Daily Briefing Vol # 4531


Why Israel Still Loves Netanyahu: Shmuel Rosner, NYT, Apr. 10, 2019 — There are more than a few reasons to dislike Benjamin Netanyahu.
What Americans Need To Understand About Israel’s Election Results: Liel Leibovitz, Tablet, April 10, 2019 — The votes have yet to be counted in full—more than 200,000 are still to be tallied, which could make a big difference for parties like the New Right struggling to make it into the Knesset—but a few truths about Israel’s election are hard to ignore:
IsraelVotes2019 | What Should Be the Priorities for the New Government?: Yossi Kuperwasser. Fathom Journal, April 2019 Includes Video. — Governing is first and foremost about prioritising, so when Israelis go to the polls, they are in fact choosing between priorities, a product of ideology, values, capabilities, challenges, political constraints and leadership.
Ultra-Orthodox Parties Were This Year’s Real Winners, Here’s Why: Aaron Rabinowitz, Haaretz, Apr. 11, 2019 — Just before midnight on Tuesday, Shas chairman Arye Dery entered a Jerusalem auditorium, evoking an ecstatic response among the hundreds of activists waiting for him.

On Topic Links

Netanyahu’s Remarkable Achievement: Editorial, The New York Sun | April 10, 2019 — The likelihood that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be given the mandate to form the next government in Israel is a remarkable achievement.
Netanyahu’s Triumph: Editorial, WSJ, Apr. 10, 2019 — The veteran Prime Minister ran as a statesman indispensable to Israel’s security.
How Israel’s Election Could Impact U.S. Diplomacy in the Middle East: Gerald F. Seib, WSJ, Apr. 10, 2019, Video — Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu faces an important election Tuesday. If he wins, there will be some changes in the path forward for the U.S. diplomatic effort in the region.
With Netanyahu’s Lawyers Still Unpaid, Pre-indictment Hearing Likely to Be Delayed: Revital Hovel, Haaretz, Apr 10, 2019 — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing is likely to be delayed, as his lawyers are refusing to pick up the evidence from the prosecution until they get paid.

Shmuel Rosner
NYT, Apr. 10, 2019

There are more than a few reasons to dislike Benjamin Netanyahu. He can be smug and vindictive. He can be ruthless when going up against political enemies. He is likely to be indicted on corruption charges related to three separate cases, which, if they are accurate, indicate that he is greedy, vain and manipulative.

And yet last night, this dislikable prime minister appears to have won his fifth — yes, fifth! — term in office. If he forms a government in the coming weeks, as he is expected to, Mr. Netanyahu will surpass Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion as the country’s longest serving prime minister. How is this possible?

To be fair, this was a close race. The main opposition party, Blue and White, is expected to get as many seats in the Knesset as Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party. The coalition that he forms will probably have little more than the minimum 61 seats behind it.

Given Mr. Netanyahu’s unsavory qualities, many people were intent on defeating him. Just a few months ahead of the election, Blue and White, a new centrist alliance led by three decorated generals and a former security minister, came together with little purpose other than to present an alternative to Mr. Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009. They campaigned fiercely — but civilly. At rallies, General Benny Gantz, the head of Blue and White, made it a habit to thank the prime minister for his service to the nation; this was a mirror image of Mr. Netanyahu’s and Likud’s name-calling and personal attacks. But civility and centrism weren’t enough to carry the day.

Mr. Netanyahu may be cynical, but he doesn’t rig elections. He wins fairly, often against great odds, including, this time, the coming indictments against him and an understandable fatigue with his decade-old leadership, not to mention various other inter- and intraparty squabbles. But he seems to have succeeded again this time for the same reason he has dominated Israeli politics for most of the past 25 years: because when it comes to Israel’s national security, he is a leader with strategy and vision. And that is what many voters want.

In the mid-1990s, during his first term as prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu rejected the assumptions underlying the peace process with the Palestinians. At the time this was considered daringly right wing. Today, it is considered common sense in Israel, including by Mr. Netanyahu’s political rivals. Likewise, Mr. Netanyahu was one of the first politicians to recognize Iran as the main threat to Israel’s survival, and fought fiercely in international forums to get the world’s attention to this problem. Today, this view is also widely appreciated across the Israeli political spectrum.

