In Nevada primary, a Muslim facing a Jew says he was passed over for his faith


Come November, Nevadans in this suburban Las Vegas district may well elect to Congress Jacky Rosen, a software developer and president of her synagogue.

A Jordanian-American lawyer says her win would be at his expense, and it’s because of his Muslim faith.

But Jesse Sbaih isn’t blaming Rosen. Rather he is blitzing the Nevada media with his claim that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Democratic boss in the state, counted him out of the race in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District because he is a Muslim.

Sbaih was more than happy to present his argument to JTA, and at no point suggested that Rosen – who was ultimately Reid’s pick in the bid to replace Joe Heck, a Republican whose run for Senate leaves his seat open –was selected because she is Jewish. Instead, he said, Reid was simply seeking someone who was not Jesse Sbaih.

“‘Let me be blunt, you can’t win this race because you’re a Muslim’,” Sbaih quoted Reid as telling him last August when they met at a Las Vegas hotel.

Reid’s office acknowledges the meeting but flatly denies that Sbaih’s religion came up.

“We have said many times that Jesse is not telling the truth,” Kristen Orthman, the senator’s spokeswoman, told JTA.

Sbaih remains in the running for the June 14 congressional primary, but Reid’s full-throttled power is behind Rosen. Reid is retiring this year and wants to leave his mark on the state. Heck’s open seat is an opportunity – President Barack Obama won the district in 2008 and 2012, albeit by relatively small margins.

Reid’s Searchlight Leadership Fund political action committee is backing Rosen. She also has the backing of a political action committee associated with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the powerful minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice Democratic women.

Sbaih, speaking to JTA in the boardroom of his law firm’s office in a strip mall, said Reid’s machine has cut off access to Democratic consultants who could help him. Much of his campaign is self-funded.

He says he is running to give back to the community — he arrived in the United States with his parents when he was 11. He has endorsed the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running a campaign emphasizing income inequality – and who incidentally is the first Jewish candidate for a major party to win nominating contests. (Sanders lost Nevada, but by a small margin, to Hillary Clinton.)

“I believe in the goodness and the spirit of the American people,” Sbaih said. “There are serious issues facing our community. In this district of 744,000 people, we have 64,000 people living below the poverty line.”

Did Reid bring up Sbaih’s faith? It comes down to he said/she said – quite literally.

Two weeks before meeting with Reid, Sbaih met with Rebecca Lambe, a political consultant to the senator. Sbaih said she was the first to suggest his faith could be an obstacle. Orthman referred JTA to Lambe’s statement last month to the Washington Post, when she said she raised a number of issues in that first meeting, including his religion, “to more fully understand the path and potential attacks from the other side.”

Sbaih showed JTA a series of texts he sent to Lambe after his Aug. 25 meeting with Reid, in which he candidly discusses whether he should suspend his campaign because of his “ethnicity/religion.” Lambe did not immediately cut him off – she refers to a possible federal appointment that Reid’s team discussed with Sbaih – so she does not appear to be put off or surprised by his reference to his religion or its political implications.

However, Sbaih’s references to his faith in the texts could refer to his earlier conversation with Lambe and not to the conversation with Reid. It is also not clear from the texts if she straight out said being Muslim would be a problem, or if he simply inferred that from her saying that he should anticipate attacks because of his religion — which she acknowledges.

What’s also not explained is why Democrats would fear running an Arab American or a Muslim for office. Multiple Arab Americans from both parties have served or are serving in Congress, and there are two Muslim Democrats from the Midwest — Sbaih would be the first member to be both Arab American and Muslim.

Where Sbaih has ammunition, however, is in the claim by Reid’s team that the senator simply wanted Sbaih, 40, to gain seasoning – through the statehouse or federal government work – before running.

“Senator Reid said, ‘You have a future, you should look at running for state Assembly or state Senate,” Orthman said. “That was the crux of the meeting.”

The problem with that argument is that Rosen also was not a known quantity. Reid, according to veteran Nevada politics reporter Jon Ralston, had hoped to find a “big name” before settling earlier this year on Rosen.

Why didn’t he go back to Sbaih, who was still asking to be considered?

“She’s been a community leader for years, she’s known in the district she’s running in,” Orthman said, referring to Rosen.

Sbaih says his work specializing in consumer rights lends him a high profile, which is burnished by his physician wife Sameera’s busy family practice in this suburb of casinos, resorts and strip malls.

The Rosen campaign deflected multiple requests by JTA to meet or interview the candidate. A video of her April 19 appearance at a town hall for the LGBTQ community shows a confident and warm speaker, albeit with name recognition issues. The group, the Stonewall Democratic Club, prepared a label for her as “Jack Rosen,” which she successfully turned into a joke.

She told the crowd she was fighting for “the freedom to be your authentic self, go to the bathroom wherever you choose, thank you very much — you can be Jack or Jacky Rosen,” she said, nodding at the label and earning appreciative laughter.

Regarding her leadership experience, all she cited was her presidency of Ner Tamid, a Reform synagogue here and the largest shul in the region. She noted the synagogue’s use of solar panels to conserve energy and said she balanced a budget of $2.5 million a year.

Otherwise, Rosen appeared to lack preparation, eager to avoid wonky topics and to focus on a feel-good message.

“We can talk about energy and education and economics, but what’s most important is to talk about is empowerment,” she said.

An accountant asked her about taxing carried interest. Rosen seemed at sea.

“I have looked a little bit at the carried interest,” she said, “but you can go ahead and explain it.”

Will Republican Jews dump Trump?


Donald Trump will set the cause of Republican Jews back 75 years.

That’s why the leading voice of Republican Jews seems to have all but abandoned the leading contender for the Republican nomination.

Trump’s bellicose takeover of the GOP has been met with a complete and telling silence from the Republican Jewish Coalition, the largest and most active group of Republican Jews. 

Trump is not mentioned on the group’s website.  He and his surrogates are not listed on its calendar of events. He is not even pictured on the group’s homepage. You know who is?  Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Scott Walker.  Two of those three men have already dropped out of the race. The leading contender for the Republican nomination?  Nowhere to be found.   

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks did not respond to my interview requests about Trump. Republican pollster and consultant Frank Luntz answered an email about whether Republican Jews will throw their support behind Trump with an uncharacteristically terse, “I have no idea.” 

Then, on March 1, Dan Senor, the co-author of the seminal book “Start-up Nation” who served as senior foreign policy adviser to the Mitt Romney campaign, announced he would not support Trump.

“I am not voting for Donald Trump,” Senor told Bloomberg News. “I am not voting for him in the primary, and I am not voting for him in the general.”

Folks, this is big.

Yes, there are assorted Jewish Americans who like Trump and will vote for him, even work for him — and I have received spiteful emails from all three of them.    

But for now, it looks like Trump will set a record for garnering the lowest Republican Jewish vote in 75 years. In 1940, Wendell Willkie received just 10 percent of the Jewish vote in his run against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Trump could do worse. 

Of course, he could still win — maybe Hillary or Bernie stumble so badly Trump looks like John F. Kennedy. But history shows that a large Jewish vote, while it doesn’t guarantee a win, inoculates a GOP candidate against loss.

“The last losing GOP candidate to get more than 30 percent of the Jewish vote was Charles Evans Hughes, in 1916,” Jewish Journal Senior Political Editor Shmuel Rosner points out in his book, “The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney, A Jewish Voters Guide.”  

“So you see, there’s a good reason … to invest in the Jewish vote … it is almost like getting insurance policy against losing.”

Trump has taken out no such policy.  He has reversed whatever progress Republicans have made in winning over more Jewish voters. He has alienated Republican Jews looking for any reason to get behind him.

The first breach occurred last December, when Trump appeared at a high-level RJC event in Washington, D.C .

According to a report by Jewish Insider, Trump told the well-heeled donor crowd, “I know why you are not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your own politicians.”

During the Q-and-A, Trump lifted his other middle finger to the conservative Jewish establishment, saying he wouldn’t commit to the idea of an undivided Jerusalem. The audience booed.

Last month, Trump declared he would be “neutral” about the Israelis and Palestinians, another taboo idea among Republicans, who proclaim unswerving loyalty to the current Israeli government. In response, Trump’s primary opponents condemned the idea of neutrality in the last Republican presidential debate.

And over the past two weeks, Trump has equivocated on whether he would disavow the losers’ row of anti-Semitic groups and individuals who have come out in support of his candidacy. Last week, I wrote that Trump has a white supremacist problem. A week later, the problem has reached Zika proportions.

But Trump has yet to back down.  Not on calling the Republican Jewish establishment rich puppet masters. Not on BS-ing his way through Middle East politics, not on quoting Mussolini or retweeting anti-Semites.

In effect, Trump has been saying, “Screw you” to the largest base of organized, loyal Jewish Republicans in American history.

And, as of now, it looks like they are poised to say it right back. 

Son of George Soros launches Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC…and it’s not about Israel


A Jewish political action committee  (PAC) devoted solely to promoting progressive stances on domestic issues in the United States was launched April 21 by the nonprofit Bend the Arc. The new PAC is the first of its kind among this country’s more than 30 Jewish PACs, most of which focus on Israel and the Middle East. Serving as the chair of the PAC’s board is Alexander Soros, son of billionaire financier and Democratic mega-donor George Soros.

The Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC launched with $200,000 in commitments, its director, Hadar Susskind, told the Journal; it has already thrown its support behind four Democratic congressional candidates in the November 2016 election — Yvette Clarke of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rep. Xavier Becerra of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. 

Susskind said that the four congressional members were interviewed by Bend the Arc PAC before the group decided to support them. He added that Bend the Arc PAC plans to add more House candidates to its slate, as well as a few Senate candidates — but for now will stay out of the presidential race. “[That’s] not a reflection on [Hillary] Clinton or any other candidates,” Susskind said.

On the day of the launch, an opinion piece by Alexander Soros was published in Politico saying Bend the Arc PAC represents the political views of most American Jews, who, according to polling, are not concerned primarily with Israel and are among the most liberal groups in the United States.

“There are people, including lots of Jews, who are politically involved, who work through Emily’s List or Sierra Club or Move On, but none of them bring the Jewish community’s voice to the political table,” Susskind said, amplifying Soros’ piece on Politico. “People who are involved in the Jewish voice have, until now, only had the opportunity to do that on Israel and in Middle East policy.” Another Jewish PAC, the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs (known as JACPAC), is based in Chicago and focuses on Israel as well as on domestic abortion rights and separation of church and state.

Even while polls show an increase in the number of Jews who have moved toward Republican Party identification since 2008, 61 percent of American Jews currently identify with the Democrats, while 29 percent identify with Republicans, and Susskind said he is confident the overwhelming support for Democratic politicians and policies will continue.

“You can go back every four years and, frankly, off-cycle years too, and see the same quotes from the same people who say, ‘Oh yeah, Jews are abandoning the Democrats, Jews are abandoning the Democrats.' It’s never proven to be true, and I don’t expect it to be any different this time,” Susskind said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate when anybody says, ‘Oh, I speak for the Jewish community.’ What we are representing, though, as demonstrated by poll after poll after poll, are the political views of the majority of the community.”

PACs have existed since the early 1940s, when supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Congress of Industrial Organizations. PACs are allowed to collect up to $5,000 from any single donor and may donate up to $5,000 to any single candidate, or $15,000 to any single party. Thousands of PACs exist today, and they’ve long drawn ire from many Democrats who say they play a corrosive role in American politics by flooding elections with money. 

Andrew Weinstein, a prominent Florida trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser,

Five things you need to know about tomorrow’s Israeli election


1. It’s too close to call

With Israelis headed to the polls tomorrow, the race remains tight. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is trailing Isaac Herzog’s center-left Zionist Union by a few percentage points and is expected to come in second. Five of six polls released Friday gave Zionist Union a four seat lead, commanding 24 to 26 seats in the next Knesset compared to Likud’s 20 to 22 seats. A sixth poll, from the Israeli news site Walla, showed Zionist Union with a two-seat margin over Likud, 25 to 23.

Netanyahu, who sailed to a comfortable victory in the last election, in 2013, has been hit hard on Israel’s high cost of living, a festering housing crisis and his handling of relations with the United States and the Iranian nuclear threat. Herzog has built his campaign on those attacks, but a perceived dearth of charisma has kept him from widening his lead in the polls.

More importantly, neither Likud nor Zionist Union are slated to get more than a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 seats. To become prime minister, someone will have to cobble together a majority coalition. Which is why …

2. Tuesday’s winner might not be the party with the most votes

This isn’t a two-way race. It’s an 11-way race. And the winner isn’t the party with the most votes, but the one that can unite several smaller parties together into a governing coalition. In 2009, Netanyahu became prime minister even though Likud came in second on Election Day.

Eleven parties are expected to get the minimum 3.25 percent of votes needed to enter the Knesset. They range from the Arab-Israeli Joint List to the staunchly leftist Meretz to the Sephardic haredi Shas to the pro-settler Jewish Home. About half are right-wing or religious, and have historically caucused with Likud. The other half are left-wing, centrist or Arab-Israeli.

