There’s never a boring time to be in the Middle East. But there sure are times that are more exciting than others: take the last 9 months as a case in point. Since I got here, Israel has pulled out of the Gaza Strip, Sharon broke away from Likud and sent shock waves through the Israeli political system before falling into a coma, Hamas has come to power in the Palestinian Territories, and Israel has held its third election in the last five years.
Not too shabby.
However, despite predictions for an earth-shattering election last week, the Israeli elections were rather mundane. If anything, it was the lead-up to the actual event that got my blood pumping. Despite being easily amused by all things political (which, I know, totally negates the heart palpitations that fire up whenever I’m near political events), the election campaigns added one to my list of random “wait, did that really just happen?” moments when I met Amir Peretz, leader of the Labor Party. There I was, doing my homework in a cafe downtown, when a security entourage and bunch of cameras came in. Enter Peretz, who made the rounds, but skipped me because I’m pretty clearly not Israeli (as evidenced by my ability to wear clothes that actually a) fit, and b) match). Taking matters into my own hands, I got up, walked over, and said “My name’s Lillian, and even though I’m from America, if I was Israeli I’d vote for you. Good luck,” in was was probably abhorrent Hebrew. God, I love politics.
The thing was, most Israelis weren’t excited about the elections. At all. They were bored. The prevailing emotion was, well, apathy. We even translated an article in my Hebrew class that discussed how thoroughly un-amused Israelis were about the upcoming election. They basically feel that all politicians are corrupt, and that it’s not worth making a choice when none of your options are any good. Nonetheless, they have a higher voter turnout percentage than the States could ever hope for, so despite their disillusionment with politics, hey, at least they still vote.
However, there were two big surprises from the elections. The first was Likud’s implosion at the hands of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), a bordering-on-extremist right-wing group that advocates transfering sections of Israel with Arab majorities to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank (a plan whose legality is dubious). The second was the election of the Pensioners, an elderly-persons rights group headed by, no lie, the first director of the Mossad. Man used to assassinate people for a living. He captured Adolf Eichmann. Now he’s a cute little old guy who wants to make sure octogenarians get good pensions. I just want to give him a hug.
Ehud Olmert, Sharon’s ad-hoc replacement who was acting Prime Minister before being elected into office last week, now must form a coalition government, and will most likely try to form one that supports Kadima’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. As always, forming the coalition will be tricky business, and really, I don’t envy the man at all. Does he get to take breaks to watch Daily Show episodes that he downloaded onto iTunes? I think not. On the other hand, he doesn’t have to spend hours drilling Arabic and Hebrew verb conjugations. Sigh.