Table of Contents:
Why The Upcoming Israeli Rematch Elections Are A Race To The Bottom: Eylon Aslan-Levy, Tablet, June 10, 2019
Can the Right Do the Right Thing?: Mati Tuchfeld, Israel Hayom, July 26, 2019
How Ayelet Shaked, A Secular Woman, Came To Dominate Israel’s Religious Right: Sam Sokol, Times of Israel, Aug. 7, 2019
The War for Israel’s Russian Vote Shifts Into High Gear – and Lieberman Is Still Winning: Liza Rozovsky, Haaretz, Aug. 14, 2019
Israel’s repeat elections on Sept. 17 are going to be a race to the bottom. Not just because the campaigns will likely be dirtier than last time, but also because they will be decided by whoever can fish the most votes out of the garbage, persuading the many Israelis who “wasted” their votes on minor parties in April or did not vote to switch allegiances.
In the April 9 elections, over 400,000 votes—a record 7.7% of the national vote share—went in the trash. In Israel’s highly proportional electoral system, political parties are allocated the 120 Knesset seats in proportion to their national vote share. But to qualify, parties must achieve a minimum 3.25% of votes nationwide. In April, this meant three parties that won a sizable share of the vote were nonetheless eliminated.
And that cost the right an even bigger victory. The conservative-nationalist New Right Party of popular ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked was less than 1,500 votes short of getting in. The libertarian-nationalist Zehut Party of Moshe Feiglin won 2.74% of the vote, and Orly Levy’s social-minded Gesher Party disappointed with 1.73%. But if these 391,330 wasted votes had gone to other right-wing parties, the right-wing bloc could have won 66 seats without Avigdor Lieberman—and a resounding 70 seats in total (compared to the final result of 65). In other words, Netanyahu would have been able to form a solid right-wing coalition—and secure a historic fifth term, including support for immunity from prosecution in his three criminal cases.
The stakes could not be higher on Sept. 17. The right-wing bloc is determined not to be foiled by its own internal divisions again—and the opposition bloc is shifting gear for a rematch. Here are 10 big questions to keep an eye on this time.
1. Will Blue & White put up a better fight?
Blue & White put up an impressive fight, winning over one million votes and only 15,000 votes off first place. It was a last-minute alliance of three parties, two of which—Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Moshe Yaalon’s Telem—were also formed at the last minute. They merged two-party operations on the eve of the deadline to register, entering late in the game.
Now, things are different. They have a streamlined party machine and their candidates have experience campaigning. Moreover, they have a big treasure chest—parties get state funding based on their seat share in the outgoing Knesset—and will invest more heavily in social media advertising. Candidates may also take two parliamentary advisers on the campaign trail, so Blue & White now has 70 aides for its 35 MKs, as opposed to only 22 last time. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
This isn’t how Ehud Barak thought his political comeback – which started with a roll of thunder, viral video clips, and barn-burning speeches – would wind up. For weeks, he planned the move that was supposed to put him back at the front of the political stage, possibly as a candidate for prime minister. This week, it ended. The chance that the man ranked 10th on the new Democratic Union list will make it into the next Knesset is close to nil.
After all the talk about a political bang, Barak and Labor MK Stav Shafir joining up with Meretz is reminiscent of the buzz that came before the founded of the New Movement – which led to Nitzan Horowitz joining the left-wing party in the first place. A lot of noise in the media, but nearly no effect at the polls.
Now, once again, the old Meretz guard are being forced to pay the price and stand back to allow new members to jam themselves into the top places on the list, and a few months later watch them enjoying the MKs’ cafeteria while they eat at home. To Barak’s credit, this time he didn’t abandon his friends – he took care to ensure they would have nice jobs and tickets into the parliament before he went back to international businesses and playing the piano.
The left-wing bloc that resulted from the move has the advantage of pulling Meretz away from the brink of not passing the minimum electoral threshold. If the Right manages to close deals for two joint tickets to the Right of the Likud (New Right/United Right and Zehut/Otzma Yehudit), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be forced to run a campaign with one hand tied behind his back to ensure that none of the right-wing parties takes a fall like they did in April. Meanwhile, at Blue and White, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid can take votes away from the left-wing parties without fear.
So, this week’s election merger, even if it’s not a “big bang” – or even a “little bang” – is unfortunate news for Netanyahu that will probably force him to take action to ensure that a similar bloc forms on the Right. That’s exactly what didn’t happen last time, when the joint right-wing ticket forced Gantz and Lapid into each other’s arms to establish Blue and White as the main alternative to a Netanyahu government.
The Democratic Union ticket comes as good news for new Labor chairman Amir Peretz, though. Not only does it isolate him and his party from the strongly-identified leftist party – which will allow him to carry out his plan of trying to take votes from the Right – it also helps him put his own house in order now that Shafir, the main upstart who didn’t give him a moment’s peace since losing the race for party chair – left. A few hundred Labor members who think like her will probably follow her out of the party, leaving Peretz to run things without let or hinder.
Since the 21st Knesset dissolved itself and voted on a do-over election, not a single poll has predicted that the Right will secure the necessary 61-seat majority to keep Netanyahu in power. This past week, all the parties were busy with possible joint runs and preparations ahead of next week’s deadline to submit party lists. But no merger or split, on either the Left or the Right, will change the current voting map, which at the moment does not give the Right a majority. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Late last month, as Israel prepared for yet another round of elections, Ayelet Shaked ascended to the leadership of the United Right, a joint list comprising the primary factions representing the nation’s religious Zionist community. While women have led Israeli political parties, none has ever risen to the pinnacle of political power in a bloc representing the traditionally patriarchal Orthodox community. And even more remarkable, the 43-year-old mother of two is a secular Jew from Tel Aviv.