3. There’s usually a surprise on election night

Polls have been pretty stable for the past couple of months, but that doesn’t mean we know how the vote will come out tomorrow. Up to one quarter of voters, according to some surveys, are undecided. And in the past few elections, many of those voters have swung to a party that ends up doing much better than predicted.

In 2013, that party was Yesh Atid, which polled at 12 or 13 seats ahead of the election and won 19. In 2009, it was the centrist Kadima, which won 28 after polling at 23, coming in first place (but then sitting in the opposition). In 2006, it was the little-known Pensioners’ Party, which ran away with seven seats that mostly came from protest votes. If voters do deliver a surprise, it could catapult an unexpected party to newfound prominence and complicate the coalition math for both Herzog and Netanyahu.

4. Expect the Arab-Israeli party, the Joint List, to make a splash

A law raising the vote threshold last year forced the four Arab parties — from the Islamist Ta’al to the Arab-Jewish communist Hadash — to unite into the Joint List. Unification turned the Joint List into a major political force that appears poised to galvanize Arab-Israelis — who usually have comparatively lower voter turnout than Israeli Jews — to go to the polls. The Joint List is polling in third place and might receive as many as 15 seats tomorrow.

The Joint List has vowed to sit in the opposition no matter what, but it could still influence who forms the next government by preventing the right-wing from garnering a 61-seat majority. That scenario could lead Zionist Union and Likud to create a unity government, which would make the Joint List the biggest opposition party.

5. We’ll know who won the election only a few weeks from now

Unlike U.S. elections, in which a clear candidate (usually) emerges victorious, Tuesday is just one phase of a drawn-out process in Israel. After the votes come in, parties will unite behind their preferred prime minister no matter who came in first. Israel’s president will then select the party leader with the largest supporting bloc to form a government.

The chosen leader gets up to two months to form a majority coalition, an often unpredictable process in which deals are cut and ministries and other influential posts doled out. In 2013, elections in late Januaryyielded a coalition only in mid-March, even though Netanyahu won by a wide margin. Pundits are predicting a Netanyahu reelection because the right-wing bloc may again win a majority — even if Likud itself comes in second. But with a couple parties staying mum on which candidate they support, it’s impossible to know how the race is going to play out.

Netanyahu vows to stop ‘Palestinian continuity’ toward Jerusalem


This story originally appeared at The Media Line.

Har Homa, Jerusalem – Standing on an apartment balcony beneath an olive tree overlooking the green hills between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a hastily convened news conference in this neighborhood that it prevents “territorial contiguity” for a Palestinian state. The corner apartment was draped with banners saying “Only Netanyahu Can” and “It’s Either Them or Us,” two of the Likud’s latest slogans.

“There was a Palestinian attempt to connect Bethlehem and to burst into the city from the south,” Netanyahu wearing a dark suit and a blue tie, and squinting into the sun, told a group of reporters, along with a few neighborhood residents. “The pressure on me not to build here was intense, but I insisted and it was worth it,” Netanyahu said. “Today there are tens of thousands of residents here. I and my friends in Likud will preserve Jerusalem and continue to build it.”

Har Homa, which Palestinians call Jebel Abu Ghneim, is built on land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after 1967. To build the neighborhood, which today has 22,000 residents, according to mayor Nir Barkat, who introduced the Prime Minister, Israel annexed private land from both Israelis and Palestinians. The neighborhood was inaugurated in 1997, in one of Netanyahu’s first acts as Prime Minister, and sparked international condemnation, as well as Palestinian riots.

With polls showing Netanyahu’s Likud party trailing the center-left Zionist Camp by between three and five seats, Netanyahu is going all-out to attack the challengers, focusing his ire on his former Justice Minister Tzippi Livni. He also consistently referred to challenger Isaac Herzog as “Bougie”, a nickname Herzog has sought to rid himself of.

“The choice is the Likud headed by me, or a left-wing government that will give in to every demand,” Netanyahu warned. “If Tzippi (Livni) and Bougie (Herzog) are here, on these hills will rise Hamastan,” he said, using a phrase that usually refers to the Gaza Strip that has been controlled by the Islamist Hamas since 2007.

Netanyahu also called it a “fateful” election and warned that every vote counts.

“Come to the polls and bring your friends and your relatives,” he told Yaron and Sigal Chakshorian, who told The Media Line they were asked to host the news conference only early this morning.

“I’m a Likudnik,” Yaron Chakshorian told The Media Line. “I like his charisma and his presence.”

Their neighbors, Rely and Yossi Asaraf, stood holding their seven-month-old daughter, Efrat. Like the Chakshorians, they have moved here because apartments are substantially cheaper here than closer to the center of the city. Their three sons attend local schools and they say they love the neighborhood.

“We’re here because of him,” Yossi told The Media Line, explaining his support for Netanyahu.

“People talk about the need for jobs and housing, but the most important thing is security,” Rely told The Media Line. “We are surrounded by enemies and Bibi can handle them better than anyone else,” she said using the Prime Minister’s nickname.

Outside the Chakshorian’s home, however, there was not as much support for the Prime Minister. Most of the banners hanging from windows supported Yachad, a new party well to the right of Likud.

At a nearby grocery store, owner Asaf Tapiro said that just one day before the election, he had still not decided who to vote for.

“I voted Netanyahu last time but I’m still not sure this time,” he told The Media Line. “I might vote for Moshe Kahlon, because I think he is the best for the economy and that’s the most important issue for me.”

Kahlon, a former Likud government minister, is popular for opening up the mobile phone market to competition, saving Israelis hundreds of dollars a year on mobile phone bills. Polls say his new party, Kulanu, could win ten or eleven seats and be an important coalition partner to either Netanyahu or Herzog.

In an effort to respond to these voters, Netanyahu was joined at the news conference by supermarket mogul Rami Levy, whose chain of discount supermarkets are popular with Israelis. Yet Netanyahu focused his message, as he has for the past three months, on his security credentials.

“Tzippi and Bougie will not be able to preserve your security,” Netanyahu warned. “If they win, you will have rockets fired on you from these hills.”

L.A.’s financial support of Israel’s election


The Los Angeles dollars—or shekels—spent may not have approached the amount Hollywood throws around for U.S. elections, but Jews in Los Angeles nevertheless managed to funnel about $175,000 into Israel’s party primaries this election cycle.

Israel’s primaries ended in January with Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu blowing out his rival Danny Danon, and Labor’s Isaac Herzog soundly defeating Shelly Yachimovich under the Zionist Union coalition, in which Labor is paired with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah. Israeli campaign finance law forbids foreign donations during the general parliamentary election—scheduled for March 17—but allows for very limited contributions during the primary season.

In this election’s primaries, Israeli candidates raised about $1.4 million in the United States, with New York donors contributing more than in any other state. In Los Angeles, candidates raised about $162,000, or 11 percent of the national total. And of that, Likud candidates—primarily Netanyahu and Danon—dominated the fundraising field, taking in nearly $124,000, or 70 percent of the total.

Netanyahu led the pack among the candidates, raising about $42,000 in Los Angeles; Danon brought in about $34,000, and other Likud candidates including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein and Gilad Arden raised between about $11,000 and $15,000.

The only politician outside Likud to top $10,000 was Nahman Shai, a member of the Labor party and the Knesset’s Deputy Speaker, who raised more than $15,000. Abraham Dichter of Kadima raised about $8,000.

The campaign finance data, which is publically available on the Israeli comptroller’s website, shows that nearly 40 people in the Greater Los Angeles area sent funds to Israeli candidates this round, with most donations ranging in the thousands of dollars, and only a handful topping $10,000. Although the donations logged by the comptroller online date back to January 2013 at the earliest, the vast majority of the contributions came in late 2014 and early 2015, and were applied to candidates who ran in this election cycle’s party primaries.

Lawrence Feigen, an executive at Windsor Healthcare Rehabilitation, gave about $14,500 to three different candidates, all Likud—Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Edelstein. According to Federal Election Commission data, Feigen’s U.S. political donations over the years have been to both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK).

Feigen wrote to the Journal in an email that he’s been donating his money and time for decades to causes he believes in, including American and Israeli politics. “I generally (although certainly not always) agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s views,” Feigen wrote. Asked whether he knows if his political donations have made a difference, he responded: “I honestly have no idea what kind of impact my donations possibly can make. I hope they help.”

Shlomo Rechnitz, the local mega-philanthropist who for a brief time owned Doheny Meats in 2013, which he purchased as an attempt to rectify the kosher meat company after it was wracked with scandal, confirmed to the Journal that he gave about $11,500 to Netanyahu. Rechnitz too has given to a number of both Democratic and Republican politicians and groups, including former Congressman Henry Waxman, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and a joint fundraiser for Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).

Other notable local donors include Adam Milstein, a co-founder of the Israeli American Council; Richard Sandler, executive vice president of the Milken Family Foundation; real estate businessman and philanthropist Stanley Black; and Steve Goldberg, who ran an unsuccessful campaign last year to replace Mort Klein as the president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and donated $4,000 to Danon’s campaign in January.

Goldberg was on the ZOA’s national board from 2008 to 2014 and became the board’s vice chair in 2010. He was also the head of ZOA’s Los Angeles chapter until its closure in 2014. On Monday, Goldberg was in Israel for the election. He recently became a dual citizen, and because Israel’s voting laws prohibit absentee ballots, Goldberg was among the Israeli citizens who flew there from the United States just to vote—in Goldberg’s case for Netanyahu, whom he initially opposed in favor of Danon in Likud’s party primaries.

“I found Danon to be courageous,” Goldberg said, referring to Danon’s outspoken opposition to Netanyahu’s handling of the Gaza war last summer. “He spoke up, put himself in political peril and risked his career.”

Peter Medding, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with expertise in Israeli politics, said that the amount candidates raised for the primaries in Los Angeles were “just symbolic” and said that, as in an American election, $175,000 has very little impact.

“It’s peanuts here too,” Medding said. Asked whether the $42,000 that went to Netanyahu could have any discernible impact, he said it would not. He added, though, that in party primaries, name recognition is a key factor for lesser-known candidates who need to pay for television ads across the country. Danny Danon, for example, who remains a vocal Netanyahu opponent yet has failed thus far to gain enough traction within Likud to become one of its leaders, nearly matched Netanyahu’s fundraising in Los Angeles. It didn’t help, though, in his bid to represent Likud in the general election.

For Netanyahu, on the other hand, visibility is not a problem.

“The amount of money that [Sheldon] Adelson spends on newspapers that promote Bibi every morning exceeds that by a function of 50 or 100,” Medding said, referring to Israel Hayom, the free daily funded by Adelson that is pro-Netanyahu.

Although the money Israeli candidates raised from Los Angeles for this year’s election cycle may ultimately prove inconsequential, Angelenos are sure to continue to be a source of funds for aspiring and established Israeli politicos.

“Los Angeles has been a good collection area for Israeli candidates,” Medding said. “There are generous donors there. People are used to giving money to political campaigns; they give to Israel as well as to Waxman.”

And for local Jews like Goldberg who are passionate about Israel, although a few thousand dollars here or there may not prove to change much, and represents only a “modest commitment”, it’s a commitment nonetheless.

“If there are people I believe in, I’ll do whatever I can to help,” Goldberg said. “One of those ways is money.”

Religion and state: Not on Israel’s campaign agenda


A flyer published in late February declared that liberal Jews — whether liberal Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or otherwise — account for more than 600,000 Israelis. That many votes, the flyer said, could account for 10 seats in Knesset, a substantial party.

The flyer’s message was clear: liberally religious Jews are a significant constituency in Israel whose concerns need to be addressed. After nearly seven decades in which Israel hasn’t allowed civil marriage or gay marriage, hasn’t provided proportionate funding to non-Orthodox movements and hasn’t recognized Reform or Conservative conversions, it’s time for a change.

The problem for advocates of religious pluralism is that change probably isn’t coming.

Substantial majorities of Israelis have long supported reforms to Israel’s religion-state status quo. A September poll by religious pluralism advocacy organization Hiddush found that two-thirds of Israelis back legalizing civil marriage while 64 percent support recognizing Conservative and Reform conversions.

Despite their popularity, these reforms have been blocked by haredi Orthodox parties, which have served in most of Israel’s governing coalitions. Haredi politicians have historically been flexible on defense, diplomatic and economic policy in exchange for continuation of the religious status quo.

Israelis have let this deal happen time and again because religious issues aren’t that important to them. In polls when elections were called and again last week, Israelis said their top two issues in voting were Israel’s high cost of living and security. Religion and state didn’t register on either poll. Israelis feel they have more pressing concerns.

Pluralism advocates saw a window of opportunity after the 2013 elections, which saw Yesh Atid, a party committed to religious reform, come in second with 19 seats. Yesh Atid blocked haredi parties from the coalition, and enacted reforms that liberalized Orthodox conversion and included haredi youth in Israel’s mandatory draft. But bills to enact civil marriage and increase gay rights were blocked by Jewish Home, a religious Zionist party.

This year the picture is less rosy for pluralism advocates. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he intends to include the haredi parties in his coalition, and his opponent, Isaac Herzog, would have trouble forming a government without haredi support.

