Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Election day in Israel!

Finally, after weeks of polls, political attacks and countless ads, the electioneering ends. Today, we vote.
Here are some random thoughts about this election:
Best TV political ad goes to Benjamin (‘Bibi’) Netanyahu as your ‘bibisitter’. My memory isn’t perfect, but this ad goes something like this: Netanyahu rings an apartment doorbell. Young parent opens the door expecting his babysitter. He can’t believe who’s standing on his doorstep—the Prime Minister of Israel. Young parent says, uh, what, what are you doing here? Netanyahu smiles. He says, ‘I’m here to help you. I’m your bibisitter!’
Best political response goes to Jewish Home Party Naftali Bennet. Again, this is what I remember: in a public debate, Bennet argued with rival Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid Party), who has eyebrows that look bushy. In this debate, Lapid said something to Bennet, then looked directly at him, challenging him with an intense facial expression. Bennet responded, ‘you’re wrong—and wiggling your eyebrows like that isn’t going to change anything’.
Best election-season headline goes to every news outlet that repeatedly declared polls showing Labor Party Isaac Herzog leading Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu—followed by a story that said as many as 25 per cent of voters were still undecided. Of course, that meant Herzog’s lead was potentially fictional. But you learned that only if you read past the headline.
Best news story of the election season goes to Arutz Sheva and Haaretz. Both revealed that Israel’s Left, important business people, military generals and civil servants were gunning to topple Netanyahu. Their efforts were aided by truck-loads of cash from overseas, mainly from America. Israel’s media helped them. It dropped its objectivity. It tilted headlines against Netanyahu.
Best election-day headline: “Israelis Head to the Polls” from Arutz Sheva. This headline was simple. It just told you the facts: time to vote.
No one has a clue how this election is going to turn out. Here’s why:
  1. The polls have been tilted. They could be wrong.
  2. The media has been so anti-Netanyahu, no one knows what’s true about this election.
  3. As of four days before the election, close to 20 per cent of voters were still undecided.
  4. Beginning sometime around March 13th, voters who had decided to vote against Netanyahu had begun to have second thoughts. Many of these voters are convinced that, as much as they don’t like Netanyahu, he’s the only one who can navigate Israel through US President Barack Obama’s anger and hostility. No one knows how many of these voters are out there.
  5. Even if Isaac (‘Buji’) Herzog beats Benjamin (‘Bibi’) Netanyahu, Netanyahu could end up Prime Minister. As reported this morning (for perhaps the tenth or twentieth time), the man in control of choosing who forms the new government—Israel’s President—has said multiple times that he won’t simply choose the man who wins the most “seats” (see below) to form the new government; he’ll choose the man most capable of successfully forming that new government (Tova Dvorin, “Netanyahu: I Will Not Form a Unity Government”, Arutz Sheva, March 17, 2015). That could be Netanyahu.
  6. To become Prime Minister, a politician doesn’t need the most votes. He needs the most seats in the Knesset.  That’s the key. To have the chance to become Prime Minister, the political Party you head must win the most—or nearly most--seats in the Knesset.
    Winning seat begins with passing a test: getting enough votes to meet a minimum threshold. It’s really quite simple:
    “The minimum proportion of votes a party needs to get into the Knesset:
    The electoral threshold, or minimum percentage of votes needed to get a seat in the Knesset, was raised in March, 2014 from 2 to 3.25 percent. Until the election for the 13th Knesset, in 1992, the threshold was 1 percent. This rose to 2 percent in advance of the election for the 16th Knesset in 2003. On Election Day itself, after all valid votes are counted, the Central Elections Committee will calculate what 3.25 percent of the total number of votes is. Any slates [Parties] that receive less than this amount will be discounted, as will their votes [those Parties—‘slates’—are thrown out; they don’t get into the Knesset and all their votes are discarded]. The votes that are left over are then divided by 120 (the number of Knesset seats); that number, known as “the gauge,” becomes the indicator for the number of votes needed per seat in parliament; party slates will be given seats according to this number. Usually, however, less than 120 Knesset seats are distributed through this method. To make sure the full 120 are assigned, something called the Bader-Ofer method is used to divide up the remainder. According to this system, the number of valid votes each slate receives is divided by the number of seats it has been assigned so far plus one. The party that gets the highest number of votes per seat after this calculation gets another seat. Then it's rinse and repeat until the full 120 seats have been distributed” (Alona Ferber, “Israeli election math: Who can vote, when and where?”, Haaretz, March 17, 2015).
    This is how Israel’s democracy works. In Israel, Man designs his election process with mathematical precision. He creates a ‘designed democracy’ based on ‘gauges’ and ‘Bader-Ofer methods’.
    But then, only G-d knows what’s what and who wins. The rest of us get to read the rules.

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