by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
January 3, 2003
With less than a month to go to elections, Israeli voters face their most unpleasant choice ever. The next government will either be headed by a Labor party committed to panaceas long ago consigned to the dustbin of history or a Likud party badly tarnished by an election scandal. In short, the choice is between insanity bordering on the suicidal, on the one hand, and Tammany Hall, on the other.
Labor’s prime ministerial candidate, Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna, has learned nothing from the disastrous failures of the last ex-general to lead the party. Mitzna has announced that he would immediately recommence political negotiations with Yasser Arafat without preconditions. In addition, he would unilaterally withdraw from large swaths of the West Bank and Gaza.
Immediately after the withdrawal from Lebanon, the current Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon correctly predicted that both Hizbullah and the Palestinians would read that withdrawal as a signal that Israel can be defeated by terrorism. How right he was. Mitzna would go one better. He not only advocates further unilateral withdrawals, but by agreeing to resume negotiations without preconditions, he would convey the message that whatever the Palestinians do there will never be any consequences.
Meanwhile, the Likud party is reeling from daily revelations of vote-buying in the recent internal primaries to select the party’s Knesset list. Naomi Blumenthal, deputy minister of infrastructure, who finished a surprising seventh in the primary, has already refused to answer questions from police investigators. Evidence accumulates daily that organized crime groups saw a chance to profit from gaining control of large blocs of Central Committee members by registering hundreds of thousands of new party members. Worse, the Prime Minister’s son Omri has been linked to the syndicates of voting contractors.
The only consolation for Likud supporters is that Labor is no more squeaky clean. Isaac Herzog, tenth on the Labor list, was the mastermind behind the use of phony non-profit organizations by the 1999 Barak campaign. Like Blumenthal, he refused to respond to police questioning, and the police have recommended his prosecution.
Far more serious was the revelation that Yossi Ginossar, a member of the Camp David delegation and Ehud Barak’s personal emissary to Yasser Arafat, was at the same time making millions of dollars managing Swiss bank accounts containing $300 million plundered by Arafat from Palestinian coffers. Ginossar was the most vociferous advocate of further Israeli concessions at Camp David, even as he had a fortune riding on currying favor with Arafat. Ginossar’s treasonous activity was pushed out of the news, however, by the Likud scandal.
Given the choice between a corrupt party and one that is both corrupt and bent on national suicide, most Israelis will choose the former. Prime Minister Sharon’s recent statecraft, however, also raises grave concerns about the direction of the Likud. Sharon has repeatedly declared his acceptance of a Palestinian state and the Quartet Roadmap, and announced that all ministers in his next government must toe the line.
The charitable interpretation of the old hardliner’s change of heart is that he hopes to thereby gain credibility and favor with the Bush administration that can be used to bring the President back to his June 24 vision. But the risks of accepting the Roadmap are immense. On June 24, Bush made clear that a Palestinian state is not inevitable; it must be earned. And that would entail both the cessation of terrorism and the creation of a viable democracy. By contrast, the Roadmap makes a Palestinian state the explicit goal of the process and enunciates specific timetables for its creation.
Even before the Palestinian Authority has acted to uproot the terrorist infrastructure and gather forbidden weapons, Israel would be required to withdraw to the September 28 2000 lines and cease all the pressure that has made it increasingly difficult for terrorists to operate. Worst of all, the Roadmap would for the first time make the UN and European Community arbiters of our fate. They, together with the United States and Russia, will determine at every stage whether sufficient progress has been made to move to the next stage.
Yet the anti-Israel bias of the Europeans and the UN is notorious. In addition to the U.N.-sponsored Durban fest of anti-Semitism in the summer of 2001, last September, the UN sponsored a conference entitled "End the Occupation," the purpose of which was described by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "garner[ing] support for the Palestinian people." The Conference concluded by accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing. In November, Annan attributed draconian Israeli security measures – not the terrorism that gave rise to them – to pushing one million Palestinians below the poverty line. Sharon has opened a Pandora’s box by agreeing for the first time to international arbiters of Israeli actions.
In disgust with the two major parties, more and more Israelis are turning to Shinui. Current polls show the party more than doubling its current 6 seats to 15. But Shinui’s leader Tommy Lapid has always been a one-issue politician: hatred of the chareidim. The Shinui website features Lapid ranting against kashrut certification as a consumer tax – rather than an advertising expense. The same argument is prominently featured on neo-Nazi and white supremacist websites.
While growing, Shinui’s support is almost exclusively upper middle class. Its supporters, as Maariv’s Nir Baram puts it, are looking for a party that will not "serve the poor, the chareidim or Sephardim – no one except [themselves]." As Lapid has said, "Shinui is not for Mazal in Dimona."
That a party whose platform is based on hatred should enjoy such great support at a time that Israel faces overwhelming security and economic challenges testifies to the hopelessness of the Israeli voter. Columnist Ron Miberg sums up the current mood: "The public has come to the conclusion that the burning issues of the day will not be solved by this government or another. . . . Neither [Sharon nor Mitzna] has convinced us that electing him would make a difference. Neither will bring a million Israelis back from the other side of the poverty line. . . . Neither will bring us personal security." Nothing but unsavory choices all around.
Related Topics: Israeli Society
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