With only three weeks to go, Israeli elections have attracted some unusual candidates. Of the 34 parties running for Knesset – yes, 34 – those vying for Israeli votes include the Pirate Party and Green Leaf Party – green referring to the color of marijuana.
Sure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Israel Beiteinu party are expected to gain the most parliamentary seats and thus form the government, while pollsters predict the left-wing Labor Party to come in second. But it’s the more obscure and colorful parties which probably won’t even be elected that are inevitably getting the attention.
Meet the Pirate Party, which supports more internet freedom, the right to take copyrighted material, and “upgrading” the democratic system to allow direct citizen participation in lawmaking. It opposes the government’s plan to create a biometric database of citizens. Party leader Ohad Shem-Tov recently told Israel’s Channel 1 News: “Of course, individual freedom is one of our main flags. And it’s an internet party, a party for open source codes.”
The slogan on its website reads (Hebrew link): “Dynamicracy – Dynamic Democracy – people’s rule in real time. Narrowing the gap between the voters and the elected to get rid of corruption.”
While trying to present a serious platform, its members are using PR stunts to gain attention, like when Shem-Tov arrived at the Knesset with a hook on his hand and a pirate tie printed on his shirt.
Candidate Dan Biron, a well-known television director who owns a bar in Jerusalem, told the Associated Press: "We are not in favor of hijacking ships…You can say what we are offering is on the verge of utopia."
As goofy as it sounds, the pirate political movement has met with success in some countries. The Times of Israel explains:
The first Pirate party was established in Sweden in 2006, and the idea quickly spread. Now there are Pirate parties throughout Europe, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. Several Pirate Parties have gone on to electoral success; the Swedish Pirate Party received 7.1 percent of the votes in the European Parliament election of 2009, winning two seats, and the German Pirate Party won 8.9 percent of the votes in the 2011 Berlin state election.
There’s also the United States Pirate Party which wants copyright and patent reform, “support for a strengthening of the right to privacy, both on the Internet and in everyday life, and the transparency of state government.”
In an article profiling the Israeli pirates, the AP described the history of fringe parties running:
While only a dozen or so have a realistic chance of getting elected, many Israelis fed up with existential issues like the conflict with the Palestinians and possible war with Iran are seeking sanctuary with some of the quirkier parties.
It's a regular ritual in Israeli politics. In addition to the usual battles between parties representing doves and hawks on the one hand and secular and Orthodox Jews on the other, each election season typically offers an array of obscure and offbeat lists.
Previous offerings have included a faction calling for the establishment of a national casino and a group led by a fishmonger and puppeteer that tried to abolish bank fees. Green Leaf has made several runs for parliament looking to legalize marijuana, and in the 2009 election an offshoot of that party aligned with elderly Holocaust survivors in one of the oddest mergers in Israel's mottled political history. It too fell far short of making the house.
Today, the Green Leaf Party is running together with the Liberal Party. It promotes legalizing cannabis, prostitution, and gambling, shortening mandatory military service, separating religion and state. They support libertarian ideas like downsizing government, lowering taxes and moving funds out of Israel’s version of Social Security in favor of community charities to help the poor. They oppose government-run education and are for school choice and vouchers.
Neither Green Leaf nor the Pirates are expected to pass the 2 percent threshold – or 70,000 votes - to gain even one of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
For now, if the Pirate Party wants to approach the seat of power, it may have to wait until Netanyahu follows President Barack Obama’s lead, who in 2009 posed for this gag photo with a man in full Captain Hook regalia: