Category Archives: Israel

The external voting question

This is somewhat a detour from the usual MICT stuff, but I hope you forgive me as I think the topic is interesting.

The Israeli political scene seems to be very disturbed recently.  No, it is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not about Iran, and it is not about about the recent tensions with Syria.  The debate is about a proposal by the government to amend external voting in the law or in other words to allow Israeli citizens abroad to vote in the election (HE).  I’ve heard this idea floating before, but I have never seen such a vibrant debate about this issue, which has recently become very close to my heart.

The situation today is that anybody holding an Israeli passport can vote in the Israeli election, but this person has to be physically present in Israel on the election day.  If you are studying, working, or simply on vacation abroad during the election day, you cannot go to the consulate and vote.  The only people entitled to vote remotely are diplomats and sailors.

The debate is happening on two levels.  On one level, it is a purely political debate, because some believe that the voters living abroad tend to vote to the right and thus the government is pushing for the change of law and the opposition is vigorously opposing it (HE1, HE2, HE3).  On another level, which constitutes most of the rhetoric, the debate is about values – should people who are not living in the country, particularly such country as Israel, be able to decide for those who will actually have to live with the consequences ? (HE1, HE2, HE3, He4, He5, HE6, HE7, HE8)

Deciding on big issues - poster calling for release of Gilad Shalit in Tel-Aviv

Some context may help understanding the later facet of the debate better.  Ever since the establishment of the state, people moving to live in Israel were referred to as “olim” or people who are “coming up” to live in and build the country.  On the other hand, people who left Israel to live elsewhere were referred to as “yordim,” meaning people who “stepped down,” left, deserted or abandoned the enterprise of building a Jewish state.  Traditionally, it was completely unacceptable to leave the country.  People who did that, and in fact their entire families, were frowned upon and looked down at.  However, in the past decade or so the criticism softened and in fact Israel is experiencing a brain drain (there are about 500-700K holders of Israeli passports currently living abroad).  The argument of those opposing the law thus resonates with the old sentiment and claims that the people who decided to abandon the not-so-luxurious Israeli realities have no right to decide for those who stayed.  In Israel, they say, election are not just about social issues, which are also important, but they are also about existential topics like war and peace.  If you are not going to live with the consequences of the vote, you shouldn’t have the right to vote, in the first place.  If it is important for you to vote, you can invest in coming to Israel once in four years to do that.

And this is where it is getting personal for me I guess.  It is getting personal because I couldn’t vote in the last election and given the frequency with which elections happen in Israel, I most probably won’t be able to vote in the next one as well.  The issue I am taking with this situation can also be viewed on a couple of level.  First, there is a financial  and logistic concern.  As a student, I simply cannot afford a random visit to Israel.  No matter how much I care about the democracy, the Maslow principles are getting in the way (not to mention the fact that my life is pretty much dictated by the academic calendar).  Second, there is a more substantive argument about my right to influence the reality of my country.  At the end of the day you can take an Israeli out of Israel, but you cannot take Israel completely out of the Israeli.  It starts with the fact that even though I am physically not in Israel at the moment, I am still influenced by the political decisions of its leaders (whether these are some of the taxes I am still paying or protests I encounter on campus, on  street or anywhere else).  But even more that that, as someone currently living abroad on a student visa, I think I should be able to influence the realities I am supposed to come back to upon completion of my studies.  I may decide not to go back to Israel after I finish my PhD, but then it will be a totally different story; right now I don’t have any tools to influence the reality I am supposed to return to, which I think is counterproductive for the country if it wants me back (somewhat related HE).

