Why I’m Voting Green This Year

by Brian on February 6, 2009

in In the News,Only in Israel

You would think that after voting for a Barkat and a Barack respectively in the local Jerusalem and U.S. elections, the logical next choice would be to support a Barak (Ehud that is) in the upcoming Israeli national elections.

Would that it were that easy.

The major parties fielded for the 2009 elections have got to be the worst in years. Which is too bad.

When elections were called after newly minted Kadima party head Tzipi Livni couldn’t form a coalition last year, I initially felt it was the right thing for the country.

Kadima, under the now disgraced Ehud Olmert, has veered significantly from the mandate under which it had been elected. Olmert’s public declarations on how much territory he would be willing to cede in a peace deal with Palestinians are from the consensus.

So elections, I thought, would allow the Israeli public to choose a leader who was more in sync with where the people stand today, one who made it clear which way he or she planned to take the country.

Except that we have no idea what the candidates are for at all, because they simply won’t tell us. A public debate like in the U.S.? Not here.

David Horowitz, writing in last week’s Jerusalem Post, nailed it on the head.

Is the Likud under Bibi Netanyahu committed to expanding settlements in the West Bank, Horowitz asked, or will it limit those to “natural growth,” possibly even proposing its own permanent borders?

Will Livni pick up the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority from where Olmert left off, or will she turn more hawkish like her political rival in Kadima Shaul Mofaz?

What about Labor? Ehud Barak proposed borders at Camp David in 2000 that fell far short than those contemplated by Olmert. They were subsequently rejected by Yassar Arafat and met instead by a protracted campaign of suicide terror. Will Barak now harden his stance?

And where do the candidates stand on the economy – not an insignificant matter in this time of global doom and gloom. Only the Likud – riding on Netanyahu’s tenure as finance minister – has spelled out a comprehensive plan.

But the real question that has to be asked: How did we get to a situation where two out of the three candidates competing for the premiership have already held the position…and were unceremoniously booted out of office? Where is our Barack Obama, a leader who seemingly comes out of nowhere to galvanize the country?

Traditionally, I have voted for one of the big parties. I want to have my say over who will be prime minister and, in Israel’s antiquated party coalition system, where there’s no such thing as U.S. style direct election of the country’s leader, that’s the only way to do it. I’m not beholden to any particular party. Over the past three elections, I have voted for all of them – Likud, Labor and Kadima, in that order.

But when the choices are as dreadful they are, I’ve turned my attention to the smaller parties. Not the ridiculous new pairing of the Holocaust Survivor’s Party with a spin off of the Green Leaf movement which has broadcast commercials of senior citizens pushing for legalization of marijuana.

No, the party that’s captured my interest is the Yeruka-Meimad list.

Yeruka-Meimad is an amalgamation of an environmentally conscious list (“yarok” is Hebrew for green) and the tolerant religious party Meimad. Together they stand for many of the issues I have always cared deeply about.

The green side wants to clean up the country’s increasingly polluted environment. It aims to safeguard national parks, promote clean energy and speed up the development of desalinization plants – an issue that will be of paramount concern when Israelis wake up this summer, after another rainless winter, and discover there’s no water left in the Sea of Galilee to drink.

The religious positioning aims to address the widening gap between religious and secular Israelis. Party head Michael Melchior has already introduced legislation to create a new pluralistic educational track that is neither entirely Orthodox nor ignorant of Judaism. The endeavor has a budget of NIS 34 million. Social issues are also paramount on the platform. As Melchior says, if we ignore our poor, how can we call ourselves a Jewish state?

For someone who grew up in the uber-tolerant and environmentally aware San Francisco Bay Area, the party’s platform is inspiring. Some highlights:

• Reduction of air pollution by 50% during the next four years.
• An agenda to promote Jewish identity through education instead of coercive legislation, including new laws on who can marry whom in Israel.
• A compulsory national service law that “integrates the ultra-orthodox into the life of the state without prejudicing this group’s unique needs.”
• Immediate development of a public conservation policy to reduce energy consumption by 25% with an accelerated move towards establishing renewable energy sources.
• An increase in funding for public transportation from the Transport Ministry’s infrastructure budget to 50% from a woefully inadequate 15% today.
• Higher salaries and better work conditions for Israel’s teachers.

On security, the party accepts the formula of “two states” for “two nations” but demands a commitment to strong security guarantees for Israel as part of any final agreement. With such a plank, Yeruka-Meimad could probably join any coalition that’s formed.

Some have accused Meimad’s Melchior of being opportunist. Since 1999, he’s aligned his party with Labor to ensure a seat in the Knesset. This year, with Labor projected to receive so few mandates that his spot would no longer be “secure,” he jumped ship to join up with Yeruka where he is at the top of the list.

I’m sensitive to that, but I also think that, based on his track record, having Melchior in the Knesset is a real asset, one that we shouldn’t squander. He has consistently been the parliament’s biggest champion of both environmental and pluralistic religious issues. He’s served as deputy foreign minister and deputy minister of education. Indeed, voting for a small party candidate who shares many of your own interests is probably the closest thing we have in this country to proportional representation.

But when I started Twittering about my interest in Yeruka-Meimad last week, the responses I received were overwhelmingly critical. There were the expected right-wingers who told me I had to vote for the National Union party or Lieberman’s neo-racist Israel Beiteinu. But there were also a number of comments that I was throwing my vote away, that Yeruka-Meimad would never pass the threshold to get a seat at the table.

At this point, that’s a risk I’m going to have to take. The party insists that its internal polling shows it will receive up to 3 seats, that the young people’s protest vote that went to the Pensioners last election will go to Yeruka-Meimad this year. If no one were to vote for them, they’d have no chance at all.

If you were to walk around our neighborhood, you’d think the whole country was going green. There are Yeruka-Meimad posters hanging from windows and balconies all across our southern Jerusalem enclave. As soon as you leave, though, it’s the same old story: Bibi, Barak and Livni.

Despite my passion for Yeruka-Meimad, my enthusiasm remains tempered by the bleary future the major parties portend. Perhaps the true test is that in the Hebrew ulpan class I attend twice a week, I learned a new phrase last week that seems ironically appropriate to this election season:

Ha Matzav Midakei Oti. The situation depresses me.

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