Netanyahu’s Political and Legal Challenges in the Next Elections: David Makovsky, Washington Institute,  Jan. 22, 2019 — Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes to capture his fifth term in the April 9 national elections, and polls show he has a clear lead over other candidates, retaining support from approximately a quarter of the electorate.

Israel’s 2019 election: A battle of two Benjamins: David Horovitz, 2019, The Times of Israel, Dec. 27, 2019— It is beyond implausible that Avi Gabbay, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union, is going to win April’s elections.

The Big Questions Of The 2019 Israeli Election Campaign: Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2018 Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said in 2002: “There are known unknowns…. But there are also unknown unknowns.”

Why Naftali Bennett Decapitated the Settler Right and What it Means For Israel’s Future: Yair Rosenberg, Tablet   January 15, 2019 — On Dec. 29, Naftali Bennett, the charismatic leader of Israel’s Jewish Home party—the vanguard of the country’s settler religious right—decided to blow it all up.

On Topic Links

 Latest Israeli Polls Show a United Gantz-Lapid Party Would Oust Netanyahu From Officel: Benjamin Kerstein, Algemeiner, Jan. 30, 2019

Israel: Former Army Commander Gantz Finally Speaks…….: Manfred Gerstenfeld, The Gerstenfeld Report, The Tundra Tabloids, Feb. 1, 2019

Can Israel’s Anglos be Galvanized Into a Powerful Voting Force?  Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 10, 2019

Think About It:  The Human Makeup of the 21st Knesset:, Susan Hattis Rolef, The Jerusalem Post,  January 27, 2019 


  Netanyahu’s Political and Legal Challenges in the Next Elections                               

David Makovsky                                                                        Washington Institute, Jan. 22, 2019

 Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes to capture his fifth term in the April 9 national elections, and polls show he has a clear lead over other candidates, retaining support from approximately a quarter of the electorate. Yet it is insufficient to merely have the most votes; to govern, the winner must subsequently cobble together a majority of at least 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu is also under the shadow of potential corruption indictments pending a hearing that would occur after the elections.

Regarding policy issues, Netanyahu is accustomed to framing election campaigns in a manner that highlights his security successes against Israel’s enemies while raising questions about whether his rivals can stand up to international pressure for concessions on the Palestinian issue. In seeking to emphasize his security credentials in the past couple weeks, he broke from Israel’s policy of ambiguity on military operations against Iranian activities in Syria, spurring the opposition to charge that he is putting the country at risk in order to maximize political gain. Last week, outgoing Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot called these claims baseless, stating, “There were never any political concerns behind my decisions; nor were there in the prime minister’s considerations.” In any case, it is safe to assume that Netanyahu will continue playing security as his main card in the upcoming race. The question is how he will frame the elections if the corruption allegations come to center stage.

The campaign’s trajectory may well hinge on whether Israel’s attorney general—former Netanyahu cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit—issues indictments against the prime minister before April 9. Netanyahu faces three lengthy and ongoing corruption investigations. One centers on whether the telecom company Bezeq won preferable tax treatment for allowing the Prime Minister’s Office to guide press coverage on its Walla website. Another centers on allegations that Netanyahu agreed to push legislation limiting the circulation of Israel Hayom—a free daily newspaper that boasts the country’s largest readership—in exchange for more favorable coverage from its competitor Yediot Aharonot. A third case asks whether the estimated $180,000-$200,000 in champagne and cigars he received from a friend who held a minority interest in an Israeli television station constitutes a bribe. (There is a fourth case stemming from former defense minister Moshe Yaalon’s allegation that Netanyahu sought to benefit his brother-in-law, the attorney for a German company selling submarines to Israel. So far, though, authorities have not formally echoed this claim or hinted at imminent charges.)

Mandelblit may be taking action on one or more of these matters soon. The police officials who conducted the fact-gathering investigation are known to favor indictment in the first three cases. Moreover, when the attorney general met with his predecessors and former Supreme Court members in recent weeks, all of them reportedly urged him to act before the election, arguing that the public has a right to know his findings before going to the polls. Specifically, they counseled him to act before March in order to minimize claims that he is proceeding on the eve of balloting. The question is whether he would pursue the gravest accusation—bribery—or issue lesser charges.

