// archives

Benny Ganz

This tag is associated with 2 posts

Bibi, Benny and Ruvi: the Future of Israel

Binyamin Netanyahu, or ‘Bibi’ as everyone calls him, is the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, and still in office although he has failed to win three elections in a row. Last June, last September, and again early this month, Israeli voters split their votes in ways that made it almost impossible to put together a new government.

Bibi declared a victory, but he has already failed to form a coalition with a majority in the 120-member Knesset (parliament). He failed despite promising to annex all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Even the unstinting support of US President Donald Trump, whose ‘vision’ for a permanent peace settlement reads like a check-list of the territorial demands of the Israeli far right, didn’t do the trick.

The ‘two-state solution’ – Jews and Arabs living peacefully side-by-side in separate sovereign states – has been dead for a long time, and Trump’s ‘peace plan’ just drove a stake through its heart. But the only alternative is the one-state solution, where the Arabs who are Israeli citizens and the considerably larger number who live in the occupied territories form a Palestinian near-majority within the expanded single state of Israel.

That Israel could be a democratic state where every citizen has an equal say or an apartheid state where most Arabs are subjects, not citizens, but it can’t be both.

The major obstacle to forming a majority coalition is the fact that Bibi goes on trial later this month on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Even if he is found guilty, he could technically stay in office until his last appeal is exhausted, a process that could take years.

This prospect is understandably unattractive to the leading opposition party, Benny Ganz’s Blue and White Party. Ganz will only consider a power-sharing left-right coalition with Bibi’s Likud party (which would command a majority) if Ganz gets to be prime minister for the first two years. Then Netanyahu could take his turn if he is absolved by the courts; otherwise not.

This deal is equally unattractive to Bibi: the safest place for him to be at the moment is in the prime minister’s office. Stalemate. A fourth election looms, because Bibi can go on calling them, and meanwhile the Israeli state drifts aimlessly: no legislation, not even a proper budget. What is to be done?

So a few days ago Benny Ganz broke the rules of Israeli politics by asking for the support of the Joint List, the umbrella organisation of all of Israel’s Arab political parties.

The Joint List wouldn’t actually be in the coalition government, but the votes of its fifteen Knesset members would put the Jewish opposition parties over the top and make Benny prime minister. Presumably they would expect some concessions in return, which alarms those Jewish Israelis who see their Arab fellow-citizens as traitors and potential terrorists, but talks between the parties started on Wednesday.

This ground-breaking deal may never be consummated – the odds are against it – but it is nevertheless a turning point. For the first time, the real Israel of today is showing through the cracks in its hidebound politics.

Five years ago President Reuven Rivlin – ‘Ruvi’ to his friends – made a startling speech in which he pointed out that barely half the children now in Israeli primary schools will grow up to be Zionists. Right down to the end of the 20th century a large majority of the population was secular Zionists, mostly of Eastern European origin, and everybody else was ‘minorities’, but that time is gone.

Only 38% of the children in primary school today are secular Zionists. Another 15% are ‘national-religious’: observant Jews who nevertheless share the Zionist vision. But a quarter of the children are Haredim: ultra-Orthodox Jews who do not recognise the legitimacy of the Jewish state, regarding it as a rebellion against God – and another quarter are Arab and mostly Muslim. Few people in the latter two groups will even serve in the army.

These four very different ‘tribes’, as Ruvi calls them, have to share Israel, like it or not. Moreover, the ‘one-state’ Israel that implies, extending from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean, will have to include all the Arabs in the occupied territories as well. Learning to live together, given all the bitter history, may be well-nigh impossible, but there are no other options.

This certainly not a vision that Benny Ganz shares: his willingness to admit Israeli Arabs to the country’s coalition politics is grudging at best. “This is not the government we wanted,” he said.

And yet, it might be the government that Israel needs.
————————————————-
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 4. (“The two-state…both”)

Fragmentation: The Tribalisation of Politics

‘Homo economicus’ is dead. Long live ‘homo tribuarius’!

