Beginning Of The End
sraeli elections 2003 are over.
Now it's time for brutal honesty.
They were a waste of time and
money. But ...
The election symbolizes the beginning
of the end of two of the mo s t inhibiting
and narrowing aspects of Israeli politics.
This election brought about the genesis
of the demise of the small party and a
departure from extremist parties on both
sides of the spectrum.
Common sense and political expedi-
ency prevailed. The democracy that
emerged out of this election will contin-
ue to transform Israel and Israeli politics.
These are not cosmetic changes. They
are developments that will ultimately
strengthen Israeli democracy and bring
about the maturation of the Israeli
voter. Not by legislation but — despite
the abysmally low voter turnout of 68
percent — by sheer voting patterns.
It makes no difference that it hap-
pened by default. This time around,
change happened not through legisla-
tion but through ballots cast. What is
Micah D. Halpern is a Middle East
analyst and an expert on terrorism. He is a
columnist for the Web site Jewish.com . His
e-mail address is commMicah@aol.com
Lost In Space
he other day, I was working
with two colleagues at the
Jerusalem headquarters of
Israel Television preparing
the weekend edition of IBA News. In
mid-afternoon, I knew that my family,
like millions of others in Israel, would
be gathered around the TV set, watch-
ing the landing of Ilan Ramon, the
country's first astronaut, aboard the
Columbia space shuttle.
Unlike in the United States where
shuttle trips have become almost hum-
drum, Ramon and his mission were
major news in Israel. Well before
Rarnon embarked on his 16-day voyage
in space in mid-January, he had already
captured the hearts of the nation. His
sense of humanity, modesty and courage
had endeared him to all Israelis.
While high above the planet in the
shuttle, he remained as down to earth
as always in his frequent conversations
with Israel via a live televised hookup.
Robert Sarner is a senior reporter and
editor on Israel's only English-language
daily TV show. Before moving to Israel
in 1990, he was a writer and magazine
editor in Paris and Toronto. His e-mail
address is email@example.com
important now is that what happened
can and will make a difference.
The results for prime minister were
never in doubt. The only intrigue in
this election was the number of seats
lost or gained by each of the many
parties. Israeli voters, for the first time,
began a wrenching disengagement
from the large Labor Party. At the
same time, a mass desertion of the
myriad small parties ensued. By doing
so, the voters, albeit inadvertently, cre-
ated new bastions of strength by
building mid-size parties.
Small parties are safety nets for sec-
tarian agendas and single-issue con-
stituents. Their sole priority is to pro-
tect the parochial interest of their
members. They are the tools of the
apparatchik, those connected to the
party gain favors. The more favors they
have to offer, the more party members,
the more votes, the more power.
Since the creation of the Jewish state,
coalition politics has been the name of
the game in Israel. The leading party
cobbles together the majority of Knesset
seats necessary to govern.
In order to do this, every newly
elected prime minister makes promis-
es, including ministerial appoint-
ments, positions and policies. This
ing Labor and Likud to adjust
gives small parties dispropor-
their platforms. One of the rea-
that Labor so resoundingly
Marginal, sectarian issues are
election is that Meretz
used as blackmail and the
forced Labor to adjust its plat-
threat of a collapsing govern-
form and establish itself as sig-
ment is held over the head of
nificantly left rather than main-
prime ministers. One case in
tain its stance as center-left in a
point is the demise of a gov-
time when the country cried
MIC AH D.
ernment because an El Al
for centrist views and poli-
plane landed too late one
Friday afternoon, dovetailing
So, too, the National Unity
into the Jewish Sabbath.
Party, as it refines its stance,
Mid-size parties see politics
will force Likud to the right.
as a vehicle for change, as the
The center, then, will be occupied by
power to lead and govern. This change
other newly emerging mid-size parties,
in voting patterns transfers power to
Shinui being the most prominent exam-
mid-size parties. Their creation brings
ple. And gone from the electoral map,
about a serious counter-balance to the
not even garnering enough votes to be
traditional, two-large-party power
represented in the 16th Knesset of
Israel, is the extreme right.
