Online Journal
Front Page 
 Special Reports
 News Media
 Elections & Voting
 Social Security
 Editors' Blog
 Reclaiming America
 The Splendid Failure of Occupation
 The Lighter Side
 The Mailbag
 Online Journal Stores
 Official Merchandise
 Join Mailing List

Commentary Last Updated: Dec 19th, 2008 - 01:57:06

Arab voters usher in hawkish Kadima list
By Andrew Mathis
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 19, 2008, 00:20

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

Israel�s ruling Kadima party held its primary Wednesday, and the results are puzzling to say the least. Voter turnout in this primary was extraordinarily low for Israel: Only slightly more than 40 percent of registered Kadima voters cast ballots. However, the Arab members of the party cast ballots in very large numbers, with some reports suggesting that turnout among Arab Kadima members was over 70 percent.

So what�s confusing is the hawkish nature of the list and the complete absence of Arabs in the Top 20 spots. How could it be that so many Arabs voted and the result was that the Kadima list is loaded with former Likudniks?

A few explanations are possible. First and foremost, we must remember that Kadima was founded in late 2005 by then Likud leader Ariel Sharon, along with virtually all the Likud members who agreed with Sharon that unilateral disengagement from Gaza was the right move for Israel to make. In fact, former members of Likud outnumbered former members of the nominally center-left Labor Party by nearly two to one. With longtime Labor veteran Shimon Peres leaving the Knesset to ascend to Israel�s presidency, the number of prominent former Labor members in Kadima dropped to two: Dalia Itzik, who is the current Speaker of the Knesset, and Haim Ramon, a former Speaker and a onetime national labor movement leader. Thus the declared candidates for the Kadima roster were predominantly former Likudniks, and so a high number of said Likudniks on the list for the February general elections had to be expected. Even the highest-seated Arab on the list, the Druze politician Majali Wahaba, is a former Likud member.

Next, it must be taken into account that the emergence in 1999 of the religiously orthodox Shas Party, led by former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, as the third largest party in Israel was thanks to its siphoning off Sephardi (Spanish) and Mizrachi (Iraqi, Iranian, and Yemenite) voters from the Likud. Shas and Likud earned an equal number of seats in the 2006 parliamentary election -- the same election that gave Kadima the reins of government. Now, with corruption continuing to surround Shas, Rabbi Yosef regularly making ludicrous and offensive remarks, and the party generally demanding more than the rest of the State of Israel is willing to give it, Sephardi and Mizrachi voters are tired of Shas.

A cursory look at the Kadima list shows a high number of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews. Including the Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz, Itzik, and an Ethiopian, Shlomo Mula, in the 19th spot, non-Ashkenazi Jews make up more than a quarter of the Top 20 spots on the list. This result may seem contradictory, given that Menachem Begin�s historic defeat of the Labor Party in 1977 was in no small part thanks to disaffected non-Ashkenazi voters who were promised by Begin a greater say in the direction Israel would take. Perhaps part of the explanation would be that Arabs are more likely to trust Israelis who either were born in Arab or Muslim countries or who had parents who came from such countries. And on top of that, like most Israelis, desiring a peaceful resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, many Mizrachi and Sephardi voters are reluctant to rejoin the Likud now led by Binyamin Netanyahu.

Still, one must wonder just how different the Kadima list members are from those of the Likud. Tzachi Hanegbi, who has the fourth place on the roster, is the son of former members of the terrorist Stern Gang, which splintered off from the Revisionist Irgun led by Begin because it wasn�t violent enough. Hanegbi�s parents were both in the Likud and left that party in protest over Begin pulling Israel out of the Sinai. Next in line is Roni Bar-On, whose racism against Arabs was on full display two years ago, when Israel was fighting Hezbollah, and Bar-On said to fellow Knesset member Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab, �I�d be happy if you would join some of your friends in Lebanon to enjoy what they are enjoying now.� Beyond that, Bar-On, who lives in Tel-Aviv on the central Mediterranean coast, criticized citizens of northern Israel who were being shelled by Hezbollah, calling those who evacuated the area �deserters.�

Also, two candidates in the Top 20, Avi Dichter and Gideon Ezra, have served in the dreaded Shin Bet, Israel�s internal security agency that has been largely responsible for torture of Palestinian prisoners. The third highest woman on the list, Ruhama Avraham, while telegenic, is a bit of a joke for having promoted her run in the Likud primary in 2003 by opening a hotdog stand. And to round things out, there is yet another Revisionist in the high ranks of the Kadima list: Yoel Hasson, at Number 11, who was a member of Betar, the youth group founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky himself.

All that being said, however after Kadima head and Acting Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, who was guaranteed the top seat by virtue of winning the party leadership earlier this year, and former Chief of Staff and one-time Defense Minister Mofaz, who had been guaranteed the Number 2 spot, the big winner was Dalia Itzik. The Arab, Sephardic, and Mizrachi voters may very well have put Itzik in the Number 3 spot by virtue of being an Israeli of Iraqi descent. Plus, in a late-breaking story, the Likud bounced an Ethiopian, Aleli Admasu, from the 28th spot on its list because that spot was reserved for an immigrant and Admasu has lived in Israel two years longer than the cutoff point that the party had set. That he has been replaced by Russian-born Vladimir Shklar now has many Ethiopians charging the Likud with racism. Even though Ethiopians are a tiny portion of Israeli voters, they are traditionally conservatives and have voted with the Likud. Now Netanyahu may have lost their support, and as the race gets tighter, every vote will count.

Perhaps what the Kadima list underscores more than last week�s Likud primary itself is how far to the right the Likud has drifted. Yes, characters like Bar-On are odious and should have no role in politics in a country with a serious problem dealing fairly with its national minorities. But the vast majority of former Likudniks who joined Kadima have stayed with it. Only a handful have returned to Netanyahu�s fold. This trend indicates either a rift in ideology or political opportunism, given the Likud�s weak showing in the 2006 general election. The introduction of Netanyahu�s extremist list last week has caused a drop in his poll numbers, and it�s very possible that Wednesday�s Kadima list results will put the Likud and Kadima neck and neck. Should, heaven forbid, the Likud win this election, we�ll know whether the nature of the Kadima list in the February election was a matter of ideology or opportunism based on how many Kadima members return to the Likud. Let�s hope we don�t have to see that happen.

Andrew E. Mathis is a medical editor, Holocaust historian, and adjunct professor of English and humanities at Villanova University.

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor

Top of Page

Latest Headlines
Corruption destroys Afghanistan
You gotta love those Greeks!
Arab voters usher in hawkish Kadima list
Counting seagulls
The U.S. criminal justice system is collapsing
Christmas under occupation
India�s neoliberal elite
The knives are out for Pakistan
Try that one on for size: Al-Zaidi puts Iraq back on the map
Throwing shoes at Bush and Saddam
The shoe heard around the world
Size 10 will never be the same
Argentina confronts its past. Can America do the same to its present?
Why we must prosecute Bush and his administration for war crimes
Hypocrisy, thy name is Bibi
The failed logic of supporting the troops
Season�s greetings?
Canada�s prince of darkness assumes leadership of the Liberal Party
Cluster bomb treaty and the world�s unfinished business
Bush�s farewell hallelujah chorus