The Lesser Evil
by Uri Avnery
Sat 5th Nov 2016
Who will win the elections in the US in three days?
I know for sure. No need to ask the public opinion polls, the modern equivalent of the Roman interpreters of animal entrails and the more modern readers of coffee grounds. The polls are no more exact.
The winner will be the PLE – the Party of Lesser Evil. Or, in this case, the Candidate of Lesser Evil.
People will not vote FOR somebody, but AGAINST somebody. Against the greater evil.
This is a world-wide phenomenon. In almost all democratic countries, the Lesser Evil wins.
Since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, we have had 20 elections for parliament The parliament (Knesset) then elected the Government.
In five of these elections I voted for myself – in three of them I voted for a party I headed, in one for a party in which I belonged to the opening three, and in one for a list in which I occupied the honored 120th place.
In all the 15 other elections I voted for the PLE – the party I considered the lesser evil.
Not for a party I loved. Not for a party I admired. Not for a party I considered good. Such a party did not exist. So I just voted for a party I believed would do the least harm to the state and to the aim I consider paramount: peace with the Palestinian people and the entire Arab and Muslim world.
The selection process is quite simple. You put in front of you the names of all the party lists: generally in Israel between 10 and 20. Then you eliminate the worst. And so on, until only one remains.
Sure, this does not sound very exciting. You don't leave the polling station in the mood to dance in the street. But you fulfill your civic duty in a sensible way. You are a responsible citizen.
You can, of course, decide not to vote at all. You say to yourself, virtuously, they are all the same, they are all bad, a righteous person like myself cannot in good conscience vote for any of them.
In practice, that is a very bad decision. If you do not vote for the lesser evil, you effectively vote for the most popular evil.
The same goes in the American system. Voting for a third party candidate, somebody who has no chance of winning, however nice he or she may be, is bad. It gives you a good feeling. But in reality it means throwing your valuable vote away. It is – if you will excuse me – a kind of political onanism.
About the systems. I have always been a stout defender of the Israeli system of proportional representation. Citizens vote for a party list. Frankly, I profited from it, since not one of the lists I headed ever achieved more than 2%. At the time, the threshold was 1%.
However, looking at the system now in hindsight I am not so sure anymore. It tends to fill the Knesset with nobodies. In practice, the party Fuehrer appoints all the candidates who appear on the list, and fills them with people he or she can rely on unconditionally.
The most consistent practitioner of this is Avigdor Lieberman, who in every election kicks out all the Knesset members of his "Israel is our Home" party, and fills the list with new persons, who are of course totally dependent on him. In the two largest parties there are primary elections, but the result is similar.
This system has now degenerated to the point of no return.
In practice, citizens vote for the party leader. Many of the other current Knesset members spend their time in frantic efforts to attract public attention with ever more monstrous "initiatives". They are responsible to no one but their party leader.
Now I prefer the British system. There the country is divided into voting districts, each district elects one Member of Parliament. The MP remains responsible to the voters of his or her district. He/she must fulfill their hopes in order to be elected again.
True, this system also has a big fault: winner takes all, All votes given to other candidates are lost. 45% of the voters or more may well remain without representation.
Back to the blessed USA. There the election system is quite different.
The voters indirectly elect a president – the heir to the British absolute monarch who ruled the country before the founding of the republic. American presidents have immense powers. All other democratic presidents and Prime Ministers around the world can only envy them.
In these elections, there are only two real candidates. American voters have to choose between them. Everything else is nonsense.
In the coming elections, neither of the two candidates is very attractive. Americans could adore Abraham Lincoln, admire Franklin Delano Roosevelt, love John Kennedy and his wife. The present candidates arouse no such feelings.
So for most reasonable citizens it is a question of the Lesser Evil. If both are bad, who is the badder?
For me, a citizen of another country, there is no question at all.
First of all, irrespective of considerations of character, there is the question of experience. I wonder if there has ever been a candidate for the presidency who has never, ever, held public office. Not as vice president, not as governor, not as senator or representative, not as dogcatcher.
Politics is a profession. Not a very pretty one, for sure, but a profession nonetheless. One learns how to do things. How to achieve aims. How to manipulate the system in order to promote your ideals. The idea that one can jump in a few minutes from being a private citizen, however successful, to being the most powerful statesman in the world is preposterous.
Yes, bad experience is better than no experience. From bad experience one can learn, draw lessons. From nothing one can learn nothing.
After making this clear, we can try to analyze the candidates.
Hillary Clinton does not ooze charm from every pore. I am not sure I would like to sit next to her at a dinner table. But she is competent. She has more prior experience than most candidates in history. She is more or less a normal politician. Good enough.
This email business seems to me vastly exaggerated. Sure, it was stupid. But there is no chance that she would repeat it. The obsession of the American public with this item seems strange to me. I do understand the behavior of the FBI director. Such people almost always belong to the extreme right.
For ages Jews have asked after every discussion, "But is it good for the Jews?" Today, Israelis may pose a similar question: "Is he or she good for Israel?"
Well, it depends on what you think is good for Israel. Unconditional support for an Israeli government that is leading us towards national suicide or support for Israel-Palestinian peace, as my friends and I believe?
If the first answer is right, both candidates are acceptable. Under the incredibly corrupt American election system, both need immense sums of money to sustain their election campaigns. For some reason, Jewish billionaires are apt to donate more than others.
Trump receives large sums from the Jewish casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who counts Binyamin Netanyahu among his prized possessions. Israel's largest newspaper, owned by Adelson and distributed for nothing, is entirely devoted to Netanyahu personally. [*]
Clinton's five leading billionaire supporters are Jewish. She will surely continue to follow the Barak Obama line of action regarding Middle Eastern peace (until now, at least): abstain from any action. Support the Israeli government unconditionally.
If this sounds a bit anti-Semitic, that's because it is. Recently, when I explained to a foreigner the total submission of the American Congress to the Israeli government, he exclaimed: "But that is written in the protocols of the Elders of Zion!"
It sure is. That obnoxious document, forged by the Czar's secret police more than a hundred years ago, tells of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world by money. Now Jewish donors control both candidates for president of the world's leading power.
For some reason, all these billionaires support the present Israeli policy, which I believe is leading us towards disaster. So, from this point of view, there is nothing much to distinguish between them.
All in all, Hillary Clinton seems to me an acceptable, if not ideal, candidate.
Not so Donald Trump. If he did not exist, It would be impossible to imagine him.
We know by now that he is a racist, a hater of blacks and Latinos, a male chauvinist, a hater of gays. All in all, a nasty person.
He seems to have no Weltanschauung, no discernible set of values.
He is a natural entertainer. I admit that for weeks now, whenever I take the morning newspaper in my hands, the first thing I look for is the latest Trump caper.
He may be an outstanding businessman. It is held against him that he went bankrupt several times. But that may be a clever business tactic. (A Yiddish joke talks of two Jews drawing up a partnership agreement - one them demands a clause: "in case of bankruptcy, the profit will be divided equally.")
But running a business is very different from running a country. And not just any country. Businesses don't make wars. Businesses don't have nuclear weapons.
Trump could turn out to be a good president, a pragmatic innovator. But the risk is just too enormous. A vote for Trump may result in a world-wide catastrophe, which would engulf us too.
So, if you are an American citizen, please do the decent thing and vote for the Lesser Evil.
Last minute addition: even if all these reasons did not exist, for me there is one reason that trumps all Trumps:
A sound I carry in my ears since my early childhood in Germany. The sound of hysterical crowds screaming after every sentence of the Leader.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, co-founder of Gush Shalom, and a former member of the Knesset
This article first appeared on the website of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) - an Israeli peace organisation