SECOND ISRAELI ELECTION CAMPAIGN
August 8-August 14, 2019
Security issues and the Campaigns
Until recently security issues and attitudes toward the Palestinians have not been a major issue in the election campaign. However during a visit to Sederot the leaders of the Blue and White list made militant statements.
Its no. 1 candidate Benny Gantz said: “Next time rockets fall on Sderot, we will aim for the toppling of Hamas, take action to assassinate all Hamas leaders and go in with ground forces for however long we want. We will not accept a ceasefire. We will bring about the military defeat of Hamas.”1
How realistic is this statement? In the most optimistic scenario Blue and White will achieve a majority in the Knesset with the support of the [Arab] Joint List and the Democratic Union dominated by the extreme left Meretz. The public at large most probably considers that the main security related issue in town is the potential publication of Trump’s peace plan, prematurely called ‘deal of the century.’
This absence of security discussions was challenged by the murder of a 19 year old student by Palestinian terrorists. Subsequently the two murderers were caught.2 Gantz said that Israel’s “deterrence against terrorism including that emanating from the Gaza strip had been eroded. This will unfortunately bring another round of violence.” He added “when we lead the cabinet, Hamas will know that if there is another round, it will be the last.” Yet whatever criticism one may have on Netanyahu’s attitude toward Hamas, it seems difficult to believe that parties to the left of Likud will be firmer.3
Gantz said that if Netanyahu offers him rotation as prime minister in which he would go first, one could start speaking about the details. Later some of his associates said that it was sarcastically meant. Whether that is true remains to be seen as the politically inexperienced Gantz has also flip-flopped on the topic of joining the Likud in government.4 It became known that Blue and White placed billboard advertisements on the side of the highway near the airport of Larnaca in Cyprus. They were aiming at Israelis on vacation in the island.5
Most polls indicate that the Labor-Gesher list will be the smallest party in the Knesset. Labor leader, Amir Peretz is trying to find ways to get attention for his list. He has published an eight point economic plan which includes an increase of the minimum wage, building 200 000 government housing units, free education for children of all ages, free health care and so on.
The plan drew much criticism. Blue and White reacted that “Peretz cannot see through his closed binoculars.”6 This was referring to a mishap when Peretz was Defense Minister and tried to look through closed binoculars at the enemy. Blue and White warned that Peretz could however implement his plans if he became Finance Minister under Netanyahu.
The list of the block of right wing parties, has been renamed Yemina (Rightwards). One of its leading candidates, Naftali Bennett summarized Peretz’ plans as “taxing the wealthy and giving out lots of presents.”7 Another leading Yemina candidate Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich issued an apology to Netanyahu whom he had attacked for zero leadership in the face of what Smotrich called anti-religious rulings by the judiciary. According to sources in the Likud, Netanyahu told Smotrich in a meeting that if he didn’t apologize immediately, he would be fired from his ministerial position.8
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has announced that he will likely indict the Balad party and its former MK, Haneen Zoabi for corruption relating to the 2013 election campaign. Balad is part of the joint list of four Arab parties in the upcoming elections.9
Later in the week, Mandelblit also announced that he will indict Social Services Minister Haim Katz, (Likud) for fraud and breach of trust. The announcement said that Katz violated conflict of interest principles in order to obtain illegal economic gains. Mandelblit has informed Katz that he should resign and if Katz would try to maintain immunity from prosecution as a member of Knesset, he would ask the Knesset to remove that immunity.10
The Attorney General has told the Central Election Commission that it lacks the authority to declare the Likud’s proposal as legal to place video cameras at Israeli-Arab polling stations.11
The Central Election Committee rejected various petitions to prevent lists from running in the elections. These concerned the Joint List, Blue and White and the extreme right wing Otzma Yehudit. Experience shows that the final decisions on exclusion from participating in the elections are made by the Supreme Court.12
In the background there was a reaction of 21 MK’s from right wing parties, thanking the US members of Congress for their recent pro-Israel anti-boycott divestment and sanction resolution. Yet they warned them that the resolution’s endorsement of a two state solution is harmful because the repercussions of a Palestinian state would be far more dangerous for Israel than the BDS movement.13
In the meantime while many Israelis are vacationing and enjoying the summer weather, the election campaign fails to draw great interest.