2008-12-ElectionPosters2Small

I may be wrong, but at this point of my life it somehow makes sense (and apparently not just to me – HE1, HE2).  Many of the arguments I read are dismissing any variation of making voting accessible to Israelis living abroad (here is an article in HE stating that 66% of Israelis oppose this idea).  It is “either you are with us or you are against us,” which I find both outdated and counterproductive.  There was a study triggered by this debate, which compared the external voting arrangements in other countries and showed how most of the world has reacted to globalization and to the fact that citizens who live abroad are still citizens of the country (PDF in HE).  In fact, one of the proposed versions of the law is taking a moderate approach that limits the period when one could vote abroad to six years, subject to spending at least 40 days over that period in Israel (HE), but the public discourse neglects the details and focuses on the principle.  This situation is similar to the arrangement in New-Zealand for example.  To be fair, some people do say that students should be given the right to vote (HE), but I think that if such an arrangement will be accepted, let’s say with the conditions similar to what is stated above, it should cover not just the students, but everybody else as well.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on the subject and what the situation is in your country?

A glimpse at the Israeli tech

I have recently encountered some news articles discussing Israel and technology, so I thought I’d share a couple of observations: one about where Israelis are spending their time online and another one about the Israeli high-tech industry and its main challenge.

As to the first observations, it turns out that the five most popular websites in Israel are: Google (92.3%), Walla! (67.2%), Facebook (61.2%), Ynet (58.4%), and YouTube (54.9%). This is interesting and slightly surprising at the same time.  It is interesting because Facebook has outperformed Ynet and the Israeli equivalents of YouTube are nowhere near the top runners.  It is also interesting because US brands are occupying three out of top 5 places.  Of course in all of them, the users can do practically everything in Hebrew, but still, the local attempts to offer search, social networking, and online video, are not doing very well.

These statistics are also surprising, because there is an image of Israelis as being obsessed with news, but it seems like the social interactions are currently more interesting to them compared to the biometric database law and such.  Perhaps this is a sign of relative calm in the region.  Also, to me, one of the surprising aspects of the numbers above was that Walla! outperformed Ynet in popularity, because I was under the impression that Ynet is far more popular.  Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that Walla! offers not only news, but also email, shopping, and more (the exclamation mark in the name is there for a reason – they are taking the Yahoo! approach).  This may also be an explanation to why Ynet has recently offered its registered users a free email with unlimited capacity.

Asked explicitly about their browsing habits at work, the respondents to the survey listed the  same five websites at the top, but in a slightly different order: Google (87.8%), Ynet (52.8%), Walla! (47.9%), Facebook (31.2%),  and YouTube (25.3%).  It looks like the working people value news more than socializing and entertainment, but since I don’t have the actual survey in front of me, it hard to tell much.

As to the second observation, there is a new book out there, trying to analyze the success of the Israeli high-tech.  From its description the book sounds a bit too poetic (almost like a marketing brochure), but it cites  some interesting numbers and voices an important warning.  For example, there are around 3,850 start-up companies in Israel today and in 2008 the volume of venture capital investments in Israel was 2.5 higher compared to that in the US.  If you compare the per capita venture capital investment, the volumes in Israel are 30 times higher compared to Europe, 80 times higher compared to India, and 300 times higher compared to China (well, I guess this is one good thing about being a small country).  There are 63 Israeli companies traded on NASDAQ, which is the larger group of foreign companies from a single country on that exchange (the second largest group is Canada with 48 companies).  Finally, it turns out that Israel has one of the highest rates of investment in civil R&D in the world.  According to the article the country invests 4.5% (of its GDP I assume, because the article does not clarify that) in civil R&D, compared to 3.2% in Japan (the second largest) and 2.7% in the US (the third largest).

The book discusses a number of factors that contributed to the entrepreneurial culture and innovation in Israel (such as the immigration and combination of the army service and good higher education) and highlights one factor that endangers it all.  The authors, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, suggest that the state of the K-12 education in Israel is degrading and something needs to be done if Israel wants to maintain its innovative-entrepreneurial advantage – and I tend to agree.  I have not read the actual book, so I am not sure what exactly they are proposing, but I think it is good that this problem is getting attention in something that will probably become a popular read in the industry.

The Israeli TV industry: Some numbers

Israel is debating another reform in its broadcast TV industry, which allows an interesting peek on the numbers constructing the Israeli media market.

