Wednesday, March 18, 2015


OK, some Israeli election facts for folks abroad who asked:

25 parties competing

120 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament)

Threshold required to enter the Knesset 3.25% of the vote

The third largest party in the Knesset is now Arab (United Arab List) 

This Knesset has the highest number of Arab MKs of any Knesset. The new Knesset also has more women MKs than ever.

Head of the Central Election Committee: Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran

When the official tally is in the president (whose position is mostly that of ceremonial head of state) will give the head of the party he considers most likely to be able to form a majority government of at least 61 Knesset members the opportunity to create a coalition. If they cannot do so in the allotted time the president can suggest the head of another party to try.

As for why Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu won?

I think many Israelis consider him a relatively safe pair of hands. Even if he isn't their favourite person he seems to be able to keep the Israeli ship on an even keel, negotiate the perilous region reasonably well. Not that he isn't without his mistakes, misteps and miscomments. Israelis are wary of experiments though, burned by the Oslo peace talks which erupted into the bloody Oslo intifada, waves of terrorism and the poorly handled Second Lebanon War during the government of Ehud Olmert (in which Tzipi Livni was also foreign minister). 

Netanyahu proved himself capable but cautious during last summer's conflict with Gaza. He did not rush in to military action except as a last resort when there were no other options and Israel had to act in self-defense. He kept a realistic view of what the aims of that war should be, he did not shoot his mouth off with bombastic statements, focusing on getting the job done and protecting Israelis from Hamas rockets and terror. No one is under any illusions that he is perfect, but so far his has done a reasonable job.

One other reason I think people voted Bibi. Tzipi Livni has been in charge of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the outgoing Netanyahu government. Despite her willingness for compromise there was no deal to be had. Obama's pressuring of one side, ie Israel helped to entrench Abbas' view that he could dig in and reject Livni's offers because time was on his side and more could be squeezed out of the Israeli negotiating team. 

The outgoing Netanyahu led government released large numbers of Palestinian terrorists convicted for violent offences, including multiple murders, took the groundbreaking measure (for a Likud led government) of freezing construction over the Green Line, including the (for a Likud led govt) unheard of step of freezing construction in Jerusalem itself. Livni's negotiating team did all it could to go the extra mile. Yet the end result was complete rejection on the part of Abbas and more unilateral moves on his part to fight Israel on the international stage with BDS, the Hague and more. This is the background to Bibi's comments about 2 state solution and this is why many Israelis felt that Bibi and Livni had done their best but there was no deal to be had, so the best option was electing a "manager", someone like Bibi who would make the best of maintaining the "status quo" as it is.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jerusalem's everyday kindness

Today in Jerusalem riding a very slow bus through Shivtei Yisrael/Haneviim through to the centre of town had plenty of time for people watching:

1) Bus couldn't pull in to the stop due to parked cars, older Hareidi man was getting off the bus and noticed a frail elderly lady having trouble walking from the bus shelter to the bus, he stretched out his hand, offered her physical support and let her lean on him to get off the curb and up on to the bus and into a seat.

2) Heavily pregnant lady was having trouble getting on the bus with her heavy bags. Young Hassidic guy walked up to her and lifted her bags on to the bus, took them to his seat near the front and offered her his seat while he moved to the back of the bus.
3) Pair of tourists dressed in skimpy vests and tight jeans buying falafel at a kiosk, Hareidi man behind the counter serving them with a smile and good humour.
4) Man in a large knitted kipa, peyot and beard guiding a blind Arab man on to the bus.
5) Young Hassidic couple walking in the street, she in pink blouse and headscarf and light grey skirt, their similarly attired young daughter between them each holding one of her hands and swinging her while the three of them walking down the street laughing and chatting together.

Every time I go in to Jerusalem I see scenes like this and I feel like dropping a note to the world, not because the problems of this city aren't just as real, but to remind folks, especially those outside of Jerusalem and Israel that this is also part of the reality of life here, it is far from just modesty signs and disputes and tensions. Gmilut hassadim, loving kindness to one's fellow human being, is still very much alive and part and parcel of everyday life and coexistence in the city and that is what gives me hope for our nation, our future and the Middle East.

Alone in this crazy, combustable region of the world Jerusalem still manages to keep Isaiah's vision of peace and brotherly love real and tangible. Not through great projects and initiatives and politics (though there are many worthy individual engaged in such work), but through the simple practicality of throwing so many different people together in a patchwork city and creating a situation where they have to mix and mingle and cooperate in order to keep their city functioning, in order to live, and through the simple act of everyday living even the most polarised ideological foes have to experience the humanity of the other. I am not so naive as to believe that this will bring real peace tomorrow, but I do know that it is a great deal closer to realising that dream than just about any other city in the Middle East.