Will Israel’s Ale Yarok (marijuana party) Get Voted Into Parliament?

Ale Yarok: Green Leaf PartyAle Yarok: Green Leaf PartyWith a proportional representation system that guarantees a seat in the Israeli Knesset if a party reaches 2% of the votes cast, Green Leaf ( Ale Yarok in Hebrew) leader Boaz Wachtel has the best chance to be the first Marijuana Party candidate ever elected to a federal government body in the world.
Green Leaf is polling 6-8% of young people under 34, but those aged 18-34 don?t often vote in Israel despite the fact that all Israeli young people are conscripted into the army for at least 12 months when they are 18 to 21 years of age. If Green Leaf achieves 2.5% of the vote, they will get two representatives.

Voting closes in Israel at 8:00 pm Israeli time Tuesday, which is noon Tuesday Eastern time, 9:00 am Pacific time. Once polls close, CC will be tracking the election results and hopefully reporting on the election of our first cannabis party parliamentarian.

On a historical note, Marc Emery Seeds contributed $2,000 to the 2003 Green Leaf campaign and we are hoping that has helped plant the seeds of freedom in Israel for their own cannabis culture.

Green Leaf Party May Win Seats in Israel
From the Associated Press March 10th 2006

Dressed in sneakers, khaki pants and a sweatshirt, the chairman of Israel’s pro-marijuana Green Leaf party takes a drag from his cigarette.

“If it was up to the youth, I would be the Prime Minister of Israel,” Boaz Wachtel says, sitting on a worn-out sofa in his Tel Aviv office. That may be a pipe-dream, but the prospect of Wachtel and his party getting into parliament is not.

Boaz WachtelBoaz WachtelSome pollsters say Green Leaf ? buoyed by support from young, urban, secular Israelis ? could win two seats in the 120-member Knesset in the March 28 election, leading the charge of small parties.

The ultraliberal party, whose platform includes legalizing marijuana, gambling and prostitution, was twice before on the verge of gaining access to the halls of power. In 2003, it was just 7,000 votes short of a place in parliament. This time, Wachtel promises to break through.

?If I didn?t think we had a chance of getting into the Knesset, I wouldn?t be wasting my time,? he said.

Despite widening its platform to include a dovish attitude toward Palestinians, Green Leaf has remained firmly on the fringes, and public opinion experts say the legalization of marijuana is not a campaign issue in Israel.

?It is more like an ?in your face? thing, like saying ?we are turning our back on the political establishment and we will vote for someone who is against the mainstream,?? said researcher Tamar Hermann of Tel Aviv University. ?People don?t take them seriously because everything they say is taken as if it is said under the influence of drugs.?

The latest public official to lash out at the party was Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister and a candidate from the hawkish Likud Party, who recently said, ?Legalizing drugs is insane. It starts with a cigarette, leads to a joint and ends with cocaine.?

Wachtel said the criticism and media exposure have only helped Green Leaf. He said his party represents an alternative culture of people who care about the environment, civil rights and personal freedom.

But he acknowledged that drugs were the great unifier for his motley crew of candidates for parliament, some of whom had their official portraits taken with sunglasses and a glass of beer in hand.

?The common denominator is the love of cannabis,? he said.

Yet the 47-year-old Wachtel is hardly your typical hippie.

Educated in the U.S., he has become a respected lecturer on the Middle East water crisis. In the 1980s, he was the assistant to the military attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and served on a team of Israeli representatives to former President Ronald Reagan?s space- based anti-missile shield program.

It was there he first became interested in alternative drug-abuse treatment. In 1999, he established Green Leaf. He stressed his party does not promote drug use, only its decriminalization, like in the Netherlands.

According to a recent survey, 16 percent of Israelis said they had tried soft drugs at least once. In 2005, 12.5 tons of marijuana and 922 kilograms of hashish were confiscated by Israeli police.

?People in Israel are slaves of the status quo,? he said. ?We try to liberate this plant and the people who consume it from these horrendous laws and penalties that cause much more harm than the use of cannabis.?

