PM & Defence Minister Netanyahu on Tues 26 March 2019 in security consultation with IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, ISA Director Yoram Cohen, NSC Director Meir Ben-Shabbat and senior IDF and security establishment commanders and officials. Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO

Continuing our exclusive Israel Election Special coverage, JAMES MARLOW reports from Jerusalem with just over a week to go before election day. 

The election campaign moved to Washington DC this week as the two Prime Ministerial candidates Binyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, along with dozens of other election party hopefuls appeared and spoke at the pro-Israel AIPAC conference.

However, the campaign was interrupted by a Gaza rocket slamming into a house close to Kfar Saba next to Ra’nana, north of Tel Aviv, injuring eight. This was followed by more than 60 rockets fired into southern Israel after the IDF struck Hamas offices and military institutions in the Gaza Strip. The military gave notice for Hamas personal to evacuate buildings, before carefully striking with precision, in order to avoid the commonly termed phrase, “disproportionate response.”

Although it was reported Egypt stepped in to broker a fragile ceasefire, the Israeli military denied there was any ceasefire, just a halt to the rocket fire, which could flare up again at any moment.

On Monday, President Trump gave a boost to the Netanyahu campaign by officially recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights infuriating the Iranians and Syrians. Speaking in the Oval Office, Donald Trump said that the dramatic shift in American policy would “allow Israel to defend itself” against the “significant security challenges it faces every single day.”

Trump also vowed to continue his administration’s strong position on Iran, saying his decision to reimpose sanctions on the regime in Tehran were “having a big effect.”

Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz who spoke to the 18,000 strong AIPAC audience on Monday morning did not even get to meet the President, proving the difference between a Prime Minister of 10 straight years (plus another 3) compared to a candidate who has never sat in Parliament as a Knesset member. It was reported that the Gantz campaign team last week requested a meeting with the President, but it was refused on the grounds of no available time.

Due to the security situation, Netanyahu returned to Israel after the Oval meeting with the intension of delivering his AIPAC speech on Tuesday live by video link from military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

However, the innovation and “state-of-the-art” telecommunication capabilities let down the Prime Minister with numerous technological interruptions. The country that has just sent a spacecraft to the moon was unable to allow an uninterrupted 10-minute address from the most secure site in Tel Aviv to 18,000 AIPAC supporters in Washington DC.

Even worse, the technical problems interrupted Netanyahu’s speech at crucial times, namely when he tried to explain the Nation-State law which many Americans simply do not understand. The law calls Israel a Jewish and democratic state with Hebrew the national language, Hatikva the national anthem, and the land the national homeland for the Jewish people.

Netanyahu also hoped his address to an 18,000 audience at AIPAC would send a message to the Israeli electorate that under his prime-ministership, he is  respected, appreciated and given rousing standing ovations abroad. But because he had to return home, Netanyahu was dependent on technology, which in the end, let him down and he did not even receive the warmth of applause in person.


The former head of Shas who broke away to form his own party called Yahad has withdrawn from the race after all polls confirm there is no way he would cross the election threshold. The climb down is bring seen as the final blow to the political career of Eli Yishai.  

Yahad was a hard right-wing chareidi party that was clearly taking votes from Shas but failed to attract many voters outside of Yishai’s Tunisian community and those that follow his spiritual mentor and rabbinic leader of Tunisian-Israelis Rabbi Meir Mazuz. 

In 2015 Yahad ran in a union with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and narrowly failed to make it into Knesset, receiving just under the 3.25% of the vote needed to pass the electoral threshold. 

But after turning down the offer of joining the Union of Right-Wing Parties last month, Eli Yishai has seen awful polling in the current election campaign and it was only a matter of time he would quit.

In a statement on Wednesday, Yishai said that Yahad had some 100,000 supporters, but he was instructing them to vote for the Ashkenazi chareidi party, United Torah Judaism. Although many are now likely to vote for the Union of Right Wing parties. 

Political commentators doubt that Yahad has that many voters planning to cast their ballot for Yishai’s party based on polls and the fact that in 2015 the united Yahad-Otzma party received 125,000 votes which represented 3% of votes cast. 

