Fourteenth Week of Elections Campaign
BETWEEN BORDER TENSION AND MUDSLINGING
For several days in the past week, it looked like Israel would carry out a major attack on Hamas in Gaza. This temporarily overshadowed the election campaign. Last Saturday was Land Day, a commemoration day for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Israel expected major Palestinian riots at the Gaza border. The IDF said afterwards that Hamas kept the protestor march more restrained than expected. Egypt is currently attempting to negotiate a cease fire between Israel and Hamas.1
The mud-slinging campaigning continued. Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, accused Likud Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu of incitement that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995.2 He also said that Netanyahu’s 13-year rule represents the danger that he might become like Turkish President Erdogan.3
If Blue and White forms the next government, Gantz will be prime minister and the number two Yair Lapid will take over after two and half years. Lapid, said that many world leaders, he was in touch with, desperately wanted Netanyahu to leave, including those of most EU countries. He added that the same was true for the majority of U.S. Jews. Lapid said that as foreign minister and after rotating with Gantz as Prime Minister, he would restore Israel’s bi-partisan relations with the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties.4 Whether his statements appeal to Netanyahu’s voters is questionable. Many think that European governments and Obama-style Democrats only like Israeli leaders who make unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians.
Attacks from smaller parties were heard as well. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, co-leader of the New Right party, said that if the choice was between Netanyahu and Gantz, she would endorse Netanyahu. She called Gantz “an unimpressive Chief of Staff, and a failed businessman [who] has no experience in politics.” Shaked added that Gantz is “a leftist.” She said that there was a significant chance that Netanyahu would invite Gantz to join his government. This would not present a problem for her party to also join. Shaked remarked: “Gantz is not ineligible.” 5
Zehut, a libertarian party, again passed the election threshold in all polls during the last week. It has put the legal use of cannabis on the national agenda. Zehut’s leader, Moshe Feiglin, said that he was willing to work with either Netanyahu or Gantz. This despite the fact that the Zehut party is ultra-nationalist. Its manifesto includes cancelling signed agreements with the Palestinian Authority and making Israeli-Arab citizens prove their loyalty.6
While the parties from the right tried to present Blue and White as a left-wing movement, Labour claimed that it was a right-wing movement.7 It based these claims on statements of candidates of Ya’alon’s Telem Party which is part of Blue and White.
Former Labour leader and MK Shelly Yachimovich urged Gantz and Lapid to cancel this rotation agreement. She said that if Gantz were the only candidate for prime minister, Blue and White might win two or three seats from moderate right-wing supporters.8 Anonymous MKs of the list were quoted saying the same.9 Lapid reacted that he did not intend to give up the rotation.10
There were reports that a network of hundreds of fake social media accounts were advocating for Netanyahu. Since the report, however, a number of examples given in the story in Yediot Aharanot and the New York Times have spoken up as real life people.11 Blue and White petitioned Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He told the Central Elections Committee on April 2 that there is not sufficient evidence to connect the Likud party to illegal propaganda efforts.12
The State Comptroller came out with a report that the police acted improperly in purchasing form a company by not applying a bidding process as requested by its rules. It was evident that the company referred to was the Fifth Dimension which was headed by Gantz. However, the company was not named. The State Comptroller also said that Gantz had not committed a criminal offense.13
Campaign election propaganda is much more fragmented nowadays than before social media became important. Television is no longer dominant. In a Likud video Netanyahu was pictured with a smiling U.S President Donald Trump shaking his hand. A second video of the party shows a 2011 Oval Office meeting in which Netanyahu lectured then President Barack Obama on how the latter’s approach to achieve Middle East peace was unrealistic. The key Likud messages are that Netanyahu is a strong personality, well-connected in the world and a person who knows how to stand up for Israel’s rights.14
In its promotional campaign, the Labor party shows its six first candidates together rather than its leader, Avi Gabbay, alone. This may indicate that Gabbay does not seem to come across well on TV. One poll at the end of the week showed a rise for Labor to 14 seats, four more than in any other during the week.15
Former leader of the religious Shas party, Eli Yishai, headed the Yachad list in the campaign. He announced this week that it would not participate in the elections. Yishai recommended his supporters to vote for United Torah Judaism.16
The Gesher party did not pass the election threshold in any of the polls of the past week. In three polls Yisrael Beyteinu did not pass, while the Arab Ra’am Balad list failed to pass the threshold in four polls.17
The election campaign has now entered its last week toward the elections on April 9.