Currently there two private broadcast TV channels in Israel, which are supported through advertising (there is a government supported public channel as well).  Channel 2 started operating commercially in 1993 and Channel 10 joined the competition in 2002.  Both channels are operated through permits, which means that they have to be renewed every few years, which in turn is supposed to give the public body that monitors these channels, the Second Authority, the leverage to make demands for quality content.

One can debate whether or not the Authority is successful in imposing content quality standards, but the reform is aimed at moving from the permit regime to a license regime.  According to those pushing for the reform, this will allow to introduce another player to the Israeli broadcasting media market.  Since such a shift requires amending the law, the story starts with discussions in the Economic Committee of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

So, what can we learn from these debates?

  • According to Menashe Samir, the CEO of the Second Authority, the annual income of the commercial broadcasting TV stands on NIS 1.2 billion (around US $320 million), while operating a channel costs about NIS 400 million (around US $70 million).  Eran Pollack, from the Ministry of Finance, provided some more specific data, saying that in 2008 the commercial broadcasting channels had incomes of NIS 700 million for Channel 2 (US $187 million) and NIS 400 million for Channel 10 (US $107 million).
  • Eran Polack also said that in 2008 the overall TV industry in Israel had an income of approximately NIS 5.5. billion (US $1.47 billion).   The break down is really interesting.  The commercial broadcasting TV channels account only for a small portion of that pie; the Israeli cable and satellite TV providers account for almost two thirds of it.   HOT, the cable company had an income of NIS 2.085 billion (US $559 million) in 2008, and YES, the satellite company had an income of NIS 1.415 billion (US %378 million).  Also, the public channel accounted for about NIS 350 million of income (US $94 million).
  • As to the viewers, according to Yehuda Saban from the budget department, an average Israeli views 225 minutes of TV a day – over 3 and a half hours.  Children watch TV even more than that.  All this in spite of the fact that the costs of cable/satellite TV in Israel are relatively high; at the bottom 20% of the income group, people spend as much as 1.2% of their monthly income on TV.

It is f course also interesting to see how both supporters and opponents of the reform justify their positions through claims for greater societal benefit, but I won’t torture you with this now :)

OLPC – the Israeli pilot

More or less a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Guy Sheffer, who represented Israel at the ITU Youth Forum in Bangkok.  Guy is a true open source enthusiast and has tremendous amounts of energy, which are rather inspiring.  He got really excited and interested in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC ) project and when he went back home, he was determined to have an OLPC pilot in Israel.  He got together with Netzach Farbish , who heads the Astronomy, Computers and Young Leadership Programs at the Ilan Ramon Center, and when I was in Israel last winter I helped them to meet with Ushi Krausz of the Peres Center for Peace.  It turned out that the center had a stock of older XO’s that they didn’t use and were willing to contribute to the pilot.

In the video below you can see an interview with Guy and Netzah where they talk about the pilot:

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I understand that Guy is still working on reflections on the pilot and its results, which he will publish in his blog.  I have some thoughts of my own, but I will hold them untill he has his say :)

What do Israeli students do online?

Apparently February 17 is the national internet safety day in Israel.  Honoring this occasion, the Ministry of Education published results of a survey among school-age students about their use of the internet (HE). They surveyed 16,702 students from 234 schools, covering grades 5, 8, and 11.

Here are some highlights:

  • 95% of the students have access to computer with an internet connection.
  • Most parents don’t really care what their kids are doing online or how much they spend there.  For example, 67% of the parents do not limit the time their kids can spend online, 53% do not express any interest about what they are doing there, and only 22% are using filtering software.
  • Most of the students are rather pragmatic in their use of the internet.  81% of the students are looking for any information online (not surprising, but interesting number), 77% are playing online games, 68% utilize the web for their studies, 66% use it to communicate with their peers, and 63% download music.
  • It also looks most of the students are rather thoughtful in their use of the internet. 72% explicitly stated that they are aware of the dangers of the internet and “consult or check” before giving away identifiable information (71% are using a screen name) and 14% of the students admitted that they are exposed to adult content.
  • Online ethics and copyright awareness are not as strong.  30% of the students are convinced that they can download anything they want from the internet and similar proportion of the students are convinced that they can download papers from the internet for class submission (this one is rather worrying result in my eyes).
  • Some results are not as clear.  For example, 40% of the students are convinces that internet is a free place where you can copy or use anything you want. I am not sure what exactly the Ministry people were trying to achieve in this question and how we should read it, but they presented it as a negative phenomenon.

