Commentary Magazine


Topic: Labor

Israel’s Equilibrium

Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

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Because of the consistent participation in Israel’s Knesset elections of new, ill-defined, and self-styled “centrist” parties, it can be difficult to accurately apply the labels “left” and “right” until after each election. Nonetheless, yesterday’s Israeli Knesset elections clearly represent a leftward shift. How far left? That remains to be seen. The election, as Evelyn noted, was about domestic issues and not the peace process. This is beneficial for Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike.

But because the resurgent Labor Party–which performed as well as it did because it has learned to downplay Oslo in favor of bread-and-butter issues–has more to gain long-term by staying out of the next governing coalition and regrouping and recruiting some more, the leftward shift will be most clearly felt on issues of religious identity. Simply put, the ultra-Orthodox will be up against something of a secular mandate. But all this will sort itself out in the coming weeks as coalition forming and its attendant horse-trading begins. The more interesting question for now is: Could the liberal American press, which hysterically predicted that the election would create a suicidally fascistic government, have known all along how wrong they were? The answer is yes–they just needed to learn a bit of Israeli history.

Israeli elections often hover around what amounts to an equilibrium. Two mainstream parties–Likud and Labor, historically–usually compete to form either a center-right government or a center-left government. Floating centrist parties come and go, often within one election cycle. Kadima is the exception that proves the rule. It was created by Ariel Sharon just before he was incapacitated. Once it was out of government and led by Tzipi Livni, it remodeled itself as the peace party–its existence as such only made possible by the struggles of Labor. It is no surprise, then, that in yesterday’s election Labor’s surge back to respectability and the emergence of Yair Lapid’s new centrist party nearly wiped Kadima out completely.

The equilibrium includes an Orthodox party, Shas, and in recent years there’s been more of an effort to include specifically secular representation to make up for the fading of the Israeli left. For a couple of election cycles that has been Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu, which has pushed for conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, civil marriage, and the decentralization of the Rabbinate’s state authority. This is an important point because for all the media’s complaints of the electorate’s rightward shift, thanks to Lieberman the left had many of its policy preferences championed from within a supposedly right-wing government. Space for a new secular party opened up when Israel Beiteinu merged with Likud prior to this election.

And that gets at a broader problem with the “Israel’s lurch to the right” chorus. Israeli politicians have opinions on an array of issues, both foreign and domestic. The Western left elevates any politician’s opinion on the peace process above all others; Israelis are not so myopic or simplistic. A consensus has formed in Israel about Oslo, the peace process, and Jerusalem. Few politicians gain much success by being far beyond the parameters of that consensus–to the right or left. In recent years, the left has been outside those lines, clinging to the memories and legacy of Oslo and stuck in the mid-1990s. Labor has now emerged from that vacation from reality enough to offer coherent thoughts on domestic policy, and has been rewarded by the electorate for joining the country in the 21st century.

This doesn’t mean the country is anti-peace. It’s simply the hardheaded realism that sustains Israel’s electoral equilibrium. The peace process has a way of crowding out everything else–meetings, summits, negotiations, visits to and from every busybody who wants a piece of the action, and the parade of special envoys convinced they’re Kissinger abound. And that leaves no time or energy or political capital–and in Israel, everything takes political capital–to attend to domestic reforms.

The Western press may sneer at an election that was more about the price of cottage cheese than the future of the two-state solution, but that’s because they don’t for one second put themselves in Israelis’ shoes and walk a mile or two. Israelis are not pieces on a chessboard, and yes, the price of cottage cheese makes a difference (though that was really just a stand-in for a general sense of concern over certain household economic trends).

The ability to compartmentalize the issues and leave the peace process in its box every so often is essential for Israel. Liberal journalists don’t seem to have this ability to compartmentalize and thus they cannot see past Oslo. Call it the triumph of Haaretz over experience–the leftist press lives in its own world. The irony of all this is that only by discarding liberal editorial boards’ peace process fantasies has the Israeli left been able to rebound back from relative obscurity. You can be inside the consensus sustained by Israel’s equilibrium or you can have an obsessive focus on the peace process, but not both–as yesterday’s election demonstrated once again.

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Avigdor Lieberman’s Future

This morning, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation from the Knesset went into effect. Lieberman’s rise and sustained popularity have always puzzled both his domestic political opponents and foreign observers. In part this is because Lieberman’s political persona is one paradox after another. He is a fervent secular nationalist in an age when Israelis tend to be either one or the other. In this, he is a modern rightist much in the mold of Israel’s founding Laborite fathers–another contradiction. And he is most powerful and influential in post-election coalition forming; far less so in his actual duties as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

That helps explain why they don’t understand him; it’s far easier to explain why his opponents don’t like him. Among those reasons is why he is resigning now: the cloud of potential scandal and accusations of corruption have followed Lieberman for the better part of a decade now. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has announced that Lieberman will be indicted on breach of trust charges–the same charges on which former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted. Lieberman will not, however, be charged with the more serious corruption charges, likely bringing an end to a long ordeal. (Lieberman was under suspicion of profiting from a business registered in his daughter’s name while he served in Knesset.) The actual indictment will only be accusing Lieberman of the lesser, but still serious, charge that he promoted Israel’s ambassador to Belarus in exchange for information on an investigation on him by Belarus authorities.

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This morning, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation from the Knesset went into effect. Lieberman’s rise and sustained popularity have always puzzled both his domestic political opponents and foreign observers. In part this is because Lieberman’s political persona is one paradox after another. He is a fervent secular nationalist in an age when Israelis tend to be either one or the other. In this, he is a modern rightist much in the mold of Israel’s founding Laborite fathers–another contradiction. And he is most powerful and influential in post-election coalition forming; far less so in his actual duties as foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

That helps explain why they don’t understand him; it’s far easier to explain why his opponents don’t like him. Among those reasons is why he is resigning now: the cloud of potential scandal and accusations of corruption have followed Lieberman for the better part of a decade now. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has announced that Lieberman will be indicted on breach of trust charges–the same charges on which former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted. Lieberman will not, however, be charged with the more serious corruption charges, likely bringing an end to a long ordeal. (Lieberman was under suspicion of profiting from a business registered in his daughter’s name while he served in Knesset.) The actual indictment will only be accusing Lieberman of the lesser, but still serious, charge that he promoted Israel’s ambassador to Belarus in exchange for information on an investigation on him by Belarus authorities.

