New coalition, new negotiations

So Avigdor Liberman is Israel’s new Defence Minister, right..? Well, not yet. Negotiations are ongoing for the now-5-seat Israel Beiteinu to join the coalition, with Liberman getting Defence and some sort of vote on the use of death penalty in military courts which might or might not actually happen.

But one big ‘red line’ remains. Liberman wants substantial increases in pensions for Russian olim, costing something like a billion shekels. This is in many ways a good policy to lift people out of poverty, but it faces two problems. One is that it’s hard to justify applying it only to Russian olim and not, say, Ethiopian or Argentinian or French olim — which means it might end up being expanded by the Supreme Court and costing even more.

The other problem is that the budget is controlled, in the first instance, by Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party, who said he supports widening the coalition but not at any price. He opposes the plan, and claims it is discriminatory. According to one report, Kahlon said Netanyahu would have to fire him to get his billion shekels.

Then there’s Bayit Yehudi. The party voted unanimously at today’s faction meeting that it would only vote for the wider coalition if the recommendations of the report into the 2014 Defensive Edge war were accepted in full. The report, due out tomorrow, has been substantially leaked and is expected to be highly critical of Netanyahu, Yaalon and the way decisions were taken. Bennett in particular is demanding that the Security Cabinet is given fuller intelligence briefings. Likud MKs have reacted angrily to Bennett’s conditions.

The report is due out tomorrow and I’ve already seen speculation that the reason Netanyahu was so willing to oust Yaalon is because it will insulate him from some of the criticism. Other cynics have suggested that the new coalition deal will be signed minutes before/after the report is released.

And then, hovering in the background of all of this, is the French peace initiative, which will formally start with a multilateral conference in early June with various Foreign Ministers. John Kerry is now expected to attend, but Israelis and Palestinians are not invited.

And despite everything, Netanyahu is still saying that he wants Labour/the Zionist Union to join the coalition, and that he’s not appointing a Foreign Minister for this reason. This seems doubly unlikely, now that ZU Leader Isaac Herzog has refused to conduct any more negotiations, and because Herzog might find himself forced out of the party leadership for holding coalition talks in the first place.

More likely, he’s holding the role (and several others like the Economy Ministry) because appointing anyone would necessitate a whole Government reshuffle, and he’s not willing to go through all that again. The question for the next couple of days is how long Netanyahu will keep his newest job – as acting Defence Minister.

Meanwhile, two Knesset members resigned in the last week: Moshe Yaalon and UTJ’s Meir Porush, who remains a deputy-Minister but left the Knesset to allow a Degel HaTorah member to take his place as part of some sort of deal inside the smaller parties that make up UTJ. Two more are considering leaving – Miki Zohar and Ayoub Kara, both current Likud members. The current Knesset has been seated for a little over a year, but it’s had a remarkably high number of resignations.

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Top 20 crazy and funny-named parties in the 2015 General Election

Conservatives. Labour. Liberal Democrats. Scotish National Party. UKIP.

Boring.

Luckily, there are loads of parties standing candidates in the UK’s 2015 General Election. Here’s the 20 most interesting, funny and crazy-sounding parties, taken from this rather longer list of all ‘micro parties’. Read on:

 

1. (An) Independence From Europe

This breakaway party from UKIP founded by former MEP Mike Nattrass is best-known for having a silly and confusing name, stealing an old UKIP ad in 2014, and for confusing some UKIP voters into voting for it by mistake.

 

2. Above and Beyond – Demanding a New Vision for Politics – Trying To Fix A Broken System

Abovebeyond

 

The Above and Beyond Party has the longest full name of any of the parties, a logo, a website and is contesting 5 seats. It has only one policy – that there should be a “none of the above” option on General Election ballot papers and that this would fix politics, somehow.

 

3. Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG

The party with the strangest name, the Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG claims to be a “registered political party and growing religious movement” with a “divine mission to free the Afro-Thanetian Zaliphate from the grips of Broadstafarian and English hegemony” and urges “Renounce Your White Skin”. Russia Today profiles the party:

‘Led by Prophet Zebadiah Abu Obadiah, real name Robert Bealer, the Al-Zebab party is campaigning for the separation of Thanet from England, the banning of “hetro-marriage,” the legalization of heroin and the consumption dog meat.

