Monday, March 9, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud and the Fear of Terrorism

On March 17, 2015, Israel will hold a national election to vote for a new central government, the 20th Knesset.  In this posting, I want to look at some background about the political party that currently controls the Knesset, its ideological leanings, its history and three of its recently issued campaign commercials which quite clearly show how the ruling party is appealing to voters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party have held control of the Knesset since he was elected on March 31, 2009.  There are a total of 120 seats up for election and, if the 20th Knesset follows the pattern of the previous 19, the seats will be split among a substantial number of political parties.

Here is a table showing how the 19th (current) Knesset, which was sworn in on February 5, 2013, is split by both percentage of the votes cast and number of seats held:

In 2012, Likud and Israel Beiteinu merged and ended up with a total of 43 seats in the 18th Knesset.  This dropped to 31 seats in the 19th Knesset.  Unlike the United States with its two main political parties, Israel has a large number of special interest political parties.

Here is a table showing how the Knesset was divided among 20 political parties for the period from 1999 to 2013:

The parties that are in the coalition are marked in green.

In the current Knesset, there are representatives from 13 political parties.   The cast members in Israel's political theatre changes regularly; parties merge, new parties are formed and parties change names on a regular basis.  As well, with so many parties running in Israeli elections, the party that wins the most seats may not form the government.  The party that is able to put the most seats together in a coalition is the party that controls the Knesset.  This leads to a great deal of political instability since coalitions are often very fragile and can be split based on a difference in opinion over a single issue.

The 2015 parliamentary election in Israel is being held because of infighting within Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet.  In December 2014, Prime Minister Netanyahu fired his Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the HaTnuah Party (previously a member of the Likud and Kadima parties) and Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party.

Let's look at a bit of background about the Likud Party, its ideology and its history.  Ideologically, Likud is a right-wing, nationalist political party, a leaning that became quite evident during Benjamin Netayahu's recent speech to Congress.  Likud was originally formed in 1973 by Menachem Begin after a merger of both left- and right-wing parties.  It is founded on the principles of a free market economy, social equality and the preservation of Jewish tradition and culture.  It first came to power in 1977 and during its tenure, signed the peace agreement with Egypt and bombed Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor.  It also backed Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Galilee and established a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Menachem Begin retired in 1983 and Yitzak Shamir took his place as party leader and Prime Minister.  Under Shamir's tenure and promotion, a massive program of Russian Jewish emigration took place; by 1992, 14.4 percent of all Jews living in Israel came from the former Soviet Union.  When Sharon retired in 1003, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to lead Likud and in 1996, he brought the party to electoral victory.  Netanyahu retired from politics in 1999 and was replaced as Likud Party leader by Ariel Sharon.  Under Sharon's leadership, Israel began the construction of the security fence along the border between Israel and the West Bank and also undertook Operation Defensive Shield, the large-scale military operation that took place against Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank in March and April of 2002.  In November 2005, Sharon left the Likud Party to form the new Kadima Party and, once again, Benjamin Netanyahu became leader of Likud.

Now, let's look at three of the recent political advertisements used by the Likud Party in this election cycle:

Since most of us can't read Hebrew, here is a translation:

The "IS" bumper sticker says "Anything but Bibi"

"Yo, bro, how do we get to Jerusalem?"

"Go left"

The Left will give in to terrorism.  Only Likud.  Only Netanyahu.

The following two political commercials require no translation:

Benjamin Netanyahu refers to two of the "children" by name.  Tzipi is Tzipi Livni, the leader of the HaTnuah Party and Yair is Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party, both of whom were relieved of their duties as I noted above.

I find it particularly interesting Likud's tactic of using fear to motivate voters.  This is a similar tactic taken by Western governments since September 11, 2001.  Political parties, particularly those that lean to the right in Canada (the Conservative Party of Canada) and the United States (Republican) attempt to instil fear into voters, suggesting that without their steady hand at the tiller, the nation is sure to succumb to a plethora of terrorist attacks.  And, in case you weren't aware, Vincent Harris, an American conservative political strategist who is considered to be the Republican Party's media wonder child, has been hired by Benjamin Netanyahu's campaign.  This is similar to his hiring of GOP consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein in 1996.

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