Eli Yishai said in his press conference that he had spoken with United Torah Judaism party and in particular with Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of UTJ. Yishai then presented it to Rabbi Mazuz for a final decision who evaluated the situation and made the decision out of concern for the success of the right-wing bloc.

The move could now enable the UTJ to reach eight seats where Anglo candidate, Yitzhak Pindrus would be eligible to enter the Knesset. Pindrus is a former mayor of Beitar Illit and deputy Jerusalem mayor. He was born in Jerusalem to parents from Cleveland and Boston.

Yishai became the chairman of Shas in 1999, after its former and current chairman Aryeh Deri was convicted on bribery charges that year. 

Eli Yishai served as chairman until 2013 when Deri returned from his enforced political absence and the late Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef z”l called in the promise he given before he entered prison and restored him as Shas party leader while Yishai was his number two. 

The tension was huge between the two until Ovadia Yosef passed away in October 2013 and Yishai finally quit establishing his Yahad party ahead of the 2015 elections under the spiritual guidance of Rabbi Mazuz.


After the Supreme Court disqualified Otzma Yehudit candidate Michael Ben-Ari from running with the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP), his faction colleague Itamar Ben-Gvir, asked the High Court of Justice if he could receive Ben Ari’s number five slot on the party list.

The URWP is a merger of the Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit, and each of the party candidates received placings on the faction list. Michael Ben-Ari from Otzmah received the fifth slot while his colleague, Itamar Ben-Gvir received eighth place. However, the High Court banned Ben-Ari from running on the grounds of racist incitement. It was the first time an individual candidate, as opposed to an entire party has been disqualified from an election.

That ruling bumped Ben-Gvir up to seventh. But the URWP faction is polling between 5 to 7 seats which means Otzma may not even make it into the Knesset.

The Central Elections Committee argued that the February 21 deadline to submit party and candidate lists has passed and no changes can be made. The right-wing party argued that the unprecedented nature of the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify Ben Ari for incitement of violence warranted flexibility in allowing them to alter their list accordingly.

Otzma supporters believe there is a systematic plan by the established legal institutions to keep out Otzma candidates from entering the Knesset at any cost.


The Prime Minister posted on his Facebook page a video in which he says he instructed his lawyers to file a libel suit against Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon.

“Gantz, Lapid and Ya’alon calling me a traitor is a severe incitement that must not be ignored,” Netanyahu wrote. “Their lies crossed a red line of the most sensitive issues relating to Israel’s security.”

Netanyahu was responding to Blue and White party leader’s comments regarding the submarine scandal, in which Ya’alon said that “The issue is so important that it could end up being a betrayal.”

Moshe Ya’alon was quick to retract his statements saying, “No one called him a traitor.”

Polls continue to show that the Blue and White Party would win more seats then the Likud, but Netanyahu would probably have an easier time forming a government. 

Before this week’s Washington trip and the outbreak of violence from Gaza, the election campaign became quite dirty. In an interview with KAN Radio, Blue and White candidate Ram Ben-Barak said the public should trust Gantz over Netanyahu due to the prime minister’s infidelity.

“Who should you believe, a man who betrayed his three wives, who had affairs and who won’t see his daughter because his wife doesn’t let him, or a former IDF chief of staff?” Ben-Barak said.

Gantz criticized Ben-Barak for the statement, saying “Rami Ben-Barak is a good, honest man who usually does not stoop, but he went a step too far.”

Ben-Barak later told Channel 12: “What I said was correct but it was wrong to go down to where Netanyahu has led us in the campaign.”

The Likud responded by referring to the rumours that Benny Gantz’s mobile telephone that was hacked by Iranian intelligence, revealed details of him cheating on his wife, Revital.

Journalist Matthew Kalman, who wrote about Netanyahu’s affairs in the 2013 book Psycho-Bibi, said that Ben-Barak’s statement was inaccurate. Netanyahu did cheat on his childhood sweetheart and first wife Micki Weizmann and his current wife Sara Netanyahu, but he found no evidence of him cheating on his second wife, Fleur Cates who converted to Judaism.


Candidate for Prime Minister Benny Gantz gave a good powerful performance at the AIPAC Policy Conference this week which received six standing ovations, most in the context of Israel’s security.