As for Lieberman’s political future, there is one variable that will make a big difference. If he is charged with what Israeli authorities rather solemnly call “moral turpitude,” it greatly complicates the controversy for him. Haaretz explains:

If Lieberman is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude after he is presumably elected to the next Knesset, he would have to resign immediately. If he were convicted and also sentenced to a prison term of three months or more, he would be prevented from running for the Knesset for seven years after completing his sentence.

However, if the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude before the January 22 election without being sentenced to jail, he would be able to run in the election for the next Knesset. He would also be forced to resign from the current Knesset….

Lieberman has a significant interest in signing a plea bargain if it includes agreements with the State Prosecutor’s Office on the issue of moral turpitude. According to the Basic Law on the Government (1992), a person cannot be appointed minister for seven years after completion of a sentence for an offense bearing moral turpitude. A plea bargain stating that Lieberman’s offenses do not constitute moral turpitude would allow him to return to the cabinet even if he were convicted.

What happens if Lieberman is banned from the Knesset for seven years? Lieberman’s party, prior to its recent merger with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, was first and foremost a party to represent the Russian immigrant community, which now numbers about 13 percent of Israel’s population (which helps explain how he is able to garner so many seats in the Knesset–15, currently). Lieberman’s success with Israel Beiteinu was something of a watershed in Israeli electoral politics. As I explained in a July 2011 piece for COMMENTARY, ethnic and minority groups rarely held so much clout; the Mizrahi community–Jews from Arab lands–eventually threw its lot in with Menachem Begin and the Likud to achieve maximum representation in the Knesset, rather than form a minority party itself.

But that was at a time when Israeli politics were dominated by two major parties–Labor and Likud. The fragmentation of Israeli party politics means Lieberman’s vote total actually makes him a kingmaker, since it is nearly impossible to form a coalition–and even more difficult to form a stable coalition–without him.

Had Lieberman’s party remained independent, a conviction on “moral turpitude” would be devastating for Israel Beiteinu. It would be less so now that the party’s Knesset slate has merged with Likud. Netanyahu needs those votes to stay with Likud to win the next election, and possibly future elections as well. But a threat to bolt the party from the Russians–something Lieberman has done before–would seem to be empty without Lieberman at the helm.

That’s because Lieberman provides leadership and cohesion to the group. The Russian immigrant community has never been able to successfully mobilize for elections without Lieberman. Natan Sharansky was considered a revolutionary among Russians and a hero in Israel, yet he was unable to lead a party of Russians with anything close to success. There are cultural reasons for this, and there are political reasons as well. Sharansky was just not a very good politician; Lieberman, on the other hand, is close to masterful at navigating the Israeli political scene. He is a tough-talking populist but a pragmatic legislator who knows how to advocate for his ethnic community while folding its story into the larger narrative of Israeli history.

But he is also brusque, undiplomatic, too dismissive of the Jewish Diaspora and can be as reckless on foreign policy (reportedly suggesting Israel consider toppling Mahmoud Abbas’s government, for example) as he is pragmatic on the home front. His domestic opponents, and a fair number of American Jews, want his political career to be finished by these charges. Lieberman can be a headache for Netanyahu as well, though he doesn’t want to push Lieberman’s constituents into the arms of the center-left–with whom they often vigorously agree on social and religious policy.

So it’s too early to tell if this will change everything or change nothing. But it’s doubtful it will be anywhere in between.

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Israeli Political Parties Find Their Voices

One of the more interesting aspects of the current Israeli political pre-election shuffling is the unsettled nature of every major political party to the left of Likud. Kadima and Labor, the two largest parties outside the current governing coalition, have each been going through identity crises. The third wild card, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, has no record and Lapid has no real political experience, leaving the public guessing as to where they fit on the ideological spectrum.

But now, it seems, there is suddenly a great degree of clarity. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may be back in court, as the state is strongly considering appealing some of the acquittals in his corruption case, and such legal action may make it impossible for him to run. That would make it much more likely that Tzipi Livni would return to the political stage without having to compete with Olmert. (Though the two reached some sort of agreement not to compete against each other anyway. No one, however, seems to know exactly what that means in practice.) But even more interesting–if not surprising–is the emergence of an identity for Labor and for Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

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One of the more interesting aspects of the current Israeli political pre-election shuffling is the unsettled nature of every major political party to the left of Likud. Kadima and Labor, the two largest parties outside the current governing coalition, have each been going through identity crises. The third wild card, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, has no record and Lapid has no real political experience, leaving the public guessing as to where they fit on the ideological spectrum.

But now, it seems, there is suddenly a great degree of clarity. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may be back in court, as the state is strongly considering appealing some of the acquittals in his corruption case, and such legal action may make it impossible for him to run. That would make it much more likely that Tzipi Livni would return to the political stage without having to compete with Olmert. (Though the two reached some sort of agreement not to compete against each other anyway. No one, however, seems to know exactly what that means in practice.) But even more interesting–if not surprising–is the emergence of an identity for Labor and for Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

Labor’s new leader, Shelly Yachimovich, has been hinting that her slate of candidates will move Labor to the left and incorporate leaders of Israel’s social protest movement. But it has also been courting the military to burnish the party’s national security credentials. The strategy of moving to the left is, as I wrote last week, a risky one, since the Israeli electorate has moved to the right on the peace process and has been in the habit of punishing Labor at the polls repeatedly.

But the ideological outlook of the party took another step to the left, as Peace Now Executive Director Yariv Oppenheimer announced he’ll run for a seat on the Labor slate. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“In addition to the social agenda, the Labor Party must raise the diplomatic flag and fight against the expansion of settlement construction and waves of anti-democratic legislation that the Israeli Right is leading,” Oppenheimer said after resigning from his post in Peace Now on Monday.

Thus far, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich has focused almost exclusively on social issues.

An overwhelming focus on social issues with a dash of anti-settler, land-for-peace moral thundering is a recipe for a full reengagement of the culture wars. For Lapid, on the other hand, accommodation with Palestinians must be found without uprooting large Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria:

The Yesh Atid leader courted rightwing voters, saying “I’m not a lefty,” that settlement blocs, including the city of Ariel, must stay under Israeli sovereignty, and Jerusalem should not be divided.

As for the lack of peace talks in recent years, Lapid said “the Palestinians brought this upon themselves. If after the disengagement [from Gaza] they didn’t build hospitals and schools, but training sites, there is no doubt that it is their responsibility – but we also need negotiations for ourselves.”