So while Israelis want civil marriage and conversion reform, as long as cost of living is high and wars are frequent, those issues may have to wait.

In feisty Israeli campaign, even Netanyahu’s wife’s recycling is a target


Forget the deadlocked Palestinian peace process or the Iranian nuclear program. The latest political fracas in Israel is over whether the prime minister's wife kept the deposit when she recycled bottles from state functions.

Even by the notoriously feisty standards of Israeli politics, the campaign for parliament on March 17, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fourth term, has been particularly bruising.

With opinion polls predicting a close race between Netanyahu's Likud party and a center opposition alliance, the focus has been on personalities and allegations of wrongdoing rather than substance.

“This is a mudslinging war,” declared Hanan Crystal, a well-regarded political analyst on Israel Radio.

“Where all the negativity will lead, nobody knows.”

An early target has been Netanyahu's wife, Sara, a psychologist and former flight attendant who seldom speaks in public but has often been the butt of criticism in the press for her perceived imperiousness.

Israeli newspapers are full of accusations about Sara failing to return to national coffers the refunds gained from recycling bottles used at the prime minister's official Jerusalem residence, the argument being that taxpayers paid for the beverages so the state should get the refund.

The Netanyahus' lawyers have said the money was used as petty cash by household staff, and that the family did pay funds back. But that has not helped quell a storm, compounded by old allegations about the state having paid for the Netanyahus' garden furniture at their private home.

The prime minister has denied the allegations and called on the media to focus on him rather than his wife, while also taking to Facebook to accuse his political rivals of “orchestrating a harmonious media onslaught of recycled, humiliating and false” charges against him.

US OR HIM

With the election so tight – the latest polls suggest the center alliance will win 24 or 25 seats in the 120-member Knesset, one or two ahead of Likud – personality politics is seen as a key driver of swing votes. The polarizing figure of Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader since state founder David Ben-Gurion, makes him fair game.

The center slogan is: “It's us or him.” Netanyahu's slogan is: “It's us or them.”

Generally, security is the dominant issue in Israeli elections, which have always resulted in coalition governments. But since Netanyahu is perceived as strong on that front, the opposition has looked elsewhere for leverage.

“There has been an extreme process where people care more about personalities and less about parties and ideologies than they did before,” said Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at Hebrew University. “That's how we wind up with all these personal attacks.”

While the Netanyahus have been on the receiving end of most of the mudslinging so far, the center is not unsullied.

Likud has accused the opposition of a rules breach by receiving funds from the United States to finance advertisements urging Israelis to vote for “Anyone but Netanyahu”.

Since Israeli law allows political parties to accept foreign contributions, police and other legal authorities have not opened an investigation.

List set for March ballot on city council candidates


On Dec. 12, the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office finalized the list of candidates set to appear on the March 2015 ballot. In addition to seven City Council seats, Los Angeles voters will decide the fate of four seats on the Board of Education and four seats on the Community College Board of Trustees.

If a candidate receives a majority of votes on March 3, they win the seat outright. However, if no candidate receives a majority, a runoff election is set for May 19.

Council Member Mitch Englander of District 12 in the Northern San Fernando Valley is running unopposed. 

In Council District 4, 14 candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by Tom LaBonge, who is leaving due to term-limits. By far the most expensive council race, candidates include Carolyn Ramsay, a longtime aide to LaBonge who most recently served as his chief of staff, David Ryu, a community health director, Joan Pelico, chief of staff to Councilmember Paul Koretz, and Wally Knox, an attorney and former California State Assembly member. The two other candidates in District 4 who have raised significant funds are Teddy Davis, a lawyer and news director who briefly served as press secretary to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Steve Veres, a trustee on the Community College Board.

Paul Krekorian is running for reelection in Council District 2, which includes North Hollywood, Studio City, and Valley Village. Eric Preven, a television producer who ran earlier this year in the Democratic primary for the County Board of Supervisor’s third district, is his only opposition.

In another closely watched and hotly contested council race, District 14’s José Huizar is running for reelection against former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who had reached her term limit for the county. Though Huizar has held the seat since 2005, Molina has been a powerful presence in the district. She previously served as the Councilmember for District 1 in the late 1980s. Three other candidates are also running for the seat: Nadine Diaz, John O’Neill, and Mario Chavez.

In District 8 in South Los Angeles, four candidates are running to replace Bernard Parks, who is also leaving because of term limits. Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of the Community Coalition, is the frontrunner for the seat. Community development expert Forescee Hogan-Rowles, State Commissioner Bobbie Jean Anderson, and Robert L. Cole, of the Los Angeles County Citizens’ Economy & Efficiency Commission are also running for the seat.

In Council District 10, Herb Wesson is running for reelection against physician and theologian Delaney Smith and attorney Grace Yoo. 

The ballot order was also determined last week in a random public drawing. The ordering will be used on the ballot of the March 3 Nominating Election and, if necessary, on the ballot for the General Municipal Election on May 19. The next financial filing date is January 10, at which point the field of candidates is likely to narrow significantly. 

The Knesset dissolves, but the battle for religious reform continues


When the 19th Knesset was sworn in on March 18, 2013, it marked only the second time in 29 years that a new coalition was formed without any of the Haredi parties. A record 48 new members of the Knesset were sworn in that day, vowing to revolutionize the system including the volatile issue of religion and state. Endless possibilities were manifest: not only a feeling that an opportunity for change was promising, but that there had never been a better chance than now. The process was begun.

On Monday, 21 months later, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself. Whatever had been accomplished in the 19th Knesset was now history, with further efforts for religious reform legislation left on the table. But despite the temporary setback, that fight continues both here and in the U.S., a concerted effort to break the Haredi monopoly on personal-status issues such as marriage, divorce and conversion.

One of the accomplishments of the outgoing Knesset was the passage a year ago of the so-called “Tzohar Law.” The contentious bill reformed the marriage registration process, allowing for a free-market approach in choosing the regional branch office of the rabbinate at which a couple may register. (The Orthodox Chief Rabbinate is the only official Israeli body authorized to sanction and register Jewish marriages.)

The new law meant not only better service, but immigrants with difficulty proving their Jewish lineage would be able to find less stringent Orthodox rabbis to perform their wedding.

To that bill was added a last-minute clause inserted by Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, adding criminal penalties – a two-year prison sentence – for couples who illegally marry outside the Chief Rabbinate, as well as for the rabbis who marry them.

MK Aliza Lavie of the centrist Yesh Atid party proposed an amendment to remove the criminal penalties inserted by Ben-Dahan, in “an attempt to restore sanity” to a law that had become “crazy and surreal.” Lavie’s amendment would have limited the law only to marriage registrars who performed weddings without registering them.

Lavie’s initiative was co-written by Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and director of the ITIM Advocacy Center, which helps secular Israelis and converts navigate Israel’s byzantine state rabbinate for life-cycle events.

Calling the Tzohar Law “an outrage,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Times of Israel saying: “I wonder how we got to a situation where we need to punish people for getting married with a chuppah. I’m not sure if there is another country in the world besides Israel that would put me in jail for performing a marriage ceremony without getting it approved first.”

Last week – after it was clear that the government would soon fall and new elections would be held – the coalition’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs voted down Lavie’s amendment. Three days later, as the Knesset was closing for the day, Lavie submitted it again before an empty chamber. The Haredim heard about it and sent out a call to come vote. Five answered. Yesh Atid and other liberal parties also sent out a red alert, and seven MKs came running. The preliminary bill thus passed 7-5.

 “It was a symbolic victory, but a victory nonetheless – we were going to go down fighting,” said Farber, who acknowledged that the process will have to start again in the next Knesset. “It’s an outrage that this law is on the books. It’s true, no one’s been punished, no one’s been thrown in jail. But it’s something that a Jewish democratic state shouldn’t have as one of its laws. It’s not being implemented now, but who’s to say what kind of right-wing government we’ll get down the road that will start implementing it. Once something’s a law, it has a life of its own.”

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who was on his way to the Knesset weight room when he received a text to quickly come vote, said he was outraged that someone should be punished for doing a marriage according to halacha in a Jewish state.

“I can go to jail for it – I’ve done weddings!” he exclaimed. “I think we need to start moving towards some level of normalcy, where the same way when you have a question in America about who did a wedding, you resolve it that way here.”

Ben-Dahan’s argument was that the clause was inserted to prevent recalcitrant husbands who refuse to grant their wives a Jewish religious divorce, known as a get, from marrying again, which according to Jewish law he could do. The one more likely to suffer, he said, would be the woman, who cannot remarry or have a sexual relationship with another man until she receives her get.

Farber argues that the Orthodox monopoly over personal status was doing more harm than good, and that Ben-Dahan’s intentions will have the exact opposite effect. He said those couples who choose to marry privately have no incentive to seek a divorce in rabbinical courts, as they could be arrested while trying to receive a get. In other words, the law would undermine the very cause it was meant to uphold.

“If we want to get people to marry through the rabbinate, we shouldn't be doing it by holding a gun to their head, and threatening to put them in jail,” Farber said.

Various estimates put the number of alternative Israeli weddings taking place every year at 7,000, and there is widespread support for them: a poll earlier this year found that 66 percent of Israeli Jews and 74% of non-Haredi Israeli Jews support recognition of civil marriage and non-Orthodox marriages. Additionally, more than 67% of Israeli Jews support joint efforts between Israel and world Jewry for freedom of marriage in Israel.

Farber explained that for his group and others fighting for a wider acceptance of Jewish options in religious life – like Hiddush, Tzohar and Mavoi Satum – the Tzohar law was not the biggest achievement of the 19th Knesset.

“We had a lot of accomplishments in the past Knesset, the first being the Conversion bill,” he said, referring to a cabinet decision to allow municipal chief rabbis to perform conversions. That decision widens access to the conversion system for non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and allows the implementation of more liberal attitudes toward their conversion within the Orthodox world, including the conversion of minors.

Although that law passed only as a government order and not full-fledged legislation, it was an important first step.

“The Tzohar law didn’t fundamentally change any power structure,” Farber said. “The Conversion law was the first legislation since 1971 that fundamentally changed the power structure in Israel, that took power away from the rabbinate. That made a very very big difference. It was a great accomplishment.”

Farber is buoyed up over the active support being given by North American Jewry. Two weeks ago, a new organization called J-Rec (Jewish Religious Equality Coalition) met for 3½ hours to formulate a working strategy to impact Israeli law.

Formed by the American Jewish Committee, it is made up of leaders of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, several liberal Orthodox groups, and the National Council of Jewish Women, New Israel Fund, and National Policy Forum.

Their aim is to persuade Israeli leaders that Jerusalem is on the verge of losing support from the next generation of American Jews – 90 percent of whom are non-Orthodox – if the Orthodox monopoly continues; and that the very future of Israel’s relationship with world Jewry is in danger if the Chief Rabbinate continues to maintain sole monopoly over matters of personal status like marriage, divorce and conversion.

The Jewish Federations of North America has begun its own effort, called iRep (Israel Religious Expression Platform) to promote freedom of choice in Israel, and may join forces with the coalition in the future.

“I am encouraged by the fact that American Jewish organizations are investing time and resources in the future of Jewish Israel,” said Farber, “because it helps the fight for personal-status issues not only for citizens in Israel, but it affects the Jewish people as a whole.”

He is worried about what happens next, what kind of coalition will be formed after the next elections, and what efforts will be made to roll back legislation.

“Everything is possible,” said Farber. “It really depends on how people vote, how the government is constructed. Right now everyone in playing roulette. Should the next government shape up in a way that is positive, then we have a lot of momentum going in our direction. Should it go the other direction, then we will have less.”

Elections for the 20th Knesset are set for March 17.

Tough road ahead for Obama after Republicans seize U.S. Senate


Republicans rode a wave of voter discontent to seize control of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, dealing a punishing blow to President Barack Obama that will limit his legislative agenda and may force him to make a course correction for his last two years in office.

The Republican rout was wide and deep in what was bound to be seen as a sharp rebuke to Obama, who has lurched from crisis to crisis all year and whose unpopularity made him unwelcome to Democratic candidates in many contested states.

The Republicans also strengthened their grip on the House of Representatives. When the new Congress takes power in January, they will be in charge of both chambers of Congress for the first time since elections in 2006.

The Republican takeover in the Senate will force Obama to scale back his ambitions to either executive actions that do not require legislative approval, or items that might gain bipartisan support, such as trade agreements and tax reform.

It will also test his ability to compromise with newly empowered political opponents who have been resisting his legislative agenda since he was first elected. And it could prompt some White House staff turnover as some exhausted members of his team consider departing in favor of fresh legs.

Obama, first elected in 2008 and again in 2012, called Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress to the White House on Friday to take stock of the new political landscape.

He watched election returns from the White House, and saw little to warm his spirits.

Before the election results, the White House had signaled no major changes for Obama. Officials said Obama would seek common ground with Congress on areas like trade and infrastructure.

“The president is going to continue to look for partners on Capitol Hill, Democrats or Republicans, who are willing to work with him on policies that benefit middle-class families,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Tuesday.

Obama, a one-term senator before he became president, has often been faulted for not developing closer relations with lawmakers.