That’s not really something to celebrate, but it’s certainly true that in most democratic countries economic self-interest is no longer the most important factor in voters’ choices. Tribalism of various sorts is taking its place, and that is not an improvement.

Take three quite different countries that are all stalled in the middle of political transitions that would have been done and dusted in no time twenty years ago: Spain, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Spain has just had its fourth election in four years, and the stalemate is worse than ever. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez went back to the polls in the hope of increasing his
centre-left PSOE party’s seats in parliament enough to make the arithmetic work. He had no chance of winning an overall majority, of course, but maybe with a few more seats and a more willing coalition partner….

Not a chance. He went back to parliament with a few less seats, and so did his skittish intended coalition partner, Unidos Podemos. They have now swallowed their pride and agreed on a coalition, but they still need 21 seats from elsewhere for a majority, and it’s hard to see where that will come from.

This is not how things used to be. A couple of decades ago the PSOE and its centre-right rival, the People’s Party, used to sweep up 80% of the vote, leaving just scraps for the ‘minor’ parties. In last April’s election, the two historic ‘major’ parties only got 48% of the votes between them.

Or consider Israel, where two elections this year failed to any set of political parties – out of a total of nine – with enough common ground to build a coalition government that works. The two ‘major’ parties together got only 51% of the votes.

Binyamin Netayahu’s Likud party tried and failed to form a coalition government. Benny Ganz’s Blue and White Party is still trying, and there is talk of a power-sharing ‘grand coalition’ between the two biggest parties, but otherwise Israel is probably heading for a third election within months.

Even if there is a deal between Likud and the Blue and White Party, the resulting government would be prone to fall apart at the first bump in the road. As that perspicacious political observer Donald Trump said on Monday, “They keep having elections and nobody gets elected.”

And then there’s the United Kingdom, stuck in the Brexit swamp for over three years and still looking for the exit. The two big traditional parties, Labour and the Conservatives, managed to win 80% of the vote in the last election, but subsequent defections from both the big parties made a decision on what kind of Brexit it should be (if any) impossible. Why is this happening?

In Britain, the Labour-Conservative disagreement used to be basically economic. Labour sought to redistribute the wealth, the Conservatives tried to defend the existing order, and most people made their choices according to their position in the economic pyramid.

That was never entirely true, of course. Some intellectuals in posh houses voted for Labour, and the Conservatives always managed to attract some working-class votes by stressing racial, sectarian and ‘values’ issues. But most people did vote for their economic interests.

Not now. The Conservatives are the pro-Brexit party, but 42% of their traditional voters supported ‘Remain’ in the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union. Similarly, one-third of traditional Labour voters backed ‘Leave’. Never mind the economy; the referendum was driven by English nationalism. Or tribalism, if you prefer.

You can find similarly indecisive outcomes all over the place. The two traditional ‘major’ parties in Germany got only 54% of the vote in the last election. In 2017, the Netherlands went 208 days without a government. In 2018 Sweden went four months ‘ungoverned’ before a coalition was finally formed.

You can’t blame these outcomes on ‘the internet’, although that certainly makes it easier to spread disinformation. You can’t just blame it on ‘proportional representation’ voting systems, either: the UK has a simple winner-takes-all (or ‘first-past-the-post’) system. You probably can blame it on a rising level of anger everywhere, but then you have to explain the anger.

The one common denominator that might explain it is the growing disparity of wealth – the gulf between the rich and the rest – in practically every democratic country.

Since the 1970s, income growth for households on the middle and lower rungs of the ladder has slowed sharply in almost every country, while incomes at the top have continued to grow strongly. The concentration of income at the very top is now at a level last seen 90 years ago during the ‘Roaring Twenties’ – just before the Great Depression.

We could fix this by politics, if we can get past the tribalisation. Or we could ‘fix’ it by wars, the way we did last time.
_________________________________
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 12. (“Even…elected”; and “That was…interests”)

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.