Monday, February 09, 2009

As Election Day draws nigh, Fringe Parties seek High Voter Turnout in Israel

It’s coming down to the wire in Israeli elections, to be held tomorrow. After all this Cast Lead bloodshed in Gaza, political energy inside Israel lurched to the right. Security is paramount and countering nuclear-armed Iran and justifying Israeli “defensive” overkill seems to be the constant drumbeat of politicians. Whatever happened to concern over economic freefall and official corruption?
Excuse me while I dodge this Qassam, maam.

Not many Israeli voters think cleanliness is next to godliness this time round. Tzipi Livni (aka Ms Clean) suddenly is scrambling, assuring would-be supporters that she is far more likely to charm cooperation from President Barack Obama than hard-ass rivals such as Bibi Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, the defence minister.

Funny thing is that , even this late in the campaign, at least 20 per cent of the voters have yet to make up their minds. And another 20 per cent—the Arab-Israelis—are unlikely to cast ballots at all.

Enter Avidgor Lieberman, the Soviet émigré and former nightclub bouncer who lives in a settlement. He appeals to youth and the intolerant by bashing Israeli Arabs and calling for their “transfer” out of the country. No loyalty, no citizenship, he mutters. And if this sounds like a mafia oath, more power to him, say his backers. When Lieberman underwent a police probe for a money laundering and bribery scam involving his daughter, his followers managed to put a positive spin on it. Surely, the ruling party Kadima, which is tainted with its own graft scandals, set up the man who dares to speak politically incorrect truths. What’s more, Lieberman makes Bibi look less hawkish and even more electable.

Lieberman’s message is gaining resonance.

"Israel is under a dual terrorist attack, from within and from without,"he says, "And terrorism from within is always more dangerous than terrorism from without."
It’s a slippery slope. Who next will have their loyalty questioned? The Ethiopian immigrants? Mizrahi Jews with Middle Eastern bloodlines?
Not everyone we know is resigned that the next leader of Israel will be Netanyahu, particularly if it’s a close-result and President Shimon Peres will have some discretion in naming the prime minister. Whoever wins will need to hammer together a coalition in order to rule.

The choice of potential political bedfellows is intriguing. Speaking of high office – get a whiff of the latest offshoot from the Green Leaf Party, now known as the Grown-Up Green Leaf. It’s a weird combo of cannabis users and death camp survivors, and emerged after the original Green Leaf party rolled out a controversial election advert featuring the party head, Gil Kopatch, toking up a spliff at the grave of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Some members disapproved and did not get the joke.
Of all the fringe parties on the ballot for Knesset, this new one, pushing pensioner rights along with penalty-free pot, has to be one of the quirkiest. Monster Raving Loony Party, it's not. They have a manifesto and some of the Pensioners were elected to Knesset seats in the last election.

This surreal alliance between Holocaust survivors and marijuana proponents undoubtedly is helped by medical marijuana , which has eased pain for some of the cancer-stricken elderly. But it doesn't necessarily cloud their judgment.

Yaakov Kfir, 74, who survived the Holocaust as a child in Yugoslavia, said he welcomed the party's embrace of Israel's estimated 350,000 survivors, who are often impoverished and side-lined in a society that extols military might. Kfir lost his parents at age 6 to the Final Solution. After emigrating to Israel, he became an air force officer and later an activist for the rights of survivors. Now the party is energized.

"They [survivors] know what it feels like to be persecuted for no reason. They can identify with us," party-head Shem-Tov said.

Here’s one of their campaign spots.

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