He will find one familiar face in a powerful new position. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who won a tough re-election battle against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, will replace Democrat Harry Reid as Senate majority leader. Reid has been one of Obama's top political allies and helped him steer the president's signature healthcare law through the Senate in 2010.

“Some things don't change after tonight. I don't expect the president to wake up tomorrow and view the world any differently than he did when he woke up this morning. He knows I won't either. But we do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree,” McConnell said in his victory speech in Louisville.

TOSS-UPS BECOME REPUBLICAN WINS

In Tuesday's comprehensive rout, Republicans won in places where Democrats were favored, taking a Senate race in North Carolina, pulled out victories where the going was tough, like a Senate battle in Kansas, and swept a number of governors' races in states where Democrats were favored, including Obama's home state of Illinois.

Of eight to 10 Senate seats that were considered toss-ups, Republicans won nearly all of them. They needed six seats to win control of the 100-member Senate, and by late evening they had seven.

The winning margin came when Iowa Republican Joni Ernst was declared the winner over Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Thom Tillis defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

The Iowa race was particularly indicative of Republican fortunes. Ernst came from behind and surged in recent weeks despite herculean efforts by powerful Democratic figures to save Braley, including a campaign visit by Obama's wife, Michelle.

Republican Senate candidates also picked up Democratic seats in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, South Dakota and Arkansas.

'RESPONSIBILITY … TO LEAD'

Once the euphoria of their victory ebbs, Republicans will be under pressure to show Americans they are capable of governing after drawing scorn a year ago for shutting down the government in a budget fight. That will be a factor in their ambitions to take back the White House in 2016.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative firebrand who may run in 2016, told CNN: “The American people, they're frustrated with what's happening in Washington, but now the responsibility falls on us to lead.”

While there was talk of conciliation, no major breakthrough in Washington's chilly climate is expected soon.

Partisan battles could erupt over immigration reform, with Obama poised to issue executive actions by year's end to defer deportations of some undocumented immigrants, and over energy policy, as Republican press the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline carrying oil from Canada.

Jay Carney, Obama's former spokesman, said he expects Obama to make an “all-out push” on his priorities regardless of the makeup of Congress.

Whatever the case, Obama will face pressure to make changes at the White House. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed 75 percent of respondents believe the administration needs to “rethink” how it approaches major issues facing the United States (bit.ly/1ph8sLs). Sixty-four percent said Obama should replace some of his senior staff after the election (bit.ly/1rTVVbb).

The Republican victory had been widely predicted ahead of Tuesday's voting to elect 36 senators, 36 state governors and all 435 members of the House of Representatives.

Obama and other White House officials blamed the electoral map – noting that many key Senate races took place in conservative states that Obama lost in 2012.

Election Day polling by Reuters/Ipsos found a dour mood among the electorate with less than one-third of voters believing the country is headed in the right direction.

Roughly 40 percent of voters said they approved of the job Obama is doing as president, though they were split over whether they expected the economy to improve or worsen in the coming year.

In a consolation for Democrats, Jeanne Shaheen won re-election over Republican Scott Brown in New Hampshire in what polls had forecast as a tight race.

In Virginia, heavily favored Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Warner found himself in a surprisingly close fight against Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, with much of the vote counted. By late evening, he claimed victory but Gillespie had not yet conceded.

In the most closely watched governors' races, Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott edged out Democrat Charlie Crist, and Republican Scott Walker survived a challenge from Democrat Mary Burke in Wisconsin.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey, Tim Ryan and Ian Simpson in Washington; Marti Maguire in Raleigh, North Carolina; David Beasley in Atlanta; Steve Bittenbender in Louisville, Kentucky; Barbara Liston in Orlando, Bill Cotterell in Tallahassee and Zachary Fagenson in Miami Beach; Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Frances Kerry

A voter’s guide to the races for the 33rd Congressional District and Los Angeles County’s 3rd Superv


When voters in and around Los Angeles head to the polls on June 3, they will confront a buffet of candidates running for a wide array of powerful positions. A handful of Jewish candidates are among the hopefuls — including Ben Allen, the candidate for California’s state Senate whose supporters have sometimes unselfconsciously described him as “a nice Jewish boy.” 

But it will be the absence of two lions among Jewish pols from the ballot that will offer this election its unique character: For the first time in decades, neither Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky nor Rep. Henry Waxman is running for re-election. 

They are just two of the long-serving leaders on their way out of power in the Southland. Another L.A. County Supervisor, Gloria Molina, is also termed out. The resignation of former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who stepped down in January after 16 years on the job, has given way to stiff competition for the scandal-ridden department’s top job. 

Even so, the choice facing voters in Yaroslavsky’s 3rd Supervisorial District and Waxman’s 33rd Congressional District is tough because voters will have to choose a successor from among fields of less-experienced and/or less-familiar candidates. 

The Journal posed the same questions to each of the leading candidates in these two important and hotly contested races, and also examined their records and public statements, to give you a better understanding of each candidate before you cast your ballot.

33RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

This tony coastal district stretches from Rancho Palos Verdes up to Malibu and cuts inland eastward to include Beverly Hills and parts of Hancock Park, and the race to fill this seat in Congress has drawn candidates of all stripes and backgrounds. 

Eighteen names will appear on the ballot; at least 16 of the candidates are still in the running. Waxman, who hasn’t said yet what he’ll do in his post-Congressional career, was a prolific lawmaker during his 40 years on Capitol Hill, passing landmark legislation that focused on health care, food and drug safety, and environmental protection. Every leading candidate — in one way or another — is aspiring to follow in his footsteps. 

But given the current state of Congress, and the inevitable lack of seniority, whoever succeeds Waxman will have far less clout — especially if the overwhelmingly Democratic voters in the district elect one of their own, which would almost certainly mean that the freshman representative would be in the minority. 

Even while one member of the Washington, D.C., press corps snarkily dismissed this contest as a reality-TV-esque competition to represent the “Botox belt,” a seat in Congress is nothing to sniff at. The following five candidates appear to have the best chances of advancing to the second round of voting in November, which will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters on June 3. 

Elan Carr

Perhaps the single foremost fact to note about Elan Carr’s candidacy is his party affiliation — Republican. As a result of running in a nonpartisan primary against a raft of Democratic candidates, Carr is “very likely” to finish first on June 3,” according to Scott Lay, a former Democratic Party activist who writes a daily newsletter about California politics and policy. 

But Carr himself said his Jewish values are what’s key to his work and his candidacy. 

“Judaism is a central and defining part of who I am, and the main source of my worldview and my moral compass,” Carr, a criminal gang prosecutor at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, wrote in his response to the Journal’s questions. In addition to celebrating Shabbat, speaking Hebrew with his kids (two girls, a boy on the way), and visiting Israel every year, Carr, who is international president of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, can claim the unusual distinction of having lit a chanukiyah in the former presidential palace of Saddam Hussein during his deployment as a U.S. Army officer in Iraq. 

Foreign policy is a “central concern” for Carr, he said, “especially as it relates to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.” He pledged to be a “reliable vote for Israel” and stated that American support for Israel had to be “constant, unequivocal and bipartisan.” 

(That was enough to win support from the most generous pro-Israel donor in the Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson, who was scheduled to host a fundraiser for Carr on May 29 in Las Vegas.) 

Whether Carr can win in November in a district where 44 percent of voters are registered Democrats is anyone’s guess — but Carr improves his chances by appearing to be a moderate Republican on the campaign trail. According to his website, Carr supports “a pathway to citizenship for the many honest and hardworking undocumented residents currently living and working here,” and he has promised to continue the work Waxman has done to protect the environment, while also “growing our economy and bringing good jobs back to California.”

“Voters are looking for a candidate who can reach across the aisle, compromise and move the country forward on such critical issues as fixing our broken schools, growing our economy and producing quality jobs, and keeping our families and our streets safe,” Carr told the Journal. 

“Even my home is bipartisan,” Carr added. “My wife is a lifelong Democrat.”

Wendy Greuel

On the ballot, she’s described simply as a “businesswoman,” and Wendy Greuel is quick to trumpet her experience in both the public and private sectors among her qualifications to run for Congress. But it’s her time serving the City of Los Angeles, first as a member of its City Council and later as its controller, that Greuel hopes will convince voters to send her to Washington. 

“As a councilwoman, I gained a reputation as an effective legislator, someone who never shied away from the tough issues and achieved tangible results because I brought everyone to the table and built consensus,” Greuel told the Journal. “Later, as City Controller, I demonstrated my ability to stand up for what is right even though it’s not a job that makes you friends.” 

Many voters in the district aren’t residents of the City of Los Angeles, and so might not be familiar with her work, plus, of the voters in the 33rd District who do live in the city, many may better remember one of Greuel’s less-proud moments — her failed 2013 bid for mayor. She’s said that the experience has made her a stronger candidate and would make her a stronger lawmaker. 

“Congressman Waxman has been a fighter and a doer,” Greuel said, and the issues he worked on — maintaining clean air and water, making health care as widely available as possible, and ensuring that people living with HIV/AIDS get the care they need — “keep [her] up at night.” In Congress, Greuel also would have the opportunity to focus on another issue close to her heart — passing legislation to protect the rights of women and help them advance in a society that is, still, unequal. 

Greuel is not Jewish, but her family, she said, is “deeply committed to core Jewish values, like repairing the world and the responsibility to care for our community.” Greuel’s husband, Dean Schramm, was recently elected to serve as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee; the couple is raising their son, Thomas, Jewish, and “just got his bar mitzvah date, two years in advance!” Greuel told the Journal. (Both Dean and Thomas make frequent appearances in Greuel’s campaign literature and fundraising emails — including a Passover e-card, with the subject line, “Chag Sameach — ‘Next Year in Washington, D.C.’ ”)

Greuel has also been a consistent advocate for Israel. In March, this reporter spotted her at the most recent policy conference held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Greuel told the Journal that she would support one of that group’s priorities — fully funding foreign aid to Israel both “to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge and because I understand foreign aid is also an investment in our own economy.”

When rated on her pro-Israel bona fides by the L.A. chapter of Democrats for Israel, Greuel received a “support” rating.

Ted Lieu

If Ted Lieu isn’t as well known to Jewish voters as some of the other candidates in the race, it’s at least partly a matter of geography: Lieu lives with his wife and two sons in Torrance, and while he’s been representing the region in Sacramento since 2005 — first in the Assembly and, for the last three years, in the state Senate — his current seat did not include the northern parts of the 33rd District until the 2012 round of redistricting. 

That hasn’t hurt him on the campaign trail, though, where Lieu has benefited from his long history of service in California Democratic politics — which helped him secure both the Democratic Party’s nomination and numerous endorsements from local politicians, including retired L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. 

And when speaking to Jewish audiences, he frequently touts his support for the legislative priorities of local Jewish organizations. 

“I am the only candidate who has a legislative record on Israel and Iran,” Lieu told the Journal, citing his role as primary co-sponsor of AB221, a 2007 bill that divested California’s pension funds from companies doing business with Iran’s nuclear and energy industries. That sponsorship, along with other legislative efforts, helped Lieu garner “strong support” — the highest rating — of the L.A. chapter of Democrats for Israel. 

Lieu also won the top nod from the Los Angeles Daily News (which hedged its bet by naming Greuel its second pick) because he’s “a progressive Democrat of the kind that can represent the voters of this progressive district” who has also shown himself to be business friendly and willing to buck the authority of his party. 

Born in Taiwan, Lieu grew up in Cleveland, went to Stanford University for college and Georgetown Law School. He then entered the U.S. Air Force as a member of the JAG Corps, and is currently a member of the reserves. 

Lieu presents himself as someone who came to this country as an immigrant, lived humbly watching his parents struggle, lived out the American dream — and then stood up to help the voiceless. 

“I have repeatedly stood up to powerful interests on behalf of working families, consumers, seniors, children and those without a voice,” Lieu told the Journal, and pledged to follow in Waxman’s model, to be “a bold and patient leader for our community in Washington.” 

Matt Miller

What makes Matt Miller run? Ask the candidate, and Miller — who has worked in the Clinton White House, as a management consultant with McKinsey & Co., and has been hosting the radio show “Left, Right and Center” on KCRW for the past 18 years — will tell you it’s because Congress needs new ideas. 

“I’ve spent years thinking and developing ideas of how we can change public policy in ways to improve people’s lives,” Miller told the Journal in February when he announced his candidacy, and, since then, he’s been republishing, reworking and reminding people of the proposals he’s made in the past. Drawing on his two published books and his many columns for the Washington Post, Miller has been advancing ideas on how to solve problems of all sorts, from the proliferation of guns on the streets to the low quality of instruction in American schools. 

“The best-performing school systems in the world (in places like Finland, Singapore and South Korea) lure their top talent to the classroom,” Miller told the Journal in response to our questionnaire. In those countries, people can become teachers only if they graduated in the top third of their high school and college classes. In the United States, by contrast, no more than 30 percent of teachers did quite that well in school. “We’re the only country that thinks we can take mediocre students and make them excellent teachers, and it’s not working.” 

