Covering our exclusive Israeli Election Special for The Jewish Weekly is JAMES MARLOW with his report, news briefs and this week’s poll numbers.
Due to the new political reality in Israel, the Blue and White party is leading in all polls over the Likud, since the Attorney General announced he will indict the Prime Minister, pending a hearing. Some surveys have even indicated Likud is trailing Blue and White by as much as thirteen seats.
However, Benny Gantz will still have a massive challenge to become the next Israeli Prime Minister as polls show he is also unlikely to form a successful majority in the Knesset, even with the Arab parties. Unless of course Gantz is willing to join a Netanyahu led government and accept a senior cabinet post instead of Prime Minister. But this would cause problems with Netanyahu’s traditional alliances with religious and right wing parties. In addition it is not clear if Telem party head, Moshe Ya’alon (who is number 3 on the Blue and White list) would agree to join any government led by Netanyahu.
Last week, factions such as Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu, (if they pass the minimum threshold) along with Shas, United Torah Judaism, the New Right and the Union of Right parties all declared they would recommend to President Reuven Rivlin (who will decide Israel’s next Prime Minister) that Netanyahu be given the first opportunity to form the government.
Following the election, the heads of the parties that crossed the 3.25% electoral threshold will make their way to the President’s residence and announce their recommendations.
Only Blue and White, Labor and Meretz will recommend Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. The two Arab factions will refuse to endorse any candidate. In addition the Arab parties have said they would not enter a coalition led by Gantz any more than they would join Netanyahu.
Channel 12 political correspondent Amit Segal reported this week that in such a scenario, President Rivlin would call back the party heads and ask them not who they recommend, but who they do not rule out. Whoever then gets the most recommendations would be given a chance to form the next coalition. In that case, if they cross the threshold, Kulanu led by Moshe Kahlon and Gesher led by Orly Levy-Abecassis could be counted on both sides. No other parties are that politically flexible.
Channel 13 political analyst Raviv Drucker reported that Rivlin could then compel Netanyahu and Gantz to form a government together, and then let them fight over who would come first in a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Let’s just hope we don’t end up with additional elections,” Drucker said, while Segal said recently on air that if additional elections are held, he would move to a different country.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz would be given six weeks to form a coalition. If they both fail and no other candidate emerges, and according to the polls right now, this is looking increasingly likely, then Rivlin will have no other choice, but to initiate another election by the end of July, that would be held 90-something days later.
A fitting date would be Tuesday, November 5, the day the election was supposed to take place, before Netanyahu decided to advance the race, due to (at the time) a possible criminal indictment against him.
Recent changes in the political map including the several party mergers and question marks over which candidate is more likely to be believed, has made it much harder this time for Israelis to decide who to vote for on 9 April.
According to a poll taken by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Gutman Centre for Research, half of respondents agreed that it is harder than in the past to decide what party to select. Broken down by their political camp, 67% of self-defined centrists said it was harder to decide on a party this time, 52% of leftists said the same and 48% of those who consider themselves right-wing said that it is harder now.
When asked what their main consideration is when deciding what party to vote for, 25.4% said it was on social and economic issues, 18.1% said it made a difference on who heads the party, 16.6% on foreign affairs and defence issues, 9.9% on the quality of the party’s candidate list, 8.5% the party’s chances of being part of the next government, 6.5% the party’s performance in the outgoing Knesset, 7.8% other reasons and 7.1% refused to answer.
But when respondents were asked about Israelis in general, they predicted that the security situation would impact their votes more than the cost of living and housing, the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, matters of religion and state or Jewish-Arab issues.
Asked what government they expected to be formed, 34.2% said a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, 20% said a Centre-Right government led by Netanyahu, 19.2% said a Centre-Right government led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and 8.2% a Centre-Left Gantz-led government.
The remaining respondents said other reasons, declined to answer or admitted that they did not know. The poll also asked respondents what party they intended to support, but did not calculate percentages into seats. Blue and White led Likud, 20.6% to 17.9%.
The third largest party, after the Likud and Blue and White, would be United Torah Judaism. For the first time in any poll, Meretz would receive more support than Labor, 3.8% to 3.3%, which would mean Labor would barely cross the 3.25% electoral threshold and would win only four seats.
