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Das System

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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That is one of the explanations for the miracle that was Israeli democracy -- a phenomenon that is well-nigh inexplicable, considering that almost all Israelis came from severely anti-democratic countries -- Russia of the Czar and the commissars, Morocco, Iraq and Iran of the authoritarian kings, Poland of Jozef Pilsudski and his heirs, and of course Jews and Arabs born in Ottoman and British Palestine.

But the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, was an admirer of the Kaiser's Germany, in which democracy developed to a certain degree, and also of Great Britain. The founding fathers who came from Russia wanted to be progressive like Western Europeans.

Because of this, Israel maintained a democracy that was, at least at the beginning, equal to the best. The slogan "The Only Democracy in the Middle East" was not yet a joke. It also provided stable government, based on changing coalitions.

Ben-Gurion hated the electoral system. His fulminations against it were dismissed by the general public, including his own voters, as a personal quirk. In 1977 a new party, called Dash, gained 15 seats on the sole platform point of changing the electoral system, which it blamed for all the country's ills. The party disappeared at the next election.

THIS DECEASED party's rightful heir is now the new party of Ya'ir Lapid, "There is a Future" which wants to "Change The System," including the electoral system.

In which direction? Up to this moment, that is not clear at all. A US-type presidential system? A British winner-takes-all constituency system? The postwar German system (which I prefer) under which half the Parliament is elected in country-wide proportional elections, and the other half in majority-vote constituencies?

What else does Lapid want to change? Laudably, he is the only one who has brought up the Palestinian issue, declaring that he will be no part of any government that does not resume talks with the Palestinians. This does not mean too much, since talks can go on endlessly and lead nowhere, as in the past. He did not mention the word "peace." He also promised that Jerusalem will not be divided -- a promise guaranteed to make any negotiations impossible. He made his statement in Ariel, the capital of the settlers, which is boycotted by the entire peace movement.

HOWEVER, THE main enemy of "The System" is Avigdor Lieberman. In his mouth, the two words regain their original fascist undertones.

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This week Binyamin Netanyahu dropped a bombshell: the Likud and Lieberman's "Israel Our Home" party will form a joint election list -- thus setting in motion the creation of a joint party. The list will be called "Likud Beiteinu" ("Likud Our Home"). He easily imposed this on his reluctant party -- though nobody knew the details of the agreement.

But the main provisions of the oral agreement have already seeped out: Lieberman will be No. 2 on the list and will be able to choose one of the three major ministries in the next government: Defense, Treasury or Foreign Affairs.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that Lieberman will choose Defense, though he tried to reassure the public by pretending that he might prefer Foreign Affairs, his present domain, in which he is boycotted by most of the world's major leaders.

The subtext of the agreement is that the two parties will soon become one, that Lieberman will succeed Netanyahu as the leader of the entire right-wing, and that we may see him in a few weeks time as the almighty Minister of Defense, with his finger on the conventional and nuclear triggers and, even more frightening, as the sole governor of the Palestinian occupied territories.

Many Israelis shudder.

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Just a few years ago, such an idea was unthinkable. Though he came to Israel 30 long years ago, Lieberman has remained the quintessential "Russian immigrant." Actually he came from Soviet Moldavia.

There is something deeply sinister about his appearance, facial expression, shifty eyes and body language. His accent in Hebrew is heavily Russian, his language is crude. He projects an unbridled lust for power, in the most brutal sense.

His closest (and perhaps only) foreign friend is Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus and the last remaining dictator in Europe. His main object of admiration is Vladimir Putin.

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