Why is this happening? It is all a
Arab-Israeli parties, too, I predict, will
question of power, control and bal-
by the next election merge together form-
ance. People are voting for mid-size
ing one powerful mid-size party consist-
parties because of their broader, more
ing of about 10 seats, rather than three
defined platforms and clear stands on
small parties consisting of the same num-
more than one issue.
ber of seats with minimized stre
As for the other significant change
How did that happen? Similar rea-
emerging from this election, Israel is
moving from the extremes to the middle. sons, similar thinking, same voting
Like mid-size Meretz on the left, the
Is this good news or bad news? I think
mid-size National Unity Party on the
right exerted tremendous pressure, forc- - it's good. I know it is important. ❑
The nation seemed to hang on his
A festive anticipation gripped much
of the country just ahead of Ramon's
return. People were eager to see the
former Air Force pilot and his six
American crewmates make their tri-
umphant touchdown. Recognizing its
historic significance, Israel's three
main TV networks planned extensive
coverage of the event. One of our
rivals had Ramon's father as a studio
guest to watch the landing.
I was slated to read the news that
evening. For a change, instead of lead-
ing with yet another grim tale of ter-
rorist attacks or more political tur-
moil, I looked forward to starting the
show with an uplifting story of Israeli
achievement and a successful end to a
journey that had engrossed the nation
for the past two weeks.
Ten minutes after when Columbia
was due to land, I phoned home. It
was around 4:30 p.m. in Jerusalem.
At that point, even though the fate of
the astronauts was still unknown, all
signs pointed to trouble.
My 13-year-old daughter, Shani,
answered the phone. She sounded terri-
bly upset. "Abba, they're all dead, aren't
they?!" she screamed, almost in tears.
Without waiting for an answer, she
cried: "Ilan Ramon isn't coming back."
She then passed the phone to my wife
taking with him objects sym-
who was equally distraught.
bolizing Jewish and Israeli
In the newsroom, what was
heritage, Ramon was far more
supposed to be a straightfor-
than an astronaut for Israelis.
ward story, now pulsated with
He was a hero who embodied
unwanted drama. The first
the hopes, dreams and pride
hint of a potential disaster
of an entire nation. He was
came just after 4 p.m. by way
part of the family.
of a one-line dispatch on the
It didn't matter that the sci-
newswires. It said simply that
entific experiments Ramon
Mission Control in Houston
conducted aboard the
had lost contact with the shut-
tle as it made its descent.
Comm entary Columbia were esoteric and
far removed from the daily
As I read those words, I
lives of Israelis. All they cared
wanted to believe they did not
about was that a local boy and son of
mean what I feared they meant. Surely,
a Holocaust survivor had made it to
it was just a delay, nothing critical.
the big leagues. Through him every
Hours earlier, when we planned the
Israeli had a stake in the Columbia
lineup for the evening newscast,
and outer space.
Ramon and Columbia was the obvious
Ramon's trip was a welcome distrac-
choice to lead with. This was the cli-
tion from the reality on the ground. It
max of a space dream that began in
diverted attention away from the
1995 when former President Bill
seemingly endless terror campaign by
Clinton announced that an Israeli
Palestinians, an economy in the pits
would join a NASA team on a shuttle
and getting worse, an election that
mission. For Israel, a tiny, isolated and
offered little hope and an impending
besieged country, outer space represent-
war with Iraq. He gave Israelis some-
ed a new frontier, with huge pOtential
thing to cheer about at a time when
for scientific and military research.
the country needed it most.
Not since John Glenn orbited the
Sadly, with Ramon's fiery demise,
globe in 1962 or Neil Armstrong
Israel took another bad hit. Yet again
walked on the moon in 1969 has a
the nation finds itself overcome by
country embraced one of its astro-
grief and tragic loss. Today, a
nauts with the emotion. Israel showed
small part of every one of us remains
for Ramon. With an Israeli flag on his
lost in space.
space suit for the world to see, and