Covering our exclusive Israeli Election Special for The Jewish Weekly is JAMES MARLOW with his report, news briefs and this week’s poll numbers.
Gantz is betting on a big party, Netanyahu is relying on a big bloc, but who will put together the coalition – it’s now going to be a tight finish
Last minute political negotiations before the 5pm deadline of all party registrations and full candidate listings brought about some truly dramatic developments on Thursday. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid officially announced they would merge their centralist parties, Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi would join them.
The new party will be called Blue and White with Gantz in first place, followed by Lapid, Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, Ashkenazi and head of the very powerful trade union Histradrut federation, Avi Nissenkorn. The party’s top four now consists of 3 former chief of staffs and recent polls indicated that if a merger was signed, it would receive more seats than the Likud.
The agreement would see Gantz become Prime Minister for two and a half years while Lapid appointed to Foreign Minister. After this period, Lapid would assume the role of Prime Minister. According to sources at the time of going to press, Lapid has received a larger share of his own candidates on the new party list.
But it was not clear whether there was solid agreement on a range of issues, including the nation-state law passed in the previous Knesset, Shabbat transportation, Yeshiva study, secular weddings, social and economic issues, including a reduction of high food prices set by the leading Israeli manufacturers and policies towards Iran, Syria and the Palestinians.
It was reported that when Naftali Bennett of the New Right heard about the merger, he made enquiries with the Central Elections Commission (CEC) on Thursday to withdraw his party registration with the intension of merging with the Likud.
Speaking on Kan Radio several hours before the deadline, Hanan Meltzer who heads the CLC refused to comment on the specific case, but answered that if a party had already submitted their application, it would be too late to withdraw the registration in order to re-submit it. Although Meltzer added that candidates (including Bennett) were still able, before the deadline, to join the Likud.
Elsewhere Bayit Yehudi’s (Jewish Home) Central Committee overwhelmingly voted to approve a merger deal with the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) on Wednesday night. The committee also approved former Shas party head, Eli Yishai a spot on their party slate, after he sought the advice of his Rabbi, leading Sephardic authority, Meir Mazuz.
Prime Minister Netanyahu cancelled his long awaited trip to Moscow on Wednesday to oversee the negotiations, as the data showed that between 6 to 8 right wing seats would be lost if the parties ran alone.
After splitting into two factions last month, Bayit Yehudi and National Union signed a new merger, that will see Betzalel Smotrich hold second place on the list, (but he is first in line for a cabinet post) while Rafi Peretz will head the party.
But still the current polls show the party would just pass the threshold and Otzma Yehudit along with Yahad would definitely not make it.
Netanyahu understands that Bayit Yehudi and Yahad are crucial coalition partners if he is to stand a chance of staying in office. He nevertheless faced huge criticism for suggesting a far right wing party could be brought into the Knesset.
The top female candidate on the Bayit Yehudi list, Yifat Ehrlich, resigned in protest stating their views would turn away voters to Naftali Bennett’s New Right party.
But the deal negotiated is to protect Bayit Yehudi and Eli Yishai from falling below the minimum threshold. Former MK Michael Ben-Ari from Otzma Yehudit will be placed in fifth place while far right activist and attorney, Itamar Ben-Gvir will be at number 8.
If elected, Eli Yishai is likely to be given a cabinet post by Netanyahu and will then resign his Knesset seat to allow the next person on the party list to sit in the Knesset, while he is in the cabinet. This rule is known as the “Norwegian Law” and is used in many European countries. If a minister leaves their post, they return to parliament while the other candidate would be out.
In other political news, one party that will not be running is Hatnua led by Tzipi Livni, who this week threw in the towel. Calling a press conference, Livni accepted with tears, that she could not gather the necessary support to implement her political vision, and that she would not forgive herself, if votes for her party were wasted by not crossing the minimum threshold of four Knesset seats. All polls say Hatnua would not reach the minimum 3.25% required. She did admit that the party had tried to merge with other factions, but had met with little success.
Livni however took the opportunity to blast Netanyahu, saying he was overpowering the justice, judicial and freedom of the press in Israel, although she did not elaborate on exactly how. Livni ended by saying, “I leave politics but won’t let hope of peace leave the state.”
