by Ari Sharp
Today Ari reports from the Online Cafe in Eilat, Israel, the ‘Surfers Paradise of the Middle East’.
It is strange that in a country where politics in very often a matter of life and death that the smaller, more domestic issues often dominate the electoral discourse.
In the last week of campaigning, the story of terror, occupation, violence and peace has run a distant third to two other stories.
The first one revolves around serious allegations of corruption and bribery in the Likud (conservative, led by PM Ariel Sharon) primary elections held in November. Already the scandal has claimed one scalp, with now-former minister Nomi Blumenthal being sacked during the week after she exercised her right to silence in police investigations in the matter.
This followed Sharon’s earlier decree that all of the Likud MK (Members of the Knesset) would cooperate with corruption investigations. So serious is this matter that an opinion poll taken during the week demonstrated that as many as 25% of Likud voters may be put off the party by the corruption allegations.
There are also smaller stories emerging regarding the Labor primary, although these seem to be the result of Likud mudslinging rather than genuine problems.
The other significant story for the week was the decisions of the CEC (Central Elections Committee). The CEC plays a role similar to that of the Australian Electoral Commission in administering the electoral process. Where it differs from the AEC, however, is that it has the power to prevent individual candidates and whole lists from nominating if they fail to meet certain criteria regarding their commitment to the principle of Israel as a Jewish state, or if they are found to be supporting acts of terror.
This last point can become particularly dangerous to the health of democracy, especially when the CEC is made up of members of the Knesset and so is a political body.
Reports from meetings of the CEC are showing that votes are taking place along party lines in including or excluding “questionable” parties from the electoral process. During the week, the CEC prevented the controversial Arab party Balak from contesting the election. Unsurprisingly, Balak are taking their case to the Israeli High Court.
Both these issues, particularly, the corruption allegations, loom large in this election. Unless the Likud can successfully halt further allegations from emerging, they may suffer a significantly weaker position in the next Knesset, although losing government still seems highly unlikely. To this end, Sharon was right in sacking Blumenthal during the week.
As the old cliche goes, however, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Whether that is the case this time remains to be seen.