Lapid quipped that his late father, former justice minister and Shinui leader Tommy Lapid, “did not leave the ghetto to live in a binational state.

This is the land of the Jews, and we have the right to finally get rid of the Palestinians. There won’t be a new Middle East, but we won’t have 3.5 million Palestinians in Israeli territory.”

I’m sure pundits will glom onto the typically nuanced phrase “get rid of the Palestinians,” but the overall sentiment—peace negotiations are stalled because of the Palestinians’ rejectionism, but necessary in the end to disentangle the two sides—is a common attitude among the Israeli electorate, and perfectly sums up the outlook of Avigdor Lieberman’s increasingly successful Israel Beiteinu party. Lapid also noted that he would not rule out sitting in a coalition with Orthodox parties, something his father refused to do. If Lapid even gains the seats he is projected to win in early polling (a big “if”), the right would be an absolutely dominant force in the Knesset. And that doesn’t even count Kadima, which began as a center-right party as well.

Lapid, by being so explicit about his views, is betting that despite the existence of a broad, center-right governing coalition, there are still more votes to be had for another rightist party. Labor is betting that if it can swell its ranks to include everyone to the left of the current governing coalition, it can at least return to prominence as the main, if not the only, electoral vehicle for left-leaning Israelis. That might mean a Labor that is increasingly successful electorally and increasingly marginal politically at the same time.

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Israeli Poll Shows Labor at a Crossroads

Earlier this month, I wrote about an Israeli news report suggesting former Kadima party leaders Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni were considering teaming up with former Israeli TV journalist Yair Lapid for the upcoming Knesset elections. One detail in that report was that Lapid had created his own party and was unwilling to leave it to join Kadima, no matter who leads the centrist opposition party. But what if he were willing to join Kadima?

That is the subject of a story in Haaretz today. The Israeli daily reports the results of a poll taken to determine how all the major parties would perform in January’s elections in three different possible scenarios. One of those scenarios had Lapid, Olmert, and Livni together in a “super-party.” And Haaretz reports that such a super-party would win the election. Sort of:

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Earlier this month, I wrote about an Israeli news report suggesting former Kadima party leaders Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni were considering teaming up with former Israeli TV journalist Yair Lapid for the upcoming Knesset elections. One detail in that report was that Lapid had created his own party and was unwilling to leave it to join Kadima, no matter who leads the centrist opposition party. But what if he were willing to join Kadima?

That is the subject of a story in Haaretz today. The Israeli daily reports the results of a poll taken to determine how all the major parties would perform in January’s elections in three different possible scenarios. One of those scenarios had Lapid, Olmert, and Livni together in a “super-party.” And Haaretz reports that such a super-party would win the election. Sort of:

A new centrist party formed by Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid would win more seats in the next Knesset than the Likud, according to a new Haaretz poll. Were such a party to be formed, it would grab 25 seats, compared to Likud’s 24. However, the survey also indicates that, whatever its composition, a right-wing bloc would not lose its Knesset majority….

According to the poll, even if former Prime Minister Olmert and former Kadima leader Livni join forces, or if Livni instead links up with Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, they would face a right-wing bloc, a bloc of “natural partners,” that would retain its majority – meaning that Benjamin Netanyahu would remain prime minister after the January 22 elections. In a worst-case scenario from his perspective, he would just have to sweat a little more before reaching the finish line.

The third scenario would be if the current party composition remains unchanged. In that case, the poll projects a 65-seat governing coalition for the rightist bloc led by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu, and the Orthodox Shas party.

That first scenario, which projects a one-vote win for the centrist supergroup but a failure to form a coalition, leading Netanyahu’s Likud to put his coalition back together, is an almost exact replay of what actually happened the last time Livni led a party that challenged Netanyahu. In 2009, Livni’s Kadima garnered one more Knesset seat than Netanyahu’s Likud, but was unable to form a coalition. (The Kadima win was less than it seemed; voters wanted a rightist coalition, and they got one.)

But there is a fascinating side story to compliment this one, also on Haaretz’s website. The paper reports that the Labor party, now led by Shelly Yachimovich, is working hard to recruit young talent, leaders from Israel’s social protest movement, and popular military and media figures to run in this winter’s election on the Labor slate. This is fascinating in part because it stands in such contrast not only to the first story, but also to conventional wisdom. As the first Haaretz story shows, in Israel the electoral success of a political party is overwhelmingly dependent on the popularity of its leader. (Just for fun, ask a Western media personality who rails against the Orthodox and Russian immigrant parties to name anyone besides the leader of those parties. They probably can’t.)

And in fact, a Livni-Olmert-Lapid party is considered a supergroup despite the fact that poll respondents were given only three names. Who else is on the ticket? Who cares? Yet the Labor party, which until recently was led by Ehud Barak, is rebuilding from the ground up. It cannot trade on Yachimovich’s name or fame. And the strategy represents an honest grappling with the Israeli left’s freefall. Yachimovich is saying, in effect, this isn’t your father’s Labor party.

It is also, however, risky. The Israeli left has had its clock cleaned in Knesset elections over the past decade because the electorate has moved to the right–at least on the peace process. Yachimovich is branding Labor as being further to the left than it has been under the hawkish Barak. It she is successful, it will be a big victory for a rejuvenated left. If not, it will have been a massive missed opportunity to grab what’s left of the political center before someone else does.

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Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East. Read More

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East.

From the moment he took office, Obama has sought to overturn the cozier relationship that existed between Washington and Jerusalem under his predecessor. Throughout his first year in office, Obama seemed to be aiming at unseating Netanyahu, who had been elected weeks after the president was sworn in. By picking pointless fights over settlements and Jewish building in Jerusalem, Obama sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and hoped Livni would soon replace him. But his ill-considered attacks merely strengthened Netanyahu, who wisely sought to avoid a direct confrontation with his country’s only ally. It was already obvious that, far from collapsing, Netanyahu’s government would survive to the end of its four-year term or close to it. While the outcome of the next Israeli election that will probably occur in 2013 is as difficult to predict as that of Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012, Barak’s move renders the hopes of Livni — the Israeli leader whom both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to treat as America’s favorite Israeli — less likely.

