A Week of Policy Statements, Skirmishes and Ad Hominem Attacks
The candidate lists were handed in to the Central Elections Committee, and so the first phase of the election campaign was closed. The past week was characterized by a mixture of policy statements, skirmishes and ad hominem attacks.
Perhaps the weightiest of them all was a statement by the number two candidate of the Koolanu list, Major General (ret.) Yoav Galant. He said that when he left the southern command, 92 Hamas tunnels had been destroyed and not a single one remained. Galant claimed that since then, the Israeli Defense Forces and the Minister of Defense did nothing about the new tunnels being built. Such lack of action led to the need to destroy so many new Hamas tunnels during the 2014 Protective Edge campaign. It was a heavy accusation against the government, which went unanswered.1
Yaakov Peri, a Yesh Atid MK and the former head of the Israeli domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, stated that there will be no peace agreement with the Palestinians as long as Netanyahu remains Prime Minister. Peri mentioned that Netanyahu had promised that there would be diplomatic achievements after the Protective Edge campaign, but none had materialized.2 His party’s leader, Yair Lapid, said later on that Israel should negotiate an agreement with the Arab League that gives Israel security and gives the Palestinians a state. Lapid added, “The Arab world is capable of telling the Palestinians this is good enough.”3
Lapid gave a press conference in front of the Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle, which often houses corrupt politicians. He stated that in the next Knesset, his party would introduce legislation to bar politicians who had been convicted of “moral turpitude” from re-entering politics. This is the case with current Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who has spent several years in jail for bribery. Lapid also stated that the law would prohibit public figures from using their right to remain silent during police investigations. This statement seemed to be aimed at the Zionist Union (aka as “Zionist Camp”) leader, Yitzhak Herzog, who in 1999 had remained silent while under oath. He was subsequently investigated about the illegal use of non-profit organizations in raising money for Labor’s election campaign.4
Tzipi Livni, co-leader of the Zionist Union, demanded that Lapid commit now to recommending after the elections that the President appoint the Zionist Union to form the government instead of Netanyahu. Lapid did not answer.5
The chances of a Zionist Union government diminished when MK Yaakov Litzman, party leader of United Torah Judaism said, “I am fiercely opposed to sitting with Yesh Atid in the next government.” Litzman accused Lapid, that as the Minister of Finance, he had impoverished the ultra-Orthodox population.6 However, for the Zionist Union to be able to form a government, Yesh Atid may have to be a significant element of it.
The debate on whether or not Netanyahu should speak in a joint session of the US Congress in March continued. Some Democratic Congress members have stated that they will not attend his speech, yet whether this dispute will have any substantial impact on the Israeli elections remains to be seen. Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that American groups should not intervene in the upcoming Israeli elections. He also doubted whether Netanyahu’s upcoming speech would create additional tensions in US-Israel relations.7
The Israel Democracy Conference, organized by the daily Haaretz and scheduled for mid-February, has become another bone of contention. The Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Shas invitees cancelled their participation when it became known that the New Israel Fund was one of the conference’s sponsors. Referring to the NIF, Likud MKs said that “the Likud, as an ideologically nationalist party, will not cooperate with bodies that incessantly blacken the face of Israel.”8
In addition, the Likud petitioned the Central Elections Committee in order to have the V15 organization barred from campaigning. It called it an “extreme left-wing organization” and accused it of indirectly campaigning for the Zionist Union and Meretz, and thus circumventing campaign finance regulations. The petition argued that V15 is making criminal use of major anonymous foreign funding and asked that V15 make its financial backers public. The petition also mentioned that the V15 had hired the national field director of US President Obama’s 2012 campaign.9
In reaction, V15 filed a police complaint against the Likud, claiming that it was guilty of incitement and had been conducting illegal election campaign activities.10
In the meantime, the Netanyahu family was attacked for what has become known as “bottlegate”. The Prime Minister’s wife has been accused of sending staff to collect the deposits from bottles purchased for state functions, and then keeping the money for her own personal use. The Prime Minister claimed that a check had been sent early last year in the amount of NIS 4,000 to the authorities to cover the bottle deposit revenue. A former employee claims that the amount due is much high.
Most polls indicate that the Likud has taken the lead over the Zionist Union. All found that Habayit Hayehudi is losing voters. It is now expected to get 13 to 14 seats. Polls also indicate that the combined list of Eli Yishai’s Ha’am Itanu and Otzma Yehudit, led by Baruch Marzel and Michael Ben-Ari, now passes the election threshold. Three of the MKs led by Yishai would support a government led by Netanyahu.
When Haaretz asked respondents who they expected to be the next Prime Minister, only 21% thought it would be Herzog, as opposed to 58% who thought it would be Netanyahu. This means that even many center-left voters do not expect Herzog to win the elections.11
The Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and Maariv toward the end of the week found that the Likud would obtain 26 seats, as against 22 by the Zionist Union. Like in previous polls, Habayit Hayehudi was declining and was expected to receive 13 seats, followed by the Joint Arab List with 12 seats. Among the centrist parties Yesh Atid with a projected 11 seats would be well ahead of Kahlon’s Koolanu with 7 seats.
The same poll asked respondents to rate Jewish party leaders on a scale from one to ten as far as corruption was concerned. Deri was considered the most corrupt at 8.3, followed by Liberman with 8, Netanyahu at 6.1, Livni at 5.7, Herzog at 5.3, and both Litzman and Yishai at 5.1. Lapid as at 4.9, Bennett at 4.4, Meretz chair Zahava Gal-on at 3.9 and Kahlon was considered the least corrupt at 3.5.12
1 Gil Ronen, “Galant: Gov’t Knew of Hamas Tunnels, Did Nothing,” Israel National News, 31 January 2015.
2 Gil Hoffman, Daniel Clinton, “Jpost Election Arena: Peace deal impossible until Netanyahu departs, Peri says,” The Jerusalem Post, 3 February 2015.
3 Gil Hoffman: “Yesh Atid: Not down for the count,” The Jerusalem Post, 7 February 2015.
4 Judah Ari Gross,“Lapid proposes new anti-corruption legislation,” Times of Israel, 3 February 2015.
5 Uzi Baruch, Cynthia Black, “Lapid Ignores Livni’s Call to Block Netanyahu Government,” Israel National News 5 Februray 2015.
6 Jeremy Sharon, “United Torah Judaism’s Litzman: ‘fiercly opposed’ to sitting with Lapid who caused Haredi poverty,” The Jerusalem Post, 4 February 2015
7 “Hoenlein, ‘Keep U.S. funding out of Israeli elections.,’” JTA, 5 February 2015.
8 Yair Ettinger, “Deri follows Likud, Habayit Hayehudi out of Haaretz democracy conference,” Haaretz, 5 February 2015.
9 Roy (Chicky) Arad and Jonathan Lis, “Likud asks elections panel to bar campaigning by organization affiliated with Obama strategist,” Haaretz, 30 January 2015.
10 Jonathan Lis, “New Israel Fund and V15 group fire back at Likud,” Haaretz, 4 February 2015.
11 Yossi Verter, “Netanyahu surging in polls, but scandals may take toll,” Haaretz, 1 February 2015.
12 Gill Hoffman and Lahav Harkov, “Likud takes 4-seat lead over Zionist Union,” The Jerusalem Post, 6 February 2015.