Arrrh! Rival Israeli Pirates vie for electoral treasure

Arrrh! Rival Israeli Pirates vie for electoral treasure

Israel has not one but two Pirate parties, both of which advocate greater openness in government and the use of tech to enhance democratic decision-making. But like pirates of old, the strife between them brooks no compromise

An audience attends a recent event held by the Israel Pirate Party (IPP) (Photo credit: Courtesy)
An audience attends a recent event held by the Israel Pirate Party (IPP) (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The polls show that they don’t have much of a chance, but, as one of them pointed out, Pirates don’t pay attention to polls or to any of the traditional trappings of politics.

“Pirates are a rising force in Europe, and Israelis are more technologically and politically sophisticated than Europeans,” Noam Kuzarr of the Pirate Party Israel told The Times of Israel. “If a Pirate party could win in Europe, it could do very well here in Israel.”

The question is – which Pirate party will be the one to do well in Israel?

The Pirate Party Israel (Hebrew link) — the PPI, which is running in next month’s elections for the 19th Knesset — and its rival Israel Pirate Party (Hebrew link) — the IPP, which may run when elections for the 20th Knesset roll around — are not swashbuckling buccaneers seeking to abscond with gold doubloons and ravish voluptuous women; their piracy relates to hijacking the political process for greater transparency and encouraging more direct participation in the political process via the Internet and modern technology, according to spokespeople for both parties.

According to both Yaniv (last name withheld “in the tradition of the pirates of old,” he said) of the IPP and Kuzarr, number two on the PPI list, the parties advocate “liquid democracy,” a term used by the German Pirate Party for a process whereby large masses of people can make collaborative decisions using Internet technology.

“Pirates have no central committee,” said Yaniv. “All the decisions are made by everyone together, and we believe that with the Internet providing easy connections between people, there is no reason all decisions cannot be made in this way.”

Political piracy is not an Israeli invention but a European import. The movement is named after the famous Swedish file sharing site, the Pirate Bay, which seeks to “liberate” content from its copyright holders. While the site is used strictly by members to download and share movies, TV shows and music, the idea of open access to data grew to encompass political goals, such as “liberating” information on government budgets, what the authorities know about citizens, and the like.

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.

The Israeli Pirates don’t seem headed for that kind of electoral success, but Kuzarr remains unfazed. “The German Pirates didn’t even show up in the polls until a couple of days until the election. We believe people are tired of the same old thing, with the Likud, Labor, Lapid, Livni and the rest all offering the same tired solutions that don’t solve anything.”

Neither party would submit information about members, but Yaniv noted that “our research shows that many of the people who would support us might not bother paying the few shekels to become official members.”

Both Israeli Pirate parties have adapted the European Pirate platforms for local politics. Among the issues they are concerned with is the decision of the Israeli government to adopt a biometric database on citizens (they’re opposed), and especially the opening up and clarifying of information about important civic matters such as the state budget and subsidies provided to large corporations (e.g., the recent billion dollar-plus bailout of the Israel Electric Corporation). Both parties demand mechanisms that would allow citizens to weigh in on all civil and financial decisions the government needs to make, with information freely available and voting systems implemented on the Internet.

While the model needs some perfecting on the national level, Yaniv and Kuzarr said, it’s ideal for local politics, and both said their parties were preparing to field candidates in local elections next year. “We don’t trust the government to make the best decisions,” said Yaniv. “We believe that, given the opportunity, the people will take care of their own needs better than the politicians will.”

The Pirates have a platform on the peace process, too. According to both spokespeople, the Pirate way to peace begins at the ground level, and as per their worldview the decision of the people is what counts.

“The ideas that the parties have tried to implement from the top down have not worked, and it’s time to see what the people — Israeli and Palestinian — really think,” said Yaniv. “Our system would bring together online committees of Israelis from both sides of the Green Line, along with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, to participate in small groups and come up with ideas, which will then be presented to larger groups. The more people agree, the more likely an agreement will come about.”

Kuzarr said his party had no specific stance on settlements, the Palestinian Authority, or any other issue of statecraft. “We want to bring the dispute from the ground to the Internet,” he said. “That alone will be a great beginning to the solution.”

With so much in common you’d think the two Pirate parties would reach an accord and sail the high seas together. But as with so many great political ideas, personalities get in the way. Brandishing verbal swords, Yaniv and Kuzarr slash at each other’s crews.

“Those other Pirates went under the radar and under our noses to register our name for their party,” said Yaniv. “They’re not even real Pirates. Their leader, Ohad Shem Tov, was the head of the Ale Yarok [Green Leaf] party [whose main political plank was the legalization of marijuana], and he got thrown out of that group and decided to pick up on the Pirate theme only because it’s popular now.”

In fact, Yaniv said, he has proof that the rival PPI were not behaving like Pirates. “They complained to Facebook that we were representing ourselves as the Pirate Party, which we are, and they got Facebook to delete our page, claiming that we were misusing the Pirate Party label and misleading the public into thinking that we were the party running for the Knesset. Facebook did delete our page, even though we were on Facebook long before the PPI.

“If there’s one thing Pirates are not supposed to do, it’s pull rank when it comes to issues like copyright and authority, so it’s ironic that the PPI would appeal to the authorities at Facebook to get us booted off. If you ask me, it’s very un-Pirate-like behavior.”

The IPP started a new Facebook page, Yaniv said, “and even though they are the ones running, we have more likes than the PPI. And the Pirate Party International considers us the legal Israeli Pirate Party,” he added.

It should be noted that the link on the Pirate Party International page for its Israeli representative leads to Kuzarr’s PPI.

For his part, Kuzarr said, he would love to work with the IPP, “and we have reached out to them, but they refuse to acknowledge us.”

As far as the Facebook brouhaha is concerned, “we want to make sure that the public isn’t confused about who is running for the Knesset. The only thing we were opposed to was the IPP’s calling itself a party, implying that it, and not we, were running for the Knesset. The truth is, there are numerous Facebook pages that use the term ‘Israeli Pirates,’ but none of them use the term party, so we had no issue with them.”

Despite their differences, both Pirate parties expect that their message will continue to spread and eventually become accepted by Israelis, said Kuzarr, “if not in this election, then in the next one.”

The European Pirate movement is now going on its seventh year, proving that it is not a flash in the pan.

“People are just tired of the corruption, and the same old same old,” said Kuzarr. “With technology we have the opportunity to bring about real, participatory democracy, where every voice and opinion truly counts, maybe for the first time in history. With Israelis among the most connected, online people on earth, and the high level of frustration with the politicians here, we believe that this country is ripe for a Pirate revolution.”


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