Gantz opened his speech by sending thoughts and prayers to the families whose homes were attacked by rockets in Israel. “One thing I know for sure – Israel will once again prevail. I am a soldier. That is who I am. That is what I do. I’ve fought in battles you’ve heard of, and in operations you never will. I’ve lost friends. I carry them with me, anytime, anywhere. I have devoted my life to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and today, as the chairman of the Blue and White Party, it is an extraordinary honour for me to be standing here before all of you.”

He mentioned the word “unity” seven times in his speech and said that it is imperative to have unity for the sake of Israel’s security. The Blue and White leader received strong applause from the audience when he spoke about his mother, a Holocaust survivor, and his son, Nadav, who joined the Paratroopers, just like Gantz when he served as a soldier: “Between those two photographs [of his mother and his son] lies the story of Israel. Three generations and three symbols: Terrible Bergen-Belsen; the Western Wall; and the hope of a young, strong and independent Israel.”

Gantz also joked about the Iranian hack of his mobile phone and warned the Iranian regime that Israel will not allow them to establish itself in Syria. “We will not allow you to develop a nuclear weapon. You know me well – and not because of my cell-phone. On my watch, Iran will not become a regional power. And I will not hesitate to use force when needed.”

Gantz then sent a strong message to Hezbollah and Hamas: “We’ve met before on the battlefield. You know the result. The reality in the south as we, unfortunately, saw today, where Israeli children spend their nights in bomb shelters, while the heads of Hamas celebrate, must end now – and it will. The heads of Hamas have forgotten what happened to Ahmed Jabari – their chief of staff. They will get a personal reminder if they continue targeting our population, as will all terrorists.”

Talking about a future peace agreement, Gantz promised that Jerusalem will stay the united capital of Israel, and that the Jordan Valley will remain Israel’s eastern security border. “The responsibility for security over the entire Land of Israel will remain in the hands of the IDF, and the IDF alone. Not like other countries, we will never ask anyone to fight for us. We will never withdraw from the Golan Heights. Never.”

Speaking on tensions around the Western Wall, Gantz talked about the need for unity between all streams of Judaism: “That is the secret weapon of the Jewish nation,” he said. “Our ability to stand united should not be taken for granted. In Bergen-Belsen, no-one asked who is reform and who is conservative; who is Orthodox and who is secular; before going into battle, I never checked to see who had a kippah under their helmet. The divisive dialogue tearing our strong nation apart may serve political purposes, but is shredding the fabric that holds us together.”

He added: “As a proud owner of a red beret, worn by the liberators of the Kotel [Western Wall], I can tell you with confidence that the Western Wall is long enough to accommodate everyone. Everyone.”

Moving to government matters and in a possible swipe at Netanyahu, Gantz said, “There will be no corruption leading our way – no corruption whatsoever. The leaders of Israel cannot be led by anything else other than the best interest of Israel and its people. There will be no radicals, from either side of the political map, ruling. There will be no Kahanists running our country. There will be no racists leading our state institutions.”

Gantz’s party is still leading the Likud by between one to four seats depending upon which poll you read, but it is estimated that around a third of the electorate are still undecided who they will vote for on 9 April.

A breakdown of the Israeli voter does show some interesting results according to a survey conducted for i24 News. If you are traditional or religious, you are more likely to support Netanyahu as the next Prime Minister. However, if you are a secular or Arab voter, you would prefer Gantz to lead the government.





































According to various surveys conducted within the strictly Orthodox communities across Israel, the number of chareidim who will not be voting for their traditional parties (United Torah Judaism and Shas) is up considerably, and most of these voters are right-wing.

Some parties have even included strictly Orthodox candidates on their slates in a bid to gain the support of a growing number of disenchanted voters.

However, only two strictly Orthodox candidates have a chance of making it into the Knesset – Zehut’s no. 2, Haim Amsalem, a former Shas MK and Omer Yankelevich, who is listed 23rd on the Blue and White party list.

The others – Likud’s Ze’ev Fleishman (43rd) and Labor’s Michal Zernowitski (20th), fell short of a realistic position in their respective primaries.

Other parties such as Naftali Bennett’s New Right have also openly solicited chareidi voters, which could potentially amount to tens of thousands of ballots.

