Benjamin Netanyahu

Election fever is building in Israel as heads to the polls on September 17 with another close fought contest is anticipated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and MK Benny Gantz’s Blue and White are battling for control of the 120-seat Knesset with Israel’s current leader holding a marginal lead according to recent polls.

Likud would snap up 31 seats, Blue & White 29, United Right 11, Arab List 11, Yisrael Beitenu 10, Yahadut Hatorah 8, Shas 7, Democratic Israel/Meretz 7 and Labor/Gesher 6 according to a Midgam Institute poll encompassing Israel’s current demographics.

Parties require 3.5% of the vote to enter the Knesset.

Netanyahu has strengthened Israel’s international position according to 60% of participants in the survey, while 56% view him benefiting the country’s military strength with just over half backing his stand against Iran.

Only 16% place renewing negotiations with the Palestinians as a top priority.

Dealing with Iran, integrating the Charedi community in workforces and tackling corruption rate lower.

Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving leader and 56% do expect him to keep continue this status but Yisrael Beitenu leader Avidor Lieberman is key to a right or left-wing government.

Liebeman refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition in April enforcing a historic second election inside a year and has continually stated his party will not back Netanyahu after September’s election.

Blue and White will refuse to join if Netanyahu is leader as he faces corruption allegations.

However, a Likud-unity government is viewed most likely due to right-wing and religious parties holding an overall lead.

Netanyahu and Gantz rotating office is an option and has been discussed but an obvious coalition path remains complicated.

Latest election news saw United Right Party slam critics of Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich who called for the State to follow the Torah laws when planning road and bridge infrastructure projects in an address to 160 Rabbis at the Beit Hillel organisation.

Referencing a recent public debate regarding construction of a bridge in Tel Aviv on a Saturday so as not to disturb weekday commuters, Smotrich said Shabbat should be observed.

“Just like we know how to maintain an industry while protecting ecology, we also know how to maintain a modern State with massive infrastructure needs, without desecrating Shabbat,” he explained. “I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and kick myself for compromising on matters of principle concerning religion and State.”

He added, “I believe Judaism’s popularity is on the rise, I believe people of Israel will soon return to the faith, I believe a day will come when everyone will want to become Jewish, but we (the religious) have always been asked to compromise.

“Religious law must be taken into account in the planning stages so that the dilemma of whether or not to block traffic on Shabbat would not be relevant.”

But his comments brought a backlash from Israel Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who made it clear Smotrich and the United Right would “force” a halachic State on the nation.

And the Blue and White Party was critical, noting Netanyahu would offer a halachic State to the party in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

United Right was scathing in a statement on Tuesday.

“Freedom of speech does not belong to one side only,” they noted.

Smotrich in a statement explained that he spoke with people from “all walks” of Jewish religious life.

Explaining his comments, the Transportation Minister noted, “I said we would all like to live in a country governed by the Torah and the Halacha, that is the religious will of any observant Jew, but in the same breath agreed that we all understand we cannot, nor do we want to force our beliefs on others and that since we share our country with people who think differently, we must find solutions that are considerate of the public as a whole.”

He added. “I stress again to all those who stubbornly insist on not understanding and inciting, I don’t believe in religious coercion. It’s impossible to keep the commandments out of coercion, it has to be out of faith, love, and deep inner commitment.
“Those who see the Sabbath as an inseparable part of the identity of the Jewish people are allowed to dream, desire and search for practical ways to make it part of the broad reality of the Jewish people.”

Meantime, Lieberman meantime did not reject the possibility of rotating Israel’s leader, including himself in the post.

Speaking in Modi’in at the weekend, he said, “There are those for whom the Prime Ministership is an obsession. For me, it’s an option. First, we need to win in the elections. The speculations I leave to others. It’s clear that every soldier wants to be chief of staff, but come, let’s keep our feet on the ground.

“It interests me to be Prime Minister, but I’m realistic and try to see the whole picture. I’m trying first of all to bring in enough mandates.”

Likud slammed Lieberman’s remarks in a statement.

“The cat is out of the bag. Lieberman dragged the State to the insanity of repeat elections only because of his desire to be Prime Minister. Today, he admitted that he desires to be Prime Minister in a rotation with Gantz,” noted Likud.

Liberman responded quickly, stating there was no possibility of a rotation with Netanyahu or Gantz. “There’s no rotation, there’s no need for a rotation. Did I reject the possibility of myself ever becoming prime minister? No. I have the talents and the experience to be prime minister more than any other. But there’s no rotation.”

Likud however believe Liberman wants a rotation with recent comments evidence to that notion.

“Lieberman’s statements are a smokescreen to divert public opinion from being caught a week ago telling activists he will skip Netanyahu and recommend Lapid and Gantz to head the next government,” they noted.

Lieberman, in recent statements, has stated a preference for a Blue & While coalition with Defense and Absorption Minister posts for his party. And Yahadut Hatorah and Shas to keep Health and Interior posts.

As for Likud, there was a frenzy of activity on social media mocking a “unity petition” signed by 40 Likud members for Netanyahu as Prime Minister “regardless of the election results”.

Mayor Miriam Feirberg echoed comments in a post, “Finally a proper government decision. Everyone is loyal, first and foremost to Netanya.”

Coalition chairman David Bitan said the pledge was not issued at Netanyahu’s request, although the Israeli leader tweeted, “I want to express my gratitude to all my friends in the Likud for this unequivocal support. The Likud is united as ever”.

The pledge text stated, “We, the Likud candidates for the 22nd Knesset, will not accept any dictates from other parties, and regardless of the election outcome the only person from the Likud who will be nominated for prime minister is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

In stark contrast to Likud backing Netanyahu as the only leader of their party, United Right leader Ayelet Shaked, issued a detailed pledge of ‘party values’ to be signed to be signed this week by MKs running for Knesset on a unified list.

Those standing must promote Israeli sovereignty over the Land of Israel, building more Jewish communities, opposing the creation of a Palestinian State and relinquishing Israeli territory.

Other principles include battling terror without compromise, a return of Israeli Army’s MIAs “by charging Hamas a high price” and preventing a release of terrorists, strengthening the status of the Knesset as a legislative authority and restoring confidence in the judiciary.

Social goals include adopting the Nation-State law, protecting elderly and disabled support while building Jewish identity among students.

In terms of economics, United Right will work to lower the cost of living and mandatory arbitration in essential services ending national strikes as it will save the government billions of shekels.

By Adam Moses