The Los Angeles Times cited Miller’s “creative and forward-looking proposals” as part of its reason for endorsing his candidacy — despite his being, in their words, “a long-shot political figure.” 

When speaking to Jewish audiences, Miller frequently reminds prospective voters that he is the “lone Jewish Democrat” running in the 33rd District. His family belongs to Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, where they live, and in his position paper on Israel, he hit nearly every note that might concern a pro-Israel voter. He not only announced that he is “deeply skeptical” of Iran’s intentions, that he condemns “the unjust Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign” and that he views the $30 billion foreign aid commitment made by the United States to Israel in 2007 “as a floor, not a ceiling”; he also included photographs of his grandfather with Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir. 

Marianne Williamson

Get money out of politics: That’s the repeating motif of Marianne Williamson’s campaign, and the writer and entrepreneur (who hates being called a “new age guru”) said that priority — along with the need to create jobs in the South Bay and protect the environment — is at the top of the minds of the district’s voters. 

Williamson presents her candidacy as part of a movement — in the vein of the civil rights movement and the suffragettes’ struggle. Leaders of the political left — including Rep. Keith Ellison and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich — have thrown their support behind her, as have Hollywood-ites such as Eva Longoria, Alanis Morissette and Jane Lynch. That support has, somewhat ironically, made Williamson’s candidacy the best-funded of the leading candidates in the race; she had collected more than $1.6 million in donations by mid-May. 

But the reason is also partially that Williamson declared her candidacy in October 2013, before Waxman announced his retirement — and before every other leading candidate jumped into the race. 

“Many people living in District 33 were not even born when Congressman Waxman first entered the House,” Williamson told the Journal. “While I deeply respect much of what he has accomplished and feel he deserves all the accolades he is receiving, I also feel it’s our responsibility to always make room for new input in the halls of power.”

Williamson, 61, was born in Houston to a Jewish family and she speaks of her “very strong” connection to Judaism, both in its spiritual aspects and its “service to tikkun olam that guides [her] life’s work.” A member of the Temple of the Arts in Los Angeles, Williamson speaks of her support for Israel in terms much less specific than her rival candidates. “I unconditionally support Israel’s right to exist,” Williamson told the Journal, adding that she supports the efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to guide Israelis and Palestinians to a two-state peace deal and “would never vote for anything that undercuts Israel’s ability to deal with the existential threat constantly weighing upon her.” (She did not, however, make any mention of what those threats might be. Neither Iran nor the growing BDS movement was featured in her response.)

Running as an independent, Williamson told Businessweek, has made her “a Pariah to the Democratic establishment,” and she’s not kidding: Local Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman, speaking to the LA Weekly in January, derided Williamson’s “ very unusual beliefs about the world” and said she was “not a credible candidate.”

Despite that cold reception, Williamson said she’d caucus with the Democrats if elected, and at least some in the party would welcome her arrival: 

“I think all the candidates have significant strengths,” Rep. Alan Grayson said when he endorsed Williamson. “In my opinion, however, only Marianne has the possibility of making a dramatic difference if she wins the seat. I can picture Marianne becoming a national progressive leader in the vein of Elizabeth Warren.”

LOS ANGELES COUNTY 3RD SUPERVISORIAL DISTRICT

Nearly 2 million people live in the 3rd District of Los Angeles County, and eight candidates have lined up for the chance to represent them. Observers agree that the top candidates are competent; the L.A. Daily News went further, calling the three leading candidates “strong.” 

And yet: The media seems bored and, as is often the case with local races, voters haven’t demonstrated as much enthusiasm as ought to be warranted, considering just how much influence the county government has.  

“People are getting excited by the once-in-a-generation race for Congress,” Sam Yebri, president and founder of the Iranian-American-Jewish affinity group 30 Years After, said, “but, in a lot of ways, the issues that our supervisors will be dealing with for potentially the next 12 years will have a much greater impact on our daily lives.” 

Maybe — and maybe not. Because the county provides social services for the region’s poorest residents, and District 3 is a largely middle-class or affluent part of the county, Yaroslavsky’s constituents for the past 20 years have not actually been the direct beneficiaries of much of his work. Nevertheless, Yaroslavsky has been devoted to issues like homelessness as well as to fiscal responsibility. 

The role of this seat is set to change — and then some. As the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Greene pointed out, it will be the first time in nearly half a century that a supervisor from the 3rd District will not be an alumnus of the L.A. City Council —hailing instead from one of the smaller cities in the region. This election could also bring to an end the four-decade stretch of Jewish leadership for the 3rd District.

John Duran

Like many local elected officials, John Duran, a city councilmember and former mayor of West Hollywood, focuses his attention on the basics. He’s pledged to spend his energy ensuring that Los Angeles’ neighborhoods are safe, that transportation infrastructure is expanded and that he will support after-school programs. 

But above all, Duran is trying to convince voters, few of whom are familiar with his record, that he is both the most-committed and the best-qualified candidate to ensure that these and other county services are provided in an efficient and cost-effective manner. 

The Los Angeles Times editorial board offered its support, calling Duran “the one most likely to lead the county toward new and better ways of thinking about and doing its business.” 

Duran, 54, was born and raised in L.A. County, and grew up living next door to a Jewish family. Last year, he traveled to Israel with AIPAC. “Now that I have visited the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and spent a week in Israel, I have a better understanding of the security issues facing Israel,” Duran told the Journal in his response to its questionnaire. “I consider myself a strong advocate for Israel.” 

Duran, who is openly gay and is one of the very few openly HIV-positive elected officials in the country, said he aimed to follow in Yaroslavsky’s footsteps, serving as a “watchdog for taxpayers, much as Yaroslavsky has.” That’s of tremendous importance, Duran said, because, in his view, few voters truly understand the scope of the county government. 

“This year, the County will spend over $26 billion on a wide variety of programs,” Duran told the Journal, “and it is critical that our next Supervisor be a watchdog for local taxpayers to make sure we are delivering government services in the most effective ways possible and we are rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.” 

Unfortunately, there’s a perception that business leaders are hesitant to support Duran, because they’re not sure he can beat the two better-known and better-funded candidates in the race. 

But he’s hoping his leadership of West Hollywood will convince them of his fitness to serve this much larger population. “As a Mayor and Councilmember, I have experience bringing together diverse groups of people to get things done in local government,” Duran said. “Under my watch, crime is down, thousands of new jobs have been created, new parks have opened, and city government is more transparent, accessible and accountable.” 

Sheila Kuehl

It’s a tried-and-true strategy: Sheila Kuehl is running on her record of accomplishment.

“In my 14 years in the state legislature, I authored 171 bills that were signed into law, many of them barring discrimination or extending equality on various bases,” Kuehl told the Journal. “I authored specific legislation that made it illegal to put anti-Semitic literature in cereal boxes. I also authored and passed legislation to pay state reparations to those whose property was confiscated in the Holocaust.”

A one-time child actor, Kuehl, 73, whose mother was Jewish and father Catholic, is a self-described progressive. She was the first openly gay member of California’s state legislature. She didn’t win the Los Angeles Times editorial board’s endorsement, but the Times praised her “encyclopedic knowledge of county operations and a record of fighting for the underserved.”

That depth of knowledge and focus on the neediest came through in Kuehl’s responses to the Journal. In talking to residents, Kuehl said that they frequently express concern about the “lack of useable public transit, access to affordable high-quality medical care and concern about the mistreatment of children in the foster care system.” Kuehl suggested some concrete steps she would take as supervisor to address some of these challenges — including upgrading county medical facilities and changing the foster care system to make each social worker’s case load more manageable. 

Although it doesn’t come up as often in her conversations with voters, Kuehl also intends to continue her work to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains — a project she embraced while in Sacramento, often working together with Yaroslavsky. If elected, Kuehl said she hopes to follow in her predecessor’s footsteps in other ways as well, including being “a champion for public transportation and the arts.” 

Public transit came up as a point of contention between Kuehl and her rivals, after she won the endorsement of the Beverly Hills Courier on May 15, solely by expressing her preference that Metro’s extension of the Purple Line subway take a route that did not go underneath Beverly Hills High School. 

“She is adamantly opposed to the routing under Beverly Hills,” the Courier’s endorsement read, “and ‘never understood why it was moved from Santa Monica Boulevard.’ ”

Pressed during a debate, Kuehl didn’t take back the comment, but she did say that given the state of the project, her opinion, in effect, did not matter. 

“I’m not going to get up in any meeting, anywhere, and say I don’t want the Purple Line to go through,” Kuehl said in a debate on May 18 at Leo Baeck Temple, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Bobby Shriver

When The New York Times recently covered the race for L.A. County Supervisor, the article led with Bobby Shriver. As the nephew of John F. Kennedy, Shriver frequently gets — and doesn’t always appreciate — this kind of attention. 

“Dude, I’m 60 years old,” Shriver told the reporter from the Times. “You know it’s cool. It’s all good. But say I did something — something — other than be John Kennedy’s nephew.”

By any account, Shriver has done things worth mentioning. He’s a lawyer and a venture capitalist; he has served as a councilmember and mayor of Santa Monica; he co-founded (Product) RED, with pop singer Bono, a charitable organization that raises support from businesses in fighting HIV/AIDS, as well as the ONE Campaign, which fights extreme poverty.

And, since entering the race for supervisor, Shriver has kept busy. He rejected the county’s voluntary spending limits and has injected $1 million of his own into funding his campaign. He won the endorsement of the Los Angeles Daily News, based on his promise “to give the Board of Supervisors a much-needed kick in the county seat.”

In his responses to the Journal, Shriver said that if elected, two of his top priorities would be to reform the county’s foster care system and reduce the number of people incarcerated at the Men’s Central Jail downtown by creating “a viable diversion program that treats those with mental illness rather than jailing them.” 

Shriver, who has served as chair of the California State Parks and Recreation Commission, also said he hoped to focus his attention on water conservation and cleaning up the local water supply in L.A. County. 

Shriver said his favorite part of campaigning has been “getting to talk to real people about real issues that matter to them,” and the three that come up most often are “jobs, transportation and homelessness/housing.” That last policy area was a longstanding priority of Yaroslavsky’s, and Shriver said he planned to carry on Yaroslavsky’s commitment to service in his “own Shriver style.”

Shriver said his Catholic upbringing inculcated in him values that are “similar to those of Judaism: service, faith and commitment.” In his response to the Journal’s questionnaire, Shriver mentioned two summers he spent in Israel as a teenager, and said that he “hope[d] to continue to grow [his] long standing connections within the [Jewish] community, and to use our shared values as Zev did to do great things for the whole district.”

In Israel’s local (re)elections, implications for the national scene


The international press may have paid less attention this time around, but Israel held its second set of elections within one year yesterday – this time voting for mayors and city councils.

Israelis, for their part, seemed to share the rest of the world’s apathy for this ballot. While two-thirds of the country turned out to vote in January’s Knesset election, only 42 percent made it to their polling places yesterday.

In Tel Aviv, more people showed up at Rihanna’s concert last night (50,000) than voted for the mayoral runner-up, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz (48,000).

But even with Rihanna’s numbers, Horowitz still would have lost. The story of Tuesday’s election was reelection. The mayors of the country’s four biggest cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Rishon Letzion) won another five-year term. For Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, it will be the fourth; by the end of this term, he will have governed the White City for two decades.

Incumbency even trumped concerns about corruption, as three mayors facing criminal charges won at the ballot box.

The Huldai-Horowitz race, along with a couple of others, held national implications.

Jerusalem: More than any other race, the capital city’s mayoral campaign captured Israel’s attention. Jerusalem has, during the past several years, had a growing Charedi Orthodox population and a shrinking secular and modern Orthodox sector – a trend combatted by first-term secular Mayor Nir Barkat. Barkat has increased the city’s job opportunities and cultural offerings, and oversaw the launch of the Jerusalem light rail system.

Barkat defeated a Charedi opponent in 2008, and faced a modern Orthodox challenger in this round, Moshe Leon – who actually lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim. Leon had the backing of a couple of powerful national politicians – former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party Chair Aryeh Deri – and he campaigned for the allegiance of Jerusalem’s Charedi voters.

Barkat’s reelection, 51 percent to 45, was a rejection of Charedi influence by the city’s voters. It was also one more setback for Liberman – whose corruption trial comes to a verdict soon – and Deri – whose spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, died earlier this month.

Beit Shemesh: But the Charedi community showed its strength in Beit Shemesh, a central Israeli city also featuring a tense divide between a growing Charedi sector and a shrinking secular/modern Orthodox community. The secular/modern Orthodox sector united in a fierce campaign behind candidate Eli Cohen to unseat the city’s Charedi mayor, Moshe Abutbul, but Abutbul won reelection with 52 percent of the vote.

Tel Aviv: Rather than revolving around Charedi influence, the race in Israel’s secular mecca focused in part on ongoing discontent in the city’s (and country’s) middle class – a tension that consumed Israel’s attention in 2011 with the social justice protests in Tel Aviv. Horowitz, a member of the left-wing Meretz Party, tried to reignite that energy with a campaign that chided Huldai for focusing on improving the lives of the rich, at the expense of Tel Aviv’s poor and middle-class citizens. Had he won, Horowitz also would have been Israel’s first openly gay mayor.

