What's left of Israel's left
February 5, 2001
ISRAEL'S FRACTURED AND DEMORALIZED LEFT
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.
THE VOTE THAT CAN DECIDE
[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.
- - - - - - - - -
* Tanya Reinhart is a Professor of Linguistics
at Tel Aviv University. She can be reached at
BARAK SORRY FOR DEATH OF 13 ISRAELI ARABS
SHIMON PERES CALLS THE CASTING OF A BLANK BALLOT TOMORROW A "BLACK BALLOT"
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,"
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
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
AS MORE MULL CASTING BLANK BALLOT,
ISRAELIS DIVIDED OVER HOW TO VOTE
By JASON KEYSER
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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