Israeli Elections 2019 Version Two
The feeling remained until the very final moment — at least for the TV news, including the one on which I appeared — Everyone was waiting for a last-minute surprise. However, the surprise was that there were no surprises. In the end, the Kahanist party could not reach an agreement with the United Right party led by Ayelet Shaked. Now, both they (Otzma Yehudit) and Feglin’s right-wing Zehut party are expected not to reach the minimum required threshold of votes.
Although I expect there will be some changes within the blocs from the results presented in last night’s latest poll, the overall picture is apparent. As of right now, the right-wing religious parties are projected to earn 54 seats. The center-left-wing bloc, together with the Arab parties are predicted to receive 55 seats. Avigdor Lieberman’s party is expected to win 11 seats. If Lieberman keeps to his word, then he will insist on a national unity government.
The big question is whether or not the Likud will oust Netanyahu. If they don’t, and Lieberman does not cave, then who knows what will happen. Recent polls show the Israeli public overwhelmingly wants a coalition between the Likud and Blue & White, without any religious parties. As I wrote in Newsweek a few weeks ago, the sight of Rabbi Rafi Peretz as Education Minister clarified for many that they do not want the religious in charge of education in the country. Furthermore, the state of our hospitals after over ten years of having Ya’acov Litzman from the United Torah party effectively in charge 80% of the time, made it clear that we do not want the ultra-Orthodox in charge of our healthcare.
The issue that galvanized much of the country eight years ago — i.e. whether ultra-Orthodox citizens should be forced to serve in the army has become less salient to most Israelis. The existential issue has become to ensure the ultra-Orthodox are not in a position to impose their value system on the rest of the entire country. Therefore, I believe any party that does not follow the will of the people, will eventually pay the price at the ballot — if not this time, then next.
We are close to the deadline for the submission of lists for the upcoming election, and the ultimate party configurations are finally becoming clear. It looks like Amir Peretz is adamant about his refusal to merge with the Democratic Camp. Peretz, who aspires to attract disenfranchised, right-leaning voters in the periphery, has chosen to risk the election, in the hope that enough Labor voters will not abandon the Party and cause it to drop below the minimum voting threshold. At the moment, polls indicate that that will not happen. Nevertheless, the choice not to unite with other like-minded parties remains a tremendous risk, one I believe is largely based on ego, and not hard political calculations.
So far, on the right-wing, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have effectively left the party that they ran HaYamin HaChadash (the New Right) and returned to the HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home Party), except now Shaked is the leader of the party. To date, attempts to unite HaBayit HaYehudi with the far-right Kahanist Otsma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party have failed, despite the best efforts of Netanyahu and his proxies. The same goes for the party led by Moshe Feiglin who has already registered independently. .
Avigdor Lieberman launched his party's campaign tonight, which is centered on religious freedom, and stopping the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox from imposing their will on the rest of the country. Lieberman’s message is resonating. He continues to poll at ten seats (double the number his party received in the last election). Tonight, Lieberman made it clear his recommendation to President will be the first party that agrees to form a unity government. At the moment, the Blue and White party has stated that a unity government is what they want; an arrangement the Likud has publicly declared they oppose. Which means as things stand now Lieberman will recommend Gantz who will have the first chance to form a government.
At this point, it appears the final outcome of the election will all come down to whether the Likud is willing to dump Netanyahu. And you thought the Israeli political ride was bumpy until now….
A final ironic note: This week Bibi put up huge banners of himself with Putin, replacing the ones he used in the last election, featuring Donald Trump (because he is very desperate to steal the Russian vote from Lieberman). This move turned out to have backfired among young Russian voters. Perhaps the same day Putin was busy attacking demonstrators in Moscow was the wrong day to showcase your friendship with this dictator?
After a slow start to the election campaign, things have begun to heat up — both on the right and the left. The most important event this morning was the announcement that Ehud Barak's blossoming party (Democracy for Israel) and the veteran Meretz party would merge. The unlikely matchmaker was Stav Shaffir, who has been calling for unity of the entire left. Shaffir lost the Labor election to Amir Peretz, who then stunned the Israeli political world by announcing he would merge Labor with Gesher, the party founded by Orly Levy-Abekasis, after leaving Lieberman's party. Gesher failed to get enough votes to enter the Knesset in our last aborted election.
Levy-Abekasis is also considered to hold positions ideologically to the right of most Labor voters, when it comes to relations with the Palestinians, and expansion of any future settlement. In the pair’s opening statement, Peretz and Levy-Abekasis said something that seemed as if it had come out of the mouth of Blue and White, declaring: “There is no left and right.” Peretz also stumbled, failing to state categorically from the start that he would not sit in a Netanyahu government. The day after the initial announcement, Peretz stated there would be no more mergers; he would not merge with Meretz or with Barak. Peretz seems to be convinced that with Levy, he can bring votes from Israel's Development towns, like his hometown of Sderot, or her hometown of Bet She’an (a notion I feel is rather suspect, at best).
