Sunday, February 01, 2015

New Meretz Message: Vote for Us to Strengthen Left

Meretz slogan plays on Zionist Camp's campaign: Tomorrow it's Them and Him
The Meretz party introduced the next wave of its campaign at a press conference this morning. Zahava Gal-On made it very clear to all those interested in replacing Bibi and the right: a vote for the Zionist Camp is a vote for Bibi, whatever the intention. 

Or, to put in a more catchy, election-time parlance: "it's either Buji and Bibi or Meretz and Buji". The only way to keep Bibi from returning to the Prime Minister's office, she proclaimed, was to strengthen the Meretz party, allowing it to act as a blocking mechanism against any center-left tendency shift to the right. Otherwise, giving into their worst inclinations, Tzipi Livni and Issac Herzog were liable to join and prop up another right-leaning coalition.

The Many Scandals of Tsarina Netanyahu

Caption: Twitter users' Photoshop
Everywhere in Israel people are whispering the latest news about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu: “Have you heard that Sara kept four thousand shekels (roughly $1000) from deposits on empty bottles that were returned to supermarkets even though the bottle deposits were state property?” “Did you hear that she insisted on buying small mineral water bottles rather than large ones in order to increase the deposits?” “Have you heard that she drinks excessively and then abuses employees?”

The scandal is front page news of all major newspapers. Meretz leader, Zehava Gal-on called on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to launch an investigation into whether Sara Netanyahu kept the deposit money. "[Benjamin] Netanyahu's silence and his refusal to properly address claims over illegal use of funds are dragging Sara Netanyahu into the center of the public debate," she said in a statement. "He is hiding behind her instead of taking responsibility for his actions as prime minister." If the allegations are found to be true, Gal-on continued, Netanyahu should withdraw his candidacy for prime minister.

Netanyahu responded that this is a personal campaign against him through his wife. Instead of arguing the issues, the Left attacks his wife. No doubt there is some truth to this. It is easy to smear Sara Netanyahu and hope the smell will stick to her husband. And the public loves good gossip. But something else is going on here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What is Zionism?

The Social Television in Israel asked people on the street, what Zionism means to them and how did the Zionist Camp Party choose it's name. The answers are fascinating. They point to the gap between what it means to be a Zionist in Israel and what it means in the US. 

Our Statement on Recent Violence in the North

Partners for Progressive Israel commends Zahava Gal-On, Meretz party leader, for her statement calling upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to act responsibly to de-escalate the current crisis with Hezbollah on Israel's northern frontier with Lebanon.  In view of the current controversy over Israeli actions during the Gaza war, the Prime Minister's threat to carry out retribution on the scale of the Gaza war is particularly reckless and irresponsible.

We join her in extending our condolences to the families of the soldiers, Major Yochai Kalangel and Staff Sergeant Dor Nini, killed by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile, and we also mourn the death of a Spanish UN peacekeeping soldier in consequent Israeli retaliatory shelling.  At the same time we note that Hezbollah's attack is in response to an ill-considered Israeli assault in Syria on January 18 that killed five of Hezbollah's militants and an Iranian general with them on the ground.

This tit-for-tat policy toward Hezbollah is the same policy Netanyahu applied to Hamas that led to the war last summer.  Today Prime Minister Netanyahu guarantees that those responsible for the latest attack will pay a heavy price.  In fact, his guarantees only serve to stir up national furor aimed not at helping Israel heal from loss, but in exacting revenge.  This is cynicism, not leadership.

PPI Election Travelogue: M.K. Tamar Zandberg

Continuing on my "pub-crawl" kick, I traveled to Jerusalem last nigh to attend a question-and-answer session with Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg-- a rising star of Meretz and the left and a self-described feminist who has made gender, environmental, and housing issues a central part of her platform. She has also taken pains to make clear that her support for Israel ends at the Green Line, and has drawn up in the past a list of settlement-made products, encouraging her constituents to join her in boycotting them.

 The first half of the meeting was focused mostly on questions and discussion regarding Zandberg's embrace and promotion of feminism, comparing it to a "swamp, but in a good way", describing its all-encompassing nature. She pointed to Meretz's high concentration of women in the party, and their arrival in the Knesset because, and not in spite of their feminism. She refused, as a leftist, to isolate feminism as a mutually exclusive cause, linking it to the broader struggle in Israel against all forms of inequality, including protest against unnecessary military action.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Notes on a Trip to Israel and the West Bank, Part III

[Click here for previous segments]

Part III: On the West Bank

I suspect contractors and realtors make a good living in Ramallah.  The most striking aspect of  downtown Ramallah is the remarkable amount of new housing construction going on, with half-finished apartment complexes sprouting on every other street corner, or so it seems.  Ever since the Palestinian Authority (PA) came to town in the early 1990s, Ramallah has been a boom town, and it has a hurried, slapdash, and unattractive boom town feel.  I don’t know if they are using sub-prime lending and collateralized debt obligations to finance things, but if I lived in Ramallah, I would keep my portfolio diversified.

