Yair Lapid – no cause for optimism.

yair lapid

Yair Lapid

In the lead-up to yesterday’s elections, there was real concern in certain circles (and happy certainty in others) that Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) Party was poised to sweep into the Knesset’s second place position, directly behind a weakened Likud—weakened in part by Bennett himself, a man who gives public expression to what many assume to be the real position of both the Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu: Settlements Always, Palestine Never.

When that didn’t turn out to be the case—when it turned out that the putatively centrist Yair Lapid had not only come in behind Likud, but had far outstripped Bennett—there were expressions of relief, even hope, in some corners. Perhaps, just maybe, a roughly centrist government will emerge, one that will genuinely negotiate for peace?

With all due respect, though, there’s simply no objective reason to even entertain that thought.

First of all, it’s important to remember that these results are preliminary, in that they don’t yet include the votes of the military. Israel’s soldiers have traditionally skewed slightly to the right of the rest of the country, and in recent years, this tendency has increased, along with a growing religiosity. There’s good reason to think that when all the votes are counted, Bennett and/or the Likud will have gained two-three seats, and in a parliament this polarized, that can make a big difference.

More to the point, however, even if the division of seats doesn’t much change, neither will Bibi. He is and has always been a right-wing opportunist whose first and primary goal is to achieve and maintain power. He’s spent his entire political career catering to the settler community, and though he’s not himself personally religious, has been more than happy to cede power and influence to the ultra-Orthodox in order to maintain a coalition that keeps him in the driver’s seat, and advances the settlement project. A single speech at Bar Ilan University, made years ago, doesn’t mitigate the fact that the Prime Minister has done everything in his not inconsiderable power to make sure that a Palestinian State becomes a literal impossibility.

And then there’s Yair Lapid, also an opportunist, albeit one who at least looks centrist. He’s said that he won’t join a government that doesn’t negotiate with the Palestinians—but honestly, that’s meaningless. “Negotiations” can mean anything or nothing, and Netanyahu has himself “negotiated with the Palestinians” on more than one occasion. Negotiations aren’t a goal unto themselves, and without a solid commitment to compromise, will continue to serve the Israeli government as they have for years: a handy diversion with which to distract the international community, even as Israel’s hold on the West Bank deepens.

Moreover, Lapid has made it painfully clear that he has no real grasp of the enormity of the occupation’s implications, and doesn’t understand what a genuine, durable peace agreement will entail. He launched his campaign in the bloated West Bank settlement of Ariel, and has publicly (and more than once) announced that if Israel’s government just stands firm, it will convince the Palestinian people to give up on East Jerusalem as their capital.

As I’ve written before, this latter position is nothing short of delusional, and reveals a deep and abiding attachment to the same kind of magical thinking recently expressed by Daniel Gordis: We will deal with the Palestinians as we imagine them to be, and all will be well.

The only thing approaching an ideological commitment that Lapid has ever clearly expressed is an aversion to the ultra-Orthodox. I think it’s a decent bet that he wouldn’t join a government in which the ultra-Orthodox have more power than he does, but as long as he can present himself to his secular supporters (half of whom, not incidentally, self-identify as right wing) as having done better than Shas in coalition negotiations, I imagine he’d be happy to sit alongside them—and, quite possibly, Bennett—in a Netanyahu government, and passively support expanding settlement construction and the headlong rush toward West Bank annexation. And again: The rightist parties are likely to actually gain seats when the soldiers’ votes are counted.

There are two Israeli Jewish parties actually dedicated to saving the Jewish State from itself and negotiating a true peace accord with the Palestinian people: Meretz and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah. And if the projections hold, Meretz and HaTnuah will jointly take 12 seats.

So really, there’s no cause for even cautious optimism. On the contrary, perhaps a hard-right government would have shocked the world and Israel out of its complacency. As it is, it looks like Israel is set to continue to muddle along on its way to its own ruin.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Why I’m proud to vote for President Obama.

I wish that the world were a better place.

I wish that more Americans wanted genuine equality and bodily autonomy for their fellow citizens. I wish that more Americans understood the implications of the enormous inequities of our economy. I wish that more Americans respected scientific inquiry and I wish that more Americans showed compassion, for each other and for strangers around the world. I likewise wish that global politics were straightforward, and that the people who should be on the right side of history consistently volunteered to get on, and stay on, that side.