The belief that Mandelblit is leaning toward indictment also stems from Netanyahu’s primetime address on January 7, when he called for televised debates against three former confidantes who are now witnesses for the state. Although authorities predictably rejected that demand, analysts contend that it demonstrates just how anxious the prime minister has become about the looming indictments. The question of whether indictments alone would legally compel him to leave office is still contested, but a conviction would clearly require him to step down.

If Netanyahu decides that pre-election charges are inevitable, he has several potential courses of action. Will he try to soften the blow by pre-empting Mandelblit and pleading his case to the public on each allegation? Or will he sidestep the details and assure voters that he is prepared to fight the charges in a post-election hearing or court proceedings? Alternatively, he may double down on his claim that authorities are pursuing charges based on mere animus toward him—a stretch given that Mandelblit was once his policy aide. In recent years, the mindset of Netanyahu’s Likud Party has veered sharply from the nineteenth-century European liberal outlook that defined its forebears, instead promoting a narrative of persecution by an elite legal establishment that supposedly thumbs its nose at the populist faction. A recent Likud billboard singled out a few leading journalists, declaring that the people will decide Israel’s future, not the media—a signal that the prime minister may intend to intensify his rhetoric against the press.

If Netanyahu manages to win the elections despite these challenges, he may seek to shape his next coalition based on who would be most loyal to him once indictments and court cases proceed in the coming months. In that case, he would likely pursue a coalition similar to the one he has now, using right-of-center and ultraorthodox parties to maintain his parliamentary majority rather than reaching out to parties on his left. (The prospects and potential electoral strategies of left-wing parties and other challengers will be discussed in future PolicyWatches.) ..…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


      Israel’s 2019 election: A battle of two Benjamins

David Horovitz

                              The Times of Israel, Dec. 27, 2019


It is beyond implausible that Avi Gabbay, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union, is going to win April’s elections. Tzipi Livni, the formal head of the opposition in the just-dissolved Knesset, certainly isn’t going to win either. Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid, has only a slightly better chance. Naftali Bennett, leader of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home, knows his ambitions will have to wait a while longer. Moshe Ya’alon, the former chief of staff who is setting up his own party, could struggle even to clear the Knesset threshold if he runs alone, let alone become prime minister. In short, we could save the Israeli economy the NIS 1.8 billion ($480 million) that somebody in the Treasury has computed the elections will cost us, spare ourselves 100 days of bickering and demagoguery, and just declare Benjamin Netanyahu the winner again right here and now. Were it not, that is, for another Benjamin.


Labor, under whatever name it competes, is unelectable so long as mainstream Israel sees no prospect of the Palestinians accepting viable terms for coexistence. Yesh Atid looks incapable of drawing enough support from center-right and center-left to challenge Netanyahu’s Likud. And nobody on the right comes close to rivaling Netanyahu’s popularity and political mastery. Only Benny Gantz, our last but one chief of the IDF General Staff, poses a threat to Netanyahu’s extraordinary hold, scoring fairly high in Israel’s somewhat unreliable snap opinion polls. And that may be simply because most Israelis don’t know exactly what he stands for.


We love our chiefs of staff so long as they are in uniform. Of course, we do. It is to the chiefs of staff that we ultimately give thanks for keeping most our children safe during their years of mandatory military service. But that universal appreciation and aura of authority can dissipate quickly when the military chiefs enter politics. With every speech a chief of staff-turned-politician delivers, every clear position he takes, he inevitably disappoints, annoys and alienates another swath of the voting public.


Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak showed that it is possible to transition from head of the army to head of the government, but the rise and fall of Amnon Lipkin-Shahak underlines how easily a military star can fall. Retiring from the army in 1998, the hitherto beloved Lipkin-Shahak quickly entered politics, set up his own party, and flew to the top of the opinion polls. By the time elections came around the following year, however, he had been so battered on the campaign trail that, far from winning the leadership of the State of Israel, he had somehow contrived to lose the leadership of his own party.

Tall, composed and soft-spoken, Gantz bears more of a superficial resemblance to Lipkin-Shahak than to the blunt and charismatic Rabin or the spectacularly self-confident Barak. But only now, over the next three-and-a-bit months, are we really going to get to know him and learn what he stands for.

Benny Gantz became chief of staff in 2011 almost by accident; he had already retired from the IDF at the end of a glittering, three-decade military career, when he was called back because the original appointee, Yoav Gallant, became embroiled in a minor scandal concerning unauthorized construction work at his home. Appointed by PM Netanyahu and DM Barak, Gantz is generally regarded as having been moderately successful in the position, having presided over the inconclusive 2012 and 2014 mini-wars against Hamas in Gaza.