According to Dr Gilad Malach of the Israel Democracy Institute, around five percent of chareidim are hard-line anti-Zionist from groups such as the Eda Haredit and they have deliberately avoid voting in the general election.

This is followed in recent years by six percent of potential voters from the Jerusalem Faction – a non-Zionist group, who refuse to vote for their traditional party, United Torah Judaism, over its differences with the party leadership.

A third group drifting away from the strictly Orthodox parties, according to Malach’s analysis, consists of those who no longer view funding for yeshivas as the top issue concerning them – along with those who work and are more integrated in Israeli life. The latter group stood at around 10% of the community in 2006-2015, 17% in 2015, and now makes up 20% of the vote, according to recent studies.

Malach noted that over half (56%) are Likud supporters, according to a mid-February poll of 675 respondents for the Kav Itonut strictly Orthodox paper, which offered rare insight on this subgroup. Others (20%) are expected to support right wing factions such as the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

But it is important to note that this survey was taken before the merger of the three parties and before the Supreme Court disqualified candidate Michael Ben Ari of Otzma Yehudit.

The survey also found that a small minority will vote for the New Right, Blue and White, Eli Yishai’s Yachad and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut.

Asked to explain what motivated chareidim to vote, an overwhelming majority (75%) said it was the instruction or suggestion of their rabbis; 4.9% said it was based on politicians’ responsiveness to public needs; another 4.9% were motivated by holding on to Greater Israel; 4.7% wanted to uphold the Netanyahu government; 4.5% chose Shabbat observance in the public sphere; and for just 1.3%, the military enlistment law was the key factor.

While United Torah Judaism’s standing has remained steady in recent polls, Aryeh Deri’s Shas has seen a drop, with most polls showing the party receiving 4-6 seats, just narrowly clearing the electoral threshold.

This is some distance from the 17 seats the party received in its glory days of 1999, also under Deri’s leadership. Although to be fair, voters back then had two votes – one for the party of choice and one for the Prime Minister.

Ironically this law was introduced by Netanyahu during his first time as Prime Minister and in 1999 with the help of the Israeli media and President Bill Clinton with his election team, Labor’s Ehud Barak won the contest.

Barak only remained in power for 20 months after the failed Camp David II talks and weekly suicide bombings killing hundreds and voters flocked to the polls to elect Ariel Sharon.

The law for direct election of the Prime Minister was then scrapped and voters went back to the old system of one vote for one party.

Traditionally Shas was always supported not just by strictly Orthodox Sephardi Jews, but also by a sizeable amount of non Chareidi and even secular Sephardim. According to Malach, the decline of Shas is largely due to this group seeking political representation elsewhere, especially as the Gaon (Great) Rabbi and spiritual leader, Ovadia Yoseph passed away in October 2013.

In addition, a general thawing of ethnic tensions in Israel, as well as the formation of similarly minded parties such as Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Avi Gabbay in the Labor party has changed the political landscape.

Hostilities between the strictly Orthodox parties and Yair Lapid who joined his Yesh Atid faction with Blue and White have grown, over Lapid’s advancement of the IDF enlistment law in the 2013-2015 Knesset.

Polls indicate that even if the Blue and White party win five or more seats than the Likud and end up with 35, they would still struggle to put together a coalition. In fact, they would only form a minority government relying on the Arab parties to prevent a no confidence vote.


Election analyst JAMES MARLOW compiles this week’s poll numbers based on the leading Israeli pollsters: Midgam Panel, Statnet Institutes, TNS Teleseker, Panels Politics, Direct Polls, Camille Fuchs, Maagar Mohot, Rafi Smith Research,

Dr Mina Tzemach and Mano Gever.

In total, 47 parties have registered to run but several are likely to drop out before election day. Only the parties expected to cross the 3.25% minimum threshold are listed below. If a party receives less than the minimum 4 seats, the votes are discarded.   

James will be discussing the results of the election and coalition agreements at the Edgware United Synagogue in Edgware on Tuesday 4 June from 8.30pm.

The poll below was compiled on Wednesday 27 March 2019.

Click To View Poll

By James Marlow

James Marlow