But the voters chose Huldai, 58 percent to 41, who touted a record of making Tel Aviv a global destination and a vibrant, youthful city – with active boulevards, café culture, a busy beach and a range of cultural events. Huldai also rode to victory (pun intended) on the city’s popular bike-sharing program and expanded bike lanes, which his administration initiated. Huldai’s street ads simply featured an illustration of the mayor riding a bicycle above the slogan “A good leader.”

Extremely moderate


The role of L.A.’s Jewish electorate is changing


What do the recent city elections that saw Jews step into the three top citywide offices — mayor, city attorney and city controller — mean for the role of the Jewish community in Los Angeles?

The remarkable political success of Jews in Los Angeles since the election in 1953 of Roz Wiener (later Wyman) to the City Council stands in contrast to the complete absence of Jews in local offices here during the half century before. The rise in Jewish pols came in tandem with the overall progressive surge in Los Angeles. But even more important, Jews, with their high voter turnout, have had a disproportionate impact on a city electorate marked by lower and lower turnout. Despite a declining Jewish share of the population, Jewish candidates continue to do well.

Only one City Council district, the 5th, is almost always certain to elect a Jewish member (although Paul Koretz’s election in 2009 was quite close). Yet, in the new council, Jews will still hold three of the 15 council seats, with Koretz joined by two Valley members, Mitch Englander (12th District) and Bob Blumenfield (3rd). While three is below the high point of Jewish membership on the council of some decades ago, it is far from the collapse of Jewish office holding that some feared.

The citywide wins of Eric Garcetti for mayor, Mike Feuer for city attorney and Ron Galperin for city controller, however, are a new high for the Jewish community. Garcetti is the first Jewish candidate to win election as mayor. (Starting with Ira Reiner’s election in 1977, three Jews have held the controller’s office.)

The strength of Jewish women as a political force here is an untold story in the rise of Jewish office holding in Los Angeles, as their political activism is one of the distinctive features of the Jewish community. (I will be speaking at the Autry National Center on Nov. 17 as part of a panel on this topic.) To date, six Jewish women have served on the Los Angeles City Council, and one of them, Laura Chick, went on to be elected city controller. Wendy Greuel, who also served on the council and then as controller, is not Jewish, but she is married to a Jewish activist and they are raising their son as a Jew. California’s two U.S. Senate seats are held by Jewish women, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. The current decline of women’s representation on the council is a real loss to all communities, but is especially surprising among Jews.

Los Angeles’ politics are changing in ways that have altered the role of the Jewish community. For decades, Jews served as the glue that linked a dominant and at times resistant white majority to a rising minority community. With the increased political mobilization of minority groups, communities of color have less need of that mediator role. They have the numbers and the confidence to speak for themselves. It still matters that the majority of Jews are likely to vote in tandem with minority communities in state and national elections, but Jewish support is no longer a necessity for minority access to political leadership at the local level. (One exception is the absence of Asian-American elected officials at Los Angeles city hall, an issue that might generate fruitful dialogue between these two groups.)

While there was much concern about the dullness of this spring’s mayoral race, I see a silver lining in the blurring of racial and ethnic lines that helped keep the turnout down. None of the candidates, except Jan Perry, had a solid hold on one of the city’s racial and ethnic blocs. Strong support from one group — such as Perry got from the black community — often creates greater incentives for voter turnout than an election in which the major candidates go around the city trying to build a core base of support. 

If a runoff between two well-liked and capable candidates without firm racial or ethnic bases lacked a certain spark, how about two well-known candidates with strong and conflicting bases? Had Zev Yaroslavsky run, he would have been the Jewish candidate and, by extension, perhaps the white candidate. He might have faced a well-known Latino candidate, perhaps Alex Padilla. If you want to know how that might have looked, even in the likely event that neither candidate would want it to play out that way, check out the race in the Valley in 1998 between Richard Katz and Richard Alarcon for the California State Senate that took on overtones of Latino-Jewish conflict.

So what is the Jewish role in Los Angeles politics now? The continuation of the role of a Democratic-leaning (if not always down-the-line liberal) white constituency in a diverse city remains important. Perhaps the next civic role of the Jewish community will be to help the city develop a more participatory and involved electorate. Jews have always stood for political reform and have voted in large numbers. The city needs continuing electoral reform, and a group that opposes the inertia and cynicism that so cripples our democratic system can continue to make a major contribution to Los Angeles.

Quebec official: Rosh Hashanah election date not discriminatory


A Canadian government minister who said the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment” denied that a 2016 election scheduled for Rosh Hashanah discriminates against Jews.

“Give me a break,” said Bernard Drainville, the Parti Québécois minister of democratic institutions and active citizenship, in response to a reporter’s question about his refusal to change the proposed date for Quebec’s first fixed-date election in 2016, which coincides with the Jewish New Year.

Drainville said it will be possible to vote before the election on Oct. 3, 2016, the Montreal Gazette reported.

Last week, one of Quebec’s opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec, joined Parti Québécois in voting down a Liberal Party amendment that would have allowed flexibility in setting the election date if it coincided with a religious holiday or for other reasons.

Lawrence Bergman, a veteran member of the provincial Legislature for a largely Jewish Montreal-area district, said an election on Rosh Hashanah would mean “some people will not have a chance to vote.”

But Drainville insisted that “the main issue here is not a Jewish holiday.”

“The issue here is the principle of not setting the election date according to the different religious holidays,” he said, according to the Gazette. “There are more than 100 religious holidays in the calendar. You cannot say we’re going to allow for the postponement of the vote according to one religion because other religious communities will also demand the same.”

Last month, Drainville opposed the relaxation of parking restrictions in Montreal on Jewish holidays, saying the Jewish community receives “privileged treatment.”

The politician who can save Israel’s Labor Party


It's still too early to celebrate, but – at the moment – it seems that Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett are changing the rules of the game, and that their parties are about to plant their stakes deep into the heart of Israeli politics. It seems that Lapid's Yesh Atid and Bennett's Bayit Yehudi are far from being political fads which will disappear after a single term, and may even – in the not so distant future – replace the two historical parties – Likud and Ha'avoda (Labor).
 
But whereas I wouldn't rush to eulogize Benjamin Netanyahu, to my understanding, Shelly Yachimovich is a lost case. When it comes to politics, Yachimovich is the most obvious proof that it's all personal. You can argue about economic policy, you can discuss the question of Jerusalem, but – in the end – it always boils down to a leader's personality.
 
There are leaders who are loved, leaders who are hated, and leaders who are despised. At times, hate turns into love (in the case of Ariel Sharon, for example), but a despised leader is doomed (Ehud Barak, for one). Yachimovich is simply despised by a good portion of the voters. Whether or not she has earned it is not the issue here.
 
Shelly Yachimovich. The public doesn't like her. Photo by Israel Mark Salem
 
The Labor Party is caught in an embarrassing situation, and most of its senior members are aware of the immense danger of Yachimovich ongoing leadership. The leader of the opposition is aware of her situation as well, and it is therefore no surprise that she is doing everything in her power to hold swift internal primary elections and catch her competitors off guard.
 
Yachimovich is smart. She knows who she's dealing with. Bougie Herzog, Eitan Cabel and Erel Margalit are not likely to give up the fight to head the Labor Party. She is also counting on the fact that the three are not likely to unite in support of the candidacy of any one of them. So splitting the votes will serve her and may provide her with a definite recipe for victory. In other words, in the current situation Yachimovich has a good shot at winning, and the Labor Party – to reach its end.
 
But there's another option: under the pressure of clear eyed party members, who understand this may be the last chance for the Labor Party to become a real player in the political arena once again, and in certain circumstances – to lead the country – all three will unite to support a single candidate. It's hard to believe, but the Labor Party has such a candidate, who is readily available. 
 
He is very remindful of Lapid: smart, successful, not a wheeler-dealer, even good looking. I don't know Margalit personally, but it seems that a rich man who leaves everything behind only to tour the entire country in order to change the face of his party is made of the right stuff. I don't want to get carried away with tall superlatives, but there is no doubt that this is exactly the fresh start this tired party needs.
 
Erel Margalit reminds me of Yair Lapid. Photo by Israel Mark Salem
 
I have a feeling it won't be difficult to convince Cabel that he should step aside. I believe he is one of those candidates who is satisfied with simply being a candidate. The problem is with Bougie Herzog – he is a wheeler-dealer in the most positive sense of the word. His political activity is imbued with self sacrifices and he truly loves his work. But, in the end, that is all he is – a wheeler-dealer – and politicians of the new kind cannot be elected for national leadership on the basis on wheeling and dealing.
 
Simply said: it's all up to Bougie. If he insists on running, there is a good chance that Yachimovich will win once again. If he steps aside, there is a good chance that Margalit will pull a surprise and even win. And if he does win, it will be an interesting fight. Because Margalit and Lapid will have to present their world views regarding all the critical issues in Israeli politics. One worldview vs. another – as opposed to one image vs. another. 
 
David Fogel is Chairman of Fogel-Ogilvy

A voter’s eye view of the Los Angeles election


This year, for the first time, the nonpartisan Pat Brown Institute at CSU Los Angeles went into the polling field.  As poll director, I wanted our poll to illuminate broader trends in the local electorate, and to conduct it we retained Susan Pinkus, who for many years ran the Los Angeles Times’ polls. Under Pinkus’ direction, calls were made to 1,705 adults between April 29 and May 7; of those, 904 were registered voters and 674 were determined to be likely voters.

We released our poll results in two stages, on May 10 and May 13.  The first revealed that the mayor’s race between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti has become a dead heat, with Greuel ahead by one point among likely voters but within the margin of error of 4 points. (A second poll by Survey USA for KABC TV showed an actual tie.) Perhaps the tight race will generate the kind of excitement that has been missing in the campaign thus far.  Our second set of results showed Dennis Zine and Mike Feuer hold clear leads for controller and city attorney, respectively.



In this, as in so many elections, we have focused so much on the candidates that we may have forgotten that elections are really about the voters — how various groups’ representation has changed over time and what they want to happen in their city.  



Of the likely voters in the PBI poll, 42 percent were white, 12 percent were African American, 29 percent were Latino, and nine percent were Asian American. Consider that when Richard Riordan defeated Mike Woo in 1993, whites cast 72 percent of all votes, and Latinos cast only eight percent.  Riordan’s election was the last time that a Republican had a real chance for the city’s top job, when Republican voters cast more than 30 percent of the votes.  In the PBI sample, only 13 percent of likely voters identified as Republican.  This is a Democratic town, with 56 percent of the likely voters calling themselves Democrats.  (An estimated 6 percent of the city, and a larger share of its voters, are Jewish, who are disproportionately Democratic, but their numbers were too small in the PBI poll for analysis.)



We often hear negative things about the city and about the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  We should also wonder how people feel in their own neighborhoods, because that’s their day-to-day experience.  Only 40 percent of voters polled like the direction of the city, and 22 percent approve of the LAUSD, but within this sprawling metropolis, residents are more pleased with their own neighborhoods and even their local schools, than with the “city” and the “school district.”  Voters said their own local schools are in good shape (37 percent favorable), just as they thought their neighborhoods are doing well (52 percent. This has probably been true in the past, but we have tended not to ask.

As Latinos’ numbers and influence continue to rise, they are feeling optimistic.  Nearly half (44 percent) think the city is going in the right direction, compared to only 29 percent of African-Americans, who have seen their hard-earned political gains jeopardized by a declining population share.  Latinos think that Antonio Villaraigosa has done a good job as mayor, giving him a 62 percent approval rating, compared to his overall 50 percent approval.  Latinos were much more likely to give the beleaguered LAUSD positive ratings than either whites or African-Americans.  Latinos favor giving the city’s mayor greater authority over the school district to a significantly greater degree than either whites or African-Americans.

  As a group on their way up, Latinos can see a better future in front of them, and their attitudes toward public institutions are starting to reflect that optimism.

Latinos prefer Eric Garcetti over Wendy Greuel (48-36 percent), Dennis Zine over Ron Galperin for controller (29-18 percent), and Mike Feuer over Carmen Trutanich for city attorney (31-23 percent). 



Whites are not as optimistic as Latinos about the direction of the city, but among all groups, whites are the most satisfied with how things are going in their neighborhoods (65 percent, compared to 31 percent for African-Americans and 42 percent for Latinos).  White voters support Greuel (53-42 percent), Zine (30-21 percent), and Feuer (39-23 percent).   African-Americans, whose numbers in the sample are too low for full analysis, favor Greuel by a 2-1 margin, and also Zine and Trutanich. 



The sleeper for Greuel is a growing gender gap, with women supporting her by 13 points and men backing Garcetti by the same margin.  A surge of women voters or a high black turnout might ensure victory for Greuel, just as a mobilization of Latino voters, who tend to be late deciders, would do it for Garcetti.



Among registered voters (numbering 904 in the PBI sample), crime, the city budget, and education emerged as what people worry about most.  Voters also expressed concern about traffic, the economy, streets, and jobs — essentially the bread-and-butter issues of everyday life in a big city. 



