SECOND ISRAELI ELECTION CAMPAIGN
August 1-August 7, 2019
STALEMATE BETWEEN RIGHT AND LEFT CONTINUES
The lists of candidates for the 17 September elections were submitted to the Central Election Committee by August 1. As this concludes the first stage of the election campaign it is a suitable moment to take stock of the campaign situation as it has developed.
The Jewish parties to the left of Blue and White have averted losing votes by consolidating into two lists. One is the Democratic Union alliance. It consists of the extreme left Meretz, the Democratic Israel list of former Prime Minister Barak as well as former Labor MK, Stav Shaffir together with a few other ex-Laborites. The Democratic Union vowed not to join a Netanyahu led government.1
A second alliance consists of the Labor party led by Amir Peretz and Gesher, led by Orly Levi-Abekasis. Her movement failed to pass the election threshold in the April elections. According to polls, the two left of center alliances together will receive around half the twenty nine seats the Zionist Union and Meretz obtained jointly in the 2015 elections.
Also the four Arab parties will run on a joint list. In April the two lists together received only ten seats. This represented a loss of three seats compared with the 2015 elections.
The right of center parties have not succeeded in combining all their forces. There are four lists to the right of Likud. Of them, only the United Right is likely to pass the election threshold. The remaining three parties, far right Otzma Yehudit, libertarian Zehut and the national religious Noam party are unlikely to do so. This waste of votes may result in the loss of perhaps two seats for the right. It is partly mitigated by the lower number of votes required per seat. The Likud is likely to try to convince the voting public of the futility in casting their ballot for these parties.
Blue and White and Meretz will petition the central elections committee, to disqualify Otzma Yehudit from running. Should their petition be accepted, it would help the right wing parties because their votes may then go to parties that pass the election threshold.2
Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid, number two on its list, posted a clip on Twitter alleging that the right wing coalition parties are only interested in money. Without naming Lapid specifically, this led to rebukes from Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz and number three on the list, Moshe Ya’alon. Gantz caused confusion after he gave two opposite answers to the question whether he would sit in a government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu.3
There is no logic for Gantz and Ya’alon — both former chiefs of staff — in excluding the two ultra-Orthodox parties as potential partners. However the latter see Lapid as anti-Orthodox. This may well put stress on the Blue and White alliance after the September 17 election date.4
Blue and White has said that it has no objection against a unity government with Likud provided Netanyahu is not part of it. Likud MK David Bitan has made all Likud MKs’ sign a petition that Netanyahu was the only Likud option for Prime Minister. Activists of the Democratic Union placed forty cardboard cutouts of the Prime Minister outside the Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters representing the forty Likud candidates who signed the petition. Likud MK’s who wanted to remain anonymous said that they were embarrassed by the petition.5 6
Ayelet Shaked, leader of the United Right, said she didn’t trust Netanyahu’s remarks that he would annex Area C settlements after the elections. She added that this will only happen if the United Right is strong.7
Yaakov Litzman is head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party and Deputy Health Minister. This week, police recommended his indictment to the attorney general for fraud, witness tampering and breach of public trust. He has allegedly interfered in the extradition from Australia of alleged pedophile and former Melbourne Jewish school principal Malka Leifer.8 The Zionist Federation of Australia welcomed the news and called for Litzman to step down from his office at the Health Ministry.9
Leader of Israel Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman is buoyed by the rise of his party in the polls. It may get ten or eleven seats as against its current five. Lieberman has presented himself in this campaign as a principled opponent of the ultra-Orthodox. This is a position in the political spectrum which in a more remote past was filled by the now defunct Shinui party. This had its best results when Yair Lapid’s father Tommy Lapid was its leader. It may well be that Lapid’s video clip was meant to compete with Lieberman for this segment of the electorate.
In view of the stalemate between center right, and right on the one hand, and the center left, left and the Arab parties on the other, Lieberman was emboldened to leave the possibility open that he would ask to be included in a rotation of the Prime Minister should his party become part of the government.10
Rumors continued to spread. Lieberman claimed that Labor leader Amir Peretz had made a coalition deal with Likud in return for becoming Israel’s President in 2021. Gantz suggested that Peretz was politically flexible and might join a Likud government which Peretz vigorously denied.11
All polls indicate a stalemate. Without Israel Beiteinu neither the Likud and the United Right, nor Blue and White together with Labor-Gesher, the Democratic Union and the Arab parties have a majority. Much will thus depend on how many of its potential voters each side can bring to the ballot box. It may well be that the percentage of votes will be substantially lower than in the April elections. This could be attributed in part to a lack of interest. Adding to this is the fact that September is traditionally a month of vacations abroad for a significant number of Israelis.
As Lieberman’s demands may be unacceptable to both the Likud and Blue and White, one cannot exclude an outcome that after the elections, Israel may well be without a new government for a prolonged period of time.