The Cynics Guide to Israeli Elections: 2019 All-About-the-Benjamins Edition
Ah, spring is in the air, the beaches are starting to fill up, a few stray rockets hit Tel Aviv, and your phone rings about 80 times a day with texts and calls from politicians. The next war?
Nope! It’s elections time!
Today we go to the beach because it’s a day off from work and 80 degrees outside, but some of us might stop at the polls first in order to vote on the next Israeli parliament. The campaign has been a non-stop race to see who can annoy voters more with spam messages, flyers, and stupid adds on the side of the highway. It reminds you that elections are like enemas: you only have one if you really need to and only really weird people enjoy the process.
This guide, like the 2018 edition is only for those who are interested in hearing what all the fuss is about or live here and still haven’t decided on who to vote for yet.If you have decided: Good for you, go do something else. For the rest of you don’t leave it up to the angry cab driver to tell you who to vote for on the way to the polls, leave it to the angry stranger on the internet.
Disclaimer: Since this is the Middle East, and these are Jews, there are more parties running than anyone really has time to comprehend. This will be a run-through of some but not all major parties likely to get seats.
Blue and White
Leader(s): Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid
Platform: Benjamin without the Bibi.
Blue and White is the result between Yair Lapid’s “Yesh atid” party and Benny Gantz’s “Israel resilience party” joining forces to have a shot at unseating King bibi.
Poor Lapid has spent the last seven years building a political machine only to have Gantz ride in and take the top slot. You can only imagine that the conversation Gantz had with Lapid went something like: “do you want to not be prime minister with me? Or not be prime minister with Bibi?”
The criticism of B&W from the Likud camp is that they are a new incarnation of the Left that gave you Oslo, and the criticism from the Left is that they are the Israeli right minus Netanyahu. Their platform is very similar to the Israeli right and thus their campaign can be summed up as: “The Devil you know with a different last name”.
At the moment Likud and Blue and White are more or less even with Gantz showing a slight lead in the last polls. But since polling has been more of an art (or dime store witchcraft) than science for the last few years, who knows what that actually means.
Leader: Bibi Fuck-You-Obama Netanyahu
Platform: You’re not going to break up with me now are you? I can’t go to jail!
Likud is the party that it almost doesn’t matter what it stands for, it’s the Bibi’s party. What is there left to say about Bibi? Loved by a plurality of Israelis, despised by all the western leaders whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Jump”. Netanyahu has spent the last decade in the prime minister’s residence and doesn’t intend on letting economic hardship for the average Israeli, zero movements on the Palestinian issue, or the fact that we have to mow the Gaza lawn every now and again be the reason that he gets kicked out.
Bibi spent the better part of his premiership waiting out Obama, hoping for a Republican only to get…Trump. Unfortunately, though Netanyahu has been embracing the darker aspects of Trump’s campaign like saying obnoxious things, pandering to the base, and opening the door for racists to enter the government.
Voting Bibi is the mainstay right-wing option. It’s the status quo. If you voted for Trump, you should probably just vote for Likud. If you think Trump is the worst thing to happen to Democracy since Twitter, then you likely shouldn’t.
On Bibi: the Israeli left has a little in common with the American left in that they are pinning their hopes on some corruption charges to keep Bibi from being prime minister for much longer, but unlike the American left, the Israeli AG (appointed by Bibi by the way) has recommended that he be indicted.
Both can also share in the misery that Bibi is likely to win another term as PM.
The Labour Party
Leader: Avi Gabay
Platform: My wife still thinks I can be PM
The Labour party once played a key role in politics of the State of Israel and had a key role in shaping the policy of the State of Israel.
These days, not so much.
Labour has been on a steady decline since Netanyahu took power a decade ago. Up until even the last election they had kinda sorta had a decent shot at winning enough seats in parliament to form a coalition.
These days, not so much.
Today about the only person that thinks that Labour’s leader Avi Gabay, has a shot at being the next prime minister is Avi Gabay’s wife (she’s actually said as much). For Gabay on the other hand, It would be political malpractice for him to actually think that he had a shot.
While it seems pretty sad that the once mighty Labour is polling at 10 seats, this is better news than you’d think. At one point in the last few years, they were polling at barely 7 seats. The Labour party has traditionally been the main Left-Wing competitor to Likud’s right-wing control but, as of now, it seems that they will spend another term in the opposition.
You’d vote for Labour if you don’t mind voting for a party that is likely to not get anything accomplished the next few years, but Meretz is just too left for you.
Leader: Tamar Zandberg
Platform: Make the rest of Israel more like Tel Avi…again.
Meretz is the party that, election after election, insists “there can be no left-wing coalition without Meretz”, but, as it always turns out, there can’t be one WITH Meretz either.