One of their most controversial policies calls for the complete eradication of Broadstairs, a small coastal town in Thanet, which Al-Zebab says is rife with “racist and fascist ideology.”

The party also campaign for tax breaks for bearded families. Children and women will have to wear fake beards, Zebadiah said.’

In case it isn’t clear, the whole thing is a joke designed to troll UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who is the candidate in South Thanet.

 

4. Beer, Baccy and Scratchings

Originally the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party, the Beer, Baccy and Scratchings party was forced to change its name because the Electoral Commission decided that the word ‘crumpet’ was obscene and demeaning to women. Its leader Ray Hall is contesting Eastleigh.

 

5. Children of the Atom

A one-man party which wants to replace all money with a new type of ‘debt-free’ currency and radically reduce the population. The party website claims “We are rewriting our manifesto because people just didn’t get it”

 

6. Eccentric Party of GB

Lord Toby Jug and some other guy

A Raving-Loony-style party running against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge. The candidate, Lord Toby Jug, is campaigning to get no votes at all, after betting against himself at 50/1.

 

7. Hoi Polloi

Another one-man party, Geoff Moseley is a photographer who’s contesting Hornsey and Wood Green for the second time. I just liked the party name – Hoi Palloi literally means “the people”.

 

8. Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them)

A Mens-Rights anti-feminist party, Justice for Men and Boys thinks that women are the problem. Policies include massively restricting abortion, banning circumcision and enforcing child-support payments when the father has signed a written agreement to support the child. But at least they have a funny and somewhat creepy name.

 

9. Magna Carta Conservation Party Great Britian

 

magnacarta

 

I’d hoped that the Magna Carta Conservation Party was devoted to ensuring that our few full copies of Magna Carta were properly cared for, stored in temperature-controlled rooms behind glass and perhaps restored if they got damaged. Unfortunately it seems to be one woman who’s very upset about something to do with planning permission in Woking.

 

10. Manston Airport Independent Party

I’ve only included this because I originally misread the name as the Manston Airport Independence Party, which would have been much more interesting.

 

11. Population Party UK

Another one-man party that wants to reduce the world’s population. Their party website includes a quote from the Queen (“There can be no long term stability when the rate of population growth exceeds the rate of job creation”) which seems to be fictitious.

 

12. Removing The Politicians

Also known as “Rebooting Democracy”, this party was established about a month ago by former Green candidate Keith Garrett. It aims to replace elected politicians with “a system in which we will use citizens’ panels and assemblies instead of politicians, selected in a similar manner to juries, that will use evidence based policy making to work towards the country’s short, medium and long term goals. These goals will be set by referendum mechanisms so we directly get to choose where we want our country to go“. He’s standing in Cambridge.

 

13. something new (nothing borrowed. nothing old. something new.)

One of the more confusing long names, Something New is another one of the ’21st Century politics’ parties. They have alliances with the Whigs (yes, there’s a Whig party), the Pirate Party and Removing the Politicians/Reboot Democracy.

 

14. Stop emotional child abuse, Vote Elmo

A gimmicky campaign in David Cameron’s Witney constituency, the ‘party’ is run by Bobby Smith who’s campaigning for more access to his children. His policies include twinning Witney with Houston, Texas, so that they could put up signs with “Witney Houston” on them.

 

15. The Birthday Party

dobbs
Dave Dobbs from his previous campaign for Mayor of Bristol

 

A vehicle for David Field aka Dave Dobbs, a South-West England campaigner who wants to encourage more engagement in politics and whose main policy is to hope for a miracle.

 

16. The Roman Party.AVE

Founded by French bus-driver Pascual Jean-louis, the Roman Party contests elections in the Reading area. With no website or published manifesto, I have to figure out its policies from the leader’s Twitter account:

 

17. U Party

The U Party inspired me to write this list, after I saw it was standing a candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. Rather uninterestingly, it seems to be a vehicle for pension lawyer Robin Ellison and wants to reform pensions.