That means Obama is going to have to spend the rest of his term continuing to try to learn to live with the wily Netanyahu. Both Obama and the Palestinian Authority have spent the past two years acting as if they were just waiting around for a new weaker-willed Israeli government to materialize that would then magically create the circumstances under which peace would be achieved. As Barak-faction member Einat Wilf told the New York Times today, “I don’t belong to the camp that believes Israel is solely responsible for the failure of these negotiations. The Palestinians bear responsibility for not entering the talks. Some people have sent them a message to wait around for a new government.”

Barak’s move makes it clear that isn’t going to happen. While Israel’s critics will lament this development, it is high time that Americans accept the fact that the verdict of the Jewish state’s voters must be respected and that the Israeli consensus that has developed about the futility of further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians is entirely justified.

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Barak Pulls a Sharon

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

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The Left’s Canary Chokes in an Australian Mine

Australia faces its first federal hung parliament in 70 years — which is especially notable because, as the Sydney Morning Herald put it, “Australia is now established as the political canary in the American electoral coal-mine.”

In Australia, the political composition will likely force the left to choose between painful compromise and inaction. The irony is that citizens refused to believe Labor politicians’ newly adopted centrism — which is actually real, albeit reluctant, because it derives from political necessity. Instead they voted for honestly presented conservatives. American Democrats may find themselves in the same predicament soon.

Already one Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has been impaled on a radical leftist agenda. Rudd finally resigned, and Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister, leading Labor in his place.

The American public may recognize the far-left mindset that drove Rudd’s shortsighted policy priorities. As yesterday’s Wall Street Journal pointed out, “[Rudd’s Keynesian] spending boom turned an A$19.7 billion surplus in 2007-2008 into an A$32.1 billion deficit the following fiscal year.” Rudd also pushed hard for economically unsound policies like cap-and-trade and a “super-profits tax” on Australia’s profitable mining industry. The Australian public was vociferously dissatisfied, and Labor is struggling to recover.

In the context of Rudd’s shunting, Gillard tried to regain the public’s trust in Labor by rebranding as a moderate.

American Democrats may be interested to know that the public apparently didn’t buy that centrist repositioning. Saturday’s election withheld a governing majority from Labor. Led by opposition prodigy Tony Abbott, the Liberals — Australia’s conservative party — have gained substantial public support in recent months, even though they too were unable to secure a governing majority. Now both Liberals and Labor are courting Green and Independent parliamentarians in an effort to build a coalition.

Unpleasant compromises now seem unavoidable for Labor, which spent its time in power trying to ram its agenda down voters’ throats despite the collective gag reflex. So Tony Abbott’s words might soon hold true for American Democrats: “I say that a Government which found it very hard to govern effectively with a majority of 17 seats will never be able to govern effectively in a minority.”

Australia faces its first federal hung parliament in 70 years — which is especially notable because, as the Sydney Morning Herald put it, “Australia is now established as the political canary in the American electoral coal-mine.”

In Australia, the political composition will likely force the left to choose between painful compromise and inaction. The irony is that citizens refused to believe Labor politicians’ newly adopted centrism — which is actually real, albeit reluctant, because it derives from political necessity. Instead they voted for honestly presented conservatives. American Democrats may find themselves in the same predicament soon.

Already one Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has been impaled on a radical leftist agenda. Rudd finally resigned, and Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister, leading Labor in his place.

The American public may recognize the far-left mindset that drove Rudd’s shortsighted policy priorities. As yesterday’s Wall Street Journal pointed out, “[Rudd’s Keynesian] spending boom turned an A$19.7 billion surplus in 2007-2008 into an A$32.1 billion deficit the following fiscal year.” Rudd also pushed hard for economically unsound policies like cap-and-trade and a “super-profits tax” on Australia’s profitable mining industry. The Australian public was vociferously dissatisfied, and Labor is struggling to recover.

In the context of Rudd’s shunting, Gillard tried to regain the public’s trust in Labor by rebranding as a moderate.

American Democrats may be interested to know that the public apparently didn’t buy that centrist repositioning. Saturday’s election withheld a governing majority from Labor. Led by opposition prodigy Tony Abbott, the Liberals — Australia’s conservative party — have gained substantial public support in recent months, even though they too were unable to secure a governing majority. Now both Liberals and Labor are courting Green and Independent parliamentarians in an effort to build a coalition.

Unpleasant compromises now seem unavoidable for Labor, which spent its time in power trying to ram its agenda down voters’ throats despite the collective gag reflex. So Tony Abbott’s words might soon hold true for American Democrats: “I say that a Government which found it very hard to govern effectively with a majority of 17 seats will never be able to govern effectively in a minority.”

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The Great Absentee-Ballot Debate

A perennial Israeli debate erupted anew yesterday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he supported a proposal to extend the franchise to Israelis living abroad. What makes this debate so baffling is that both sides are partly right — meaning it should be easy to strike a compromise somewhere in the middle. But in 62 years, it hasn’t happened.

The proposal put forth by Netanyahu’s largest coalition partner, Yisrael Beiteinu, would allow absentee ballots for anyone who has held a valid Israeli passport for the past 10 years — about 500,000 people. And opponents are right that this is far too broad. First, in terms of sheer numbers, that constitutes 7 percent of the total population and fully 10 percent of eligible voters — a far higher proportion than is the norm in other countries that allow absentee voting.

Moreover, many of the 500,000 people in question have been living abroad full-time for many years. Indeed, you can have a valid Israeli passport for 10 years without setting foot in the country that entire time. Thus people who are not living in Israel and whose daily lives are unaffected by the country’s policies would have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of any election.

This is particularly problematic because Israel is a country at war. Overseas residents are not the ones who will suffer daily rocket fire if a territorial pullout goes wrong, nor will their sons’ lives be at risk if the government launches a military operation. Thus it is completely inappropriate to give them a major voice in electing those who will make such decisions.

Yet at the same time, proponents of absenting voting are right that the current system is irredeemably unfair. Under current law, the only people allowed to vote absentee are sailors and diplomats (and their families). Hence a businessman who lives in Israel year-round but happens to be abroad attending a major trade fair on Election Day cannot vote. Ditto for a professor who has taught for 20 years at an Israeli university but happens to be on sabbatical abroad during election year — unless he is willing to pay $1,000 to fly to Israel for Election Day and cast his ballot there. It is long past time for Israel to stop disenfranchising such citizens.

It is not technically difficult to distinguish permanent overseas residents from Israelis there temporarily, as it was in days gone by. The law could simply require absentee voters to have spent a specified proportion of the past five (or seven or 10) years in Israel, and ballot applications could be checked against border-control data to see if the applicant qualified.