In an interview in 2016, a few months after his retirement, Gantz said of the Iranian nuclear threat, “I refuse to be hysterical on this issue,” and that remark rather sets the tone for Benny Gantz as far as we know him to date: Not so much mild as temperate. Not arrogant but assured. “I know Israel’s strength. I know Israel’s defensive capabilities. I know Israel’s offensive capabilities,” he continued in that interview, “and I am absolutely confident in our security.”


“We are an army that uses force not violence,” he said quite elegantly in another interview, with Haaretz in 2012, early in his term as chief of staff. He has sounded sober on the Palestinian issue, criticizing the Palestinian Authority’s incitement against Israel, and highlighting that PA self-interest lies at the heart of Ramallah’s security coordination with Israel..…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



          The Big Questions of The 2019 Israeli Election Campaign                                                                                        Lahav Harkov      

                                                     Jerusalem Post, Dec. 28, 2019


Former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said in 2002: “There are known unknowns…. But there are also unknown unknowns.” Rumsfeld was mocked at the time, but he was making a point that is relevant to the upcoming early election. There are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered – known unknowns – and there are sure to be surprises – unknown unknowns – on the way.

Here are some of the questions that will be answered in the next few months:

When will Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit decide whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and what will he decide? These are key questions that will cloud this entire election. The consensus in the political field is that Netanyahu chose to hold an election in April because he thought he could get – before Mandelblit will make a decision. Netanyahu hopes that if he is re-elected, Mandelblit will be more hesitant to take a step that could depose a leader that the Israeli people just chose. But Mandelblit is not beholden to Netanyahu, and he really could make any decision at any time.


If it happens before the election, the question will be what Mandelblit decides. At this point, few think the attorney-general won’t indict Netanyahu at all, but will the charges be fraud and breach of trust, or the more serious charge of bribery? Regardless of what happens, the probes will continue to be on the agenda. They could tip the scales away from Netanyahu to his opposition, or it could strengthen Netanyahu’s victimhood narrative, in which he says the police are biased and out to get him.


What kinds of campaigns will the parties run? There’s a lot of talk about this election possibly being the dirtiest in a long time. But going too dirty turns the public off, studies have shown. The parties will have to find the right balance between negative and positive campaigning. If the Left once again focuses on “anyone but Bibi,” it may, once again, serve only to strengthen Netanyahu. What policies are they bringing to the table?


Parties on the Right seem to be listing their achievements – which is easier for them, since they were in power. But at a meeting with settler leaders this week, Netanyahu already started relaying messages that the Left would be a disaster for the country, and he has no problem delegitimizing the law enforcement authorities that are on his case.


Whither Benny Gantz? This is a very open question because we really don’t know much about the former IDF chief of staff’s politics. He hasn’t spoken to the media, so we don’t know what he stands for or what his plans are. Despite this, he has consistently polled well, often better than Yesh Atid or the Zionist Union. And when he’s matched up with those parties in the polls, they soar into second place – but the Likud is still always in first with around 30 seats. In any case, his party is called Hosen L’Yisrael or Strength for Israel, but we don’t know its platform. We don’t know if it will merge with an existing party. We also don’t know who else will be in his party.

This week, Channel 2 reported that he plans on teaming up with former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon – who also says he’s founding a party – to found an ex-chiefs of staff party focusing on security. That would be a party of a general who doesn’t talk and a general who doesn’t stop talking.

There’s another centrist mystery party, and that’s Gesher, led by MK Orly Levy-Abecassis. We learned that Levy-Abecassis was adopting the party name used by her father, David Levy, in the ’90s. She’s only spoken in platitudes about her party being a bridge – the meaning of “gesher” – for social gaps, and she’s long focused on helping the poorest Israelis as an MK, but we don’t know much by way of a solid platform. And we don’t know who will be in her party, except that half the list will be female.

Will center-left parties merge to form a bloc? In the previous election, the merger between Labor and the Tzipi Livni Party to form the Zionist Union made the race against the Likud much tighter than it had been before. In the end, the Likud won by six seats, but there is a logic to Livni’s daily calls for the Center and Left to unite. Their bloc is so fragmented at the moment that no party even comes close to the Likud on its own.…[To Read the Full Article Click the Follow the Link—Ed.