 

18. The Ubunbu Party – Apolitical

 

The Ubuntu party was founded in South Africa last year and now seems to have branches all over the world. The UK branch promises to abolish the Bank of England and aims to awaken global consciousness to create a world without money. The party also has a conspiracist flavour; the party ran in South Africa with a Holocaust Denier highly-placed on the party list, and the UK party posts things like this:

if you had a relative in the 1st or 2nd world war its time you knew these wars were to make the banksters money, rothschilds buildersberg in a nut shell. so keep in mind there in control now. this cabal doesn’t care that our loved ones are dead down to their greed.

Posted by Ubuntu Party UK on Saturday, April 25, 2015

 

19. Vapers In Power

This isn’t the stoner party I expected. Vapers in Power is a single-issue party campaigning against restrictions on e-cigarettes, in particular the EU Tobacco Products Directive.

 

20. World Peace Through Song

worldpeace

 

Adorable.

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Election Roundup Sunday 28 December

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party finally has a couple of candidates. Joining him are Michel Oren, the former Ambassador to the USA, and Eli Alalouf, an Israel Prize winner who chairs a committee on investigating poverty in Israel. They’re both serious names and solid professionals, but it’s hard to pin down the precise character of the party yet. Maybe as more people join it’ll become clearer.

Meanwhile, another Israeli Ambassador to the USA, incumbent Ron Dermer, got into trouble for endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu on an American TV show. Mr Dermer, a close friend of Mr Netanyahu, told a cable channel that

“I have no doubt that when [Israelis] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Ambassadors are supposed to be politically neutral in their roles, and Mr Dermer might get into trouble with the Civil Service Commission.

More  Yisrael Beiteinu-linked figures have been detained and questioned for involvement in an alleged huge corruption scandal. The latest person questioned seems to be former Jerusalem Mayoral candidate Moshe Leon, though I can’t confirm that because journalists have been hinting at it rather than outright reporting it.

A Labour Court hearing into claims by a former worker at the Prime Minister’s House, though, was postponed until after the election after Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the case could influence the polls. The ex-worker was allegedly going to reveal a lot of the private goings-on inside the Netanyahu household. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman attacked the delay, noting that a full investigation into his party was allowed during election time but an ongoing case about Netanyahu was delayed for political reasons.

Danny Danon continued the trend of releasing ‘funny’ videos, by putting out a cartoon song set to the tune of “Oh Susanna” depicting him as an Old-West sheriff kicking out Haneen Zoabi, attacking Tzipi Livni etc. The video, called “Oh Zoabi” has been criticised by some for sexism and Zoabi herself reported it to the police as incitement. While clearly NOT incitement, I thought it was a bit crass and a little sexist. I also thought its general silliness shows Danon is not really running for Likud leader anymore, and is just trying to secure a good place in the party Primary.

Another media figure is joining the Bayit Yehudi list. Yinon Magal, editor of Walla news, has been given one of the automatic spots that are in the gift of leader Naftali Bennett. Yinon has come under immediate criticism, though, due to the increase in sexual content on Walla under his editorship, with some Bayit Yehudi members questioning his suitability as a candidate for the religious party.

Meanwhile, the polls are messy: some show Yisrael Beitenu almost disappearing while others show that the current investigation has had no impact at all. Some show both Shas and Yishai’s ‘Yachad, Ha’am Itanu’ party struggling to make threshold, while others have both comfortably in the seats. More on this later in the week.

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The Israeli Public and a Strike on Iran

When I came to Israel nearly a year ago,  there was intense speculation that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was imminent. Working inside the Jewish community in the UK, we had lots of worries about a possible strike, Iranian retaliation and the political and security ramfications. British news, Israeli news, world news were all talking as if a strike could happen any day.

One of the first questions that my friends in the UK used to ask me about moving to Israel was “How is it over there? Is everyone worried about Iran?”. And I answered, no. Nobody was talking about Iran. It wasn’t being debated or overtly worried about. The topics of the day in Israel flowed seamlessly one into the other: The social justice movement, the Gilad Shalit deal, evacuating Migron and other unathorised settlement outposts, Haredi enlistment, new elections,  a new coalition, Egypt and then social justice again.

