The Twelfth Election Campaign Week
TERRORISM AND ELECTION CAMPAIGNING
Palestinian terrorism briefly overshadowed the election campaign during its twelfth week. On March 14, Hamas launched two rockets from Gaza that fell in the Tel Aviv area.1 On March 18, two Israelis were killed and one critically wounded by a Palestinian murderer in the West Bank town of Ariel. 2
The Israeli Supreme Court overturned three decisions of the Central Elections Committee. Candidate Michael Ben Ari of the extreme right wing Otzma Yehudit party was disqualified. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit urged the court to bar Ben Ari on the basis of what he called a long history of severe and extreme racism.3 Ben Ari served as MK from 2009 to 2012.
Also on the recommendation of Mandelblit, the Court readmitted the candidacy of the extreme leftist candidate, Ofer Casif, of the extreme left Arab-Jewish Hadash party as well as the Arab Ra’am Balad list.4 They were both disqualified by the Central Elections Committee.5
In court, MK Betzalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties interrupted during the hearing. Chief Justice Esther Chayut told Smotrich to follow the norms saying that the court was not the Knesset. Smotrich said he considered her words disrespect for the Knesset.
These decisions led to a strong attack by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on the Supreme Court who called it Israel’s “most powerful political actor.” She accused the judges of leading a “coup” against both democracy and the public. Shaked went on to say that since the Likud’s victory over Labor in 1977, the left had sought to control the public agenda by turning the Supreme Court into a “super-government.”6
Opinion polls during the week showed that the distance between the Blue and White list and the Likud is shrinking. In one poll, the Likud with 31 mandates even preceded Blue and White with 30.7 This was followed by a poll on March 19 where the Likud led Blue and White by three seats.8 If these polls are accurate, Blue and White with its natural partners, Labor and the extreme left Meretz, cannot block the Likud from establishing a government. This holds true even if the Arab parties take part in a blocking effort by Blue and White.
At this point there seem to be two possibilities for a future government. One might be called “the Likud and the Seven Dwarfs.” According to the polls, each of the “dwarfs” will have at most a quarter of the Likud’s seats. These parties are the New Right, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu and Zehut. There might actually be eight dwarfs because Otzma Yehudit is only technically part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
If a Likud controlled government were to be established it would need to include all or almost all the dwarfs to get a majority. Several of these will, however, demand important ministerial posts. In the current government, the finance, education and interior ministries are not in the hands of Likud. Likud also had to give up the defense ministry during the period that Israel Beiteinu was part of the government.
It may well be that the collective demands of the dwarfs cannot be met by the Likud. In that case, the Likud might try to put together a government with Blue and White. It would probably also take in two or three of the right-wing dwarfs. Such a government would have according to the current polls about 70 seats. In this hypothesis, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz would become Minister of Defense. In light of the current polls, this seems to be the most he can hope for.
If however the ‘Likud plus the dwarfs’ government materializes, Blue and White will be in opposition. That may not be so problematic for its number two, Yesh Atid leader and former journalist, Yair Lapid. Before he joined the Knesset he was a TV presenter. He has upgraded his status through politics and speaking in the Knesset — a far more important place. He has even been a minister.
As Israel’s 20th Chief of Staff from 2011 to 2015, Gantz has been continually in action for four years. Important decisions had to be made every day. For him, the opposition is particularly hard. This is also true for the other two Chiefs of Staff on the Blue and White list, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi.
Blue and White asked Mandelblit to investigate the source of the leaked sensitive information about the Iranian intelligence-hacking of Gantz’ telephone. The Israel Security Agency informed Gantz about this several months ago, yet it was only leaked to the media in the past week. Lapid said that the phone story was introduced by Netanyahu who wanted to distract the public from his corruption.9
In the meantime, the battle of the video clips continues. Blue and White leaders posted their military experience and attacked Netanyahu for allegedly selling out the education system to the right wing.10
Blue and White and the Likud continue to trade insults. On March 18, Gantz said that in case his list wins the elections he wanted to form a Commission of Inquiry to probe Netanyahu’s involvement in the purchase of German submarines. He called the purchase the “worst scandal of Israel.” Gantz did, however, admit his own failure in not stopping the subs from being purchased. Netanyahu said that if Gantz cannot keep his phone secure, how can one let him keep the country secure.11
All these and many other mutual accusations will be rapidly forgotten if the two main lists form a coalition government.