Saturday, December 21, 2002
Sniff Sniff Sniff

More than a week after the scandal at the Likud primaries broke, the story refuses to die, much to the great chagrin of the Prime Minister. Up until now, the focus has been on the so-called "vote contractors," those wonderful middlemen who facilitate the deals between the candidates for the Likud slate and the members of the Central Committee who decide the slate.

In some instances Central Committee members demanded money from the candidates in return for votes. However, it seems that the money flow also went the opposite way, from candidates to the Central Committee via the vote contractors. Now the police are starting to follow the cash and certain muckety mucks in the ruling party have started crapping their pants.
This week, the Likud ministers went underground. At least one minister and one deputy minister have instructed their aides not to speak on cellular phones. They've started writing to each other instead, or meeting out in the open.
I don't know about you, but this just brings to mind that scene from Casino where Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent are forced to conduct their mob business outdoors for fear of wiretaps, then have to talk with their hands over their mouth in order to foil FBI lip readers.

This week's Jerusalem Post weekend section has a good overview of the scandal. Don't miss the bit at the end where they profile some of the best and the brightest who will probably be serving in the next Knesset. These include:
  • Gila Gamliel - A former head of the National Students Union who, at the tender age of 27, is already facing charges of widespread embezzlement and extortion.
  • Daniel Ben Lulu - A man who can't advance past being a mid-level Postal Authority bureaucrat due to disciplinary infractions
  • Inbal Gavrieli - A 27-year-old waitress whose daddy happens to be the local gambling king.

With the Likud looking increasingly like a Scorcese movie, it looks like I'll go back to Labor. They're far from great, but at this point they are the least worst choice.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002
A Quick Trumpet Blow

Just to mention that yon blog is the 100th listing in the comprehensive Israeli Blogs Index. Yay!

Blich High School Election Results

It wouldn't be Israeli campaign season without the mock elections at the Blich High School in Ramat Gan. Each time there's an election, students hold a mock election and campaign as though they were representatives of the real parties. The results are then read by political analysts much in the same way Roman high priests used to read the entrails of animals.

Blich's mock poll became an inseperable part of national elections years ago, after the kids successfully predicted the rise of the Likud government in 1977 and the surprise election of Yitzhak Rabin in 1992. Their predictions in the last couple of elections have become decidedly spotty, but by now it's become a ritual.

This year, school officials decided to bar the professional politicians who used to visit the school to give their stump speeches. Instead, the students themselves did all the campaigning.

And here are the results: the Likud is the winner with 31.5% of the vote, followed surprisingly by Shinui with 26.7% and Labor coming in third with 17.2%.I doubt that Shinui's surprise second-place showing or Meretz's low 5.6% means much of anything when it comes to predicting the results of the real election in January.

It does, however, provide evidence of a widespread trend that the youth of today are more hawkish than their elders, especially among the middle-class Ashkenazis who make up Blich's core population. I've seen this trend in my own family.

My cousins, most of them younger than me, have all drifted rightwards in the last two years and identify more closely with Shinui or even with Likud. My aunts and uncles were and remain affiliated with Meretz or the dovish wing of Labor.

It's an interesting phenomena for two reasons. One, it seems so generally counterintuitive. After all, you usually expect the youth to be idealistic and peace-seeking. Two, these particular youth are almost all "Children of the Candles," those who came of age during the Oslo years and especially during the aftermath of Rabin's assassination. I'm not sure how the real elections will match the Blich results.

One thing that we can say is that the same children who were waiting for the dove they were promised (to paraphrase a very sappy song associated with the Rabin assassination) have given up on the dove and become decisively hard-nosed.

The Plotz Thickens

Looks like there's a bit of hope yet for Israel's political system. The fallout from the hanky panky surrounding the Likud primaries has been severe. Police have arrested two Likud activists accused of demanding bribes from candidates and the whole party has begun to worry about the investigation spreading to sitting MKs. Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, declared yesterday that he would expel anyone in the party, including MKs and cabinet ministers, who are convicted of buying and selling votes.

Meanwhile, the first polls since the corruption story broke have started to come in. Not surprisingly, the scandal has hurt the Likud's standing. They've fallen from a projected 40 seats to 35 seats. Most of these votes seem to be going to the Shinui party, which is now projected to get 14 seats, making it the third-largest party by far. If this pattern holds, Sharon will be in a bind when it comes to establishing a new coalition government, since it means that the Left and Right blocs in the Knesset have almost evened out.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Mr. Assad Goes to London

I have long hoped that once GWB finishes taking care of Saddam that he will turn his attentions a little westward to arguably the next-worst regime in the Arab world (a tough choice to make, indeed), Bashir Al-Assad's Syria. Judging from the warm reception Assad received in London this week, I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

Assad Jr. is every bit as bad as his late father. The human rights situation in Syria is horrible, even by Middle Eastern standards. Syria has been occupying Lebanese territory for the last decade with nary a peep from the world. Assad provides a comfortable base of operation for at least a dozen different terrorist organizations. He is the patron of Hizbullah, which is even now threatening to heat up Israel's northern border with long-range missiles.

And now, as reported last week by the London Telegraph, it appears that Assad has been smuggling weapons to Iraq in preparation for the war.

And these guys are on the Security Council.

