Bintel Blog

Do Israelis and Their Politicians Disagree on the 'Bi-National' Issue?

By Nathan Jeffay

So, it’s a year since the general election that resulted in the current Israeli government. Are Israelis happy with the outcome? How would they vote today?

If you cast your mind back a year, the now-ruling Likud didn’t actually “win” the election — a fact the whole world seems to have forgotten. The largest party was Kadima, which received 28 of the Knesset’s 120 mandates. Likud received 27, but given that, it was able to pull together a working coalition led the government. If new elections were held now, Likud could be confident of a clear win. According to a new Haaretz-Dialog poll, partly published here, Likud would now return to the Knesset with 35 mandates, while Kadima’s head-count would drop to 26.

Perhaps the most interesting result of the poll is one that isn’t featured in the article hyperlinked above. It concerns Israel’s future in the West Bank. The key word in discussions about the West Bank at the moment is “bi-national.” The belief across the center of Knesset is that Israel needs a peace deal that will take it out of the West Bank, otherwise the only option left will be a single bi-national state in which, as demography runs its course, Jews will be outnumbered (it was this consideration that drove the disengagement from Gaza). Defense Minister Ehud Barak forcefully made this point last week, as reported here. But apparently the Israeli public doesn’t share this fear. Only 28% of respondents answered yes to the following question: “May our continued presence in the territories lead to a bi-national state?” The fact that only just more than one in four Israelis even consider accepting the principle that is guiding the political discourse of the country is quite startling. Some 53% of respondents actually dismissed the possibility.

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Carrots (for Israel's Cabinet) and a Sticks (for the Rest of the Country)

By Nathan Jeffay

So they say that an army marches on its stomach. Is the success of the Israeli cabinet also based on its nourishment?

There are clear similarities between feeding an army and feeding the Israeli cabinet, most obviously the sheer quantity of food required. In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s panic to pull together a coalition, he doled out ministerial posts left right and center, meaning that the country has the largest cabinet ever.

But it seems that Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser has also taken on the ethos of an army commander, namely that it is his job to keep the troops healthy, even if that means controlling their food intake. As a result, at the weekly cabinet meeting this week, for the second time in a row, ministers were denied their normal snacks. There were no bourekas (savory pastries) or rugelach or even sandwiches, but rather muesli, yogurt and vegetables. Hauser reportedly put a political spin on the decision, saying that “unlike its predecessors this government will serve a full term of four years and I want the ministers to still be capable of standing on their feet.”

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The Knesset Cockroach

By Devra Ferst

You may have heard about the White House fly. But have you heard about the Knesset cockroach?

Shas secretary Tzvika Yakobson discovered the roach in his meal on Tuesday. The unkosher bug caused the Knesset management to close the two kosher meat cafeterias immediately for inspection and kashering.

One Shas official reportedly called the incident a “scandal.”

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Israel Searches for a Hero, Spiderman Will Do

By Nathan Jeffay

It’s just days after the general election, and Likud and Kadima are at it again — arguing over the issue of territory.

But if you’re getting the impression that the two parties have stopped bickering over who won the election and started talking about Israel’s peacemaking policy, you are mistaken. Instead, think teen movies and specifically the turf wars over who gets the best table in the cafeteria.

This territorial debate going on in Knesset concerns the “sovereignty” of the largest (and on the authority of Knesset insiders comfiest) conference room.

This room goes to the party leading the government, but with two parties claiming they will lead the government, there has been a clash. Kadima is so insistent that it has dibs on the room that it reportedly stopped Likud from holding a meeting there. Likud says its ranks grew so much as a result of the election that it members can’t possibly fit in a smaller room anymore.


At times of political paralysis like these, Israel is in need of somebody to look up to, a unifying figure, a national hero, if you will. Well for a few minutes on Sunday night, it not only got a hero but a superhero.

Dozens of drivers near Rosh Ha’ayin, called police to notify them there was a man dressed as Spiderman jumping from car to car wielding ropes that were apparently meant as a substitute for a web. Police arrested the man, but say that he has still not managed to explain why he was wearing a Spiderman outfit.