In all this time Iran never left the headlines. It was frequently the lead story on the news here. But it somehow hadn’t permeated the country’s consciousness. It was a bit like the whole population was in denial about the fact that the air-raid sirens (which every town in Israel has) could start ringing at any minute to alert us of a counter-attack, giving us just 30 seconds to get to our bomb shelters or secure rooms.

There also wasn’t really any debate about the wisdom or necessity of any strike. That was odd for two reasons. Firstly, retired senior Israeli security figures kept popping up on the news to say they thought a strike was a bad idea – the sort of thing that would normally start a public debate. Secondly, though, Israelis debate everything. All of the issues I mentioned above were and remain contentious. Was the Shalit deal a sacred trust to a soldier in captivity or was it a price so high that we should never pay it? Would forcing Haredim into military or civil service unify the country or pull it apart? But on the Iran issue, there was no real debate at street level. The Op-Eds and interviews didn’t filter down to café chats. It just wasn’t there.

In the last few weeks, that seems to have changed dramatically. Suddenly I seem to hear nothing else but Iran talk – and again I don’t mean on the TV. Cab drivers will ask my opinion on the issue, old men playing chess or cards talk about whether a strike would be successful, people chatting at Kiddush after the Shabbat synagogue service question whether Hamas would join any retaliation and what Syria would do.

I’m not sure what’s caused this. Yes, the Home Front Security has stepped up its work clearing bomb shelters and giving out gas masks (I got mine), but this has actually been ongoing for months. Maybe it just took a long time to sink in. An Iran strike is a big deal. So, of course, is a nuclear-capable Iran.

So everyone is a bit more nervous, but that’s probably to the good. And the question is being debated, and that’s probably good too. Of course, this being Israel, the debate isn’t always the most respectful or mature. But it’s a start.

I realise that I haven’t mentioned my own thoughts on an Iran strike. I’ll deal with that in another post.

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The Times, They Are a’Changin

The Times of Israel was launched in February by David Horowitz, former editor of the Jerusalem Post. It’s an English-language news and comment site for Israel and Jewish-related news. About the same time as it launched, Haaretz’s English-language site began putting most of its content behind a paywall. This left a gap which the ToI immediately started filling.

The ToI seems to be modelled on the Huffington Post, the US news and megablog site founded by Arianna Huffington. The HuffPo was sold to AOL $315 million in early 2011, which provoked some controversy: many of the hundreds of unpaid bloggers felt that Arianna had taken their work and basically profited from it. Of course, 18 months later, the Huffington Post is still doing fine and has no problem attracting bloggers to write for it.

A similar debate was sparked about the Times of Israel’s bloggers after the President’s Conference, when Naomi Elbinger wrote a blog on her own site about whether ToI’s bloggers should primarily identify with their own platforms and outlets or with the ToI itself:

In a very short time, The Times of Israel has attracted over 100 bloggers that regularly publish on their site for free, using the Huffington Post-esque assumption that the very fact that your name appears on their site is payment enough….

…what struck me as most strange about the Times of Israel blogger crowd at the President’s Conference is that they introduced themselves as “My Name is X and I blog for the Times of Israel.”

Heck, they even got up in front of Alana Newhouse, a major personality in online Jewish publishing, and instead of promoting their own identity and brand, instead of letting her know about their own blog, business or cause, they promoted the Times of Israel.

All of this is my way of saying that last week I had a blog published on the Times of Israel. It’s about Israel and the Olympic Games, a subject relevant to the ToI’s readership. You can read it there.

I hope to write the occasional blog there. It has a large and increasing audience, and comment editor Elie Leshem has helped build a supportive bloggers’ community. But, to answer Naomi above, it’s not going to be my only platform. I’ll post blogs there when it’s relevant, and when I feel that they would benefit from the wider audience. In this case, for example, the subject was related to my day-job and so, though I wasn’t getting paid for writing it, neither was I doing it completely for nothing.

This blog will carry on as normal. I might sometimes write for other publications. I also ghost pieces pretty regularly (reasonable rates, email me for details). And I’ll also occasionally blog for the Times of Israel. It’s a big Internet out there.

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