 27, 2001)
Was it the Likud Party, or the Labor Party, that authorized more illegal settlements in the occupied territories since the Gulf War and the Madrid Peace Conference?

(February 26, 2001)
For those who still needed proof of the cravenness and duplicity of Israel's Labor Party, the party that spawned "Peace Now" and "Oslo" among other gross deceptions, it came today.

Defectors say Iraq tested Nuclear Bomb
(February 25, 2001)
When Iraq was more overtly building nuclear weapons, the Israelis struck in 1981 destroying the Osirak reactor near Baghdad that could have provided the crucial processed uranium fuel.

"Go back, we don't want you"
(February 24, 2001)
General Colin Powell, now combining even more closely than usual the Pentagon with the State Department, was afraid to go to Gaza; and rightly so.

The Hebron MASSACRE - 7 long years ago
(February 24, 2001)
Abraham's dysfunctional family has had unbelieveable historical ramifications for which the focal point today is Hebron, site of Abraham's burial place, a religious site to both Jews and Muslim alike who are today quite literally at each other's throats.

Council on foreign relations help legitimize Sharon
(February 23, 2001)
The Council on Foreign Relations, New York-power elite-based but in recent years integrating more with the Washington government and corporate elite, has been for quite some time, to put it bluntly, a rather tricky and chicanery Israeli-oriented Zionist center when it comes to matters relevant to Israel.

Iraq - The great Cover-Up
(February 23, 2001)
As terrible as what the Israelis, with their superpower American ally (and European connivance), are doing to the Palestinians, what has been and is being done to the Iraqis and the Chechnyans is also truly appauling.

Arab expulsion admitted by Sharon Ally
(February 22, 2001)
One day maybe Israel -- like South Africa and Chile before it -- will have some kind of "truth finding" commission to try to purge itself of the past.

Protests in Jordan
(February 22, 2001)
If it weren't for the Hashemite Regime in today's Jordan, yesterday's Transjordan, and before that the East Bank of Palestine, the Israelis would never have been able to vanquish the Palestinian people in days past and would never be able to do to the remaining Palestinians what is happening today.

Powell and Sharon - Street protests?
(February 21, 2001)
Clearly, the US is rushing to court unpopularity across the world, contrary to expectations that the Bush national security establishment would conduct itself with a degree of sophistication.

"This is only the beginning"
(February 21, 2001)
The crippling is not just physical. Psychologically, culturally, economically, and even morally, the Palestinian people are being twisted and tortured beyond all recognition of their former selves.

Gaza Ghetto, Gaza Concentration Camp, Gaza Prison
(February 19, 2001)
For four months, the Gaza Strip has been effectively isolated from the world. Over 1 million Palestinians are caged in an area of not more than 365km2.

Locked in an Orwellian eternal war
(February 19, 2001)
President Bush Jr didn't seem so confident the other day as he told the world of the newly increased bombing of Iraq. But he made it clear that "until the world is told otherwise" the Americans are convinced they run the world and it is up to them to decide whom to bomb, whom to favor, whom to take out, whom to reward.

Arafat collapsing
(February 16, 2001)
The Arafat Regime is collapsing. Here are some of the details, twisted somewhat of course because the reports are from Israel's best newspaper, Ha'aretz, in view of the fact that Palestinian and Arab news sources are unable and unwilling to provide such insights.

The realization, "perhaps the dream"
(February 16, 2001)
Out of the cycle of violence the gradual, hesitant understanding - perhaps the dream - will grow, that the only way is through a struggle to create a land of Israel/Palestine that is undivided in both physical and human terms, pluralistic and open; a land in which civilized relations, human touch, intimate coexistence and a link to a common homeland would be stronger than militant tribalism and the separation into national ghettoes.

"Collective suicide" or Zionism united?
(February 15, 2001)
If there is a national unity government, it will be evident that the differences between Labour as the main branch of the left and the Likud as the main branch of the right are not that big.

Death and assissination
(February 14, 2001)
It didn't take long for the Israelis, now Sharon-led, to start creating the escalating provocations that will then bring about still more Palestinian rage which will then give the Israelis the excuse they seek to pulverize the Palestinians still harder, possibly destroying the regime they earlier created, and possibly leading to another Palestinian "nakbah" (disaster).

Israelis strike, Palestinians without strategy
(February 13, 2001)
The Israelis have had a long-term strategy for a very long time; and they have pursued it regardless of what party was in power and who happened to be Prime Minister of the moment.

Dozens of Palestinians wounded
(February 12, 2001)
Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank Monday as Israel's rightwing Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon sought to forge a unity government.