While some have said the new (Democratic Camp) party is a lifeboat for the participants, I beg to differ. The sum of the three leaders is powerful. I have always been a Shaffir fan, from the time I interviewed her for Newsweek. I found her to be the real thing — a feeling that has only been reinforced over time. She has the charisma that any successful politician requires, along with clearcut ideas and the necessary grit. Combine all that with Meretz's organization and Hurwitz who is a very effective spokesman, together with Barak's experience, and a bit of his money — I think we may see some surprises.
Tonight's election poll, taken in the hours since the announcement, shows the new Democratic Camp receiving 12 seats.
A few words about the parties on the right-wing: The New Right party founded by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett became the party of Shaked, when she became the new, popular leader. Shaked is now in negotiations to merge with the religious right-wing parties. However, as the poll below indicates, the New Right under her leadership not only passes the threshold, but receives ten seats.
Overall, the poll shows the right-wing/religious parties leading, with 57 seats to 53 for the left-center bloc. But, it appears that Avigdor Lieberman still controls the ultimate outcome of the election, with a projection of ten seats. The Blue and White party seem to have lost steam to the new Democratic Camp. The final Party lists are due next week. Current polls assumes that Moshe Feiglin's party will receive just enough votes to get into the Knesset.
It would be hard to say that Knesset election 2019, take 2, is in full swing. Much of what happened this week, politically, took place in the shadow of the shooting of an Ethiopian youth and the subsequent large-scale, angry protests that erupted in response. (I will write about happenings regarding the Ethiopian community separately.)
On the heels of the upcoming election, the leadership of both the Labor and Meretz parties have changed hands. In the Meretz party, Nitzan Hurwitz replaced Tamar Zandberg. While Hurwitz is indeed popular, his election was more of a vote against Zandberg — whom it was widely felt ran a failed campaign in April; a campaign to which she, herself, was much too central.
The Labor party made a generational vote. Instead of selecting one of the two young, most dynamic leaders, the party has chosen to return, former Labor Chairman MK Amir Peretz to head the party. Peretz is convinced he can get votes from the Likud in the outlying communities. Speaking to one of his supporters on the day of the vote, he admitted Peretz wouldn't get votes in Tel Aviv, but was poised to get many more votes in other places.
In my humble opinion, choosing Peretz was a huge mistake. One of the problems encountered by the Center-Left in the last election was the lower voter turnout in Tel Aviv, compared to other parts of the country. Stav Shafir could get out that vote. Amir Peretz will not. Of course, in the Left-of-Center, the big question remain what mergers, (if any), ultimately take place before the election — e.g. who will be willing to join up with Ehud Barak's new party? On Saturday night Barak unveiled the name of the party-Democratic Israel.
The latest Channel 13 News polls show a somewhat different picture than the predictions of the last results (released last week). In this latest poll, the Right-wing would earn a majority with Avigdor Lieberman, who continues to make clear he will not enter a coalition with the religious parties. It is hard to know how seriously to take any polls at the moment. The two significant differences between this poll and the initial poll, (one a week earlier) was a drop from 12 to 9 for the Joint Arab List, and a surge for Feiglin’s party, appears to bring the party over the minimum threshold.
June 16, 2018
It has been a while since I have written an Israeli election update — for the simple reason —very little was happening. That changed dramatically during the last 24 hours. The shift began a few days ago, with rumors about the possible cancellation of the upcoming election. You can read all about that in the second part of what will be in my Newsweek article scheduled to appear tomorrow, which you can preview on our site
The call to cancel the election came from Netanyahu, and no one was sure why … until tonight. Tonight, Channel 13 published a poll which showed that — for the first time in over a decade — the Left-Center bloc would have a majority of 61 seats in the next election. Moreover, the accounting in favor of the Left-Center bloc did not include votes for Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, which received 7 seats in that same poll.
The other development today, was the official return of Ehud Barak to the Israeli political scene. I attended his opening press conference, and is no question that Barak and the three partners who joined him (including recently released deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan) gave the most potent presentation for why Netanyahu must go.
Barak is not loved by many. However, I must say that both tonight, and when I sat with him for an interview four months ago, he comes across as the strongest candidate. He is 78 years old, but definitively seems at least a ten years younger than either Bernie Sander of Joe Biden. I guess if they had been one of their country's leading commando in their youth, they might also be in better shape at their collectively ripe old ages.
The new poll tonight, mentioned above, which was conducted before Barak announced the launch of his new, as of yet unnamed, party — which was already hypothetically poised to receive six Knesset seats. Barak's goal is clearly to combine with Labor, and perhaps Meretz. Although with tonight poll, which showed Meretz garnering six seats, a merger might not be necessary. In summary, this has shaped up to be an all-new race and anything can happen.
