HEADING TOWARD THE ELECTION BROADCASTS
The election campaign will move forward to its next phase on March 3rd, with the start of the national TV broadcasts. In the meantime, the media focus seems to be on Netanyahu’s planned speech to the US Congress and on the American debate over a possible agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear capabilities. The key issue of greatest importance, however, is what such an agreement between the West and Iran would entail.
The essence of the possible agreement with Iran was well-formulated by Henry Kissinger, who recently appeared before the US Senate Armed Services Committee. Kissinger stated:
“Nuclear talks with Iran began as an international effort, buttressed by six U.N. resolutions, to deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option. They are now an essentially bilateral negotiation over the scope of that capability through an agreement that sets a hypothetical limit of one year on an assumed breakout. The impact of this approach will be to move from preventing proliferation to managing it.”1
What Kissinger said, rather diplomatically, is that the Obama administration is unlikely to deliver what was expected of it. One might add that Obama’s two terms as president have seen a decline in America’s international status. The US military pulled out of Iraq, only to return to bomb both Iraq and Syria. Tensions with Russia have greatly increased. Obama is in dire need of something which can be described as a foreign policy success, even if at a future date it may turn out to be a bigger disaster than anything he has done so far.
In view of the enormity of the issue at stake, the remainder is indeed of much less importance. This includes the tensions between the Republicans and The White House over Netanyahu’s upcoming lecture and how the invitation was initiated. Obama sees Netanyahu as a major hurdle in achieving his flawed Iran deal, and so the US administration has attempted to falsely blame Netanyahu and render him the scapegoat for deteriorating relations between the US and Israel. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice said that Netanyahu’s speech was “destructive of the fabric of U.S-Israel relationship.” 2
It is far from certain whether any of this has had much impact on the Israeli elections, and for various reasons. The left-wing opposition to the Likud isn’t very clear about what it would do differently from Netanyahu concerning Iran. Herzog said that a nuclear Iran is very dangerous for Israel but refused to say that it is an existential threat.3 Furthermore, Obama is increasingly unpopular in Israel. A Times of Israel poll found that 72% of Israelis have no faith in Obama’s capability of preventing Iran from getting the nuclear bomb, up from January’s 64%. Only 33% of respondents polled view Obama favorably, while 59% see him unfavorably.
The same poll indicated that the most important current political issue for Israelis is the economic situation, at 48%, followed by Israeli-Palestinian relations at 19%, and education at 14%. The Iranian threat was a priority for only 10% of those polled.4 How these figures will translate into voter preferences on election day remains to be seen.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released a report on Israel’s housing crisis. One of its key findings was the sharp increase in housing costs: while in 2008 it would take an average of 103 monthly salaries to buy a home, in 2013 it went up to 137 monthly salaries. The proportion of a monthly salary needed for rent went up from 29% to 38% over the same period. Who is to blame for this crisis is likely to become a substantial issue in the upcoming televised election campaign.5 In a poll by The Jerusalem Post, 41% blamed Netanyahu, 20% Lapid, 16% blamed The Israel Lands Authority, and 6% blamed former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.6
After the State Comptroller’s report on the issue of the Prime Minister’s Residence expenses was published, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ordered a criminal investigation of the subject. He specified, however, that it was not a major issue and that most of the investigations and the public announcement regarding its conclusions would take place after the elections. Weinstein added that Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently exempt from any criminal investigation.7
The leaders of eight parties held a televised debate on Channel 2. The Likud, the Zionist Union and United Torah Judaism were absent. During the debate, Lieberman attacked Ayman Oudeh, the leader of the joint Arab list, claiming that he had threatened Arab Israelis who had wanted to volunteer for national service. Lieberman told him, “you call yourself Palestinian and not Israeli”, and added that Oudeh should go to the Palestinian parliament.8
Representatives of various parties came out with political statements, whether at the debate or elsewhere, none of which seemed to draw any major attention.
At a conference organized by the Israel Women’s Network and several other women’s organizations, representatives presented their party platforms. Koolanu’s Moshe Kahlon said that his party’s first priority was to enforce existing laws mandating equality. Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union stated that she was a feminist. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz of the Likud said that a woman could be Minister of Defense if she understood the field. MK Ayelet Shaked of Bayit Yehudi said that laws allowing only religious marriages and not civil ones are not discriminatory.9
Bayit Yehudi Chairman Minister Naftali Bennett said that he would resign from any government that would cede territories to the Palestinians. He had before written on his Facebook site that he would do his utmost to prevent any community in Judea and Samaria from being dismantled.10
Zionist Union leaders Herzog and Livni visited the Wadi Ara area in northern Israel. Dozens of Israeli Arabs demonstrated against them, shouting, “You have blood on your hands!” and waving Palestinian flags. The police arrested six of the protestors.11
On the basis of most polls taken this week, it seems that there was a slight shift away from the Likud, but without any increase in the number of Zionist Union seats. Most polls did not show any significant shift between the various blocs. Yet 43% of Zionist Union voters and 36% of Likud voters still consider voting for another party. Overall, 21% of voters remain undecided.12
All of the above was but an introduction to the upcoming election broadcasts. The parties will have to focus on producing clear sound bites. The bigger parties will have a far greater allotment of broadcast time than the smaller parties. The constant repetition of their messages will bring out to the public what they consider essential.
1 “Kissinger on Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, 9 February 2015.
2 Brendan Bordelon, “Susan Rice: Netanyahu’s D.C. Speech ‘Destructive of the Fabric’ of U.S.-Israel Relationship,” National Review, 25 February 2015.
3 Gil Hoffman, “Netanyahu slams Herzog for saying Iran not an existential threat,” The Jerusalem Post, 23 February 2015.
4 Stephan Miller, “3 in 4 Israelis Don’t Trust Obama to Keep Iran from Nukes,” The Times of Israel, 11 February 2015.
5 Yonah Jeremy Bob, “Comptroller skewers national housing policies,” The Jerusalem Post, 26 February 2015.
6 Gil Hoffman, “’Post’ poll finds 41% blame Netanyahu for housing crisis,” The Jerusalem Post, 27 February 2015.
7 Yonah Jeremy Bob, “A-G orders criminal probe into PM Residence affairs,” The Jerusalem Post, 27 February 2015.
8 Lahav Harkov, “Israeli party leaders butt heads in televised debate,” The Jerusalem Post, 26 February 2015.
9 Lahav Harkov, “Kahlon calls to enforce equal pay for women,” The Jerusalem Post, 26 February 2015.
10 Hezki Ezra, Cynthia Blank,”Bennett: I Will Overthrow Gov’t That Gives Even an Inch of Land,” Israel National News, 26 February 2015.
11 Ariel Ben Solomon, “Wadi Ara protestors: Herzog, Livni have ‘blood’ on their hands,” The Jerusalem Post, 1 March 2015.