They are the party that is proud to call themselves Left, but not too proud to beg for votes since the electoral threshold was raised last time around. They’ve essentially played jump rope with it ever since. Meretz is a party that can sit back, relax, and say whatever they want, secure in the knowledge that at no point in the near future will they have the opportunity to make good on any of it.
Quite possibly the worst thing that could ever happen to Meretz is actually being part of the coalition.
If you live and/or work in Tel Aviv the odds are that most of your co-workers and at least some of your friends are going to be voting for Meretz. Be careful when telling them you didn’t. Like liberals in America, they might start to act like you are the reason that Zandberg isn’t the next PM. This is because, like most American Liberals, they very rarely meet someone who isn’t voting the same way they do.
Leader: Moshe Kahlon
Platform: Make me finance minister….please?
Moshe Kahlon had only one ambition in the last election, he really really wanted to be finance minister. Nothing much has changed this time around. Good Ol’ Moshe has once again said that he won’t be willing to take any other job in a coalition, which is odd considering that he did such a bad job of it the first time around.
I struggle to think of a reason to vote for him considering his party doesn’t really offer anything that you can’t find somewhere else.
Union of Right-Wing Parties
Leaders: Don’t really care
The Union of Right-Wing Parties is a joint electoral union of the Jewish Home Party, the National Union, and the far, faaaaaaaaaaar-right Otzma Yehudit.
The Jewish Home and the National Union decided to continue their cooperation from the previous two elections but also decided to take the truly repulsive step of including Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party.
The move was the result of pressure to ensure that right-wing votes don’t go to waste, and opens the door to the idea that one of these assholes might actually get a seat.
You should vote for them only if you are really an asshole.
Leader: Bennet and Shaked
Platform: New Right: Same Great Taste
The first thing that comes to mind with New right is “New Coke” and just like New Coke, it’s probably not the same great taste and we’ll be seeing Right-Classic again by the next election. They are most memorable this election for their bizarre campaign add featuring Co-Chair Ayelet Shaked spraying a perfume of “Fascism”. I’ve watched it many many times and still not quite sure what they were going for there.
Voting New Right is making a statement: and that Statement is that I like Naftali Bennet.
Leader: Moshe Feiglin
Platform: I don’t smoke weed but you can. I do want to rebuild the 3rd temple.
The party combines two main principles: Jewish identity and personal liberty which sounds like more of an oxymoron the longer you think about it.
On the one hand, their platform is very libertarian, on the other hand, it’s very biblical. They try to emphasize the libertarian parts, in order that fewer people pay attention to the biblical ones.
You could vote for them if you like weed, think Rand Paul was a good candidate for president in the US, and don’t mind a politician who actually believes, and is trying to bring about, the building of the Third Biblical Temple on the most contested piece of real estate in the world this side of a failed Trump property development.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Arab Parties: Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad
In the last election, the Arab parties joined together into a joint list in order to avoid any single one falling below the elector threshold. This year, they’ve stuck with a similar strategy but with a less imposing block and split into two factions: Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad.
The parties both chose to pair up like two teenagers without a dance to the prom: because they had no other choice and wanted to ensure that they passed the electoral threshold.
The Arab parties have never joined governing coalitions in Israel and typically speaking their average voter is an Arab-Israeli or a Tel Aviv resident trying to prove how progressive they are.
Leader: Some Dude with a beard
Shas is kind of like if the Taliban had been started by Woody Allen: they were promising eternal paradise for your vote.
Shas is another one of those parties that will be crucial to forming a Right-wing coalition, and then spend the next however long the government lasts holding a gun to its head over things like Haredi Drafting to the army (they don’t want it) and money for their communities (they want all of it).
Shas is interested in protecting the interests of Ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi Jews so if you’re not an Orthodox Mizrahi Jew, this may not be the party you want to cast your ballot for.
United Torah Judaism
Leader: Different Dude with a beard
Platform: The kind of things you’d expect from a religious dude with a beard
United Torah Judaism is a joint list of Orthodox Jewish parties, similar to Shas. They are also similar to Shas in that make a nuisance of themselves by joining a right-wing collation in order to promote the interests of Orthodox Jews in government. And by “promote” we mean taking the coalition hostage every single time anyone mentions Haredi Jews being forced to join the army just like everybody else.
Suffice to say that if you don’t have a Rabbi, and he didn’t tell you to vote for UTJ, you have no reason to vote for them. Keep moving.
In the end, you should go vote, if for no other reason than to justify the day off It takes only a few minutes and ensures at least that you have a healthy right to whine about the next Schmuck that is driving this bus for the foreseeable future.
Election day is really a day off for all of us, because after it comes the next democratic nightmare: Coalition negotiations.
It’s enough to make you long for the biblical days with a king and a priest.
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