As I said, the report is released in the context of “internet safety day.” As such, it is framed so that we would appreciate the dangers children are exposed to online.  This is particularly evident in the emphasis on the fact that parents do not care much about what their kids are doing online and an explicit attempt to emphasize that significant percentage are exposed to adult content, as well as to suggest that the kids are not careful enough in online interactions.

However, I think the results actually show that the Israeli youth are very thoughtful users of the Internet.  I have no tools to judge how many teenagers are exposed to adult content in the offline world, but 14% does not seem like a frightening figure (of course it is self reported, so the actual figure is probably higher).  At the same time, the main uses of the medium are mostly positive and most of the youths are careful about how they behave online and how they expose themselves to strangers.

The Ministry of Education is taking credit for the positive trends (even though longitudinal data would help) and probably rightfully so .  I think it is an important argument in the discussions about internet filtering under the claim of protecting the kids.  First, we can see that the situation is not as horrible as some proponents of filtering suggest (unless, of course, looking for information online is considered negative/dangerous behavior in some communities).  Second, if the Ministry of Education is right that the current situation is a result of educational efforts, it shows that resources spent in that direction do bear fruit.

Having said that, it is important to note that my entire discussion is based on a press release from the ministry. In other words, all the data above was selected and framed by the ministry to serve a purpose.  It would be of course much more useful if the ministry would publish the detailed report, including the instruments they’ve used and the responses they’ve got.  For example, it would be really interesting to see age difference in the attitudes and uses of the internet.  It would be also interesting to see how different socioeconomic groups interact with the medium.  Finally, as I have mentioned above, presenting longitudinal data (if it exists) would be very helpful. Do you think it is too much to ask for a complete report?  Or perhaps it is available somewhere out there and you could point me to it?

Oracles and the paliamentray system

As the Israeli election is approaching, I thought I should publish some of the posts that have been sitting in my drafts for a while now.  For example, I wrote this post over a month ago, but haven’t had a chance to publish it yet.  Interestingly, even though it is over a month old, I think it is still relevant.  The only thing I changed was adding a reference to Michal Shamir at the end.

Please let me know what you think about this.

Reading the Israeli press in the last month or so made an impression that the news media today are more focused on covering the future, rather than on reporting news.  For example, according to Gid’on Levi (HE) the Israeli election is already decided and Netanyahu is going to take the election with ease.  Udi Lebel, criticized the growing intervention of army officials in political processes by suggesting that Israeli should negotiate with Syria.  He opened his article with a claim that we are facing a new government with a Prime Minister (PM) who opposes such talks (HE).

These sentiments are supported by some polling data (HE), which shows that if the election would happen then (Nov, 20), Likud would have 32 seats in Knesset (6 more from the previous poll), Kadima would have 26 seats (3 less than before), and Avoda would practically disappear with only 8 seats (3 seats less than in the previous poll).  Although the data has slightly changed since then, the trends remain.

In fact, reading these articles and then the comments people leave as a response to them, definitely gives one a sense that this election is over, even before the parties have gone through the primaries.  I think it shows one of the greater weaknesses of the Israeli version of the parliamentary system (HE).  People seem to form their voting inclinations based on the person aiming for the PM post.  As if this person is going to have exclusive governing powers and the entire policy of the future government will be up to this person.  In reality, however, the PM has a lot, but not at all ultimate powers.  Because of the way the parliamentary system works in Israel, the PM is a hostage.  First of all, they are a hostage of their own party, and then of the other parties joining the coalition.

