Ok, I guess it's time for my traditional pre-Israeli-elections diary. I posted one in 2009 and two in 2012/3 (one and two). The Israeli election system is so different from the US's, that it seems some basic things need to be explained anew each time. I'll do that too.
The past week or so, there have been tons of rec-list diaries celebrating polls that seem to predict Israeli Prime Minister "Bibi" Netanyahu's defeat in tomorrow's parliamentary elections. Things are quite a bit more complicated than that.
In a nutshell, during Bibi's 6 consecutive years in power, his Likud party was not nearly as dominant in Israel's "Knesset" parliament, as foreign journalists would have you believe (e.g., the idiotic 2012 "King Bibi" Time magazine feature). Since the 2013 elections, Bibi's hold onto power has been particularly tenuous; this election called more than 2 years ahead of schedule, being Exhibit A. In the same vein, following tomorrow's elections, it is still very likely that the new Knesset will have substantially more hard-right members, than left-of-center members (see an illustration below the fold). So tomorrow is unlikely to bring a "night-and-day" change.
But I don't want to piss all over the parade: there are clearly signs of change in the air. For the first time in the 21st Century, there's a viable chance that the next government will be led by the Labor party.
Unfortunately, en route to this position, Labor leaders have decided to adopt an overt center-right campaign strategy. This goes well beyond "New Labor" territory; Israel's Labor had been "New-Labor-like" even before Tony Blair coined the term in the mid-1990s. Here are some things the Labor party (which is running this time jointly with the tiny centrist party of Tzipi Livni, who served as Justice Minister in Bibi's outgoing government) did in order to compete in Israel's right-brainwashed national discourse:
- Reversing their 2013 stance, Labor joined the right wing and voted to disqualify their Arab colleague MK Haneed Zoabi from running. This shameful 27-6 rightward-pandering decision was, just like in previous elections, easily overturned by Israel's High Court in a 8-1 vote.
- They ran a campaign ad touting Labor leader Isaac Herzog's military credentials. He was a desk-job intelligence officer, so the ad talks about how "He knows the Arabs, he's seen them both behind the crosshairs, and through the crosshairs", suggesting that he'd played a crucial role in identifying assassination targets. No word in the ad (or elsewhere in the campaign) about "Knowing the Arabs" as, well, just people you might need to learn to live with in peace, esp. when leading the nation (following some backlash, they cut out the 'crosshairs' bit, but still aired the ad in prime time; the original is embedded in this Hebrew blog post).
- On Gaza, they chose to criticize Bibi from the right (here's Herzog in a February interview (translation mine): "...why did you wait? You should have hit Hamas on the head in time"), or the center (vague mention of "responsibility to the citizens" etc.), but (almost?) never from the left, even an obvious line like "why not attempt 'Live and Let Live' with Gaza instead of repeated wars?", which was voiced by many civil-society organizations but - again - not by Labor.
- Even on purely domestic matters, Labor abandoned their fiery social-justice rhetoric of 2013, in favor of a mostly personal campaign against Bibi and his government's general corruption and lack of accountability.
The list can be longer but you get the idea. The not-so-secret hope among left-leaning voters and the wide world, is that if Herzog-Livni get an electoral mandate, they will govern as left-center, or at least not as right-center as their campaign has been. The hope is, that underneath the monotonic "the-right-wing-was-proven-right! End of Story!" in which Israeli discourse has been stuck since fall 2000, there is finally a general fatigue and a yet-unexpressed wish for something completely different. That this will reveal itself in the polls with a decisive mandate, and that Labor will then know how to leverage the mandate to a good end, rather than squander it, or worse - betray it with right-wing policies.
It's possible to get the best results tomorrow and subsequently, and it'll be great if it happens - but I wouldn't bet my money on it.
Below the fold, a longer description of election basics, and what to look for Tuesday afternoon (US time) when the results come out.