The good news is that whereas Yisrael Beiteinu and Netanyahu’s Likud party largely support the bill, the other two main coalition partners, Labor and Shas, oppose it. That means there’s a chance that the government will at long last pass a reasonable compromise — one that will help those unfairly disenfranchised by current law while excluding those whose homes are permanently overseas.

A perennial Israeli debate erupted anew yesterday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he supported a proposal to extend the franchise to Israelis living abroad. What makes this debate so baffling is that both sides are partly right — meaning it should be easy to strike a compromise somewhere in the middle. But in 62 years, it hasn’t happened.

The proposal put forth by Netanyahu’s largest coalition partner, Yisrael Beiteinu, would allow absentee ballots for anyone who has held a valid Israeli passport for the past 10 years — about 500,000 people. And opponents are right that this is far too broad. First, in terms of sheer numbers, that constitutes 7 percent of the total population and fully 10 percent of eligible voters — a far higher proportion than is the norm in other countries that allow absentee voting.

Moreover, many of the 500,000 people in question have been living abroad full-time for many years. Indeed, you can have a valid Israeli passport for 10 years without setting foot in the country that entire time. Thus people who are not living in Israel and whose daily lives are unaffected by the country’s policies would have a disproportionate impact on the outcome of any election.

This is particularly problematic because Israel is a country at war. Overseas residents are not the ones who will suffer daily rocket fire if a territorial pullout goes wrong, nor will their sons’ lives be at risk if the government launches a military operation. Thus it is completely inappropriate to give them a major voice in electing those who will make such decisions.

Yet at the same time, proponents of absenting voting are right that the current system is irredeemably unfair. Under current law, the only people allowed to vote absentee are sailors and diplomats (and their families). Hence a businessman who lives in Israel year-round but happens to be abroad attending a major trade fair on Election Day cannot vote. Ditto for a professor who has taught for 20 years at an Israeli university but happens to be on sabbatical abroad during election year — unless he is willing to pay $1,000 to fly to Israel for Election Day and cast his ballot there. It is long past time for Israel to stop disenfranchising such citizens.

It is not technically difficult to distinguish permanent overseas residents from Israelis there temporarily, as it was in days gone by. The law could simply require absentee voters to have spent a specified proportion of the past five (or seven or 10) years in Israel, and ballot applications could be checked against border-control data to see if the applicant qualified.

The good news is that whereas Yisrael Beiteinu and Netanyahu’s Likud party largely support the bill, the other two main coalition partners, Labor and Shas, oppose it. That means there’s a chance that the government will at long last pass a reasonable compromise — one that will help those unfairly disenfranchised by current law while excluding those whose homes are permanently overseas.

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Laboring for Obama

As others have aptly detailed, Patricia Smith, Obama’s nominee for solicitor of labor, has a problem with telling the truth. In an extraordinary detailed account, Republican senators have documented her repeated misstatements concerning a New York wage and hour program, the intention to expand the program, the involvement of organized labor in devising the program, and the intention of Big Labor to use the program to facilitate organizing efforts. She was passed out of committee on a straight party-line vote and last night, with Sen. Paul Kirk still casting votes, the Senate invoked cloture, 60-32. So this seems to be one gift to Big Labor on which the Democrats can still deliver. (Yes, there is something pernicious about keeping Kirk there to vote in favors for Obama’s Big Labor patrons.)

But it is not the only gift to Big Labor coming from the Democrats. There is also the nomination of Harold Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. His hearing is set for today. Who is Becker? Here’s a handy summary:

Mr. Becker is associate general counsel at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is most recently in the news for its close ties to Acorn, the disgraced housing shakedown operation. President Obama nominated Mr. Becker in April to the five-member NLRB, which has the critical job of supervising union elections, investigating labor practices, and interpreting the National Labor Relations Act. In a 1993 Minnesota Law Review article, written when he was a UCLA professor, Mr. Becker argued for rewriting current union-election rules in favor of labor. And he suggested the NLRB could do this by regulatory fiat, without a vote of Congress.

In that law-review article, Becker argues that employers should be not be allowed to attend NLRB hearings about elections and shouldn’t be permitted to challenge election results even if unions engage in misconduct. Under his regime, elections would not be held at workplaces and could be conducted by mail (a recipe for union intimidation and fraud). In Becker’s legal world, employers would not be permitted to even assign observers at elections to detect fraud.

And Becker too has a candor problem, previously refusing to answer questions as to whether he drafted pro-Labor executive orders for the Obama administration while still on the SEIU’s payroll. Aside from his obvious fidelity to Big Labor, his apparent willingness to implement a ridiculously biased set of rules through executive fiat and his reluctance to come clean on his work for the Obami, there are his Chicago connections:

One of the many accusations leveled against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is that he accepted money from the SEIU in return for taking actions giving collective bargaining rights to Illinois home health-care workers. While Mr. Becker denies any knowledge of, or role in, contributions to the former Governor, he does admit that he provided “advice and counsel to SEIU relating to proposed executive orders and proposed legislation giving homecare workers a right to organize and engage in collective bargaining under state law.”

Mr. Becker says he “worked with and provided advice” to SEIU Local 880 in Chicago, a beneficiary of the newly unionized health workers, and one of two SEIU locals currently in the national spotlight for its deep ties with Acorn. Mr. Becker denies working for Acorn or its affiliates, but as recently as April Acorn co-founder Wade Rathke praised Mr. Becker by name, noting “For my money, Craig’s signal contribution has been his work in crafting and executing the legal strategies and protections which have allowed the effective organization of informal workers, and by this I mean home health-care workers.”

Unlike Smith, Becker may not get a vote before Scott Brown is sworn in.

These two nominees tell us much about the Democrats and their dependence on Big Labor. When Obama talks about the unseemly influence of “special interests,” we should look no further than these two nominees, who—one supposes—are small consolation prizes to Big Labor, which has gotten precious little else from this adminstration after giving millions to elect Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress. It is also yet another argument in favor of divided government. Without the comfort of huge Democratic majorities to rubber stamp its appointments, the White House would presumably think twice before sending up such defective nominees.