Right now, the dynamics of this campaign have been very personal.  It is definitely Zipi vs. Bibi as the “Economist” put it.  All the people who joined/left the major parties were nothing more than markers of the qualities of the candidates.  The more people (or should I say celebrities) have joined a certain party, the more credentials they are supposedly provide to the person heading that party.  It seems like neither the voters, nor the press, are paying attention to the individual admissions and ideological approaches of the newcomers and those who decided to change political affiliations.  Yet, once the election hype is over, these individual characteristics of people on each candidate’s list will become extremely important both for the political direction Israel is going to take and for the stability of the next government.

The last argument takes me back to the media and to the role of Oracles they have taken upon themselves.  Reading the predictions, I cannot help myself but seeing all good spiral of silence, agenda setting, framing, and a handful of other theoretical approaches playing off in front of my eyes.  I wonder to what degree focusing on the leaders of the parties and on the prediction contributes to making this prediction eventually come true?  I wonder if there is going to be any change in discourse once the primaries are over?  Will the actual teams matter in public discourse of these election?

One thing that becomes clearer and clearer to me is that the current version of the parialmentary system in Israel is not neccesarily the most productive model of government (and I am not alone – HE).  At the same time, it looks like changing this model may be difficult, to impossible, because the change is supposed to come from within the same milfancionting apparatus.  In one of the recent analysis of the voting patterns of the Israeli voters (HE), Prof. Michal Shamir expressed some optimism that at some point Israel can get its own Obama (I guess referring to the inspiration, enthusiasm, and hope his campaign and the begining of his presidency gave to the american people).  I would love to hope that she is right, but observing the election dynamics makes me more sceptical that the current system can produce a person who would will be free of its, not neccesarily healthy, influence.

Obama Effect 2

In one of my previous posts I described the “Obama Effect” as rhetoric of change and innovative/thoughtful use of information technology in election campaign.  Back then, I discussed a little bit the technological aspects as they apply to the Israeli case.  Now its time for a number of examples for the rhetorical aspects using the Israeli election as an example.

Recently, as Israel started warming up the election machine again, Zipi Livni was quoted saying that she would like that the atmosphere in Israel after the election would be similar to what she felt in Washington DC before the inauguration of Obama (HE). In her blog she has a video when she is briefly describing what saw and you can see that she is excited and that she really would like to be in the same place as him in terms of public support (HE).  This urged me to finish this post, which I started writing back in December.

Since she declared that she is choosing election to a shaky government, Zipi Livni became associated with an expressions such as “new politics” or “different politics”, which implied politics focused on the needs and interests of the public as opposed to those in positions of power.  I am not sure to what extent her rhetoric back then was inspired by Obama, but it was clearly going in the similar direction of “change”, particularly when it comes to the way politics is done in Israel.  She got criticized for that statement and accused for using that as a rhetorical tool only.  Nevertheless, other politicians, particularly those who are aiming for the Prime Minister (PM) seat, have gladly adopted the same rhetoric, especially after they witnessed it working in the US.

For example, on a summit of Likud party in mid-November, Netanyahu was quoted saying:

“We are not [going back] to the old politics.”

followed by a promise of open and clear election campaign (HE).  During the same week, while speaking to the Assembly of the Jewish Agency about his approach to the peace process, he was quoted saying:

“We need a new approach.  The old one did not bring results. We need to build bottom-up by making the lives of our Palestinian neighbors better.” (HE)

Even though the rest of the speech included some old statements about united Jerusalem and negotiations from a position of strength, it was indeed packed in the rhetoric of change.

During the primaries season, the intra-parties campaigns could be viewed as another example.  Michael Eitan, a Likud MK, launched his entire campaign under the slogan: “To prove that it can be done differently” and he borrows broadly in his rhetoric and uses of technology from Obama.  But not only him.  Miri Regev, a newcomer to Likud, who seems like an Israeli version of Sarah Palin, launched her primaries campaign and referred to her hopes that members of Likud will choose good people to compete with Kadima.  Among other things she said that she hopes that the party will be “smart” to bring:

“People who grew bottom-up, who have record and an alternative, and who chose the political route because they care about the Israeli people and about the country.” (HE)

In a recent article addressing the dynamics of the campaign Yoel Marku in Haaretz quoted Livni’s advisers saying that the choice is between preserving the status quo and choosing Livin, who represents the “let’s do something new” approach (HE).

