Election Day 2015 – early afternoon update

I voted this morning a bit after 10, so now I have time to speculate about what’s happening out in the country.

To be clear – I have no access to any exit polls or opnion polls since Friday — which is good, because it’s illegal to publicise them even if I did. Those last polls showed the Zionist Union opening up a big gap over Likud in the last week of the campaign.

BICOM’s poll of polls, prepared by me.

Since last Thursday night the Likud campaign has been in overdrive, with Benjamin Netanyahu doing more media interviews in one evening than in the last six years of his time as Prime Minister, talking up the Zionist Union’s chances and calling on right-wing voters to support Likud.

There is anecdotal evidence that this might be working, winning back voters from the Jewish Home party and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu.

That’s especially bad news for Jewish Home, which was polling at 15-17 seats in January and 11-12 on Thursday. If Mr Netanyahu wins a few seats from Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett’s party could end up doing rather worse than it did in 2013 when it won 12 seats. Some party sources say they’ll be down to single figures.

But it’d good news for Netanyahu.

Here’s my guess about what we’ll see, assuming all three smaller parties (Beiteinu, Meretz, Yachad) make the threshold. If they don’t then every party will increase proportionately.

  • Netanyahu’s frantic campaign and moves rightwards will have stopped the bleeding for Likud and might even help move the party up by a few seats. I reckon 23 or so.
  • Labour and Yesh Atid will benefit from anti-Bibi votes and votes as people come off the fence. Together they’ll be something like 40 seats, but the precise split will depend on how Tzipi Livni’s announcement last night that she’s willing to give up the rotating premiership plays.
  • Jewish Home is in trouble and will be down to at least 10 seats and probably single figures.
  • Kulanu is hard to call. If it does well than it will be taking votes from mainly Likud and possibly Shas at this point. It’ll probably get some “election surprise” seats to counter those Netanyahu has won back. So I reckon 10-12.
  • Likud is claiming massive 300% increases turnout in the Arab sector. That’s not the case — turnout is reportedly slightly up there but not as much as the Right is claiming. So I reckon the Joint List will do as expected at 13-14 seats.

Beyond that we’re into small parties and sectoral parties where things are harder to predict.

I may update later based on rumours and gossip as the day progresses.

Sending Footnotes

Human interaction is constructed around texts.

Sometimes these are central universally-accepted texts. In Ancient Greece the texts were the works of Homer. In Rome, they were Homer and Virgil. For much of the last two millennia, Europe and America’s text was the Bible. In Jewish communities, it was the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud.

Texts serve as short-cuts. They provide us with ready-made phrases, metaphors and parables which are both accessible and instantly understood by the people we’re talking to. They give us a sense of shared consciousness.

In the 20th Century, our shared texts in English were Shakespeare and Dickens, and then the new media of cinema and television gave us new texts; the latest soap opera, drama or sitcom gave us our stock phrases and handy references – “it’s like that time on…”. You could watch the latest film or TV episode and talk about it the next day with your friends at work or school.

The Internet has changed some of that. There is too much text: too many videos, too many jokes and articles and comment threads; too many TV programmes to watch and books to download. Of course, the Internet has also spawned its own responses – memes and injokes that constitute their own sort of shared text – but these are all about form rather than content.

All of this is really cool, because instead of talking about things we all already know, we can share the new exciting stuff we read or saw or heard today. That’s great. But because it robs us of a shared text, it means we’re frequently making references that the other people in our conversation don’t understand.

Of course, this has always happened in some circles. People of different ages have different shared childhood and adolescent experiences, for example. An even more striking case is with people from different countries. I’ve spent enough time around Americans by now to get some of the references to Schoolhouse Rock and Twinkies, and here in Israel I am slowly picking up the society’s texts.

Frequently, then, I talk to friends and find myself referencing something that they don’t know about, whether it’s because they aren’t British or are a little older or younger than I or whether it’s just a video I saw that they didn’t or an article I was sent that they weren’t.