As others have aptly detailed, Patricia Smith, Obama’s nominee for solicitor of labor, has a problem with telling the truth. In an extraordinary detailed account, Republican senators have documented her repeated misstatements concerning a New York wage and hour program, the intention to expand the program, the involvement of organized labor in devising the program, and the intention of Big Labor to use the program to facilitate organizing efforts. She was passed out of committee on a straight party-line vote and last night, with Sen. Paul Kirk still casting votes, the Senate invoked cloture, 60-32. So this seems to be one gift to Big Labor on which the Democrats can still deliver. (Yes, there is something pernicious about keeping Kirk there to vote in favors for Obama’s Big Labor patrons.)

But it is not the only gift to Big Labor coming from the Democrats. There is also the nomination of Harold Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. His hearing is set for today. Who is Becker? Here’s a handy summary:

Mr. Becker is associate general counsel at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is most recently in the news for its close ties to Acorn, the disgraced housing shakedown operation. President Obama nominated Mr. Becker in April to the five-member NLRB, which has the critical job of supervising union elections, investigating labor practices, and interpreting the National Labor Relations Act. In a 1993 Minnesota Law Review article, written when he was a UCLA professor, Mr. Becker argued for rewriting current union-election rules in favor of labor. And he suggested the NLRB could do this by regulatory fiat, without a vote of Congress.

In that law-review article, Becker argues that employers should be not be allowed to attend NLRB hearings about elections and shouldn’t be permitted to challenge election results even if unions engage in misconduct. Under his regime, elections would not be held at workplaces and could be conducted by mail (a recipe for union intimidation and fraud). In Becker’s legal world, employers would not be permitted to even assign observers at elections to detect fraud.

And Becker too has a candor problem, previously refusing to answer questions as to whether he drafted pro-Labor executive orders for the Obama administration while still on the SEIU’s payroll. Aside from his obvious fidelity to Big Labor, his apparent willingness to implement a ridiculously biased set of rules through executive fiat and his reluctance to come clean on his work for the Obami, there are his Chicago connections:

One of the many accusations leveled against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is that he accepted money from the SEIU in return for taking actions giving collective bargaining rights to Illinois home health-care workers. While Mr. Becker denies any knowledge of, or role in, contributions to the former Governor, he does admit that he provided “advice and counsel to SEIU relating to proposed executive orders and proposed legislation giving homecare workers a right to organize and engage in collective bargaining under state law.”

Mr. Becker says he “worked with and provided advice” to SEIU Local 880 in Chicago, a beneficiary of the newly unionized health workers, and one of two SEIU locals currently in the national spotlight for its deep ties with Acorn. Mr. Becker denies working for Acorn or its affiliates, but as recently as April Acorn co-founder Wade Rathke praised Mr. Becker by name, noting “For my money, Craig’s signal contribution has been his work in crafting and executing the legal strategies and protections which have allowed the effective organization of informal workers, and by this I mean home health-care workers.”

Unlike Smith, Becker may not get a vote before Scott Brown is sworn in.

These two nominees tell us much about the Democrats and their dependence on Big Labor. When Obama talks about the unseemly influence of “special interests,” we should look no further than these two nominees, who—one supposes—are small consolation prizes to Big Labor, which has gotten precious little else from this adminstration after giving millions to elect Obama and large Democratic majorities in Congress. It is also yet another argument in favor of divided government. Without the comfort of huge Democratic majorities to rubber stamp its appointments, the White House would presumably think twice before sending up such defective nominees.

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Going, Going . . .

This is really not how prime ministers should behave. According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been handling his interrogations relating to the corruption charges facing him rather poorly: He granted police investigators precisely one hour for the latest questioning, and he did his best to make sure police could get in as few new questions as possible. He starts by launching into an extended tirade against leaks of the details of the investigation. Then he changes his testimony, asking that he re-answer questions from previous rounds. (Especially the part where he denies taking money from Morris Talansky.) According to another report, he also insisted that all his answers be written down, not just audio-recorded. “It was clear Olmert was taking up interrogation time deliberately,” said one source. “He knew well that the detectives asked for only one hour, and he felt he was waging a power struggle.”

In the meantime, Olmert’s Kadima party is already fighting over the spoils of their leader’s demise. Olmert has  promised to quit if indicted, a prospect that seems increasingly likely: Even if they can’t prove a quid pro quo for Talansky’s cash-in-envelopes donations that would be required for a bribery charge to stick, the donations themselves were apparently unreported and therefore in apparent flagrant breach of campaign-finance and money-laundering laws. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, Kadima’s main coalition partner, has already told Olmert that either he quits or Labor pulls out, bringing on elections. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, front-runner to replace Olmert, has already started pushing for primaries in the party, to give Kadima a head-start in preparing for elections.

According to inside sources, Olmert himself is stalling, trying to figure out the most graceful way to step down. He could start by behaving himself with the police.

This is really not how prime ministers should behave. According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been handling his interrogations relating to the corruption charges facing him rather poorly: He granted police investigators precisely one hour for the latest questioning, and he did his best to make sure police could get in as few new questions as possible. He starts by launching into an extended tirade against leaks of the details of the investigation. Then he changes his testimony, asking that he re-answer questions from previous rounds. (Especially the part where he denies taking money from Morris Talansky.) According to another report, he also insisted that all his answers be written down, not just audio-recorded. “It was clear Olmert was taking up interrogation time deliberately,” said one source. “He knew well that the detectives asked for only one hour, and he felt he was waging a power struggle.”

In the meantime, Olmert’s Kadima party is already fighting over the spoils of their leader’s demise. Olmert has  promised to quit if indicted, a prospect that seems increasingly likely: Even if they can’t prove a quid pro quo for Talansky’s cash-in-envelopes donations that would be required for a bribery charge to stick, the donations themselves were apparently unreported and therefore in apparent flagrant breach of campaign-finance and money-laundering laws. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, Kadima’s main coalition partner, has already told Olmert that either he quits or Labor pulls out, bringing on elections. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, front-runner to replace Olmert, has already started pushing for primaries in the party, to give Kadima a head-start in preparing for elections.

According to inside sources, Olmert himself is stalling, trying to figure out the most graceful way to step down. He could start by behaving himself with the police.

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Laboring Under A Misconception

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been dueling for the approval and support of Big Labor. Both have supported nearly every item on their wish list–including opposing secret ballot union elections and the Colombia free trade deal. Now Obama is in some hot water for (at the very least) giving the Teamsters the impression that he would lift the government supervision of the union which was enacted after mob infiltration and corruption were uncovered in the 1980′s. (The Teamsters, not surprisingly, rewarded him with their endorsement.)