Aluf Ben, in his article in Haaretz (HE), summarized the rhetoric of the two main candidates for the PM:

Candidates in the election are always trying to present “change”, particularly this year, with the meteoric rise of Barak Obma to the White House out of nowhere.  It is difficult for both Livni and Netanyahu to sell this product.

And he goes on describing how both candidates are disparately trying to reinvent themselves with little credibility.

Perhaps Shas, the ultraorthodox party went furthest.  I do not have an article to link to and what I know is from talking to people, but apparently they simply translated Obama’s “yes we can!” adding “with God’s help”.

There are definitely many more examples out there, if one is looking.  One question I keep on asking myself is whether these are the candidates who are acting under the Obama Effect, or there is a different effect in motion.  After all, I am not listening to the actual speeches, and all I know is from the media.  So, Is it possible that these are the media who are acting under the “Obama Effect” or more so “Obama Coverage Effect”?  In other words, is it possible that it is the Israeli media that are influenced by their US (and global) counterparts and prefer focusing on rhetoric focusing on change and bottom-up approaches?  After all, the Israeli media even tried to copy the model of YouTube debates, even if with partial success (HE).

What do you think?

P.S.  And just because I couldn’t help myself, the evidence to the first part of Obama effect is so overwhelming!!!  Tzipi Livni has her own vblog (HE) and Kadima website was upgraded to look more 2.0ish,  Netanyahu, who has an Obama-clone website under a domain that has nothing to do with the party, but with him as an individual, has lunched daily addresses to the nation on… YouTube of course (HE).  Avoda has also launched a refreshed website (well, that was not hard to do, compared to what they had before) though, Barak does not blog or Twitter yet.  The highlight, however, I think is this rather bizzare phenomenon of “Livni Boy”.  Well, this is not exactly a phenomenon, but just a single instance, but it is nevertheless “interesting”:

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Compromising on leadership

In the beginning of November, when millions of US citizens were electing their leadership, Israelis were remembering the murder of one of its leaders, Itzhak Rabin, 13 years ago.  In one of the official events commemorating that day, Rabin’s grandson was quoted saying that Israel should “stop compromising on the quality of its leaders”.  I have no idea what else he was saying, as it was not reported in the media, but that was one powerful quote, which I tend to agree with.  Unfortunately, none of the potential Prime Ministers (PMs) in the current race has the star-quality image of a leader (HE).  Yet they all are going to try prove me (and the Israeli voters) wrong, at least rhetorically.

On the right.

In the meantime, the “business is as usual”, as suggested by an old Hebrew saying.  It seems that Likud, is continuing gaining momentum as more an more “stars” are coming back to the party or are joining it for the first time.  In a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy, it looks as if they smell that Likud is going to reign and everybody now wants a piece of that power.  Perhaps this movement becomes more obvious as it starts attracting criticism from the media (HE) and also from within the party (HE).

Michael Eitan, one of the current Likud MKs (who has been pretty good about maintaining online presence already for a while and is very much involved in technology related issues) had a very sarcastic post on his blog (HE) complaining about lack of media attention to devoted Likudniks, while the newcomers and returners are getting all the air time (so needed in the primaries). Same sentiment was heard prior to the assembly of the party (HE1, HE2) to approve changes in its constitution to accommodate the newcomers and set the deadline for primaries (HE).  The internally-generated criticism in Likud is particularly interesting, because it helps illustrating how unnatural the migration to the party seems even to its members and to what extend it is all about power grab.  For those who paid attention, this may remind what happened to Kadima when it was established and it was clear that it is heading towards a swiping victory.  Everybody likes being on the winning side.

