Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Election meeting

There was an election meeting at Netanya AACI on Jan 1, 2013, one of a series where representatives from several of the major parties are present on an English-speaking panel.  Note that the Israeli election is Jan 22, in 3 weeks.  The meeting was sponsored by AACI and the Jerusalem Post, and the editor of the J. Post, Steve Linde, was the moderator.  The parties and their representatives were: Likud-Beitanu - Yair Shamir (son of former PM Yitzhak Shamir); Bayit Hayehudi - Jeremy Gimpel; Otzma LeYisrael - Nili Shiryon; Shas - Menachem Shemtov; Hatnuah (Tzipi Livni's party) - Alon Tal (Head of the Green Movement in Israel); Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid's party) - Dov Lipman.  A very large audience of ca. 160 people attended.
Mysteriously there was no representation from the left, neither the Labor Party nor the far left Meretz party were represented (it was not bias by the organizers).  Perhaps they felt that they would not get any support in that audience (older English-speakers).  Kadima, the erstwhile center party that has sunk low in the polls was also not represented.  So the parties represented ranged from the center left (Yesh Atid; Hatnuah) to the center right (Likud-Beitanu; Shas); to the far right (Bayit Hayehudi; Otzma LeYisrael). 
Each of the reps was allowed a 5 min introductory speech, then there were questions for the panelists and finally each speaker was allowed 3 mins to rebut and summarize.  Of the speakers, all spoke about how great their party was, except perhaps Yair Shamir, who spent most of his time telling the audience what great contributions he had made as a pilot, leader of the aerospace industry, and in hi-tech.  Although this was very impressive, it was not what the audience wanted to hear.  Although he is a notable person he failed to persuade the listeners that his party is the one to be voted for.  Only at the end did he emphasize that voting for Liku-Beitanu is preferable to obtain a stable government rather than voting for the smaller "start-up" parties (such as Yesh Atid and Hatnuah) that would result in a weak coalition. 
Apart from that the focus was on the special merits of each of the parties, particularly Alon Tal emphasized the environment and the special focus of Tzipi Livni on election reform and education and as an alternative to PM Netanyahu.  Dov Lipman emphasized inclusivity as an Orthodox Rabbi in a predominantly secular party, Yesh Atid.  Jeremy Gimpel of Bayit Hayehudi emphasized the importance of Zionism and the IDF and Nili Shiryon emphasized that Otzma LeYisrael wants to see the Palestinians given the equivalent of the US green cards and have Jordan as Palestine. 
There were a couple of interruptions, particularly a lady with a very shrill voice shouted several times, when the idea that Jerusalem would be divided by the left was mentioned.  Also, the Shas representative caused negative audience reaction, not only because he emphasized how great their educational and welfare policies are (skepticism!), but also when he took over a microphone and answered every speaker's comments. 
I found this evening amazing from several points of view.  First of all the emphasis was almost entirely on domestic issues (education, pensioners, housing prices), and there was NO mention of Iran, Syria or Egypt.  This is definitely not what many would have predicted, and it shows that either Israelis don't care about these issues, or more likely that all elections are local!  Also, although the Palestinian issue came up, particualrly from the right wing parties, the only real political surprise was in a debate on the "two-state solution" when Yair Shamir stated that PM Netanyahu does not support it, in contradiction to what he has said recently.  This was an issue for the right wing parties, particularly Bayit Hayehudi that is against the two-state solution and supports the settler's point-of-view and has been gaining in the polls.   Overall the evening was very stimulating and the atmosphere was exciting.


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