Growing up as a middle-class child in the Tel Aviv of the 1980s, Shaked could have been expected to develop into a left-leaning Labor or Meretz voter, a proponent of two states and liberal policies. But as Shaked told The New York Times in 2015, she experienced a personal revelation at the age of 8 when she watched Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir debate an opponent on television: She was swayed by his nationalistic perspective.
During their mandatory military service, some Israelis tend to shift to the right, at least for a while, and a stint as an instructor in the storied Golani infantry brigade helped Shaked strengthen her conservative political outlook. “I just realized there will not be a solution right now,” she told The Times.
Like the coalition she represents, Shaked is staunchly pro-settlement and hawkish on defense.
Although she studied computer engineering and began her career working for Texas Instruments, Shaked pivoted to politics in 2006, going to work for then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu as his bureau chief. She brought along with her the future Jewish Home party head and frequent collaborator Naftali Bennett, helping him make a similar transition from high tech to the dog-eat-dog world of Israeli parliamentary politics.
The two worked for Netanyahu for four years but left following a reported falling-out with his wife, Sara. In 2012, Bennett and Shaked entered the world of right-wing, pro-settlement politics. That was the year that Jewish Home — a party composed of the old National Religious Party and several smaller right-wing factions — held its first open primaries. Bennett, religiously modern Orthodox and politically hawkish, entered the Knesset in 2013 at the top of its list. Shaked took its fifth seat.
By the 2015 primary Shaked, having only finished her first term in the Knesset, was popular enough with the party base that she came in second behind Bennett, establishing her position as a leader of the nationalist camp. In a party traditionally led by older, gray-haired men, Shaked at 39 not only was an ideological torchbearer but literally a fresh face: a young, stylish woman.
A stint as the country’s justice minister under Netanyahu further cemented her popularity. With mixed success, Shaked sought to overhaul an activist judiciary that in her view handcuffed the military and undermined the right-wing elected government. She also helped pass a controversial bill that defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Supporters said it made an obvious reality into law, while opponents attacked it for prioritizing an ethnic identity over democracy. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Followers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page in Russian were informed two weeks ago that he had an important announcement for them. It wasn’t a promise for after the September 17 election but a project about to begin: “Today we opened a new public housing complex for the elderly – mostly new immigrants and Holocaust survivors. This time – in the heart of Tel Aviv.”
The post was accompanied by a picture showing Netanyahu touring an unidentified building with others including Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant and Likud’s campaign manager for the Russian-speaking community, former Yisrael Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov.
This sensational news received largely skeptical responses. Many wondered where the building was and why its exact location hadn’t been divulged. Others even doubted the existence of the building and wanted to see the lucky people who had received an apartment there. And some chose sarcasm. “Ilatov should have been appointed an adviser a long time ago,” wrote one man who shared the Facebook post. “He’s been an adviser for two weeks and now they’ve built a home for old people. By the end of the election campaign he’ll build another 300 like this!”
It turns out that the news was true – but only partly. The building is being built by the Amigur public housing company on Tel Aviv’s Hashalom Road and is being funded by the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Jewish Agency – though it’s actually an expansion of an old Amigur project that was renovated recently.
It really is intended for the elderly, some of whom are new immigrants, but the building is far from opening. Construction began only a few months ago and is scheduled to be finished in April – and only sometime after that will people begin to move in. Not a single voter will be living there at the time of next month’s election.
The story of the housing complex has been pretty much forgotten, Likud isn’t really mentioning it anymore, and that should come as no surprise. In general, the issues Russian-speaking Israelis are interested in include public housing for the elderly, civil marriage, recognition of their Jewishness, pensions for ‘90s immigrants who haven’t worked enough years to receive adequate pensions, and the opening of grocery stores on Shabbat.
Both Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu have had a hard time adding these issues to their campaigns. The reason is simple: Neither of the rival parties has chalked up any impressive achievements on any of these issues for the past 20 years. That’s why the election campaign, lacking substance, has turned personal, sometimes low, and filled with imprecision on both sides. It’s a war of images, but an achievement in this war by either side could decide the next government.
The Soviet-born Lieberman began his campaign with the advantage: his image as the “protector of the nonreligious” who in May prevented the formation of a government between the right and ultra-Orthodox – with the emphasis on the ultra-Orthodox – and got the September election called. At first, voters shifted toward Lieberman, says Viacheslav Konstantinov, a statistician and demography expert who studies the voting patterns of the Russian-speaking community. “After that, there was movement back,” he said. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Weekly Summary: 10th Week Of Second Israeli Election Campaign: Manfred Gerstenfeld, Arutz Sheva, Aug. 9, 2019 — The lists of candidates for the 17 September elections were submitted to the Central Election Committee by August 1. As this concludes the first stage of the election campaign it is a suitable moment to take stock of the campaign situation as it has developed.
Netanyahu’s Boxed In and Could Be Finished at Next Election: Gwen Ackerman, Bloomberg, Aug. 7, 2019 — Time may be running out for Benjamin Netanyahu. An unprecedented loyalty oath suggests just how rocky his standing might be.
Netanyahu Begins Efforts To Cannibalize Right: Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 8, 2019 — An article Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on the cover of Israel Hayom on Wednesday ruling out the formation of a national-unity government was the beginning of the prime minister’s campaign to poach votes from the Likud’s satellite parties, sources close to the Likud leader said.
Morton Klein and the Future of American Zionism: Armin Rosen, Tablet, Apr. 10, 2019 — Earlier this year an anonymous person or persons sent out a set of documents about Morton Klein, the longtime president of the Zionist Organization of America, privately by email and then publicly on Twitter.