Daily Briefing: Israel’s Looming September Elections(August 6, 2019)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman meet before a ceremony marking Israel’s receipt of two F-35 Lightning II jets at Nevatim Air Base, Israel, Dec. 12, 2016. (Source: Flickr)6

 

 

 

Table of Contents:
Can Netanyahu Solidify the Right in Israel’s New Elections?:  Seth J. Frantzman, The National Interest, May 31, 2019
Is This Netanyahu’s Last Hurrah?:  Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 1, 2019
The Last Great Hope of the Israeli Left:  Eylon Aslan-Levy, Tablet, July 29, 2019
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Can Netanyahu Solidify the Right in Israel’s New Elections?
Seth J. Frantzman
The National Interest, May 31, 2019Israeli politicians negotiated until midnight on May 29 before deciding to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and hold new elections. In a momentous decision for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, the country will vote in September, just months after April elections were held. It could be a defeat for the powerful Israeli leader, but it also represents another attempt to cling to power and outmaneuver his rivals.Israel faces challenges in the region which make its political instability at home a pressing concern. First among Jerusalem’s concerns is the rise and influence of Iran. Iran’s allies in the Syrian regime, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia paramilitaries in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen all stridently oppose Israel. Hassan Nasrallah, speaking at an annual celebration of Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, said his movement would lead efforts to oppose both the U.S. peace plan and Israel’s presence in the West Bank. Yemen’s Houthis curse Jews and Israel in their official slogan. Shia militias in Iraq, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, regularly claim that they are opposed to the United States and Israel, the latter of which they tend to blame for recent tensions between the United States and Iran.At the same time, Washington is pushing a new peace plan and President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner arrived in Israel with negotiator Jason Greenblatt as Israel announced new elections. Jerusalem was supposed to have a stable government ahead of the roll-out of the “deal of the century” and before the June 25 Bahrain meeting that is meant to drum-up financial support for the plan.Netanyahu’s inability to form a coalition government can be seen as a defeat, but he had ample opportunities to avoid it and allow other scenarios to develop. That means that the prime minister saw this as the least bad option. Israel’s coalition politics are complex, with no party receiving anywhere near a majority of seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu’s Likud and his main rival former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party both received thirty-five seats in the April 2019 elections. Many of the parties on the center-right and Right had vowed to work with Netanyahu again as they have in past governments. This included the two ultra-Orthodox parties, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu. But Leiberman demanded that Netanyahu’s new coalition deal with the controversial issue of exempting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from the military draft.All politics is local and in Israel the failure to form a government resulted from an inability of Lieberman, Netanyahu and the Orthodox to compromise. This came as a surprise to many voters and the media. On Saturday, May 25, the spotlight had been on a protest by one hundred thousand Israelis in Tel Aviv against plans by Netanyahu to seek immunity from looming corruption indictments. Days later it was clear that new elections were on the table. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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_Is This Netanyahu’s Last Hurrah?
Isi Leibler
Jerusalem Post, Aug. 1, 2019Although Benjamin Netanyahu has now become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, projections suggest that MK and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman will achieve his objective and bring about Netanyahu’s political demise. If, as appears almost certain, Liberman’s strident anti-haredi (anti-ultra-Orthodox) positions will gain him additional seats, he will continue to hold the balance of power. His role is strengthened with polls predicting another deadlock with neither Netanyahu nor Blue and White head Benny Gantz able to cobble together sufficient seats to form a government.On top of that, should Netanyahu be indicted, it is likely that Likud would be divided as to whether he can retain his position as party leader.
Paradoxically, Netanyahu is currently at the peak of his achievements. He courageously overcame the stormy, confrontational era of former US president Barack Obama with subsequent events totally vindicating him. He has managed to expand the alliance with the United States to an all-time high, while simultaneously developing an unprecedented positive relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (despite his support of Syria). He has advanced relations with India and deftly penetrated barriers and created relationships in South America, Africa and Asia, including China. He has also broken through what seemed an insurmountable barrier and developed covert and even not-so-covert associations with the Saudis and moderate Sunni states. Israel today, largely due to Netanyahu’s diplomacy, has better relations with the international community than at any time since its inception.In addition, he can take much of the credit for Israel’s booming economy and for the country being ranked as one of the world’s most successful hi-tech innovators. Under his leadership, the IDF has achieved new peaks and is capable of defeating any threat from Israel’s adversaries.