In such a scenario, Labor would be represented in the next Knesset only by party leader Avi Gabbay, retired general Tal Rousso, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir. Former Labor leaders Shelly Yacimovich and Amir Peretz would be left out of the Knesset.
Ironically, Labor voters were the most satisfied with their list of candidates. More than twice as high a percentage of Labor voters were happy with their list as were Blue and White voters: 41% to 19%.
The poll of 600 Israelis representing a statistical sample of the voting population was taken last week and had a 4.1% margin of error.
On 9 April, more than six million voters will be eligible to select among the 46 parties currently running and competing for their votes.
Who would have thought the process of electing the next Israeli Prime Minister would this time be so complicated?
ELECTION NEWS BRIEFS:
Labor head, Avi Gabbay has attacked the Blue and White party, for not being clear about where they stand on working with Netanyahu after the election. Gabbay said the words used by Benny Gantz, “were not decisive enough and that he must say it clearly, we will not sit in a government headed by Netanyahu. “Labor,” Gabbay declared “want to lead change, to separate ourselves from the Palestinians and march towards an economy that is just for both the young and the old.” He added, “We want change because we want to lead a different path, but we do not want [Moshe Ya’alon] to continue with the annexation and settlement expansion plans outside the blocs, and we do not want Tzvi Hauser to enact another national law.” Labor is polling between 5 – 7 seats against Blue and White’s 36 – 38 seats.
MK Moshe Gafni who heads Degel Hatorah (the non-Chassidic half of United Torah Judaism), stated on Tuesday that he will not back Benny Gantz for Prime Minister after the election. Gafni was reacting to earlier reports, that despite UTJ’s antipathy for Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who is running with Gantz in the Blue and White party, Degel may recommend Gantz for PM. But Gafni cited Lapid’s failures as a Finance Minister on the Israeli economy and his “attacks” on Yeshiva learning. “We think he is not fit for office for a thousand and one reasons,” MK Gafni said, adding that if Lapid wants to be Foreign Minister, “then Israel’s successful foreign policy will be harmed.”
Speaking to supporters in Tel Aviv, Orly Levy Abecassis with her Gesher party said “even if Netanyahu was superman, he would not be able to deal with the burning issues of the state when he spends days in court.” Further, “unlike regular people, public figures are not innocent until proven guilty.” But she did add he has a right to a hearing. Levy Abecassis believes she will hold the balance of power in the next coalition government, but all the polls show she will not cross the minimum threshold line.
The Blue and White party announced they will back a pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall for the reform and women of the wall, if they manage to form the next government.
After hours of deliberation on Wednesday, members of the Central Elections Committee voted 16 votes to 15 to allow Otzmah Yehudit candidates Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben Gvir to run for Knesset. The issue is now expected to be taken up by the High Court. Labor and Meretz gathered enough signatures to ban the Otzmah Yehudit party for racism against Arabs, while Likud and other parties did the same against the Balad party for racism against Jews. It was not clear at the time of going to press whether Balad candidates could run but in the past they have always been allowed to. According to election law, parties can be disqualified from running in an election if they reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite to racism, or if they support armed conflict by an enemy state or terrorist organizations against Israel.
It was not clear at the time of going to press, whether the Labor party’s number 2 reserved spot, will go to retired IDF General Tal Rousso. According to Israeli election law, one cannot run for Knesset, until there has been a three-year “cooling-off period,” after leaving the IDF. Former General Rousso argues that he left the IDF in January 2014, but returned as a volunteer after Operation Protective Edge, to play a significant role in reserve duty. When Rousso believed the army’s problems had been solved and did not see another war ahead, he left again in 2017. Representatives from all parties informed the Central Elections Commission and a hearing was held on Tuesday, with a decision expected in the next few days. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has already announced Rousso can run, but the final decision will be made by Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer.