Yet not all groups have the same concerns.  Whites were more likely to list traffic than either African-Americans or Latinos, who were worried more about crime than whites.  And whites and African-Americans were more concerned than Latinos about the city budget.



What guidance does this poll hold for the next mayor? 

With all the talk about pensions and other budget issues at city hall, the next mayor will have to spend much time and political capital on quality-of-life issues that will require hard choices among budget priorities. 



The mayor can build on voter optimism about neighborhoods and local schools while trying to build confidence in the city government and in the school district.  Voters will want to see results in their daily lives, not just glossy programs that are advertised to have no costs or side-effects, only benefits.



Both candidates have been working hard to convince the electorate that no hard choices will have to be made, that it’s possible to have a fully staffed police force, nice parks, easy-to-navigate streets and lots of new jobs.  Naturally, this is not going to be true starting July 1, when the mayor takes office.  To govern is to choose.



With two Democrats in the runoff, the voters will not be able to give an ideological direction to the new mayor.  The voters will really be selecting the better leader, the person most likely to negotiate and bargain on the city’s behalf, to make the right choices among competing priorities.

Voters won’t tell the mayor whether more money should go to parks or to keep the police force at 10,000 officers, whether to support a jobs-producing development or stop it in order to reduce traffic congestion.  Nor will voters tell the mayor how to deal with the powerful forces that dominate city hall.  They may be ambivalent about giving the mayor greater authority over the school district, but they certainly will expect schools to improve under the next mayor. 



Once elected, the new mayor will hopefully trust the voters enough to make plain that choices must be made, that there is no free lunch when it comes to municipal services, that talking alone won’t make a powerful and effective mayor, and to engage the public in the process of setting priorities.  Our poll does not say whether voters will welcome that honesty.  But what our poll does show is that the voters will look to their own neighborhoods and their own local schools to see if what the mayor is doing works for them.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs and Director of the PBI Poll at California State University, Los Angeles.  Full reports on the PBI Poll on the Los Angeles City Elections can be found at www.patbrowninstitute.org










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Eric Garcetti: A new Jewish face for L.A.?


This is one in a series of profiles of the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates running in the March 5 election.  See below for a video analysis.

During a recent candidates’ forum at Sinai Temple, Los Angeles City Councilman and mayoral hopeful Eric Garcetti began his opening statement by thanking his hosts, the audience, and the moderator, Rabbi David Wolpe.

“It was wonderful to be here for High Holidays,” Garcetti said, “and it’s great to see this room, which I’ve come to for so many dinners and events, filled with folks … who care about politics.”

Garcetti may speak with the eloquence befitting a former Rhodes Scholar and demonstrate the manners of a naval reserve officer, but one longtime member of Sinai Temple didn’t like what she heard.

“He’s not Jewish,” said Eileen Hinkes, who said she was leaning towards the lone Republican in the race, Kevin James. “I think he [Garcetti] played the ‘Jewish card’ to try to appeal to this audience. ”

Garcetti is the son of a Jewish mother and a father whose parents were Italian- and Mexican-American, and he identifies as both Jewish and Latino. He has been to Israel on multiple occasions, and he’s a frequent attendee at IKAR, an independent congregation in Los Angeles. Still, the experience of having his identity questioned isn’t new.

“Growing up with an Italian last name, I think a lot of people thought I was neither Mexican nor Jewish,” Garcetti said in an interview a few days after the Jan. 29 debate. “This is who I am. If I left politics tomorrow, I’d still be eating what I eat, talking to my family the way I do, worshipping the way I do.”

Garcetti, 42, is one of three candidates claiming some type of Jewish identity in the race to be Los Angeles’s next mayor. The others are City Councilwoman Jan Perry,  who converted to Judaism as an adult and City Controller Wendy Greuel, who is married to a Jewish man and is a member of a synagogue. In campaign appearances, all three have emphasized their commitment to L.A.’s Jews, a small but disproportionately influential segment of the citizenry that could cast as much as 20 percent of the votes in the citywide primary election on March 5.

Running against two longtime City Hall colleagues, Garcetti’s argument is that he is best able to spur economic growth in the city. In his 12 years representing the 13th district in City Council, including six as Council president, Garcetti said he “has not shied away from tough decisions in tough times.”

“You could stand by the sidelines, which might have been politically easier, or you could jump in and actually do things, like pension reform and reducing the number of people who work on the city payrolls, and bring down our costs,” Garcetti said, referring to a September 2012 plan that reduced benefits and raised the retirement age for newly hired city workers. “And I did that.”

At a time when the city is facing an estimated $222 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, Garcetti still believes things are less bad than they were before actions taken by city council improved the situation.

Garcetti takes credit for enacting some reforms to pensions for future city hires and reducing the number of employees paid by the city’s general fund, which have helped narrow the budget deficit.

For the city to close the gap, Garcetti said L.A. needs to focus on economic growth and not just cut costs or tax more. But similarly, Perry’s campaign slogan (“Tough enough to make Los Angeles work again”) hits the same theme, and Greuel has said that her number one priority is, “jobs, jobs jobs.”

To differentiate himself, Garcetti has touted his work in fostering development in Hollywood, one of 12 neighborhoods in the council district he represents. Hollywood has grown dramatically during Garcetti’s tenure in office, and though some have criticized aspects of the neighborhood’s transformation – the complaints include gentrification that pushed out some long-time residents and dramatically increased traffic — Garcetti claims the public favors the development that has taken root there, and he has overseen approval of plans for more building in the future. 

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who know the Hollywood of 15 years ago who say that its not better today,” Garcetti said, referring to the dramatic decrease in gang activity in the neighborhoods, as well as more and better restaurants and entertainment venues.

Until recently, Garcetti has refrained from attacking his opponents — perhaps because he was holding a narrow lead over Greuel according to some polls – but he dismissed Greuel’s claim to have identified $160 million in wasteful and fraudulent spending.

Garcetti presents himself as a native son, and not just of a single neighborhood, but of the city in all its diversity.

“My dad grew up in South L.A.,” Garcetti said of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti. “My great-grandparents and grandparents grew up in Boyle Heights; my mom grew up in West L.A.; I grew up in the San Fernando Valley; now I live in the heart of the city. There’s not a part of this city I can go to without feeling a direct connection.”

In his district, Garcetti said he has tripled the number of parks for his constituents, from 16 when he took office to 48 today, and he says he’s running for mayor because he’s “dissatisfied” with the state of Los Angeles and wants to make Los Angeles great again – which is how it felt to him as a teenager in Encino in the 1980s.

“It was a place where you felt like anything was possible; nothing held you back,” he said, sitting on a bench in Historic Filipinotown, in one of the new parks he helped to create. And while L.A. in the ’80s had “big problems,” including segregated schools and a police department that wasn’t representative of the city, Garcetti said, “what we did have was real middle-class opportunities.”

To bring back some of those opportunities, Garcetti is hoping to improve the city’s infrastructure – in public appearances, he’s talked about the possibility of tunneling under the 405 Freeway to bring public transit through the Sepulveda Pass – while also improving its business climate. And if he becomes mayor (Garcetti tends to start his sentences like that with the word “when”), he said he’ll aim to emulate mayors of other great American cities, like New York’s Michael Bloomberg.

“I love his conscience and his storytelling ability, and I like Rahm’s fearlessness,” Garcetti said, referring to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Then he went on to mention Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whom he called “a very dear friend,” saying “I like the way he has connected government to people’s daily lives.”

In his essence, despite his long political career, Garcetti comes across still as a clean-cut former professor (he taught international relations at Occidental, and USC) with an impressive academic pedigree (with degrees from Columbia and Oxford). He has won over some business leaders even as he courts support from organized labor and emphasizes his environmentalist and progressive agenda. Garcetti also is running as an incumbent against the backdrop of high unemployment – barely below 10 percent in Los Angeles County. As is often required of a candidate, even as Garcetti stays on message, he does a lot of code switching, or shifting between languages, depending on his audience.

As a result, Garcetti’s multifaceted identity has tripped up some members of the communities whose heritage he shares. Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who has endorsed Greuel, told KPCC in December, “There isn’t a Latino candidate running for mayor that I know of.”

But to watch Garcetti on the trail is to see someone at ease with the boundaries he’s crossing. In October 2012, during a conversation on stage with an African-American radio host and marketer, Garcetti briefly showed off a few breakdance moves, which he said he had honed in middle school. (Garcetti didn’t mention the school’s name — he graduated from the tony boys’ prep school that later became Harvard-Westlake.) Garcetti has been known to speak fluently in Spanish during interviews on Spanish-language TV, and Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek endorsed him with videos both in English and her native tongue.

“To be an effective mayor you have to be able to cross borders every single day,” Garcetti said. “Demographic, income, geographic, ethnic boundaries and feel comfortable and fluent everywhere.”

 

 

Members of the 19th Knesset sworn in at inaugural session


The first session of the newly elected 19th Knesset opened in Jerusalem.

The 120 members of the Knesset, including 48 new members, were sworn in on Tuesday as part of the celebratory opening.

The session was presided over by the Labor Party's Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the legislative body's longest-serving lawmaker.

As part of the inaugural session, members heard a recording of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, declaring the establishment of the Jewish State.

President Shimon Peres delivered the opening remarks. Peres addressed Israel's foreign and domestic challenges including the pressing need to pass a new budget, equality in sharing the national burden, social justice, the importance of peace and the threat from Iran.

“Members of Knesset, the smallness of our territory requires a greatness of minds. An Israel that will be built on values. That will be just for all citizens. A State that will be daunting to our enemies. A country that contributes. Our foundation is the Ten Commandments. Our vision is the edge of science. Members of Knesset, you are privileged to be representatives of the people. There is no greater right than to serve your nation,” Peres said..

As part of the ceremony, each Knesset member rose and swore his loyalty to the state and its laws.

Can Bibi’s wife Sara spoil Israel’s coalition?


Forging a coalition is, without a doubt, the most difficult part of the election process in Israel.

After a long, hard fought and often ugly election battle, it falls to the future prime minister to make deals with those who were, until recently, his nemesis all in order to obtain the required 60 Knesset seats necessary for his party to govern the country. Election planks and platforms are first weighed and then cast away in favor of the issues of power, control and of course, prestige.

Well before the final results were in, Benjamin Netanyahu placed calls to potential coalition partners. Immediate calls went out to the ultra orthodox Sephardi party Shas which then won 11 seats, the ultra orthodox Ashkenazi party United Torah which then won 7 seats and the anti ultra orthodox Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party which in the end won 19 seats.

The call Netanyahu did not immediately make was to the party that, to all appearances, is the natural partner to his own Likud/Yisrael Beitenu party. Netanyahu did not place a call to Ha Bayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party, a modern Zionist orthodox party which garnered 12 seats, until late Thursday. And there is a simple reason for that.

Netanyahu's wife Sara did not want him to make the call. There is bad blood between Naftali Bennett, the leader of The Jewish Home, and Mrs. Netanyahu. The feud goes back to the time before Bennett headed and then sold a multi-million dollar start-up it goes back to the time when Bennett was chief of staff in the office of the prime minister.

Imagine the pressure in the Netanyahu household. Netanyahu needed to weigh the sides to weigh the wrath of his wife against his need for a successful coalition that would insure his position as prime minister. Not an easy decision to make. Sara has a strong hold on her man, but the pull of the prime ministry may be even stronger. Despite the protestations and clash of personalities, Bennett can only help Netanyahu and the phone call was made.

Sara Netanyahu is known to have a long memory and to hold a grudge. Many an adviser who crossed paths with this first lady ended with crossed swords and was tossed out with the trash. She is probably no different than Barbara Bush or Nancy Reagan or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton. But she is definitely less subtle. In the end Sara will probably lose this battle, but she will come back later with a vengeance.

Israel is thought to be so easily understood by Western commentators and analysts. Pollsters think that it is an easy nut to crack. But unless you understand the nuance of the country, unless you can read the people, commentators, analysts and pollsters will get it wrong every time.

They think that because English is so readily and often eloquently spoken and because so many Israelis have been educated in the United States or other Western countries that Israel is a Western culture. But it is not. Israel is almost Western, but it is also very much a Middle Eastern country — albeit a modern Middle Eastern country, and that makes all the difference.

Many western commentators don't really take the time to analyze Israel. That is why for months now commentators and analysts have been talking about the radicalization of Israeli politics and bemoaning the fact that mainstream Israel was leaning more and more to the right.

If this election teaches us anything it teaches us that they were wrong. Why were they so wrong? They failed to do their own analysis and instead, these observers of Israeli politics swallowed hook, line and sinker the Palestinian line. That line is simply anti-Israel. And so anything that is not decisively pro-Palestinian is seen by commentators as rabidly right wing and as an extremist point of view.

By now the picture of true Israeli society should be perfectly clear. The centrist Atid party with nineteen seats is now the 2nd largest party in the Knesset only after Netanyahu's Likud. And it will almost certainly insist on playing a major role in the ruling coalition. The most important platform put forth by Atid is the universal draft – a requirement that every Israeli serve in the army. This general platform resonated with masses of Israelis and was also referred to as 'an equal burden' to be shared by all Israelis, including Arab Israelis. This issue catapulted Atid into a major position in the 19th Knesset.