Yet, the “noise” does not seem to bother Netanyahu, who continues his efforts to assemble “stars” and recently was even spotted trying to recruit people from the traditionally-liberal celebrity scene of Tel-Aviv (HE).  This happens at the same time as he is trying to recruit a former Chief of General Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, who was also offered to head the new right wing party (HE1, HE2).  On the flip side, Uzi Landau, another prominent figure in the Israeli right shifted even more to the right and moved from Likud to Yisrael Beiteinu (HE) thus further blurring the distinction between the two parties.

On the left.

While the carnival of new-old faces in Likud continues, Avoda seems to slowly sink into a chasm (HE1, HE2, HE3).  On the one hand, people who could potentially uplift the public face of the party and signal the so needed change, are leaving.  Ami Ayalon, has recently announced that he is leaving Avoda and is looking for an alternative on the left side of political map (HE1, HE2, HE3).  On the other hand, the party demonstrates that it is true to the “good old” rules of “political kitchen” where deals are being “cooked” and places on the ballot are being saved for the veteran politicians based on really unclear and not transparent criteria.  The latest stunning example was reserving a spot on the ballot for Fouad Ben Eliezer who is a veteran politician, but does not have an outstanding record of parliamentary activity or an electoral appeal, which would somehow justify such a decision (HE).  The only concern though, is for Avoda to receive enough votes that Ben Eliezer would make it to Knesset even with the reserved spot on the ballot. The party is being criticized on any possible grounds starting from loosing its ideological grounds (HE) to the way its internal politics is done (HE).  Avoda may currently be the best example to why it is so difficult to initiate change in Israel through the traditional political system.  The apparatus is so convoluted and is dense, that people with their best intentions at the beginning of their way are getting lost as they fight to climb the party ladder.  It is hard to see the next leader coming from Avoda at this point.

Identifying the vacuum on the left side of the political map (HE), a new left movement has been recently launched (HE).  It is based on a series of famous names in the Israeli cultural spheres (such as Amos Oz) and former politicians, and as of now it backs Meretz, which is trying really hard to reinvent itself (HE).  They lost a lot of their leading role as a social-democratic party in the last decade, and decline of Avoda seems like a good opportunity for their comeback.  Unfortunately, Meretz has a label of being too far to the left to actually lead political processes in Israel.  I remember in the past reading somebody calling them an eternal opposition party, which cannot shad off the opposition mentality, even when they are in the coalition.  Even if currently Meretz is on the rise, it is going to be too busy rebuilding and reinventing itself, to take a leadership role in this election cycle.

Elsewhere

Other parties do not seem to make any outstanding steps either.  Shas has declared about the beginning of their campaign aiming for 18 seats in the Knesset and the Ministry of Education (HE).  With all the tolerance in the world, I don’t think the latter is a good idea for Israel regardless of ones political affiliation or worldview.  Besides, all this happens when in the background more of people affiliated with Shas are going to jail for corruption allegations (HE).

And there is of course Kadima, which still seems to struggle for its identity, which to a degree reflects kind of identity crisis within the Israeli society itself (HE).  For some reason, Olmert, facing with corruption allegations, decided that in his last days he can say things he could not as long as he hoped to continue in politics.  It reminds the last days of Bush before the electio in the US, when he was eager to leave a positive historical mark (such as pushing for whatever results in the talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as long as those could be presented as results).  This definitely hurts Livni, who is being aggressively portrayed by Likud as ultra-leftist.

As if adding to Livni’s “leftist” trouble, one of Kadima MKs announced on leaving the party declaring that Livni is too far to the left (HE).  Frankly, I have not heard about this MK before, neither have people who commented on the news item about his announcement.  Nevertheless, he did manage to further harm the centrist image of Kadima.

And if that was not enough, the gender issue starts coming out more aggressively.  In Jerusalem, Kadima ads with Livni’s portrait were removed in order “not to harm the feelings of the religious community” by showing a female face in public (HE).  I am not sure I have colloquial vocabulary to react to this.  Even if Livni is the only new leadership-face in the Israeli politics in this election, this environment isn’t really welcoming her.