He pointed to world leaders who have tried pot, including former President Bill Clinton, who said he didn?t inhale. ?So I don?t see the difference,? Wachtel said.

Election eve jitters
From Ariga, Tel Aviv March 27th 2006

For the first time in two months, there were major discrepancies between some polls last night and today, with a Channel 10/Haaretz poll showing a retreat in support for Avigdor Lieberman?s Yisrael Beitenu Party, to seven seats in the next Knesset, while Channel Two?s poll showed the radical Rightist party winning 15 seats — and becoming the largest party on the Right.

But a closer look at the two polls, and others that showed Kadima continuing to slip and Likud dropping to as low as 12 seats (and as high as 17), while Labor seems to have momentum, topping the 20-seat mark, indicates the real problem is not the accuracy of the polls, but the indecision – or indifference — of the public. An unprecedented 25 percent of the public was still telling pollsters last night and today that they have not made up their mind whom to vote for. And fully a third of the public is indicating it won?t be using the official day off from work, to go to the voting station near their home to cast a ballot.

Green Leaf: Ale YarokGreen Leaf: Ale YarokPollsters usually try to ?decipher? the undecided vote by distributing it according to what the undecided voter chose in the past and trying to identify ?core? voters for parties. But this election race is being led by a party that did not exist three months ago, founded by an enormously popular leader who almost immediately after founding his new party, had a stroke and went into what by all accounts is an irreversible coma. The ?tribal-identity? voting of the past meanwhile has been shattered by the dramatic upheaval in the Labor Party, which since the 1970s has been identified with the Ashkenazi middle and upper middle class, and is suddenly being led by a representative of ?the second Israel,? meaning the Spehardi lower class.

The Likud, meanwhile, is still in the thralls of post-traumatic distress after the split into Kadima led by Ariel Sharon. But even more significantly, its hard core base — the working poor — was betrayed by economic policies instituted by the man who took over the Likud after Sharon?s departure, Binyamin Netanyahu. As the economics editor of Yedioth Aharonoth, Sever Ploczker wrote today, ?if you earn more than NIS 30,000, vote Likud, it will do the most for you.? Considering that most voters earn less than 10,000 a month, with a majority earning less than NIS 7,000, Ploczker?s insight was the lowest blow of all for the hapless Likud.

Not helping matters for it was its increasingly hawkish position. Netanyahu hoped to win voters by describing the elections as a national referendum on whether Israelis favor a withdrawal from the West Bank settlements. Considering the fact that the first time since 1967 the main thrust of a major party?s platform was a promise to quit some 90 percent of the territory by the end of its term in office, Netanyahu was in for a gloomy surprise: the current polls all agree that the Right cannot muster much more than 50 seats in the Knesset. The long-time deadlock between Left and Right in Israel over the issue of withdrawal from the territories was sliced like the Gordian knot by Sharon?s disengagement from Gaza and the ?national referendum,? as Netanyahu called it, agree all the polls, will lead to a government led by Kadima, with Labor, Meretz, and Agudat Yisrael enough for a majority in parliament.

Or not. There has been something so superficial about the way Kadima held onto the lead throughout the dramatics of the campaign, from Sharon?s hospitalization, through the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections, to various other elements that ostensibly, judging from past elections here, should have swayed public opinion, that 24 hours until the polls open it is suddenly difficult to believe the polls at all. There?s a world of difference between being ?undecided? and ?indifferent? but the pollsters haven?t managed to ?crack? that code. And it?s not even certain that the predictions of a low turnout by young voters can be believed: according to some reports, young people tend to be less accessible to pollsters (as are the very poor, Arab voters, and new immigrants) because young people don?t have landline phones, only cellular phones, which are not listed in published directories.

In any case, much was being made of the fact that several thousand Israelis preferred to go to Turkey to watch a full eclipse of the moon over staying in Israel for the 2003 vote. The leader of the pro-legalization party, Green Leaf, admitted his party probably lost its chance for a seat in 2003 because of those ravers.