But I live in the current world, in America-as-it-is. Even though American support for such civil rights issues as marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose is on the rise, somewhere around half of us still don’t support either. Nearly half of us believe in Creationism, and 41% of us still view Muslims unfavorably. Over 60% of us support drone strikes in foreign lands (which, given that many believe that the alternative is actual invasion, might actually be a good sign), and we’re about evenly divided as to who we trust more to deal with the economy – the guy who thinks it’s ok to write off 47% of Americans, or the guy who managed, however imperfectly, to save this country from a second Great Depression.

Do the President and I always agree? Of course not. I’ve always been to the left of him politically, and just last night I found myself in knots over the Israel/Palestine issue. I rarely agree all the time with anyone, frankly.

But here’s the thing: You don’t need to always agree with someone to respect him.

The President of the United States has to be President of everyone, not just me and my fondest dreams, and I believe that this President has done a remarkable job in finding a space that is a little bit left of center on most issues, a space from which he has acted to advance our country toward a place in which more people enjoy greater freedoms and more dignity. He has gone to bat for women and the LGBTQ community, American consumers and college students; he has improved services for veterans and provided health care for millions of people who didn’t have it (including 4 million children); he has acted in both legislation and by example in support of science and education.

All this while facing an opposition that has been openly dedicated to his political destruction, often for reasons that have more to do with his skin than his policies. Indeed, it should be noted (and noted again and again) that Obama only enjoyed a Democratic majority in Congress for a grand total of five months in the course of his Presidency, in mid-2009 – so even if we presume (and I do) that his personal opinions are sometimes to the left of his public positions — when exactly was he supposed to work his progressive magic on the legislative branch? “Quick, we can break a filibuster! PASS ALL THE BILLS.”

Moreover (and not incidentally for me), President Obama’s respect for intelligent inquiry, for individuals and peoples; his gentle humor and backbone of steel; the willingness he’s shown to take bold action and also to admit error; and his constant, consistent refusal to get involved in the mind games that literally millions of people are trying to play with him — these all reflect a manner that I not only want to see in my President, but am hoping to teach my children.

All of which is lovely, of course, but I live in Illinois. Barack Obama does not actually need my vote.

But — first and foremost — this is how American democracy works. My vote will only be counted if I actually cast it. Will it make a difference at the Electoral College level? No. But if I want people like me to be visible anywhere else, then I have to participate in the process (and it’s inevitable that people who choose not to cast a ballot for President often wind up not voting at all, and there are frankly plenty of Democrats down ticket who need all the support they can get).

And then there’s the fact that people have been fighting — and dying — all over the world lately to gain access to this right that we take so for granted.

But as luck would have it, I’m happy to participate. I’m pleased and proud to vote for an imperfect man who I believe to have made real mistakes along the way, because I have watched him struggle mightily for four years to forge the right path forward and to do the absolute best he can for the American people. I believe the country I live in to be a more perfect union because of the Obama Presidency, and I believe that four more years (notably without the threat of a re-election campaign hanging over him) will only serve to deepen and strengthen that slow, endless process of perfection. And I will be spending several days over the next two weeks doing everything a peon can to see to it that President Obama gets his chance.

Is Barack Obama the answer to all my dreams? No. Am I proud he’s my President? To borrow a phrase: You betcha.

And by voting for him, I get to help make my world a little bit better.

PS Wondering WTF Obama has done so far? Clicking here is a good place to find a few choice answers.

Why do black folks vote for Democrats?

Ok, so yeah. The African American community votes pretty solidly for Democratic candidates — this we know. The Washington Post decided to poll folks, asking why they think this might be so.

Hereunder the results of that poll (but note first that an accompanying article stated that the most common answer, from either side of the aisle, was “I don’t know,”  and that the numbers listed aren’t percentages but raw counts, from a poll done of 1,020 adult respondents, using both cell and land lines):


So, yeah. Even taking all the caveats into consideration, I still think the results are pretty striking: The vast majority of Republicans polled who think they know why blacks vote for the other party think it’s because African-Americans either: take/want government hand-outs; have been socialized into being Democrats; or are just plain ignorant.

It’s a wonder the GOP hasn’t won over more people of color. An absolute mystery.

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