The West's deference towards Syria always baffles me. The Pope visited a couple of years back and sat mutely on the same stage as Assad when the latter gave a lengthy speech which went over every anti-Semitic lie short of the blood libel.

Now we have Tony Blair, a with-it kind of guy by European standards, more or less kissing up to the goony dictator, talking about how important it is "to engage with Syria because Syria is going to be an important part of building a peaceful and stable future in the Middle East."

Sure, Syria is an important part of a peaceful Middle East. Assuming, of course that their Lebanese proxies don't manage to ignite a regional conflict and that none of the terrorist groups operating out of Damascus decide to blow up the London Eye first.

More on this here and here.

Monday, December 16, 2002
Mr. Penn Goes to Baghdad

Having spent a bit of time as an entertainment journalist, it has been my experience that most celebrities -- and film actors in particular -- share in various degrees the wonderful traits of self-absorption, flakiness, and average-minus intelligence. Why, then, do they feel such a need to share their political causes with us?

At least Mr. Penn doesn't go all the way in praising the Iraqis' Beloved Uncle:
In the interview, he said at one point that "if it didn't involve killing" Iraqis with American missiles and bombs, "there's a lot of things I'd like to change in this country." He added, "If I was a citizen of Iraq, I'd consider all options on behalf of my country."
Geez, Sean, but isn't that what the recent Iraqi elections were for?

Sunday, December 15, 2002
"Smells Like Rotting Chicken"

Which is how one of the radio commentators this morning described Israeli politics following the revelations this weekend of widespread corruption during last week's Likud primaries. As you may remember, the Likud decided its list of candidates for the Knesset using a sort of electoral college of about 3,000 electors.

Well, you'll be shocked to hear that this system breeds corruption. "Vote Contractors" -- local machers with influence and money -- have blocs of electors who vote as they are told. They go to the candidates and offer them a simple deal: the candidates get the votes they need to get on the party slate. Once the candidate is elected, he hands out government jobs and contracts to the vote contractors, the electors, their family and friends. Or, the candidate may be called on to help move somebodys ne'er-do-well nephew from one jail to a better jail. Or perhaps to ensure that someone's daughter gets accepted to university.

This is all well-known and documented, a little bit of corruption to remind you that the democracy here can sometimes be Third World-like. However, the police are now investigating allegations that the Likud primaries went beyond influence buying. They are investigating reports that vote contractors and electors demanded cash money, straight up, for their votes and that some candidates paid them.

There was a very brief time I was thinking of maybe voting Likud. For someone who comes from a dyed-in-the wool Labor background, this is no small deal. However, looking at the Likud primaries and their resulting slate of candidates put me right off that idea.

For one thing, it turns out that among the electors -- those 3,000 souls who decide who will rule and who will go into the political wilderness -- one finds highly disreputable characters such as Moussa Alperon. This Alperon is an underworld figure, a local crime boss who says that he may run for the Knesset next time around. (Given the way the Likud works, I have no doubt he would also win a spot). Point is, it's bad enough that there's influence peddling; it's a lot worse if the politicians are beholden to actual mafiosi.

Also, you have a look at the slate -- not at the top of the list, but people who will probably make it to the Knesset --and see a lot of people without political experience. I'm not talking about local party activists who don't have experience in national politics. No, I'm talking about people whose only qualification is being somebody's former secretary, or driver, or niece, or next door neighbor. I have better qualifications than most of the people between slots 20 and 30, but I don't have an influence-peddling uncle to put me into office. And these are the people who may have to make serious political decisions about the future of this country. Scary.

Don't get me wrong, Labor is also dirty with influence peddling. However, at least it is free of goodfellas. Also, Labor has the good taste not to trumpet it. You won't see anybody there bragging, as Tzachi Hanegbi did, that he is the King when it comes to handing out jobs to his political backers.

This whole mess is likely to cost Likud a number of seats in the Knesset. And I say rightly so.

Gideon Levy Sets Himself Up for a Smackdown
Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy probably sees himself as a brave crusader, a lonely voice in the wilderness crying for justice for oppressed people. Most of the people to the right of Ha'aretz's core demographic (upper-middle class, Ashkenazi, Meretz voters) see Levy as a tiresome, one-note scold who has been whining about the treatment of the Palestinians since before the Oslo Accords.

I've been waiting for Levy to set himself up for the unpleasant truth, and he does so in the lead of his latest whinge-fest:
Is it too much to ask Israelis to take a look, even a glimpse, at what's going on in their backyard? Are we even capable of dropping our relentless preoccupation with primaries and the battle between Tnuva and Strauss over cottage cheese, to pay attention to what is happening in the territories under our occupation?

To which most of us would respond, "When, alongside the primaries and the cheese wars, little kids are getting shot in their beds by the same people supposedly under our occupation, I think the answer to your query is a distinct 'Yes, it is too much to ask.' "

Bad Week for Missing Children
The second little girl who was missing, Nur Abu-Tir, was also found murdered. I suppose these things rarely end well, but it's still heartbreaking.

Details are still kind of skimpy, but apparently she was the victim of an ongoing feud between two clans in her village. Coincidentally, the same paramedic who was on the scene when Hodaya Keren-Pimstein was found and carried the body to the ambulance was on hand here as well. To have to carry the body of a dead child twice in one week has to be something terrible indeed.

A detailed report on the first murder can be found here.