But after Netanyahu’s 13 years in office – extraordinary longevity for any elected leader – many Israelis seek a change. This attitude is exacerbated by media that have unceasingly demonized him personally as well as politically in a manner unprecedented in any democratic country. His hedonistic lifestyle, which the court is unlikely to deem a crime, has intensified public opposition.
His constant kowtowing to extremist haredi demands, particularly outraging Israelis with his concessions on draft exemptions, has created a backlash and according to the polls, diverted many voters to Liberman’s party, since he is perceived as the only one standing up to ultra-Orthodox extortion. Unless the merger with the New Right led by Ayelet Shaked can change the environment, a Netanyahu government including haredim would ensure that religious extremism will intensify, even beyond their efforts to enforce total gender separation and imposing obstacles to conversion.

Even more critical has been the exclusion of all secular elements from the haredi core educational agenda, making most graduates unfit for anything other than the most menial work. The ever-expanding haredi population will lead to dire consequences when the state is economically unable to finance the increased demand for social services for those unable or unwilling to engage in productive labor. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Who’s Running in Israel’s September Elections, Explained
Marcy Oster
JTA, August 2, 2019

Israel’s upcoming elections in September — just five months after the last ones in April — are essentially a do-over. In the April election, the right wing won a majority. But because Israel has a parliamentary system, a bunch of small right-wing parties had to agree to join a governing coalition. They were too divided to do that, so now Israel is trying again. Unsurprisingly, people have basically the same opinions they had earlier this year. In other words, polls haven’t shifted much.

The main difference between this election and the last one is that a few groups of small parties have decided to join together, meaning fewer parties are running this time. But overall, the Israeli right, center and left are still slated to get the same number of votes as last time.

Here’s a look at who’s running next month, what they stand for and what their chances are.

Is Benjamin Netanyahu running again?

Oh, yes. The biggest player on the right is still Likud, the party that’s governed Israel for the past decade. It’s running mostly on the record of Netanyahu, who became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July.

Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood, supports annexing Israeli West Bank settlements to Israel and sees Iran (and its potential nuclear weapons program) as Israel’s biggest threat. He’s put up ads showing off his bromances with right-wing leaders around the world, including President Donald Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Polls show that Likud is slated to get 30 seats in Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in the upcoming election. That’s down from the 35 seats it won in April. Sounds like nothing has changed.

Well, things get more interesting to Netanyahu’s right, which has been doing a lot of breaking up, getting back together and breaking up again. Earlier this year, there were basically two parties to the right of Likud, which broke off from each other before the last election. Now, they’re reuniting. The party, called United Right, is staunchly pro-settlement, hawkish on defense and supports infusing Israel’s culture with religious Judaism.

The party’s leader, Ayelet Shaked, is someone to watch. She’s a secular woman at the head of a religious, mostly male party. That means United Right is the only party headed by a woman. It’s a comeback of sorts for Shaked, who is a popular former justice minister, and who did not win a Knesset seat in April’s election. The United Right is polling as high as 14 seats, and has said it will support Netanyahu after the next election. Then (because, why not?) its two parties have said they will break up again.

One party left out in the cold is an extremist group called Jewish Power, which has roots in the racist anti-Arab views of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Because of a deal brokered by Netanyahu, it was part of the religious Zionist party last time, but didn’t join up this time. It tried to run with a new far-right anti-LGBTQ party, but decided not to. Why? One of the anti-LGBTQ candidates does not wear a yarmulke. Polls show that it won’t get enough votes on its own to enter Knesset. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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The Last Great Hope of the Israeli Left
Eylon Aslan-Levy
Tablet, July 29, 2019

In a pessimistic scenario, the Israeli Labor Party could be wiped out in upcoming elections. In an optimistic scenario, the party could hang on by the seat of its pants. But Amir Peretz, the ailing party’s flailing new leader, is not just an optimist—he thinks he’s a magician. And he believes his new assistant, Orly Levy-Abekasis, will help him capture the Holy Grail of Israeli politics—and make right-wing votes levitate stage left, away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling, right-wing Likud party.

