This week in Israel: elections, a prison siege and bird flu

Israel’s national elections are just over a week away and Israeli bloggers are finally (finally!) showing some interest in the subject – sort of. The thing is, though, that most are just writing about why they are unable to muster enthusiasm for any of the parties and why they are totally burned out by politics in general.

Shai Tsur of Shaister, a confessed politics junkie, has been the most prolific elections blogger.

In this post, he summarizes the ad campaigns of each of the major parties and offers a brief analysis of each. He explains that “According to Israeli law, political parties cannot just buy ad time willy nilly. Instead, the three broadcast stations are required to air a daily block (usually 45 minutes long) of political ads during prime time. The parties are awarded broadcast time based on the number of Knesset seats they have, with space reserved for parties that are not currently in the Knesset.”

Shai and I were also asked to write a series of posts for the Guardian’s newsblog. In his first post, The Promise of Kadima, Shai explains why he, a former Labor supporter, plans to vote for Kadima.

“I come from a long-time Labor family. During the '90s I supported the Oslo accords and the peace process with the Palestinians. Then came September 2000 and the second intifada. Like many Israelis who once identified with the left, I became disillusioned with Oslo. My politics shifted rightward with every Palestinian suicide bombing. But I have never been an advocate of the Greater Land of Israel approach. I favour a two-state solution, but one that ensures Israel's security.
In short, I am the classic Kadima voter.”

In his second post for the Guardian, called “The invisible election,” Shai offers an explanation as to why Israelis are so unenthusiastic about the elections.

“Personally, I think the problem is an overdose of history. In the past 10 years, and even more so in the past five, we have become accustomed to one earth-shaking local or regional events after another: everything from suicide bombings, at the rate of three a week, to economic woes, to territorial pull-outs.
After a while you lose the capacity to fully deal with each crisis, so you just shrug your shoulders and move on. In other words, we're dealing with a case of national post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In my first post for the Guardian, Stitching together Israeli identities, I profile two Israelis who will not be voting Kadima – Dmitri Doubov, who immigrated from Tashkent 12 years ago, and Fayrouz Shaqrawi, a Palestinian Israeli who recently started blogging at The Land of Sad Oranges.

Allison Kaplan Sommer of An Unsealed Room explains why she cannot decide between Meretz, a leftwing Zionist party, and Kadima, with its mostly mainstream, slightly right-of-centre message – and why she completely skips over Labour, which rightfully falls between Meretz and Kadima in the left-right political spectrum.

“If I vote Meretz I will be voting my personal social agenda — religious pluralism, racial equality, gender equality. Meretz is the only party who bothers to actually promote it. Labor pays lip service and does nothing. I voted for them in the last election and was less than impressed.
If I vote Kadima I will be rewarding the Sharon legacy for the Gaza disengagement and supporting the policy of ‘try to negotiate, but if that fails, disengage unilaterally.’ With Hamas around for the next four years, disengagement is my preferred response instead of sitting around and doing nothing, since they are obviously so not interested in talking peace.”

One Jerusalem has been covering the elections from a much less serious angle. Here is a post about Ale Yarok (pronounced Ah-LEY Ya-ROK), the Green Leaf party that has a platform of “personal freedom, quality of life and legalization of the cannabis plant and all its applications.” Yup, there's a political party in Israel that wants to make pot smoking legal. They also have a super-liberal social agenda, including the legalization of same-sex marriage. See their hilarious ad campaign, featuring a “traditional” Jewish wedding with two brides (and no groom) here.

Back to serious stuff: last week the Israeli army laid siege to a prison in Jericho, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The stated reason for the siege was to arrest six Palestinians who had been involved in attacks on Israelis; originally the Israeli government and the P.A. had agreed that the captured men would be jailed under Palestinian supervision, but Hamas, which recently won the Palestinian national elections, sent the message that it would not keep the men imprisoned as per the agreement. Israeli reactions to the prison siege were mixed.

Shai thinks it was a good, clean operation.

Allison thinks it was stupid.

And She of SomethingSomething thinks it was shameful.

Okay, one last bit of not-so-good news. Allison reports that bird flu has reached Israel, and it looks as though it may have penetrated the human population.

Since I always feel utterly compelled to end with something funny, how about this: Harry reports that Paris Hilton may be coming to Israel for a model shoot. “This,” intones Harry, “is not hot.”

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