The list goes on: In 2005, he warned that withdrawing Israeli troops from Gaza would end in disaster — and it did. He successfully resisted eight years of the Obama administration’s pressure to offer concessions to the Palestinians. He quickly forged an alliance with President Trump that has already proved to be of great benefit to Israel. In two years, Mr. Trump has moved the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and on Monday, designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.

Blue and White tried to make this election a referendum on Mr. Netanyahu. Its campaign focused largely on the prime minister’s personal failings, the corruption accusations against him, and exhaustion with his leadership. But in Israel, security trumps all other issues. (A poll ahead of the election found voters rated security as their No. 1 concern.)

Blue and White thought that by placing former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff at the top of the party list, it could counter Mr. Netanyahu’s image and experience as a defender of Israel, diplomatically and militarily. But the public still showed that it trusts the incumbent more.

Has Mr. Netanyahu ever been wrong when it comes to security? The truth is, many Israelis will find it hard to think of an example. And this goes not just for voters for the Likud party, or even the right-wing parties that are expected to join Likud in the next government, but even for Blue and White, which largely echoed Mr. Netanyahu’s positions on important foreign policy and national security questions.

Those Israelis who do want Mr. Netanyahu gone — and yes, there are many — want him gone because of his personality, his coarsening of Israeli political discourse, his pettiness and, maybe, his corruption. Those Israelis who want Mr. Netanyahu to stay — and the election makes clear that there are many — want him to stay despite those same characteristics. They can forgive the prime minister for often being a small man, because they appreciate him as a great leader.

Liel Leibovitz
Tablet, April 10, 2019

The votes have yet to be counted in full—more than 200,000 are still to be tallied, which could make a big difference for parties like the New Right struggling to make it into the Knesset—but a few truths about Israel’s election are hard to ignore:

The Polls Really Don’t Work: At 10 p.m. on election night, Mina Tzemach, Israel’s most prominent pollster, unveiled her eagerly anticipated prediction, putting Benny Gantz far ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu. It didn’t take long to realize the extent of her error, or, for that matter, the stunning inaccuracy of nearly every other poll that shaped and informed the debate leading up to election day. Moshe Feiglin, whose Zehut party was slated to score as many as seven seats, was out; Avigdor Lieberman, who was left for dead by most prognosticators, won bigly. The reason may be as much technological as it is political: Reaching most of their respondents online or via cellphone, pollsters are inherently biased toward overrepresenting the sort of people who are comfortable taking an online survey or chatting to a stranger about politics. As Tuesday’s results showed, vast swaths of the population—Haredis, say, or immigrants from the former Soviet Union—had far less in the pre-election pas-de-deux of opinion surveys, which is why they ended up turning out in far larger numbers than anyone predicted, reelecting Lieberman and giving haredi parties a very strong showing with 16 seats. This fact is unlikely to change, making polling, long a staple of the political game, an increasingly questionable tool in a society where many reject technology’s pervasive reach.

Tel Aviv Really Is a Bubble: In Ramat Aviv, the city’s posh northern neighborhood—home to its university and much of the media class who edit newspapers, anchor newscasts, and publish books—the center-left bloc, comprised of Blue-White, Meretz, and Labor, won a whopping 80% of the votes. Four point three miles to the southeast, in the city’s struggling Shchunat Hatikvah neighborhood, Likud and Shas won 64% of the votes, a much more accurate reflection of the national zeitgeist. The same is true in virtually every other corner of the country: In Caesarea, the wealthy seaside town where the Netanyahus have a home, most people voted for Gantz; in Rosh Ha’Ayin, the working-class small town where Gantz lives, most people voted for Netanyahu.

