Shinui is a relatively new Israeli political party, which appears to be the third largest party (according to the latest Opinion Polls and is run by a phlegmatic Tel Aviv University professor whose pedantic, "I lecture the nation style" is so anti-charismatic that it is helping them in the polls. (Someone should one day investigate The Charisma of Anti-Charisma.)

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In essence, Shinui is a centrist party, part of something called the International Liberal ( a right-wing European alternative to the Socialist International which the Israeli Labour party, the UK Labor Party, Lionel Jospin's socialists and Schroeder's party are part of - that should give the conspiracy theorists something to work on. As opposed to the Socialist International, which is busy writing regulations for the EU as to whether or not Feta cheese is still Feta cheese if it's made in Bulgaria, the International Liberal's members seem to be a bunch of business funded grey suits that are mainly out of work.

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OK, but what does Cenrist mean in Israel? Technically they are against religion mixing in with government, in favor of a peace settlement with the Palestinians, but not negotiations with Arafat, against corruption (this seems to be everyone's platform but the Likud Party), and in favor of an "equitable, just society ". What this means in practice is that what they intend to do when and if they take power is a complete unknown. However, they have stated they will annul the Tal Law (in other words, make all those religious Jews in the synagogues join the army, so they can have their turn shooting at the Palestininans like everyone else, and allow secular marriages. (Currently all marriages in Israel must be through religious authorities so Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. who want to marry members of different religions have to take the Love Boat to Cyprus

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Why are they important? For this you need to understand the strange nature of Israeli Coalition Politics. In essence, the party with the largest number of votes gets to form the coalition. Unless it has more than 50% of the seats in the Parliament, it needs to find other parties which will support the government and the Ministerial appointments they want to make. These smaller parties generally demand something in exchange, either Ministerial appointments, from which they can engage in action to get more power, or a change in the government's platform. Currently, Sharon is going to almost certainly have the chance to form a new government. Unfortunately, a lot of votes, and thus parliament seats are going to the smaller religious and extreme right wing parties(such as Herut, whose slogan is, "It's us or them: Only with strength will we be victorious!", said as a balding, middle aged Jew makes a fist and the ugliest face he can, but doesn't succeed in looking any more threataning than a dentist.) As to the religious parties, see Shas for an idea of what they plan to do the country. The only other choice for Sharon is a broad secular government - that is, his party, the Labor Party, (pro Palestinian State, mildly socialists economically), and Shinui to bring in enough people to make it a majority. So there is a good chance Shinui will be in the next government.

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Shinui's meteoric rise is, as I keep reiterating, proof of the lack of the need to be charismatic in Israeli politics, if you are able to find a popular platform which no one else is supporting. Tommy Lapid, the party chief, has a nasal voice, and gives little lectures. His latest ad, attacking the Likud corruption scandals, was very nice however: he held up a roulette wheel, and said, "Money from the Casino Black Markets!" Then he held up a pair of handcuffs and said "Handcuffs for our parliament members!" This was an unusual touch for Lapid: normally he doesn't use any props, he just sits behind a desk and delivers a speech. The party is SO uncharismatic that it already has had a splinter - a bunch of young people formed the "New Nation" movement, which is basically a copy of Shinui's political platform, only the campaign ads feature a bunch of young, physically attractive kids camping out on a hill and chatting about politics as opposed to pedantic speeches. On the other hand, Shinui is still swamping New Nation in the polls, mainly because a lot of the young, secular, hip Israelis who would normally vote new nation are apparently planning to vote for the Green Leaf party which advocates the legalization of Marijuana.

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Anyway, for better or worse, it seems that Israelis are going to have to live with Shinui which means that everyone who watches CNN will have to live with it too, for a long, long time. Sorry to have such a technical boring disquisition, but Shinui is a boring party. (Boring but right, as one comentator put it.) For those of you who want to "Understand the Middle East" you should be ashamed of yourselves for being so arrogantly ambitious, and I hope this node confuses you further. :)

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