Tension and infighting grew between her and Labor head Avi Gabbay who publicly humiliated Tzipi Livni at a press conference last month, firing her in front of journalists as she sat close by listening. A week later, Labor received just 4 seats in one poll while others put them on 5 seats.
But since holding their party primaries and electing young leaders from the social justice protests, Labour have enjoyed a boost, rising to 10 seats in many polls.
With just over six weeks before Israelis vote for the twenty-first Knesset, 62 factions had taken registration forms to name and submit their political party to the Central Elections Committee.
This number is twice as many as in 2015, but with several last minute political mergers and pull outs, the final number which we will all know on Thursday night (after going to press) is likely to be between 20 to 28 of which only around 10 parties will actually make it into the Knesset.
ELECTION NEWS BRIEFS:
In a deal worked out with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, but not signed, Orly Levy Abecassis of the Gesher party announced she had been mistreated and called Gantz, dirty and delusional. She then said she would run alone, but her Gesher party is unlikely to cross the threshold. Moshe Yaalon of the Telem party who joined Gantz and became his number two, tried to bridge the gap (before the merger with Yair Lapid was agreed) but without success.
After strong efforts were made to merge the United Torah Judaism faction (consisting of the Lithuanian chareidi party Degal Hatorah and the Chassidic party Agudat Yisrael) with the Shas party, it was confirmed the two factions will run separately.
Yisrael Beitenu long time MKs Sofa Landver and Robert IIatov were not given realistic spots on the party list by party leader, Avigdor Lieberman and have now retired from politics. Lieberman placed the former CEO of the Diamond Exchange Eli Avidar at number 4 behind himself, Oded Forer and Evgeny Sova.
Less than an hour before the submission of party lists, Ahmed Tibi who withdrew his Ta’al (Arab Movement for Change) party from the Joint (Arab) List faction will now run together with the three other parties – Ra’am (Islamic Movement), the nationalist secular Balad party and Hadash, known as the Communists.
Former religious Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman who suddenly left Yair Lapid’s party 9 months ago, expressed sadness this week on his facebook page that the only religious candidates who happened to be female were pushed down the list to unrealistic spots. Dov specifically mentioned Aliza Lavie who was at number 8 but for some unknown reason was dropped to 16, and this was before the merger with Yair Lapid.
The Green Leaf party is not running, preferring instead to advocate the legalisation of cannabis by focusing instead on the larger parties and getting politicians on their side.
The New Right led by Naftali Bennett announced their list of candidates with Ayelet Shaked taking second place as expected, followed by Alona Barkat, Matan Kahana, MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and former Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick at number 6.
A new party known as Yashar has joined the race seeking Knesset representation. Their main policy is holding a public online referendum on everything they do. (Just ask the British how just one referendum can divide a nation).
Controversial Likud MK Oren Hazan who did not receive a realistic spot on the Likud candidates list has resurrected the secular but right wing Tzomet party from the eighties. In doing so, he broke many hearts who wanted him to head the looney Pirate Party.
The chairman of the Central Elections Committee has barred Prime Minister Netanyahu from having pictures taken with IDF soldiers on the grounds it constitutes prohibited election propaganda. This has been endorsed by the Attorney General.
In a related matter, the Central Elections Committee confirmed radio and television broadcast times for all the political parties will begin on Tuesday 26 March and end Monday 8 April, the day before the election.
Finally we were told an indictment against Binyamin Netanyahu by the Attorney General for possible breach of trust or fraud allegations would be announced before the end of February, pending a hearing. But a decision is now unlikely to occur before the election and if it does, the hearing itself may not be until the end of 2019 or early 2020.
ELECTION NEWS 2019
Our election analysist JAMES MARLOW compiles this week’s poll numbers based on several pollsters including Midgam Panel, Statnet Institutes, TNS Teleseker, Panels Politics, Direct Polls, Camille Fuchs, Dr Mina Tzemach and Mano Gever. James has made slight adjustments for marginal errors.
The minimum threshold a party must receive is 3.25% which is equivalent to four Knesset seats. If a party receives less, the votes are discarded.
The general election for the twenty-first Knesset is Tuesday 9 April.