The Old Labor-Left Really Is Dead: In 1992, the year before the Oslo Accords were introduced with much fanfare, Labor and Meretz, the twin pillars of the Zionist left, won a staggering 66 seats in the Knesset, giving them a strong mandate to pursue their peace plans. This week, Labor and Meretz eked out a combined 10 seats, far less than the haredi parties, which won 16, and exactly the same as the two Arab parties, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad. Considering the fact that Gantz’s party, Kachol-Lavan, had very few, if any, substantive disagreements with Netanyahu’s Likud, the meaning of this is stark and simple: The left, as it has existed for generations, is thoroughly, unequivocally, and irreversibly dead. Having run for decades on poses rather than policies, it failed to produce a coherent answer to the question that was foremost in most Israelis’ minds, namely what to do when the so-called partner for peace, the Palestinian Authority, giddily and unabashedly cheered on and paid for the murder of innocent Israelis. Instead, the left talked about identity politics—a favorite of Meretz’s new leader, Tamar Zandberg—and invested more and more of its communal resources in addressing audiences in Berlin, London, and New York but not in Netanya, Petach Tikva, and Be’er Sheva. It’s likely that the slew of NGOs that make up the contemporary left’s beating heart—many with robust funding from European governments and other foreign sources like George Soros’ Open Society Foundations—will continue to campaign anywhere but at home, with the political parties that support them continuing to pay the price… [To read the full article, click thee following LINK – Ed.]

Yossi Kuperwasser
Fathom Journal, April 2019

Governing is first and foremost about prioritising, so when Israelis go to the polls, they are in fact choosing between priorities, a product of ideology, values, capabilities, challenges, political constraints and leadership. Whereas the Right and the Left in Israel try to shape the debate as if it is between different priorities regarding the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the new Blue and White party has no coherent policy on the issue. It claims that there is no Right or Left anymore and that the debate is about the kind of leadership Israel needs rather than where it will lead. In fact, most of those who intend to vote for “Blue and White” come from the centre-Left circles so they likely oppose the Right’s approach about priorities.
The Israeli government’s priorities after the election will of course reflect their results, mainly in the Palestinian context, where Israel will have to examine the American peace proposal and adopt a policy towards it. And while prioritising has historically been centred on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in this election, even as the new US peace plan is about to be presented to the parties, the new ‘Blue and White’ party seemingly has no coherent policy on that issue.

Israel’s response to the plan will reflect its commitment to seek a peace that guarantees its security and so will probably be ‘Yes, but’. At the same time, Israel will have to:
Clarify its red lines, namely that no lasting peace can be reached without: a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people (with a democratic regime); a security plan that leaves the Jordan valley under Israeli responsibility and allows the IDF to deal with threats from the West Bank; and ending the hate indoctrination and incitement that inculcate support for terror and commitment to a Palestinian state ‘from the river to the sea’ in Palestinian minds.
If the Palestinians reject the plan, Israel together with the US administration should continue conveying the message that there is a price for Palestinian intransigence. They should seek to try and convince the Palestinians for the need to change their erroneous narrative and accept the existence of a Jewish people that has a sovereign history in this disputed holy land as well as accepting the need to share this land with them.
Continue with the current policies vis-à-vis Gaza and the status quo in the West Bank These are solid and reasonable policies in light of the complexities of the situation. If the threat from Gaza rises Israel will have to be prepared to take harsher measures to protect its citizens, including forcing Hamas to give up its control of the Strip.
Refrain from moving towards unilateral concessions disguised as ‘separation’ from the Palestinians. This is a dangerous idea as it ignores the Palestinian narrative and may lead to greater Palestinian terror while simultaneously causing higher tensions within Israeli society. The probability that any new government will support such policy is very low… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Aaron Rabinowitz
Haaretz, Apr. 11, 2019

Just before midnight on Tuesday, Shas chairman Arye Dery entered a Jerusalem auditorium, evoking an ecstatic response among the hundreds of activists waiting for him. They roared out his name, making it difficult for him to reach the stage. Exit polls were predicting that Shas had won seven Knesset seats, an impressive achievement for the Mizrahi-based party, particularly in light of earlier predictions that it would be significantly reduced in strength. At that point there were also some optimists who predicted an even sweeter final outcome.

“A few months ago, there was a second round of municipal elections and we were very tense,” Dery said in his speech. “I met [religious authority] Chacham Shalom Cohen a few hours before the end, when the polls were predicting that [secular mayoral candidate] Ofer Berkovitch had won. The rabbi told me to wait, that things would change, and indeed, Moshe Leon won in the end. I was with him now, and he said that in the end we’ll get more than seven seats.” Indeed, when the real rather than the predicted results started coming in, Shas seemed to have won eight seats, in what seems to be one of the greatest achievements the party’s almost legendary leader has pulled off since the party was founded.