"Holy war" is forever
(February 12, 2001)
Fifty four years ago when an international commission of that day was hearing from Jews and Arabs about what the new U.N. should do about Palestine there was testimony from very credible and very establishment Jewish Zionist sources opposing creation of a "separatist Jewish State" precisely because it would bring about an unending conflict with the Palestinian Arab population.

War preparations continue
(February 11, 2001)
The Arafat Regime, the "Authority", is near collapse -- not just financially, but credibility wise as well. The Israeli government is near "unity" -- with General Sharon in charge.

The PA is about to collapse
(February 10, 2001)
How ironic history can be. After generations of struggle and such suffering the regime that rules the Palestinians is now in the hands of Ariel Sharon representing Israel, the U.S. Congress representing the financial levers of the American Empire, and the European governments which in this situation operate on the pretense that they are better than either of the above.

Rocking Israel to its Biblical core
(February 9, 2001)
Well if King David was a nebbish (modern translation might be "nerd"), one has to wonder how history will record Ariel Sharon, the man with such a past whom the Jews of Israel have just overwhelming elected their leader.

Sharon maneuvers for starting position
(February 9, 2001)
It's time for serious political confusion and disinformation now. As the armies prepare themselves for the clashes likely to come in one form or another, the politicians maneuver for new starting positions.

Clinton pardoned Mossad spy for Israelis
(February 9, 2001)
The Israelis adore Bill Clinton, as all the pollsters know. Deep down even the common everyday Israelis know he was their man in the White House.

The many crimes of Ariel Sharon
(February 8, 2001)
Some incorrigible optimists have suggested that only a right-wing extremist of the notoriety of Likud leader Ariel Sharon will have the credentials to broker any sort of lasting settlement with the Palestinians.

Sharon wastes no time - Arafat bows
(February 7, 2001)
We will give him the benefit of the doubt. If he comes with good ideas that will bring us closer to the peace process, why not? The world has seen many such situations before.

Holy war for Jerusalem
(February 7, 2001)
We're on the way now to a new and expanded struggle, maybe even a religious war, Jerusalem the focalpoint.

The cold logic of Sharon
(February 7, 2001)
Many Israelis just stayed home. Others cast a blank vote. But a considerable minority thrust Ariel Sharon into the greatest electoral landslide in that country's history -- obviously as well an overwhelming majority of those who did vote.

Sharon wins and Peres wants in
(February 6, 2001)
He may be a brutish thug, he may fit the definition of war criminal, he may be a Jewish racist -- but now he is also the Prime Minister-elect of Israel, overwhelmingly swept into power in a way few imagined possible just a year ago.

All sides now committed to escalation
(February 6, 2001)
Now the real craziness begins. The Palestinians are committed to heating things up to demonstrate their resolve and their capabilities. The Israelis are committed to "stopping the violence" which means clamping the boot down on the Palestinians even more harshly.

The legacy of Ariel Sharon
(February 5, 2001)
This is a place of filth and blood which will forever be associated with Ariel Sharon. In Israel today, he may well be elected prime minister.

BBC casts doubt of Pan AM convictions
(February 5, 2001)
In advance of whatever the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is going to produce as "evidence" of innocence today, the BBC has published the following story quoting the very Scottish law professor who arranged the trial in The Netherlands casting great doubt about the veracity of the verdict reached:

What's left of Israel's left
(February 5, 2001)
What's left of Israel's left is in a fractured and demoralized state of affairs. Not only is Ariel Sharon about to become Israel's Prime Minister, but in all likelihood he is to be swept into power tomorrow in a landslide unprecedented in Israel's history.

The Pan Am 103 Verdict
(February 3, 2001)
The papers are filled with pictures of happy relatives of the victims of the 1988 bombing of PanAm 103. A Libyan, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, was just found guilty of the bombing by a Scottish court in the Hague, his co-defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, being acquitted... What's wrong is that the evidence against Megrahi is thin to the point of transparency.

Rivers of blood
(February 2, 2001)
The bloodiness and racism of Sharon's past is fact. And these two articles help bring that past forward to the present.

Waiting for Sharon
(February 2, 2001)
They believe a Sharon victory will be a boon for their cause. 'He will expose the true face of Israel,' says an activist in Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement in Nablus, 'and force the world, including the US, to address its real responsibilities to the peace process...

Israeli Arabs boycott Barak, await Sharon
(February 1, 2001)
As the extreme right-wing revolution in Israel nears, as Ariel Sharon and friends prepare to take over political power, the "Israeli Arab vote" will not be enough to save Ehud Barak, and in fact it will not even be mobilized on his behalf this time, though Yasser Arafat and his friends have surely tried.

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