Closing comment on leadership

So what is the bottom line for now?  I think it is rather gloomy.  The current picture is of the Israeli political scene being busy with its own survival (as usual) instead of thinking about the larger national and regional goals.  In this environment, which is on one hand caught in old-fashioned, bureaucratic party regimes and on the other is driven by a celebrity approach to individual politicians, it is really difficult for a new kind of leadership to emerge.  If you want to make it though you have to be both, a celebrity and a party go-getter, which leaves little to no space for vision or sincere conversation between the public and the political apparatus.  There are talks about need of changes in the government system (HE), and there were attempts to do that in the past, but none of the new ideas will be tried in the three months before the election and I am sceptical that this topic will even constitute a debate item for the running parties.

Maybe I am setting the the hopes/expectations too high, but right now it seems that the chances of change in this elections are small.  It looks like the Israeli public is going to compromise on leadership again.

“Obama Effect”

Here it comes.  Obama’s vicotry is already reflecting on election in other parts of the world.  In Israel, not only the fact of him being the next US president is now integral part of the election campaigns of all parties (HE), but his way of running campaigns is also making its debut.  I call it the “Obama Effect”.  It refers primarily to two components – the rhetoric of change and the use of information technology, particularly the web 2.0-ish aspects of it, in the campaign.

I may talk about the rhetoric of change on a different occasion.  Now I would like to make a short note about the second point about the use of technology.  I wrote earlier about the new Likud website and this news has actually made it to New York Times already (not from my blog of course :).  However, this is not all.  Obama Effect dribbles down to the primaries season, which the Israeli parties are going through now, before they depart onto the national battle.

Michael Eitan, a Likud MK, has launched an-Obama inspired campaign for his primaries.  The campaign is called “To prove that it can be done differently” (my unprofessional translation) (HE).  Eitan’s idea is to have a transparent, grassroots oriented primaries campaign, including collecting donations on his website.  You can see how it links to the rhetorical part of Obama Effect by emphasising the change, even if using a different vacabulary. I have not seen other politician doing this, except for the new Likud website, but that is in a different league.

Eitan’s example is particularly interesting, as the primaries are traditinoally viewed in Israel as rather dirty and internal to the parties processes.  By opening up the black box of primaries to the broader public, and by reaching out to people beyond the party lines, Eitan is already dong things differently.  It will be interesting to see how it eventually works out, particularly in light of his party-boss taking the Obama-style campaigning really seriously this time.  So, far Eitan received NIS 6,500 in donations (around US $1800) from 54 people (HE), but I don’t know if it is considered a lot (I guess not that much).  Nevertheless, I think it is more than any other politician in Israel collected online for his primaries.

I am sure there are more instances of Obama Effect to come and I wonder if people in other parts of the world observe its instances.

Election.co.il? Not yet, but getting there.

A lot has been said about the brilliant use of information technology by Obama campaign and the role it played on the election day.  I am not talking about microtargeting, which became a too common tool in both camps, but about the use of email, social networking, spreadable media, etc.  Obama’s campaign’s received a lot of kudos for its use of technology during this election (also see HE).  During the summer I also had a chance to be at a Google organized conference on the use of “new” media in politics, where the changes in the communication landscape were the focus of the discussion.  It will be virtually impossible to list all the discussion about the (potential) role of technology in the last presidential campaign in the US.  Hearing all that, i decided to take a look at how the Israeli parties and particularly candidates to the Prime Minister (PM) role do.  After all, Israel is a high-tech super power.

Prologue

Following are my not very systematic results.  This is a rather long, but quite clunked post.  I hope you will find it interesting though, because I found the “research” behind it quite intriguing.  All in all I looked at the search results for the main parties (Kadima, Likud, Avoda, Shas, Ysrael Beitenu) and the major candidates (Livni, Netanyahu, Barak), at their website, their presence in social networks, and in spreadable media.  Please let me know what you think.

To ease your reading, here are the links to different parts of this post.  Read just the one that interests you.

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