13th Week of Election Campaign
Rockets Overshadow Election Campaign
In the past week important external factors overshadowed on some days the election campaign. U.S. President Trump announced a few days ago that his country would recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
He added that this was not meant to help Netanyahu in the election campaign. Yet there is little doubt that it was an achievement for Netanyahu that the U.S. President made this statement.1
Netanyahu visited the U.S. for the annual AIPAC Conference. He met Trump, who in his presence signed an official Presidential proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.2
Netanyahu had to cut the U.S visit short due to a rocket sent from Gaza which landed in a family’s home in Mishmeret, near the town of Kfar Saba, injuring eight Israelis. Israeli fighter planes and combat helicopters started bombing a variety of targets in Gaza in response. Hamas retaliated with a barrage of rockets into Israel.3 Various sources in Egypt and Gaza stated that Iran ordered an Islamic Jihad cell operating out of the Gaza Strip to carry out the attack. Hamas then approved it.4
Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, spoke at the AIPAC Conference. He criticized Netanyahu saying: “Those who do not respond with force and instead “pay Hamas, dismiss attacks on the citizens of the South and scorn the attack on the citizens of Tel Aviv, now get rockets in the Hasharon region’.”5
Netanyahu addressed the AIPAC Conference from Tel Aviv. He praised Trump who made history by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and said his decision deserves enormous applause. Netanyahu added that Israel will never give up the Golan. Referring to the Jewish state law which passed in July and drew much criticism, he said:, “No one is a second class citizen. All of Israel’s citizens are first class citizens.” He added “Israel will always be a democracy, just as Israel will always be a Jewish state. Israel is the home of all Jews.”6
State prosecutors are apparently considering opening another criminal investigation against Netanyahu concerning Israel’s purchase of three submarines from Germany.7 Several close associates of the Prime Minister are suspected to have received illicit payments in the framework of a major corruption scheme concerning the multi-billion shekel purchase by Israel from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp. This investigation is called Case 3000.
Netanyahu’s opponents claim that the Prime Minister had a possible conflict of interest in the ThyssenKrupp deal and may have benefitted from it. Blue and White number three candidate, former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, wrote a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to ask him to investigate the matter, stating “This issue is so important, that it could even amount to treason.”8 Netanyahu says that the only reason for his interest in the submarine purchase was to protect Israel against the Iranian nuclear threat.9
Like in previous weeks, Blue and White and the Likud drew major media attention while the much smaller parties had difficulty in making themselves heard. The Blue and White attacks focused on Netanyahu instead of the Likud.10
Also this week many polls were published. The number of seats Blue and White would receive varied between 30 and 32. For the Likud the figures ranged between 26 and 31 seats. Only in one poll, published by TV Channel 12 on March 24th, had Blue and White, plus the Arab lists, a blocking majority of 61 seats. Labor is in third place in most polls with up to ten seats. The New Right List has declined over the past month in the polls and obtains five or six seats.11
For the first time in more than two weeks, Gesher led by Orly Levy Abekasis passed the threshold in one poll. Ra’am Balad and Kulanu failed to pass the threshold in one poll. Yisrael Beitenu failed to pass in two polls. The libertarian Zehut party has passed the threshold in every poll of the last two weeks. Its number of seats vary between 4 and 6.12
The campaign attacks continue to be ugly. According to the Jerusalem Post, Gantz told a small group of confidants that Netanyahu would have killed him if he had a way to do so.13 The Likud reacted stating: “If Benny Gantz displays this kind of paranoia after just two weeks of pressure in the election campaign and after the Iranians hacked his phone, how can he run this country?”14
Lapid said that Netanyahu sold the education system to the leader of the Tkuma faction of the Union of Right-Wing parties, Bezalel Smotrich.15 Netanyahu replied claiming that Lapid and Gantz were supported by Iran.16 A pro-Likud video called the number two of Blue and White, Yair Lapid, a half prime minister. This referred to the agreement between Gantz and Lapid to share their time in office should their party form the next government.17
It is difficult to forecast what the impact of the skirmishes with Hamas will have on voters’ intentions. One possibility is that the country will not want to change the sitting government in a time of military uncertainty. The other is that in such a case, the list of Blue and White with its three former Chiefs of Staff gets more support. In both assumptions, the small parties are marginalized.