Dr.Gerstenfeld’s fourth article on the Israeli election. The Tundra Tabloids is the first to publish it.
ISSUES IN THE MARGIN DOMINATE FOURTH CAMPAIGN WEEK
The fourth week of the election campaign was dominated by issues in the margin of the campaign which may however impact on the election results. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit met on January 21 with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s legal team. These lawyers asked him to delay his initial decision whether or not to indict Netanyahu for public corruption until after the April 9th election date.
Mandelblit met in late December with several former Attorneys General, Supreme Court Justices and Head State Attorneys. They were unanimously of the opinion that the decision about whether to indict Netanyahu should be published before the election. Mandelblit agreed with them.1
Mandelblit has since said that he will announce in the coming days when he will publish his initial decision. If Mandelblit had announced this decision before the dissolution of the Knesset, he would have only faced opposition from Netanyahu and a few of his supporters. During the election campaign, however, he may be confronted with much wider attacks from the Likud.
Mandelblit is a respected figure. The status of the justice system in Israel has however declined over the years. Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006, has likely played a major role in this is. He claimed that “everything is justiciable.”2 That attitude made it easier for the Court to overstep the boundaries between the separate powers. His successors followed this approach. In 2017, the Rule of Law index by Prof. Arie Ratner of Haifa University found that only 49% of Jewish Israeli citizens have confidence in the Supreme Court. In 2000, that rate stood at 80%.3
The Likud erected a billboard at a prominent intersection in the center of the country which depicts prominent journalists who regularly report on Netanyahu’s corruption cases. It bears the slogan: “They won’t decide. You decide. In spite of it all, Netanyahu!”4
The leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, said that his party will back Netanyahu to lead the country after the elections even if he is indicted in any of the three corruption cases in which he is embroiled. Deri himself was indicted on various corruption charges last November.5
A poll conducted by Army Radio and published on January 22 found that the Likud would lose 4 seats if Netanyahu is indicted before the election. Yet the Likud would still remain the by far largest party and retain the possibility to form a right of center government.6
A second issue in the margin of the election campaign was the arrest of the president of the Israeli Bar Association, Efi Nave. He is suspected to have requested sexual favors in return for judicial appointments.7 This led to attacks on Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked because of her close association with Nave. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Shaked then released a joint statement saying that the relevant committee appointed 334 judges in the last term while this scandal is about one judge and another judicial hopeful.8
It is becoming increasingly clear that former Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, leader of the new Hosen Leyisrael, (Israel Resilience)’party is Netanyahu’s main competitor for the position of prime minister. It seems that Gantz wants to build politically on his past military career before exposing his political views. This may have led to Israel’s current military actions being publicized by the Government. Without precedent, recent Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria were announced almost in real time.9
Gantz promoting himself on the basis of his military record invites attacks on his failures. Likud Ministers claim that he left a wounded soldier bleed to death in the second intifada in 2000 while commanding IDF forces in the West Bank.10 Such attacks on Gantz may become a pattern in the campaign.
Polls indicate that Labor will receive only about eight seats. If this were to happen it would be the poorest performance in the party’s history. Two more current Labor MK’s Eitan Broshi and Chilik Bar have announced that they will not be candidates in the next elections.11 This still leaves fourteen current MK’s as well as newcomers to contend for perhaps six seats. The first two places on the Labor candidates list are reserved for party leader, Avi Gabbay, and a person whom he will select.
In the meantime many new rumors spread. One report said that Yesh Atid (There is a Future) leader Yair Lapid offered a merger with Gantz’ party, Hosen Leyisrael. Lapid would head the list while Gantz would hold the second place. The other candidates would then alternate. If this party formed the government, Lapid would be the candidate for Prime Minister and Gantz for Defense Minister. The report was not confirmed.12
It was reported that Gantz met with Orly Levy-Abekasis, the Chair of the new Gesher (Bridge) party to join forces with his party. There were also reports that Gantz was trying to add former Chiefs of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon to his party’s list for the Knesset.13
So far statements of what parties want to accomplish are hardly heard. The strategy seems to be: attack others stronger than you are attacked by them.