Equally mysterious is how Tel Aviv municipality managed to send out a letter to a resident calling her a bitch. “Mrs. Cohen the bitch,” began a letter to Na’ama Cohen who wrote to the municipality disputing some parking fines.

According to reports in the Tel Aviv media, the municipality described the letter as a “regrettable mistake” and promised to apologize to Mrs. Cohen and send her flowers. There was no information on wording for the card accompanying the flowers.

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A Red-Faced Knesset

By Gabrielle Birkner

One Member of the Knesset issued an ethics claim against himself after he got into a drunken argument with nightclub security guards; another MK attempted to diagnose a “sexual perversion”; still another was arrested for smuggling 25,000 Ecstasy tablets into Israel. And a fellow parliamentarian delivered a moving eulogy for a colleague who was still alive.

These incidents rank among the “Top 33 Most Embarrassing Moments in Knesset History,” which Dalia Karpel of Haaretz compiled in today’s paper.

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Fruit and the Make-Up of the Knesset

By Nathan Jeffay

Could there really be a connection between how much fruit is consumed in Israel today and the composition of the next Knesset?

Today is the festival of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish arbor day of sorts. And when it was originally mooted that the election could come the day after Tu B’Shevat, the ultra-Orthodox parties were reportedly up in arms. Why? Even the finest analysts were left scratching their heads, and the parties gave no clues.

Could it be there was a concern people would be too busy to vote, having just taken a day off for Tu B’Shevat? No, it’s a minor festival and even the most observant do not take the day off. Would people be tired from the strenuous religious obligations of the festival? There are none – just fun traditions.

One possible explanation for the ultra-Orthodox party’s reticence about the election date is the festival’s er, after-effects. People celebrate Tu B’Shevat by feasting on fruit, and there is a positive correlation between religiosity and observance of this custom.

… Another mystery of this election is whether politicians actually take any notice of what is on the minds of members of the public.

Israel is only going to the polls because Ehud Olmert’s government crumbled amid accusations levied against him of misdeeds supposedly motivated by personal greed. It is difficult to forget that Morris Talansky told investigators that he did not know how Olmert spent the money he allegedly received, but “I only know he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches.”

On the heels of this and several other corruption cases, confidence in politicians to promote public interests and not personal ones is at an all time low. Throw in to the mix the fact that the Bank of Israel has just revised its forecast for 2009 and is now predicting that the economy will slow down, and it seems odd timing for the cabinet to approve a $160 million budget for an elaborate new Prime Minister’s residence.


Sensitive to Haredi Sensibilities (But Not to Those of Women and Britons)

By Daniel Treiman

Ha’aretz reports:

A senior Knesset official on Monday said fear of offending ultra-Orthodox MKs led the institution to exclude women singers from the parliamentary choir at a special session in honor of visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier in the day.

Two-thirds of the Knesset choir, headed by MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party Chairman), were missing when the national anthem Hatikva was performed at the afternoon session.

Director-general of the Knesset, Avi Balashnikov, told Haaretz that the decision to leave out the female members of the choir was made in order to accommodate all MKs.

“I am the director-general of all MKs, and I don’t have any wish to cause situations that would make MKs get up and leave,” Balashnikov said. “Even though there are only a few Haredi MKs, we think of everybody….”

Perhaps female Knesset members should get up and leave when women singers are excluded. Then the director-general would have to choose between having the Haredi MKs walk out or the female parliamentarians splitting.

Also, does he really think that a ceremony in which women are excluded is the best way of creating a favorable impression for Prime Minister Brown and his fellow Britons?

UPDATE: Here’s a much better way of handling this issue. Ultra-Orthodox Knesset members can exempt themselves from ceremonies with female singers (which, like many ceremonial sessions, most parliamentarians don’t attend anyway).

UPDATE II: Ha’aretz’s editorialist agrees with me.



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