The party’s Ashkenazi sister party, United Torah Judaism, woke up to a wondrous morning, having garnered, as of this writing, eight seats, two more than in the outgoing Knesset. The achievement of the two ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) parties is notable in light of the alarm campaign waged by the Likud, which was trying to wrest voters away, and in light of concerns about voters slipping away to support Moshe Feiglin.

Looking at the numbers shows that there are several key reasons for this success. One is the large number of votes that were lost to parties not passing the electoral threshold, another being the return home of voters who had previously supported Dery’s rival Eli Yishai and his Yahad party. Moreover, the success reflected the growing Haredi population. An examination by Dr. Gilad Malach of the Israel Democracy Institute showed that the number of votes given to parties that did not pass the threshold doubled from 4 percent to 8 percent of the total in this election, which strengthened the Haredi parties. “This lowered the number of votes required per Knesset seat, with Haredi parties gaining,” Malach told Haaretz. This still depends, however, on the final tally and the fate of the New Right party.

The percentage of voters choosing United Torah Judaism was 5.9 percent, up from 5 percent in the last election, which should be translated into one more seat, but due to the large number of lost votes it actually amounted to two more seats. In absolute terms, the party garnered tens of thousands more votes than previously, increasing from 210,000 to 240,000, possibly rising by another 5,000 by the end of vote counting. Shas increased by 0.5 percent, reflecting half a seat, but here too the lost votes gave it one additional Knesset seat. In the last election Shas had 240,000 supporters, while this time it’s expected to finish with 260,000.

This increase is impressive in light of the reduction in voter turnout among Haredi communities. Thus, for example, turnout in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak dropped from 80 to 77 percent; in Elad it dropped from 88 to 84 percent; in Beitar Ilit it went down from 84.5 to 81 percent while in Modi’in Ilit it went from 89 to 84.5 percent this election.

Another number Malach points to is the return of Yahad voters to Shas. Estimates are that this amounted to 20,000 votes, split between Shas and UTJ. In the last municipal elections in Bnei Brak, Yahad garnered 7,500 votes, but overall, in Haredi cities there is a decline in the number of voters for parties that are not Shas or UTJ.

In Bnei Brak, this number declined from 17 percent in the last election to 12 percent this time. The corresponding figures in Elad were 25 percent and 17 percent; in Beitar Ilit they were 17 percent and 10 percent, and in Modi’in Ilit the number dropped from 7 percent to 2 percent. According to Malach, these numbers correspond to the numbers of Yahad voters in the municipal election.

Further analysis showed that the number of votes for secular parties in Haredi centers remained the same or slightly increased, but, in contrast to forecasts, the absolute majority of Haredi voters voted for UTJ or Shas, testifying to the strengthening of the rabbis. The increase in Shas’s strength came mainly in Haredi cities, not among non-Haredi communities in Israel’s periphery. Malach found that in Ofakim, Be’er Sheva, Beit Shean, Bat Yam, Tiberias and Migdal Ha’emek, Shas maintained its power, although in some places it declined somewhat. “In light of Likud siphoning off voters, this is quite an achievement,” notes Malach.

The natural growth among these communities also contributed to these numbers. Malach’s calculations show that in each election, UTJ should grow by 0.5 percent. In fact, it grew from 5 to 5.9 percent of the total.

The bottom line is that the cries of alarm among both Haredi parties in the last days of the campaign succeeded in increasing voter turnout. “They said Arye Dery was finished but we showed everyone that we’re stronger – it’s inconceivable,” said a Shas source. He added that Dery’s warnings as well as the tight embrace of Netanyahu, with the line that a vote for Dery is a vote for Netanyahu, were effective. “If I hadn’t taken this line, we would have ended up with four seats,” said Dery. “Were it not for Bibi’s campaign we would have had 11 seats.”

The pressure he was under during these last months was evident in something he said at the end of the event. “If I had brought only four or five seats I would have resigned.” It seems he’s learned the lesson and is already planning for the next election. “Everything has been difficult for us since the beginning. We have to be active on the ground over the next four years, with branches everywhere, being receptive to people so that next time we don’t have to work so hard.”