Israelis launch their own tea party ahead of US elections

Allies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rooting for a Democratic defeat, held an inaugural tea party rally Sunday night.

By , Correspondent

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    Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Tel Aviv on Oct. 26. Netanyahu supporters in Israel have launched a self-described "tea party movement" this weekend, hoping for defeat for US Democrats in the upcoming election.
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Republicans and tea partyers in the US aren't the only ones expressing frustration with President Obama on the eve of midterm elections

Israeli allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched their own self-described "tea party movement" this weekend, hoping that Democrats' defeats and a Republican takeover of the House or Senate will ease the pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians on settlement expansion

"We hope that that there will be more balance," said lawmaker Danny Danon, a member of Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party, before the inaugural rally in Tel Aviv Sunday night. "We hope that after the elections there will be more Congress members who understand that it's not about how much Israel should concede, it's about finding a viable [Palestinian] partner."

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While Israel’s tea party is small and unlikely to affect the outcome of the US election, it is seeking to capitalize on the momentum of its American namesake to bring about change in Israeli politics. It also reflects accepted wisdom here that a change in Congress could induce a shift in Washington's approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But some Israeli analysts say Israel's new tea party is engaged in wishful thinking, because even if the Congress shifts to Republican control, foreign policy will still be determined by the White House.

"If Obama wants to pressure Israel, regardless of the results of elections he can do it," says Gershon Baskin, director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Expectations of a renewed push postelection

Moreover, both Israelis and Palestinians are speculating that if Obama's domestic agenda is curtailed by the loss of Congress, he might push harder for a breakthrough on foreign priorities like the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"The [American] tea party is about domestic matters," said a senior Palestinian official at a briefing Monday. "Maybe President Obama will find himself in a domestic box and seek external issues."

Many Israelis and Palestinians consider the Obama administration's efforts thus far a failure, and both sides say the president has exerted undue diplomatic pressure on them. While Washington succeeded in renewing talks Sept. 2 after a nearly two-year hiatus, they were suspended weeks later when Israel's 10-month settlement freeze ended Sept. 26.

Efforts to restart negotiations, in limbo over a dispute concerning Israel's renewed settlement building in the West Bank, have taken a lower profile during the final weeks before the Nov. 2 midterm elections. Many expect a renewed push once the political fallout is known.

Why Israelis have adopted US campaign tactics – again

The Israeli tea party rally, which featured handmade "Say No to Obama" signs, appeared to be a project of Likud's ideological faction, a group which has tried to block party leaders like Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from curtailing Israeli settlements.

The tea party launch is the latest local attempt to adapt popular American political campaigns for local consumption: In the 2009 parliamentary elections local parties seized on the Obama campaign’s slogans, online strategies, and the iconic "Hope" portrait of then-candidate Obama.

Former Likud parliament member Michael Kleiner, who came up with the idea for an Israeli tea party, praised the US movement as a "model" capable of intimidating a president whose peace policy has brought "zero-percent usefulness" and "100 percent terror."

Kleiner also reiterated opposition to a new freeze in settlement building, which the Obama administration has called for.

"We are making a call to Obama, that this is a tea party of the people of Israel," said Mr. Kleiner. "[Obama] is making an unprecedented attempt to coerce us to adopt the policy which the public rejected. I think we're here to deflect that pressure."

Kleiner said that he is organizing tea parties elsewhere in Israel to pressure Netanyahu against concessions to Obama. He added that American tea party leaders had been in contact with them, but there's no collaboration at this stage.

Blunt words against Obama

Israelis, many of whom view the president as a Middle East novice and more inclined to back Arab states, have been critical of Obama’s approach to the region. Like the tea party movement in the US, Israel’s far right has used unusually blunt rhetoric against Obama, depicting him with a kaffiyeh and calling him a Palestinian "agent."

Similar sentiment was on display at the tea party press conference on Sunday. Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron regional settler council, grouped Obama with leaders throughout history who, he said, took "extreme" actions against the Jewish people that backfired.

"Who is Obama?" he asked. "We will continue to survive in spite of him."

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