If the shoe was on the other foot, and John McCain was carrying water for a corporate special interest, you could bet there would be a hue and cry. The reaction to the Democrats’ abject pandering to Big Labor is rather ho-hum, especially in the case of the Agent of Change. The media never seems to raise the concern that his devotion to banishing special interests is a bit one-sided (that is, he’s all for banishing the other guy’s special-interest supporters). Part of this is the media’s disinclination to press Obama and part is the fault of the McCain camp, which seems more obsessed with its own candidate’s image and press coverage than publicly and consistently going after his potential Democratic opponents for hypocrisy. So from the Democrats’ perspective, there is little downside if they keep on pandering to the whims of Big Labor.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been dueling for the approval and support of Big Labor. Both have supported nearly every item on their wish list–including opposing secret ballot union elections and the Colombia free trade deal. Now Obama is in some hot water for (at the very least) giving the Teamsters the impression that he would lift the government supervision of the union which was enacted after mob infiltration and corruption were uncovered in the 1980′s. (The Teamsters, not surprisingly, rewarded him with their endorsement.)

If the shoe was on the other foot, and John McCain was carrying water for a corporate special interest, you could bet there would be a hue and cry. The reaction to the Democrats’ abject pandering to Big Labor is rather ho-hum, especially in the case of the Agent of Change. The media never seems to raise the concern that his devotion to banishing special interests is a bit one-sided (that is, he’s all for banishing the other guy’s special-interest supporters). Part of this is the media’s disinclination to press Obama and part is the fault of the McCain camp, which seems more obsessed with its own candidate’s image and press coverage than publicly and consistently going after his potential Democratic opponents for hypocrisy. So from the Democrats’ perspective, there is little downside if they keep on pandering to the whims of Big Labor.

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Democrats’ Risky Alliance with Big Labor

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace. Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA. (Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

Barack Obama addressed the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO today. Both have a lot at stake. The AFL-CIO and other unions clearly see 2008 as their year. The AFL-CIO just announced a $53 million ad campaign aimed at attacking John McCain. Yes, Obama doesn’t accept special interest money. But he’s happy to benefit from union help, all the same.

Among Big Labor’s key objectives in recent years has been passage of the Orwellian-sounding Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). That measure would replace secret ballot union elections with so-called “card checks” whereby cards signed by a majority of workers in the presence of union officials would be sufficient to unionize a workplace. Conservatives have long argued that such a measure would open up workers to union intimidation. Nevertheless, this remains a pet project for Big Labor, Congressional Democrats (who failed to pass it in 2007), and both Democratic presidential contenders. (Not surpringly, Obama plugged the EFCA in his AFL-CIO talk today.)

Now comes some evidence that Democrats do the bidding of Big Labor at their political peril. McLaughlin & Associates, a well-regarded GOP polling group, has conducted a survey for a business group, Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine. The results (according to the press release) show that large majorities of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%), and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support Democratic senate candidates who support the EFCA. (Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation.) To boot, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be retained for union elections.

This is one more instance in which Democrats have confused the interests of union power brokers with the interests of working-class voters. Unions may want to do away with workplace democracy, but real workers do not. Similarly, teachers’ unions hate school choice measures, but working-class voters whose kids are trapped in underperforming public schools like them.

Will this slow down Big Labor or give Democratic politicians reason to reconsider their position? Probably not. But it’s an opening Republicans should exploit, now that they have some evidence to indicate it’s a smart strategy.

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Not So Kosher

If, like me, you are waiting to eat in Beijing’s first kosher restaurant—opened in anticipation of hordes of Jewish spectators at the Olympics—you probably hope a kosher kitchen is the answer to China’s food safety problems. Come to think of it, the Japanese might hope so, too. Last night’s news in Japan was dominated by a report that at least 10 people had fallen ill after eating pesticide-laced frozen pork dumplings manufactured in China. The news was unclear whether the pesticide was found inside the dumplings themselves, or saturated the inside of the bag in which they were shipped.

As is the case in Japan, this new “threat” to the country has immediately involved the highest levels, with the Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare stating that more needs to be known about the conditions in the Chinese factory that made the dumplings, while executives of the import company that distributed the tainted food flew immediately to China to seek answers. Japanese news stations also traveled to the factory and interviewed local folk who stated that the pork coming out the factory was “not bad.” The news also noted that nearly all the factory’s workers live on the grounds, as is becoming common in factory towns around China. No reaction was given from Chinese officials, but to their credit they did not bar Japanese television crews from filming.

Japan has had its own share of food safety scandals lately, but nothing I’m aware of that includes poisons (rather it’s the mundane variety of re-labeling expired products or using expired ingredients—no one has become sick, as far as I know). What this does show is that China’s vast food export market is still very lightly supervised, and as its exports designed for human consumption grow by leaps and bounds, we are more and more likely to see repeated stories of unsafe products, illnesses, and possibly worse. China will be facing pressures on multiple fronts across the world, and how it reacts will tell us a great deal about the type of global player it is going to be. Meanwhile, make mine hummus.

UPDATE: By the time the Japanese import company’s official arrived, Chinese officials had removed all traces of material from the particular production line and claimed that they found no pesticide in the factory.  It is unclear if they have chosen to stonewall, but the dumplings of course came in sealed packages.

If, like me, you are waiting to eat in Beijing’s first kosher restaurant—opened in anticipation of hordes of Jewish spectators at the Olympics—you probably hope a kosher kitchen is the answer to China’s food safety problems. Come to think of it, the Japanese might hope so, too. Last night’s news in Japan was dominated by a report that at least 10 people had fallen ill after eating pesticide-laced frozen pork dumplings manufactured in China. The news was unclear whether the pesticide was found inside the dumplings themselves, or saturated the inside of the bag in which they were shipped.

As is the case in Japan, this new “threat” to the country has immediately involved the highest levels, with the Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare stating that more needs to be known about the conditions in the Chinese factory that made the dumplings, while executives of the import company that distributed the tainted food flew immediately to China to seek answers. Japanese news stations also traveled to the factory and interviewed local folk who stated that the pork coming out the factory was “not bad.” The news also noted that nearly all the factory’s workers live on the grounds, as is becoming common in factory towns around China. No reaction was given from Chinese officials, but to their credit they did not bar Japanese television crews from filming.