                   Why Naftali Bennett Decapitated the Settler Right

                                  and What it Means for Israel’s Future

                                                Yair Rosenberg

                                                      Tablet   January 15, 2019


On Dec. 29, Naftali Bennett, the charismatic leader of Israel’s Jewish Home party—the vanguard of the country’s settler religious right—decided to blow it all up. At a press conference alongside Jewish Home’s No. 3 lawmaker, Ayelet Shaked, he announced that he was leaving to form a new party called “The New Right.” This move, which effectively decapitated the religious right on the eve of Israel’s elections, came as a shock to the political system, but it should not have. It was, on the contrary, inevitable.


Indeed, while Bennett announced his departure just last month, his exit had been written on the wall since Israel’s last election—specifically, since Jan. 29, 2015. It was on that day that it became clear that Bennett would never become prime minister as long as he was hamstrung by his party’s provincial base.


What happened on Jan. 29, 2015? On that day, Eli Ohana, one of Israel’s most decorated soccer stars, was forced to withdraw from Jewish Home’s electoral slate. The popular Ohana had been personally recruited by Bennett, who hoped to use his celebrity to telegraph a new face for the religious right: a political place not simply for religiously observant Ashkenazim, but also for Mizrahi Jews like Ohana who respected Jewish tradition but did not adhere to its religious laws. But despite a celebratory rollout of Ohana’s candidacy, the party faithful were not enthused. Top rabbis declared that they would not vote for Jewish Home while Ohana was on the parliamentary ticket. The soccer star and his family came under withering personal attacks. Ohana withdrew just three days after declaring his candidacy. When the dust settled, Bennett’s gambit to mainstream his party had backfired resoundingly, underscoring Jewish Home’s long-standing narrowness rather than showcasing a newfound broad-mindedness.


The Ohana incident essentially cemented the political ceiling on Bennett’s prime ministerial ambitions: so long as he was beholden to Jewish Home’s base, he would never achieve the necessary escape velocity from its most revanchist elements to succeed Benjamin Netanyahu. To do that, Bennett would have to leave Jewish Home behind.


The marriage between Bennett and the religious right had always been an uneasy one. The hip hi-tech entrepreneur was married to a non-Orthodox Jew, had no problem with LGBT people, and generally presented as more modern in his attitudes than many of the constituents he purported to represent. The settler right’s rabbis tolerated Bennett because he made a good frontman for their movement. As a yarmulke-wearing hi-tech millionaire who had served in Israel’s special forces, he was the embodiment of the religious Zionist dream. But while the party’s traditionalists turned to the untraditional Bennett in the hopes that he would win them votes, they did not always give him the latitude to do so.


At first, it looked like Bennett’s rebrand might just work. As soon as he assumed control of several religious parties in 2012, Bennett did everything he could to refashion them into an appealing mainstream political vehicle. He brought in Ayelet Shaked, a fellow former aide to Netanyahu who also happened to be completely secular, and made her the poster woman for his new, inclusive right-wing movement. Instead of arguing for settlements by citing scripture, Bennett began recasting them as a security necessity. Ceding the land that happened to be occupied by his constituents, he argued, would simply invite more terrorism, just as withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon had led to the encroachment of Hamas and Hezbollah…. [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


 On Topic Links


Latest Israeli Polls Show a United Gantz-Lapid Party Would Oust Netanyahu From Office: Benjamin Kerstein, Algemeiner, Jan. 30, 2019— Polls taken a day after former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s well-received debut speech as leader of the Israel Resilience party showed that a merger between Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party could oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Israel: Former Army Commander Gantz Finally Speaks……. Manfred Gerstenfeld, The Gerstenfeld Report, The Tundra Tabloids, Feb. 1, 2019— At the end of the fifth week of the election campaign the leader of the new Israel Resilience party, Benny Gantz, finally spoke in public about his political program.

Can Israel’s Anglos be Galvanized Into a Powerful Voting Force? Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 10, 2019 — he 250,000 immigrants of voting age from English-speaking countries in the Interior Ministry database are more than the amount of votes Shas received in the 2015 election, when the party won seven seats.

Think About It:  The Human Makeup of the 21st Knesset Susan Hattis Rolef, The Jerusalem Post, January 27, 2019 — Analyses of the elections and their results usually concentrate on the questions of who will form the next government after the elections, and who will be members of the inevitable coalition (Israel has never had a government that is not a coalition). No one talks about the human makeup of the next Knesset, which will determine how the new Knesset will look and operate.