So, the country is in waiting mode. There?s rain and wind from the east predicted for tomorrow?s weather, and if the weather is really bad, it could have as much an impact on the voter turnout as the ?indifference.? Since the Israeli electoral system is based on a party winning at least 2 percent of the valid votes (meaning all those votes for parties that surpass the 2 percent mark), the lower the turnout, the better it is for the smaller, more ideological parties, and the worst it is for a party like Kadima, which is most worried by voter complacency. But the campaigning is over — and all that is left for the parties to do is make sure their ?get out the vote? machines work smoothly tomorrow.

On another front, Israeli officialdom dismissed out of hand as ?sweet talk meant to deceive the world,? moderate statements from Hamas prime minister designate Ismail Haniyeh. He last night told the press that Hamas does not seek confrontation with Israel. Asked whether Hamas would talk with Israel, Haniyeh pointed out that ?The problem is with Olmert, with Kadima. He said he would not have any contacts with the Palestinian government, he announced a position. The problem is not with us.? He said Hamas was not interested in bloodshed, and that ending corruption and reforms were the top priority for the new Hamas government, which is being presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council today.

The timing of the presentation of the Hamas government is tied to the ongoing constitutional crisis between it and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was on his way to Khartoum today for an Arab summit. Unusual for an Arab head of state, he is not being accompanied by a prime minister and foreign minister.

Hamas? exiled leader Khaled Mish?al claimed in Damascus that the Arab countries were deliberately trying to keep Hamas away from the summit. But Israeli commentators said Hamas was glad it wasn?t going, because the summit is expected to reaffirm its commitment to the so-called Saudi Arabian peace plan, which recognizes Israel and is embedded in the roadmap, internationally approved strategy for a staged peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The roadmap has never actually been implemented, with Israel saying it must begin with the disarming of all the Palestinian militias and the Palestinians saying that it must begin with Israel moving to dismantle some 100 ?illegal outposts? that were established since March 2001.

Will Israeli voters, pushing pro-pot party, be too stoned to vote?
From the Israel Insider March 27th 2006

Mock votes took place at various universities and colleges in the runup to Israel’s parliamentary elections. Aleh Yarok [“Green Leaf” in English], pushing for decriminalization of cannabis, may be a surprise victor in Israel’s elections, after excellent showings in campus mock polls.

At the Technion in Haifa, generally regarding at the Israeli equivalent of MIT, Green Leaf finished in first with 19 mandates, Kadima received 18, Meretz 13, Labor 12 and the Likud nine.

Demonstrators decorated a police jeepDemonstrators decorated a police jeepAt the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the right-of-center National Union-National Religious Party came in first with 24 mandates. Meretz finished second with 23, Labor got 21, the Likud and Kadima 11 each and Green Leaf, pro-marijuana party, received eight.

At the Jezreel Valley College Labor came in first with 22 mandates. Kadima and Israel Beiteinu each received 19, Green Leaf got 16, the Likud nine, National Union-NRP eight, Meretz eight, Balad seven, Hadash six, Atid Ehad four and United Torah Judaism two.

At the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba Labor came in first with 34 mandates. (Prof. Avishai Braverman, the former chancellor of the university, is running on the Labor list.) Meretz came in second with 20 seats, Kadima had 19, Green Leaf nine and the Likud six.

Students at Tel Aviv University didn’t bother to vote. “We didn’t want our votes to be wasted, too,” one non-voter said, declining to say which party she preferred, although she leaned toward Green Leaf (or perhaps was just leaning). “If there’s a party, any party, I’m all for it.”

Running under the slogan “we have other aspirations,” Green Leaf has broadened its platform to include non-drug issues such as support for digital downloads, greener scenery, and subsidies for higher education. Controversially, it has not ruled out negotiations with the terror-supporting Hamas, perhaps inspired — or aspired — by its similarly verdant color.

Most polls have indicated that Green Leaf will not pass the 2% bar required to gain entrance to the Knesset. A party activist said the requirement was not too high. “But we are,” she added.