Interestingly, the other new and newly huge party in the Knesset, Habayit HaYehudi or The Jewish Home, now the fourth largest party in the country, believes in the same principle. And both parties believe in the breakdown of the power of the ultra orthodox rabbinate.

These two new parties, both led by young new political leaders, obtained a combined thirty Knesset seats. That is exactly 25% of the Israeli parliament. They are not extremist. They are a real reflection of the new Israel.

With Netanyahu and his 31 seats, Yair Lapid and his Atid party with 19 seats and Naftali Bennett and his The Jewish Home party with 12 seats these three parties combined have 62 seats, a perfect number to form a ruling coalition. They make up just over half of the 120 seats needed to form a government.

Sara Netanyahu had better start getting used to it. I think that her husband will be spending a lot more time with Naftali and Yair than he will with her in the very near future. The rest of Israel made the decision for him.

Israelis voted for reality


Regardless of what kind of coalition a bruised and humbled Prime Minister Netanyahu shapes in the new government, the prospects for peace will depend less on his government’s actions and more on the sentiments of Israel’s neighborhood.

To get a sense of those sentiments, consider the words of newly elected President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a country that is technically “at peace” with Israel and is critical to its security.

As reported in The New York Times, three years ago Morsi was caught on video at a rally urging his followers to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews,” whom later that year he described as “bloodsuckers,” “warmongers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.”

Morsi is far from the exception in his Jew-hatred. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Belfer Center’s Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote in The Times:

“All over the Middle East, hatred for Jews and Zionists can be found in textbooks for children as young as three, complete with illustrations of Jews with monster-like qualities. Mainstream educational television programs are consistently anti-Semitic. In songs, books, newspaper articles and blogs, Jews are variously compared to pigs, donkeys, rats and cockroaches, and also to vampires and a host of other imaginary creatures.”

The vile depiction of Jews and Zionists is especially prevalent in Palestinian society, something that has been exposed in detail by the group Palestinian Media Watch.

It is this vicious Jew-hatred, above all, that has killed every hope for peace.

As Ali writes: “So many explanations have been offered for the failure of successive U.S. administrations to achieve that peace, but the answer is in Morsi’s words. Why would one make peace with bloodsuckers and descendants of apes and monkeys?”

Israelis are not stupid. They read all this stuff. They haven’t given up on peace, but they’ve given up on peace illusions. 

The conventional wisdom before Election Day was that Israel is “moving right.” As I see it, it is reality that has moved right, and Israel has had no choice but to adapt.

Ever since the heady days of Oslo 20 years ago, Israelis have gotten burned whenever they stuck their collective necks out for peace.

They saw how all the years and hopes they invested in Yasser Arafat were wasted on a duplicitous conniver who launched a terror war that murdered a thousand Israelis; they saw how terror rockets were launched on Israeli civilians after they evacuated Lebanon and Gaza; and now they see their so-called “peace partner” Mahmoud Abbas trying to make peace with Hamas, a terror entity sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Israelis see an Arab Spring that has generated even more Jew-hatred and even worse conditions for peace.

When they look east, they see an Iranian madman building a nuclear arsenal to wipe Israel off the map. And when they look north, they count their blessings that they never gave up the Golan Heights to a murderous despot now fighting a horrendous civil war.

Simply put, Israelis have come to understand that no amount of concessions or settlement freezes or red-carpet summits will thaw the icy Jew-hatred that lies at the core of the conflict.

They’ve come to understand the perverted and ruthless logic of the Middle East: The more you want peace and show weakness, the more you get war.

The more desperate you appear for a solution, the further you get from it.

Many American Jews are perplexed and exasperated that Israel has not been more “practical” or done “whatever it takes” to get their enemies to come to the peace table. 

They assume that the more you push for something, the better your chances of getting it. They can’t see how “dig in and tough it out” can even be an option.

What they’ve missed is that, in recent years, Israel has taken on a very Middle Eastern attribute: patience. 

Essentially, Israel has been telling the Arab and Muslim world: We’ve waited 2,000 years to come home, and we’re ready to wait another 2,000 years to make peace. Whenever you’re ready to accept us, we’ll be here, ready to talk peace.

In the Middle East, patience is leverage.

Patience itself is a very centrist idea. It avoids the extremes of both sides.

Bibi is fortunate that a centrist party, Yesh Atid, has done remarkably well. This will help him shape a more reality-based coalition.

This reality cuts both ways. On the one hand, it means recognizing that Israel must eventually make peace with its neighbors, and never lose hope.

On the other, it means recognizing that if the conditions are not ripe for peace, pushing too hard actually can backfire.

Let’s hope that Bibi’s new coalition will be able to pull off that balancing act: to show the world that Israel is absolutely ready to make peace, while exercising the hard-nosed realism that the neighborhood demands.

Israelis have learned the hard way that pushing for peace with those who hate you can bring you further from peace, and that showing weakness with those who compare you to pigs and apes can be an invitation to another war.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Analysis: The consequences of Israel’s vote


A few observations about the Israeli election results:

Right-left split changes, but not much: From an outsider’s perspective, Israel would seem to a very politically unstable place. The biggest party in the previous Knesset, Kadima, crashed from 28 seats to a grand total of zero. The No. 3 party, Yisrael Beiteinu, hitched its wagon to the ruling party, Likud, but their combined list lost about a quarter of its seats, down to 31 from 42. Meanwhile, a party that didn’t exist until a few months ago, Yesh Atid, emerged as the 120-seat Knesset’s second-biggest party, with 18 or 19 seats, according to exit polls.

Yet despite the swapping of party labels, not too much changed in the right-left split. The right wing appears to have lost a little ground — from 65 seats in the last Knesset to 62 seats in the new one. The center and left gained some adherents, but remains a minority with fewer than 50 seats (the balance goes to the Arab parties).

New priorities: With Israelis deeply pessimistic about the chances for imminent peace, a significant number of voters went for parties that made socioeconomic issues, not security, the centerpiece of their campaigns. Yesh Atid ran a campaign about social and economic issues, and Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich, who led the party to 17 seats, up from eight in the last Knesset, virtually ignored security issues in her campaign. This is a sea change from the old days, when campaigns were all about security. Tzipi Livni's Hatnua bucked that trend, emphasizing peace with the Palestinians. The result: 6 seats.

New faces: The 19th Knesset will see a plethora of new members, with more than a quarter of the Knesset occupied by first-timers, most of them from Jewish Home and Yesh Atid. Jewish Home is led by a son of American immigrants to Israel, businessman-turned-politician Naftali Bennett, and Yesh Atid is headed by former TV personality Yair Lapid (also son of the late politician Tommy Lapid).

Women: The new Knesset will see the number of women rise, with the biggest representation from Yesh Atid, eight of whose new representatives are women. The Likud-Beiteinu list has seven, Labor has four, and Jewish Home and Meretz each have three. Hatnua and Hadash each have one. Among the new women in the Knesset will be the body’s first Ethiopian-Israeli woman, Penina Tamnu-Shata of Yesh Atid, an attorney who immigrated to Israel at age 3 during Operation Moses.

The end of Kadima: Twice in its short history, the Kadima party leader occupied the prime minister’s office. But in just one election cycle, the party went from Israel’s largest faction all the way down to zero: Kadima failed to win a single seat in the 19th Knesset. The party was doomed by a variety of factors: The rise of Yesh Atid, whose socioeconomic-focused platform and charismatic leader peeled away centrist voters; Livni’s failure to gain adherents for Kadima and subsequent defection to her new party, Hatnua; and Shaul Mofaz’s decision to join, albeit briefly, the Likud-led ruling coalition. It’s not the end of centrist politics in Israel, but it is the end of the road for the party started by Ariel Sharon as a breakaway from Likud.

Bibi’s reign: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters used to herald him as Bibi, King of Israel. So did Time magazine just a few months ago. But with the combined Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list falling by a quarter after what was widely panned as a lackluster campaign, it’s difficult to make the case that Netanyahu’s star is burning brighter. He’s almost sure to capture the premiership again (now comes the horse trading that is Israeli coalition building), but it seems it will be more for lack of an alternative than enthusiasm for Netanyahu.

Hello, Naftali Bennett: If there was any enthusiasm on the right wing this time around, it appeared to be for Naftali Bennett, leader of the newly constituted Jewish Home party (itself a successor to the National Religious Party). The party captured 12 seats, up from just three (as the NRP) in the last Knesset. Bennett, who supports annexation of parts of the West Bank, is likely to apply pressure on Netanyahu to shift farther right on security issues.

Likud leads, but rise of Yesh Atid, Jewish Home bode bumpy road ahead for Netanyahu


His party shrunk, his opponents grew and his challengers multiplied.

But with the results in, it seems Benjamin Netanyahu survived the Knesset elections on Jan. 22 to serve another term as prime minister.

Netanyahu faces a bumpy road ahead. His Likud party, together with the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, fell to 31 seats in the voting from its current representation of 42.

The biggest surprise of the election was the ascendance of former TV personality Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. Founded just a year ago, Yesh Atid won 18 seats on a platform of national service and pro-middle class economic reform. Likud’s traditional rival, the center-left Labor, grew to 17 from eight seats promoting progressive economic policy.

And another political newcomer, Naftali Bennett, is likely to push Netanyahu to the right on security issues. His Jewish Home party, a successor to the National Religious Party, quadrupled its representation from three to 12 seats.

Together with the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party and the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism, the right-wing Knesset bloc will hold 62 of the Knesset’s 120 seats — a slim majority.

That’s anything but a mandate for Netanyahu, who campaigned on the slogan “A strong prime minister, a strong Israel.” Instead of being able to lead a new coalition with a large party behind him, Netanyahu will have to negotiate with rivals and forge compromises with opposing camps.

Judging from the successes of Yesh Atid, Labor and Jewish Home, Israelis cast a resounding vote for progressive economic reform and new leaders in their parliament.

The biggest thorn in the prime minister’s side looks to be Lapid. Unlike the fiscally conservative Netanyahu, Lapid won support by calling for housing reform, opposing tax increases for the middle class and including haredi yeshiva students in Israel’s mandatory military conscription.

But Netanyahu’s biggest concern may be a rival in his own right-wing camp, Bennett, who appears to have picked up most of the seats lost by Likud-Beiteinu.

While Netanyahu remains ambiguous on the question of a Palestinian state — he formally endorsed the idea in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University but has hardly mentioned it since or done much to promote it — Bennett passionately opposes the idea. Instead, Bennett, a former high-tech entrepreneur, calls for annexing much of the West Bank.

Even within Netanyahu’s party, nationalists on the Likud list who never before made it into the Knesset will now occupy seats. Among them is Moshe Feiglin, leader of the Jewish Leadership faction of Likud, who favors West Bank annexation and encouraging Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship to leave Israel.

The rise of Yesh Atid and Jewish Home do offer Netanyahu some new opportunities, too. Rather than rely on the haredi Orthodox parties such as Shas and United Torah Judaism for the coalition, Netanyahu could make common cause with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home, both of which want to draft haredi Israelis into the army or some form of national service — even though they may significantly disagree on security matters. Lapid talked during the campaign of his willingness to join a Netanyahu coalition, influencing the government from within rather than from the opposition.

So even though the haredi parties grew by three seats — Shas went to 13 from 11 and United Torah Judaism to six from five, according to exit polls — Lapid’s willingness to provide Netanyahu with an equally large chunk of seats to build his coalition means that the haredi parties may have lost their political leverage to keep yeshiva students out of Israel’s military draft.

For its part, Labor looks destined to lead the Knesset’s opposition; its chairwoman, Shelly Yachimovich, has vowed not to join a Netanyahu coalition. Tzipi Livni’s new Hatnua party, which won just six seats, is likely to stay in the opposition, too.

The election represented a major defeat for Livni, who in the last election led the Kadima party to 28 seats — more than any other party. This time, the eviscerated Kadima failed to win even a single seat.

Hatnua’s poor showing also suggested how little of the election was about negotiations with the Palestinians. Livni made much of the issue during the campaign, but it clearly failed to resonate with voters. Hatnua’s six seats equaled the showing of Meretz, the solidly left-wing party. By contrast, Labor, traditionally a promoter of peace talks, barely raised the issue in the campaign. Instead it focused on socioeconomic issues and made significant Knesset gains.

With Election Day over, the coalition building begins: To win another term as prime minister, Netanyahu now must cobble together an alliance of at least 61 Knesset members to form Israel’s next government. Who he chooses — and who agrees to join him — will determine a great deal about the course charted in the years to come by the Israeli government.

ELECTION RESULTS (according to exit polling):

Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu: 31
Yesh Atid: 18
Labor: 17
Shas: 13
Jewish Home: 12
Meretz: 6
United Torah Judaism: 6
Hatnua: 6
Hadash: 5
Raam: 4
Balad: 2

Who is Yair Lapid? [VIDEO]


Shmuel Rosner, Senior Political Editor of the Jewish Journal, speaks with Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman about the results of the Jan. 23 Israeli election.