The Election Campaign Continues to Raise Only Modest Interest
With about one month left to go, there is little public interest in the elections. The parties and their leaders make statements, the media print articles, but among the news in general, the elections seem to be but one item among many. The campaign progresses but largely without focus.
The discussion about Netanyahu’s planned speech to a joint session of the American Congress, scheduled to take place two weeks before the March 17th elections, continues on a daily basis. A number of American Democrats have announced that they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech. Yet whether or not all the “American news” on this issue has any impact on Israeli voters’ intentions is far from clear.
President Reuven Rivlin spoke to Latin American diplomats. In his speech he claimed that his decision regarding which candidate he would choose, to form the next government, would be “in accordance with the unwritten constitution of the State of Israel. Nothing personal will come into it.”1
Netanyahu stated that Herzog and Livni cannot stop the emergence of either “a second ‘Hamastan’ in Judea and Samaria or an international agreement that would leave Iran with the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon.”2
Herzog predicted that if he would win the elections, then the Likud would replace Netanyahu as its leader. Regarding a hypothetical peace agreement with the Palestinians, Herzog contradicted himself on whether or not he would insist on a condition being the preservation of a united Jerusalem. In one interview, he said that he wants a unified city, yet in another, he stated that he would accept, with some changes, the Geneva initiative in which Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem would become the capital of a future Palestinian state.3
The ultra-Orthodox parties may well determine who will become Prime Minister after the elections. If the left and right blocs will more or less balance each other out, MK Gafni of United Torah Judaism said that his party has not ruled out backing Herzog. Other party members said that the party is committed to backing Netanyahu.4
Israel Beitenu leader and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that he wants to be the defense minister in the next government. This seems fairly ambitious, as his party is likely to lose more than half of its 13 seats. Lieberman attacked current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), saying that, “he was an outstanding soldier”, but that, “nobody took [him] seriously” as defense minister.5
On another occasion, Lieberman said that he suspected Netanyahu was seeking to form a national unity government with Zionist Union party leader Isaac Herzog. He remarked that Netanyahu had to thank him and his party for winning the premiership in the last two elections.6
Former Deputy Interior Minister Fanya Kirschenbaum of Israel Beiteinu, who is investigated for corruption, claimed that there was a conspiracy between Lieberman, Moshe Kahlon the leader of Koolanu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to form a centrist bloc after the elections. It would put Lieberman in the Prime Minister’s seat, and have the Likud join them after Netanyahu’s subsequent resignation.7 Netanyahu had claimed that Lapid was planning a putsch against him when he fired him as finance minister yet there was little credence given to the matter. Kirschenbaum’s statement, however, indicated that such plans were, in fact, made.
Yesh Atid continued to present its programs for various public sectors. Its detailed health program would be based on the earlier work of a committee headed by its MK Yael German, who had been the health minister in the previous government. The program promised to turn surgeons into “full-timers” and also promised to open a new hospital in the south.8
The party’s education program would be based on lengthening the school day, reducing the student-teacher ratio, in part by introducing a second teaching assistant to each classroom, and on making the Ministry of Education responsible for a student’s entire education, from early-age education through high school graduation.9
Kahlon is positioning himself to become the next minister of finance. He addressed a student gathering at Tel Aviv University and claimed that he would be the first finance minister to understand and deal with the country’s social problems. At that same gathering, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said that in the next government he would request the position of Minister of Public Security. Bennett remarked that the Jewish residents of the Negev live in constant fear that local Arabs will steal from them. The comment prompted a number of Arab students to walk out in protest.10
The Central Elections Committee banned both Haneen Zoabi of the Arab list, and right-wing extremist Baruch Marzel, of the Yachad party, from running in the elections. This issue will now automatically come before the Supreme Court, which will rule on the Committee’s decisions.11
Polls showed a narrowing of the gap between the Likud and the Zionist Union. The Panels Poll for The Jerusalem Post and Maariv put the Likud, with 24 seats, ahead of the Zionist Union with 23. The United Arab List was next with 13, followed by Yesh Atid with 12. The biggest loser was Bayit Yehudi, which fell two seats from the previous week, with 11. This is one seat less than it currently has in the Knesset.
The respondents were also asked a number of other questions. One of these asked whether or not the American administration was interfering in the elections. The majority, 62%, said it did interfere, 31% said it did not, and 8% were unsure. On another question, 62% responded in the affirmative that Netanyahu should debate Herzog and 27% said that there should not be such a debate.12
1 Greer Fay Cashman, “Rivlin vows to follow rules of “Israel’s unwritten constitution” in choosing leader to form gov’t,” The Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2015.
2 Tovah Lazaroff, “Netanyahu: Herzog, Livni can’t handle Iran or Hamas,” The Jerusalem Post, 12 February 2015.
3 Gil Hoffman, “Jpost Election Arena: Herzog says Likud will replace Netanyahu if Zionist Union forms government,” The Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2015.
4 Jeremy Sharon, “Haredi MK Gafni hints at backing center-left govt, gets in hot water with party,” The Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2015.
5 Barak Ravid, “Lieberman blasts Ya’alon: Nobody took him seriously – not Hamas, Hezbollah or the Americans,” Haaretz, 9 February 2015.
6 Itamar Sharon, “Liberman: Netanyahu has me to thank for the premiership,” Times of Israel, 14 February 2015.
7 Ido Ben Porat and Elad Benari, “Kirschenbaum Exposes Plot to Unseat Netanyahu,” Israel National News, 13 February 2015.
8 Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, “Yesh Atid ‘healthcare platform’ resembles 2014 German Committee’s recommendations,” The Jerusalem Post, 5 February 2015.
9 Lidar Grave-Lazi, “Yesh Atid’s education platform addresses overcrowding, need for more teachers,” The Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2015.
10 Roi Mandel, “Kahlon: I will deal with cost of living,” Ynet, 9 February 2015.
11 “Panel bars Arab MK, far-right candidate from Knesset elections,” Times of Israel, 12 February 2015.
Gil Hoffman, “Obama interfering in Israeli election, according to Jerusalem Post poll,” The Jerusalem Post, 13 February 2015.