I should say that despite the general unfinished feeling of downtown Ramallah, there are a few points of interest for any traveler.  There is the Mahmoud Darwish Museum, a very attractive and striking new building whose layers are intended to resemble the region’s red clay layered hillsides, though like many modern museums, the architecture tends to overwhelm the museum’s contents; it is dedicated to Mahmoud Darwish, the preeminent Palestinian poet, who lived in Israel until 1970. I was surprised how many people we spoke to in Israel were unfamiliar with Darwish.  

A few days after we left Ramallah, we attended a concert by the Israeli-Palestinian singer Mira Awad at CafĂ© Bialik in Tel Aviv, who sang a number of her settings of Darwish’s poems, including several dedicated to his one-time Jewish-Israeli girlfriend.  Ms. Awad said she liked the idea of bringing Bialik and Darwish together, and I am sure the two poets would have liked it as well.

Pres. Rivlin's Holocaust Day speech at UN

He began the speech with a reference to the Armenian Genocide, and the rest is equally brilliant as he wove biographical comments with an open and liberal position: “evil is not the property of any specific religion, just as it is not the attribute of any specic county or ethnic group.”

PPI Election Travelogue: Pubs & Politics

Guy FrenkelIt's become fashionable in the last few years for Israeli politicians and activists to drum up interest for their campaigns in more accessible locations to the general public. These types of meetings, given the overall informality of Israeli society, allow for an up-close-and-personal experience with speakers, unlikely available anywhere else in the Western world.

Tuesday night I attended an event co-hosted by One Voice, and a new political movement called V15 (for more info about the latter, click here for a recently published article in Haaretz). While V15 does not endorse any one party or politician, its overall thrust is towards the replacement of the current government with one that is more amendable to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

PPI Election Travelogue: Formulating an Effective Progressive Message

Guy FrenkelI’ll be traveling to Israel for the election season, and keeping a travelogue of my experiences, including attendance at political events, interviews with politicians and activists, and a general assessment of the situation on the ground. Please feel free to email me at with any questions or suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered. In addition, please follow our Facebook page and Twitter account, @Partners4Israel for daily update

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gadi Baltiansky: Conversations with Israel

Image: Haaretz

Partners for Progressive Israel had a fascinating conference call today with Gadi Baltiansky, the Director General of “Education for Peace Ltd.,” the Geneva Initiative. As a former journalist and a leader of the peace movement, Baltiansky has a unique inside perspective on the upcoming Israeli election. Not only is Baltiansky informed on the latest polls, he participates in a peace camp umbrella group which includes the Council for Peace and Security, Peace Now, One Voice, Blue and White Future and the Geneva Initiative. The leaders meet two-three times a week cooperate and coordinate their work around the election. As individuals and organizations they work and volunteer in the campaigns of Meretz, the Zionist Camp, Shas, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, and even Avigdor Lieberman’s  Yisrael Beiteinu party. Baltiansky’s inside knowledge of the various parties’ election campaigns makes his perspective fascinating.

When asked, for example, about his predictions for the future government, Baltiansky refused to surrender to the common assumption that the choice is between clear left and right. He told the audience that we should not rule out the possibility of a unity government, headed either by Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog, which would exclude both Meretz on the left and Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi on the right. Baltiansky suggested that since both Netanyahu’s Likud party and Hertzog’s Labor party (the Zionist Camp) are currently expected to win 24 seats each, a coalition government will allow Hertzog and Netanyahu to reduce the pressure of smaller parties. To be sure, Baltiansky does not think this will be a good government, but that it is a possibility that should not be ruled out.
Listen to the audience for many other fascinating insights into the forthcoming Israeli elections. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gaming the Israeli Election

Note:  This article was originally published on the website of the Middle East Institute, at

Israel’s politics are always full of paradoxes. In the upcoming March 17 election, the central one is that the likely winner is perhaps the most disliked man in the country’s politics, namely the current prime minister, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. Even many who will vote for him don’t like him. This is partly a function of his longevity in the top ranks; he first became PM in 1996, but others held the office from 1999 until he regained it in 2009, and he has made a lot of enemies over the years. It is also partly that the right feels that he is not stalwart enough on Greater Israel and that the left accuses him of wanting no peace deal at all. And it is partly the economy; high prices are hurting Israelis badly, and Netanyahu is largely blamed. But there are few others considered prime ministerial material, so the money is on Bibi to win.

This election could be considered existential, and it indeed may end up being a watershed. A significant part of the Israeli electorate has accepted right-wing ideologies, which could threaten Israel’s democratic nature, as well as deny Palestinians both a state of their own and collective national rights within Israel. But there is also widespread suspicion of the ideological right, even among those who feel that peace with the Palestinians is currently impossible. Many Israelis may end up voting for economic reasons, and religious-secular issues are still important to a significant slice of the electorate. The specific question for Israelis is whether they will choose to halt this progression toward the right or accept it, with consequences unknown but potentially game-changing.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Please join our conference calls with top Israeli political analysts and activists to discuss what's at stake in the upcoming Israeli election.

To register for the first call on Thursday, January 22, at 12 noon Eastern time, send an email to with your name and the phone number you'll be calling from. We will reply with the call-in information. Here's our schedule of speakers:

January 22: 
Gadi Baltiansky, Director General of "Education for Peace Ltd.," The Geneva Initiative