Who would have thought there would have been a part-two to the 2019 Election Blog? But here we are — a complete do-over. You can learn how we got here, from my explanation of the events of the night of May 29th, which appeared in my Newsweek article. However, now, that’s ancient history and the question is — Are we heading into a total replay of the last election? The answer is — its too early to tell. Many of the players will be the same, but there are many unknown variables.
Here are a few:
Now that Kachlon is part of the Likud, will the votes he received in the last election all go to the Likud? My initial sense is — No.
What will happen to the Labor party? We know for sure that Avi Gabbay will be ousted and a new head will be chosen. At this time, Amir Peretz is the only one who has said he plans to run. Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shafir have not yet stated whether or not they will run. Amir Peretz joins a long list of politicians, both in Israel and in the US, who in my opinion, do not know when to retire. Of course, whether the Labor party runs at all is a significant question. The only hope for the Labor is if the young generation takes control. But then, the question becomes why shouldn’t Labor merge with Meretz, who has clearly indicated their desire to run together. The Blue & White party does not wish to have any part of the Labor Party, considering it an electoral liability. This is probably the end of the line for the party that founded the state.
As to Blue & White, they made their first mistake tonight, stating they will continue their agreement to have a rotation between Gantz and Lapid in the top spot. This decision will likely cost them votes — But as is the case with all politicians, ego counts too much.
As to the right-wing, they have spent a few days carrying out a circular fire squad. Of course, the most ammunition was set off between the Likud and Lieberman Party — Each blaming the other for the failure to form a government. Netanyahu started off immediately, Wednesday night, by stating that Lieberman was no longer a right-winger, but a leftist. The next day Lieberman laughed and asked how the person who lives in Ceasaria (i.e., Netanyahu) feels justified calling the person lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokidim (Lieberman) a “leftist”. It has been downhill from there. Lieberman is going to run a campaign declaring that Netanyahu has sold out to the ultra-Orthodox, and that he is the real right-wing, and true champion of the secular.
Today, Netanyahu opened another front, firing both Naftali Bennett from his position as Education Minister and Ayelet Shaked from her position as Justice Minister. Netanyahu claimed that since Bennett and Shaked had not been re-elected in the last election, they did no longer had the support of the public. Whether you agree or disagree with either of their policies, by all accounts, Bennett and Shaked were by far the most efficient of the all the ministers in the current government. In their places, Netanyahu is likely to appoint two present Likud MKs to those job for a few months, good government be damned.
Netanyahu’s expected coalition partners from the Jewish Home Party are demanding those newly vacant posts. However, Netanyahu has indicated he will not give those positions to MKs from another party at this time. MK Bezalel Smotrich, from the Jewish Home Party (who has been demanding the Ministry of Justice post) said at an event at Mercaz Harav, Sunday night, that he wanted the Ministry of Justice “to bring a Justice system based on the Torah to Israel.”
One more question that is open is whether Bennet and Shaked’s “New Right Party” will run again. Shaked had hoped to join the Likud. Although it was reported today that Sara Netanyahu vetoed that possibility. While, as of tonight, Bennett indicated the pair was probably going to run together again, Shaked said she still needed a few days to think about it. She went on to say it had to be God that brought about a second 2019 election.
Blue and White Leaders
About this Section- by Marc Schulman
This is part two of the Israeli Elections of 2019. Israel and specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu has called a redo. All that happened in version 1 in the previous page are relevant, but it is a new election and as such things may turn out very differently, or maybe not.
This overall website started with a section on American Presidential elections — a subject that I have written about extensively and on which I have authored a book (“A History of American Presidential Elections: From George Washington to Barack Obama"). I have closely observed/participated in Israeli politics since 1975. In 1977 I voted in Israel for the first time, choosing the party that promised change, “Shinui”. I was in uniform the first time I voted, as I was the second time (while doing reserve duty), when I was probably one of the few people at that point to ever vote from outside Israel, as I was stationed on the Egyptian side of the border during the disengagement. Since then I received an academic understanding of Israeli politics, having been a student of the late Asher Arian, considered the dean of experts on Israeli elections. For the past more than seven years, I have once again had the chance to observe Israeli politics close-up, after returning to Israel following an absence. For the last five years, I have published a column in Newsweek called “Tel Aviv Diary”, which has given me closer access to people and events. Over the course of the coming months, I hope to chronicle and analyze the significant milestones and turning points in this year's Israeli elections, here on these pages. Some of these decisive junctures will find their way to Newsweek, and others will appear in our new Israel economic app, called DigitOne. Some of it may appear in our new economic news site DigitOne.News