In a related committee vote on the candidacy of Eli Ben-Dahan, who is running with the Likud, Ben-Dahan, a member of Jewish Home, was given the 28th slot on the Likud list, (one of Netanyahu’s reserved places). The merger deal between Jewish Home and Otzmah Yehudit involved Ben-Dahan creating a new party name called Achi, in order to run with Likud, so he and the four other Jewish Home candidates would have better chances becoming MKs. A group of top legal officials argued that allowing one party’s lawmaker to run in another party was a form of election fraud, as the move would take votes from one party and artificially deliver them to another. But in a vote Tuesday evening, the body voted to allow Ben-Dahan to remain with Likud by 19-10 votes.
It was reported that the Likud will not woo Russian speakers because Netanyahu is worried Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will not cross the election threshold.
Knesset candidate Pinhas Idan, who is 19th on the Likud party list, has been told by the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, to resign from the race. The reason: he attempted to run while remaining head of the Israel Airports Authority Industries Labor Union. Although Idan accepted a lower post to be able to run, Melcer and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, have said it remained problematic and that he should return to his old post without suffering any consequences. However if he does not drop out now, Melcer indicated there could be issues returning to his previous position, if a ruling is issued disqualifying him from running in the Knesset. Should Idan decide to quit the race, everyone behind him will automatically move up one slot.
Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party, along with the two other party leaders Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon have declared they will not give up the Golan Heights and even vowed to boost the number of Israelis living on the Golan. All three leaders toured the north on Tuesday and called on the international community to recognise Israeli rule over Heights. In addition they declared they would prevent any Iranian entrenchment into Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza strip. On Wednesday the party said that there will be no second disengagement, referring to the Gush Katif, Gaza withdrawal, in 2005 and there will be no major moves vis-à-vis the Palestinians without a special Knesset majority. But they would call for a regional conference with Arabs that does not mention two states. Gantz and Lapid also promised to limit a Prime Minister’s time in office.
At a Likud party meeting on Monday night, Netanyahu who spoke for at least 45 minutes continued to attack the press and every time he said the word press, the crowd booed. The Prime Minister did say during the speech that he visited Afghanistan, when he meant to say Azerbaijan. His spokesman later confirmed there had been no visit to Afghanistan or meeting with any Afghani leaders. The Likud gathering did see Netanyahu shake hands with his Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar. Former Minister Sa’ar said that “We must all work together for the sake of party unity.”
The newspaper Yediot Aharonot admitted they listened to the transcript again and apologised for misquoting Labor’s number two, former IDF General Tal Rousso. In an interview with the paper, Yediot claimed that Rousso has called those living close to the strip, Gaza cry-babies for complaining the IDF was doing little to stop the explosive kites being launched from Hamas territory into Israel. Rousso expressed shock and always denied he made the statement, saying his words were taken out of context.
National Union head MK Bezalel Smotrich, who is number two on the Union of Right Wing parties, filed a bill on Wednesday that would give lawmakers increased powers to block charges against sitting Knesset members, including the Prime Minister. The proposal aims to alter parliamentary immunity laws so that indictments can only be filed against lawmakers after the Knesset has given approval, reverting to a practice that was overhauled 12 years ago amid criticism that it protected corrupt and criminal MKs from prosecution. Smotrich said the measure would “allow Knesset members to supervise the work of the executive branch without fear or worry of cases being fabricated or of political persecution by endless investigations as a tool for political assassinations.”
Police are reportedly set to recommend former coalition whip, Likud MK David Bitan, (who is a key ally to Netanyahu) be charged with bribery over suspicions he took money in exchange for political favours. The Ynet news website reported that the probe will be wrapped up before the April 9 election. Bitan, who has been questioned so far, 13 times, is running as a Likud candidate and is at number 24 on the party’s Knesset slate.
With tension rising in the Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem, and intelligence reports suggesting the escalation of violence could explode especially in Jerusalem, Hamas told foreign news reporters that if Israel tries something before the election, they will respond “and the Zionist enemy will pay a heavy price.” The terror group further confirmed, “We do not care who wins the elections.”
ISRAEL VOTES 2019
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.
In total, 47 parties have registered to run although some have and will continue to drop out before the election for various reasons including financial. Only the well-known parties and those that received seats in the previous Knesset have been listed below.
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 will be on Tuesday 9 April.
The poll below was compiled on Wednesday 06 March, 2019.
By James Marlow