Japan has had its own share of food safety scandals lately, but nothing I’m aware of that includes poisons (rather it’s the mundane variety of re-labeling expired products or using expired ingredients—no one has become sick, as far as I know). What this does show is that China’s vast food export market is still very lightly supervised, and as its exports designed for human consumption grow by leaps and bounds, we are more and more likely to see repeated stories of unsafe products, illnesses, and possibly worse. China will be facing pressures on multiple fronts across the world, and how it reacts will tell us a great deal about the type of global player it is going to be. Meanwhile, make mine hummus.

UPDATE: By the time the Japanese import company’s official arrived, Chinese officials had removed all traces of material from the particular production line and claimed that they found no pesticide in the factory.  It is unclear if they have chosen to stonewall, but the dumplings of course came in sealed packages.

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The Ruddslide

The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.

The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.

“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.

The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.

The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.

“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism

The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

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The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion.
Bernard Harrison
Rowman & Littlefield. 224 pp. $22.95.

According to the famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Anti-Semitism is a passing phase in the history of culture.” Since that sanguine declaration, anti-Semitism has had several very good rolls of the dice, culminating in the destruction of European Jewry.

The latest recrudescence of anti-Semitism is by now the subject of at least a half dozen books, published in America, England, France, and Italy. Their shared conclusion, set forth from a variety of perspectives, is that the physical violence of the new Jew-hatred is largely the work of young Muslims, but that the ideological violence is the work primarily of leftists, battlers against racism, professed humanitarians, and liberals (including Jewish ones). The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, Bernard Harrison’s superb new book, deals almost entirely with this drifting of liberals and leftists into anti-Semitism, and it brings to the subject a new authorial identity, a different academic background, and a distinctive and (despite the topic) exhilarating voice. Resurgence is also the first book on contemporary anti-Semitism by a Gentile, and a British one to boot. (According to Harrison, a professor of philosophy, this has also made him privy to the expression of anti-Semitic prejudice by apparently respectable academic people “when Jews are absent.”)

Recent years have furnished a great deal of material suited to his talents and expertise. Harrison brings to his subject the “habitual skepticism, bitterly close reading, and aggressive contentiousness” produced by “forty years in the amiable sharkpool of analytic philosophy.” His merciless deconstruction of the anti-Israel invective and smug clichés of the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, and other bastions of anti-Jewish sentiment in England reminds one of the powerful literary scrutiny pioneered in this country by the New Critics.

Harrison’s method is to scrutinize the statements of Israel-haters for internal contradictions, inconsistencies, specious reasoning, misstatements of fact, and outright lies. To read the fulminations of such people as John Pilger, Robert Fisk, or Jacqueline Rose concerning Israel ordinarily requires the mental equivalent of hip-boots; Harrison, however, takes up a rhetorical scalpel and dissects their ravings with surgical precision.

He devotes all of the book’s second chapter, for example, to a single infamous issue of the New Statesman. The cover of January 14, 2002 showed a tiny Union Jack being pierced by the sharp apex of a large Star of David, made of gold. Below, in large black letters, was a question posed with characteristic English understatement: “A Kosher Conspiracy?” It would not have been out of place in Der Stürmer; and the articles that followed it had at first suggested to Harrison that he entitle his analysis of them “In the Footsteps of Dr. Goebbels.” (He decided, however, that this would be “inadequate to the gravity of the case.”)

Among the many canards that Harrison dismembers in the book: “Israel is a colonialist state”; “Israel is a Nazi state, and the Jews who support it are as guilty as Nazi collaborators were”; “Anybody who criticizes Israel is called an anti-Semite”; “Jews do not express grief except for political or financial ends.” Take, for example, the way in which he draws out the implications of the Israel-Nazi Germany equation, without which people like Noam Chomsky would be rendered almost speechless: “To attach the label ‘Nazi’ to Israel, or to couple the Star of David with the swastika is . . . not just to express opposition . . . to the policies of one or another Israeli government. It is to defame Israel by association with the most powerful symbol of evil, of that which must be utterly rejected and uprooted from the face of the earth.”

Harrison consistently criticizes contemporary liberals who have allowed their moral indignation on behalf of Palestinians to pass into something “very hard to distinguish from anti-Semitism of the most traditional kind.” Yet he just as consistently refrains from calling them anti-Semites. (He does, however, wonder whether, in their dreams, they call themselves anti-Semites.) Thus the editor of the New Statesman who approves a cover worthy of Julius Streicher is “an entirely honest, decent man,” and Dennis Sewell, author of the essay on the Anglo-Jewish “kosher conspiracy” belongs to the rank of “sincere humanitarians.”

Two factors play a role in Harrison’s mitigation of his criticisms. One is his assumption, oft-repeated, that liberals and leftists in the past were almost always opposed to anti-Semitism. But this is open to question. In France, for example, the only articulate friends of the Jews prior to the Dreyfus Affair were conservative writers who denounced anti-Jewish attitudes as “one of the favorite theses of the 18th century.” French leftist movements of the 19th century had been outspoken in their antipathy to Jews until the Dreyfus Affair forced them to decide whether they hated the Jews or the Catholic Church more. (They became Dreyfusards.) In England, Dr. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby and father of Matthew, called English Jews “lodgers” and wanted them barred from universities and citizenship. Gladstone referred to Disraeli as “that alien” who “was going to annex England to his native East & make it the appanage of an Asian empire.” Ernest Bevin, Labor foreign minister from 1945-51, was notoriously short of sympathy in the Jewish direction.

The other, more positive motive for Harrison’s use of such delicate epithets stems, perhaps, from his education in philosophy: he seems to believe genuinely in the ability of people to self-correct, to be swayed by reason. Let us hope that he is right. My own, darker view is that a thinker’s ideas are an expression of character. If Harrison believes that he can reason into decency people like his fellow philosopher Ted Honderich, who espouses “violence for equality” and effusively sings the praises of Palestinian suicide bombers, I wish him joy in his efforts. But deductions have little power of persuasion, and I have no great hopes for his success.

Despite my quibbles, Harrison’s book is one of the necessary and indispensable utterances on the subject of these new, liberal anti-Semites, the people who are busily making themselves into accessories before the fact of Ahmadinejad’s plan “to wipe Israel off the map.” The fact that this eloquent and elegantly argued book has until now been totally ignored by book review editors is itself testimony to the alarming dogmatism that Harrison has so vividly criticized.

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