Israelis have two choices on the Zionist left for the elections on Sept. 17 (if we ignore the centrist Blue and White), representing two divergent paths. On July 18, former Defense Minister and current Labor Party leader Peretz shocked the Israeli political scene by announcing a joint run with the Gesher Party. Led by former Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker Levy-Abekasis, Gesher ran a campaign focused on what Israelis call chevrati issues, which means “social” or “real life” concerns like welfare and health care, although in Israel’s woefully underdeveloped economic discourse, nobody knows whether this means more or less government. But Gesher failed to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25% in April’s elections, winning only 75,000 votes.

In the alliance of Peretz and Levy-Abekasis, the ticket has two Mizrahi leaders—one born in Morocco, the other to a Moroccan father. They come from Israel’s geographic and social periphery—Sderot and Beit Shean. They are focusing on social issues, and politely forgetting Levy-Abekasis’ past in Avigdor Liberman’s nationalist (and arguably anti-Arab) party. And unlike much of the left, they are absolutely not allergic to Netanyahu and have not ruled out serving in his cabinet. They hope this combination will help them pinch votes from the soft-right, and particularly from among the 153,000 people who voted for the center-right Kulanu last time and need a new home now that Moshe Kahlon has taken his satellite party back into the Likud.
 
The joint Peretz and Levy-Abekasis ticket presents more than a superficial contrast with the new Democratic Union: a merger between the left-wing Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party, with the acquisition of Stav Shaffir from Labor. The Democratic Union’s leadership would be eclectic in any other country—a former army chief, a gay man, and a young woman—but is remarkably homogeneous for a platform that is claiming to speak for “the people.” The triumvirate of Nitzan Horowitz, Stav Shaffir, and Ehud Barak are all secular Ashkenazim from cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. Demographically, the rest of their list is very similar (with the exception of one Arab and one Mizrahi woman in the top 10). There may not be a huge gap between the policies of Peretz’s Labor Party and Barak’s Democratic Union—not that Israeli parties ever produce detailed policy pledges—but culturally and ideologically, they’re a world away. Greater than the distance from Tel Aviv to Sderot.

The Democratic Union wants to merge with Labor for these elections, but Peretz and Levy-Abekasis are having none of it. They want to take votes from the right, and specifically—from the Mizrahi working class—residents of towns like Sderot, Yerucham, and Dimona, who vote overwhelmingly for right-wing parties despite the fact, as Labor argues, the right is not really representing their interests. The Democratic Union is worried they’ll just take votes from the left and hand them over to the right, propping up a Netanyahu government. After all, Levy-Abekasis would have gladly joined a Netanyahu government after April’s elections if appointed health minister. And Peretz’s dream of succeeding Rivlin as president is no secret, and impossible to fulfil from the opposition benches. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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On Topic Links:

Liberman Eyes Premiership, Ambivalent About Rotating Top Spot With Netanyahu Times of Israel, Aug. 3, 2019 — Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Saturday made it clear that he is interested in becoming premier and did not rule out the possibility of rotating the position with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a future coalition government.

Two-Thirds of Israel’s Left Unite, Barak in 10th Place:  David Israel, Jewish Press, July 25, 2019 — At the end of a nightly meeting, on Thursday morning a new political party was born: The Democratic Camp, headed by Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz.

Three Israeli Arab Parties Reunite in Joint Arab List for Sept. 17 Election:  Hana Levi Julian, Jewish Press, July 27, 2019 — Three Israeli Arab parties announced on Saturday they had reached an agreement to band together once again to create a joint list in which to run for the upcoming September 17, 2019, national elections.

Fathoming the 2019 Elections:  Edited By Calev Ben-Dor, Alan Johnson and Sam Nurding, Fathom Journal, Aug. 2019 — This pamphlet brings together the analyses of the 2019 Israeli election carried by Fathom journal.

Is Israel’s Blue And White Party Dipping Into Anti-Semitic Tropes?:  WIN,Aug. 5, 2019 — Did the Blue and White party cross the line with its latest campaign video?