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by Mike Levine


I know you're confused. We all are, especially the Israelis!

Things seem so simple in other countries. You vote for a person who will represent you in parliament or congress. This person originates in your district and is beholden to you if he wants your continued support.

Not so in Israel. Here you vote for a party. This "party" has all by itself established a list of people who will become members of the Knesset if the party receives enough votes. Not a single member of this "list" is beholden to you, or necessarily lives in your district. He is beholden only to his party and usually takes his voting orders from the head of his party.

The head of the party (the next Prime Minister) that wins the greatest number of votes is asked by the President (nobody votes for him) to form the new government. Then the fun begins. No party has ever in the history of the nation won enough votes to form a government all by itself. So, of course, now they must build a "coalition" of parties who will agree to be a part of the new government. This is not as easy as it sounds. Party B will not sit in the same government with party Q, and party Q refuses to sit in the same government with parties X, T, U, or C.

"Aww, c'mon guys", says the the person who wants to form the government and be prime minister, "what'll it take for you guys in party Q to sit with the nice people in party U?" Well, we all know what that is. Money. Power. Moolah. Power. Dinaro. Power. So the head of party Q (are you following all this? There will be a test!) will be offered to become the Minister of Agriculture in the next government if only he will agree to sit with the other parties needed to complete the coalition. As Minister he will control a budget of hundreds of millions of shekels, be able to bestow thousands of jobs to his buddies, have a fine big office with lots of juicy secretaries, be driven around in a block long limo with curtains in the windows and his very own driver, usually named Yossi who wears twelve pounds of gold chains around his beefy neck, and is first cousin to the minister.

And this is not the worst of it. The worst of it is our new minister of agriculture knows absolutely nothing about growing things! His profession, if he has one, is optometrist or engineer, or maybe lawyer. Agriculture is a complete mystery to him, so he will probably not spend much time in the offices of the agriculture department. Instead he will busy himself with important stuff like trips abroad to raise funds for his party.

Ok, now that you know all about the system, let's take a closer look at the three major parties running in the next election, scheduled for March.

We'll begin with Labor, which is the oldest party, having begun somewhere in a shtetl in upper White Russia in 1847 by three socialist farmers who were sick of all that mud, wanted to wear a clean shirt and march in solidarity parades carrying red flags.

Labor was the party of David Ben Gurion, the founder of Israel, who was assisted by a boy named Shimon Peres, whispered to be his illegitimate son. Ben Gurion died but Peres refuses to do so to this very day. Until recently Peres was head of the Labor party, and ran for prime minister 1,379 times without getting elected, so he was ousted by a very interesting fella named Peretz, who claims to be the champion of the little guy, the poor working person. This is very hard to understand, since before ousting Peres he was the head of the Histadrut, a very powerful union who's members are the highest paid workers in the country, averaging three times the income of most other workers. And this champion of the little guy has conducted hundreds of strikes and work slowdowns which have often brought the entire country to a standstill, thereby destroying the economy and the jobs of many of those little guys. But never mind, let's look at the broader picture. What does he want to do if elected prime minister? He says we have not been nice enough to the Arafats and the palestinians, that if we give them everything they ask for they will have no reason to murder and maim us, and all will be peaceful and loving. Funny, that's pretty much what Peres said, so why was he ousted?

That brings us to a brand new party, Kadima, which means forward. This is the party established by Prime Minister Sharon after leaving the first party he established, called Likud. Many believe the party should have been named Shakron, which means liar. And notice how close the word is to Sharon, who may be the greatest liar ever in Israeli politics. Now why would I say such a terrible thing? Only because his history is replete with lies, going back to when he was an army field commander. He often lied to his superiors in order to carry out his own plans. In 1980 he lied to then prime minister Begin about the situation in Lebanon, getting us mired in a much wider conflict than was planned or necessary.

Sharon was last elected prime minister on a platform which stated "no palestinian state, no abandonment of settlements, and total war against terrorism". He lied about all three. Once elected he decided to expel 10,000 citizens from their homes, land, and businesses in Gaza and Northern Samaria. When his own party, the Likud, took issue he offered to submit to a party referendum, saying he would abide by their decision. He lied. He then fired anyone in his cabinet who disagreed with him, bribed a bunch of Knesset members to support him, and carried out the expulsion. Most of those expelled are still jobless, homeless, and without the promised compensation. It was all a pack of lies.

So far Kadima has attracted some interesting new members, coming from both the Likud and Labor. Almost all of them have been indicted, beginning with his son Omri, or are under intensive investigation for all sorts of criminal offenses such as voter fraud, money laundering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying under oath. Yep, it should have been called "Shakron", the party of Liars.

This brings us to the Likud, the party originally started by Sharon in the 70's. The party of Begin, probably the most honest politician in Israeli history.

We don't know yet who will lead this party into the next election, because the vote for party leader is still a week away. So what we have is a number of members competing. Bibi Netanyahu is the best known, having been prime minister ten years ago. He is running on a platform of mostly keeping his mouth shut and not saying anything stupid, since he is in the lead and doesn't want to ruin it.

Next in line is Sylvan Shalom, the current Foreign Minister in the outgoing government. He says that Bibi is too far right, that Labor and Kadima too far left, and he is "just right", a little like Goldilocks.

And bringing up the rear is upstart Moshe Feiglin, who, it is believed by many, wants to make everyone wear a kippa, and expand Israel's borders to include Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and possibly Mauritania.

All clear? Any questions? No? Well, then you are a lot smarter than me!

Originally from the US, living in Israel since 1985, Mike Levine is a former publisher of three American weekly newspapers, owner of an advertising agency and a newspaper columnist. Contact him at

Thanks are due to IsrAlert ( for distributing this article.


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