So I’ve started to keep a mental list during a conversation of all the things I’ve mentioned, suggested or referenced. Then, when I get home, I send footnotes – links, references, a little commentary. It’s becoming a habit and one that I quite enjoy, even if it does take a little time to curate the links.

Of course, I’ve no real idea if anyone actually follows all the material that I send them. I doubt it, because it can be a lot, with references to hundred-hour TV shows and weighty series of books – and who has that kind of time when all they wanted was to have a cup of coffee or go to a party – but I like the idea anyway, and it forces me to revisit the things I think I remember or know about, and sometimes reinterpret them altogether.

XKCD Citation needed

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.

Re-entry experiences on landing in the UK

I just landed in the UK for a few days and had two re-entry experiences in the course of leaving the airport.

Default Languages

Since moving to Israel I’ve tried to integrate with society and learn the language. This wasn’t easy, and after my first few months I realised that I’d have to do more. New immigrants to Israel receive five months’ free tuition in Hebrew, which I completed two weeks’ ago. I have those little Hebrew letter stickers on my keyboard, and the Language Bar in my system tray, and sometimes I get stuck in the wrong language and type gibberish fora while before I notice.

My keyboard with Hebrew stickers

I’ve spent significant time in Israel before – five months as a young teenager, ten months as a pre-University Gap Year – but both of those were continuous, with no trips home. But as Natasha Roth observed on Cartoon Kippa today, it’s different to actually be based in Israel and visit the UK or other places.

One difference is that, much like on my PC, it turns out that there’s a Language Bar in my head and it gets set to the wrong default language.

The Language Bar

Olim – Immigrants to Israel – joke that they lose their English faster than they learn Hebrew. I’m still too new for that to happen, though Hebrew makes a small vocabulary do a lot of work – for example, the word עגלה, which means “cart” but can be used for basically anything unpowered on wheels – a supermarket trolley, a pushchair (stroller) for children, one of those little things on wheels that kids put blocks in, or any number of other possibilities. This caused recently caused a problem for US/UK comedy Episodes. As Nathan Jeffay put it:

Hebrew, with a particularly high number of words with multiple meanings, and complex linguistic relationship between the ancient and modern language, poses particular problems. I recently bought a bottle of grape juice. Kosher laws require that fruit is only picked from a plant over four years old – pick it younger and the fruit is called orla and can’t be eaten. Seemingly an online translation threw up the more common meaning of orla: my bottle reassured me that I could drink it “without fear that it contains foreskin”.

That’s not my issue, yet. I can talk to people I know without any problem. Strangers, though, get the default language – and the default language is set to Hebrew. After running over the bus conductor’s foot with my luggage, I automatically said סליחה “slicha” rather than “sorry”, and I tried to buy a chocolate bar in Hebrew and stared at the guy behind the counter for a few seconds like he was the moron for not understanding me before realising my mistake and leaving (without the chocolate).

I doubt this is a Hebrew-specific issue and probably happens to anyone who’s based in a country that speaks a different language. But it makes trips back to the UK a little more challenging.

Crossing the Road

Another major difference was in crossing the road. In Israel, there are strictly-enforced jaywalking laws. Many people won’t cross the road on a red light even if there isn’t a single car visible on the road, and certainly people don’t cross in front of oncoming traffic, even if it’s safe to do so.

One effect of this is that Israeli drivers are freaked out by people who come from countries with no jaywalking laws (like the UK). When I cross perfectly safely, the oncoming car will often wildly honk at me despite the fact that I’ve already made it to the other side and have been there for five seconds or more by the time he passes.

Pedestrians and drivers seem to operate in separate worlds in Israel. A driver will either stop for you at a Zebra Crossing or she won’t, but she will almost never make eye contact.

In the UK, on the other hand, drivers and pedestrians are constantly communicating, with head-signals, hand-gestures and significant glances. Everyone knows that when a pedestrian raises a hand it means “thank you”, and that you’re supposed to say “thank you” to drivers who stop at a Zebra even though they legally have to.

Again, this all occurred to me while crossing the road on my way out of the airport. Lasting maybe two seconds, I had a meaningful gesture-based conversation with a van-driver who let me cross the road with all my bags.