Drama Starts Early In Israeli Elections

Israeli elections always feature a lot of political drama. But when the Knesset was dissolved on December 24, it set off a flurry of action that was furious even by Israeli standards. The drama is likely to increase between now and election day on April 9 even though the winner is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.

Soon after the new elections were announced, political bombshells went off in parties on the right and in the center. It started with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked bolting their party, HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home). Soon after, the head of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, publicly humiliated former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, thereby eliminating the Zionist Union coalition his party had formed with Livni’s Hatnuah party.

From the point of view of all Israeli politicians—except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—this election is really about positioning for the next one. Netanyahu is going to win, but it’s very likely to be his final term as prime minister. A fight is now taking place over the succession, amid the ongoing collapse of the center and center-left of Israeli politics. Read more at LobeLog


Stav Shaffir on Labor Party Entering Netanyahu Government

MK Stav Shaffir, the #3 on the Labor Party list in Israel, has long made it clear that she opposes her party’s entry into the governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She Stavis far from alone in this. Many notable Knesset Members from the Zionist Union party (which is composed of the Labor Party and the smaller Ha’Tnuah party), including #2 Shelly Yachimovich and Ha’Tnuah head Tzipi Livni among others, have made it clear that they oppose such a decision.

MK Shaffir put her statement on her Facebook page. It in Hebrew only, and I have translated it below. Any inaccuracies in translation are fully my own. Continue reading at Medium.com

Israeli Elections Q&A

New York Magazine’s Q&A with me yesterday:

Tomorrow, Israelis will go to the polls and decide whether they want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his 675px-Kalpi_israel_18allies to continue to run the Knesset, or whether they would like Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Union to change things up. The race looks impossibly close, and because this is a parliamentary election and there’s no chance that either of the possible prime ministers can form a government alone, there are a host of smaller parties that hold the government’s future in their grasp. Daily Intel talked to Mitchell Plitnick, program director at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who explained some of the most important variables to keep an eye on tomorrow — and what potential electoral outcomes could mean for Israel’s relationship with the United States, peace talks with Palestinians, and nuclear talks with Iran. Read More at New York Magazine.

New Poll Offers False Hope in Israeli Elections

Many people in the United States are keeping a close eye on the Israeli elections, due to take place on March 17. The Herzoglatest, and last, poll by the Knesset Channel in Israel came out yesterday, and it may open a lot of eyes.

The poll shows the Zionist Camp coalition—Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah— garnering 24 seats, while Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party come in second at 21. The report inHa’aretz analyzes those numbers even further to show that 56 elected Knesset members would likely recommend Herzog to form the next government, while Netanyahu would have the backing of 55.

As always, however, the devil is in the details. Assuming for the moment that the election turns out exactly as this poll predicts—which, given the nature of such polls, is not terribly likely—here is the breakdown of the 120 seats in the next Knesset:

Zionist Camp: 24
Likud: 21
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s centrist party): 14
Joint List (Hadash, a Jewish-Arab communist party, and Balad and Ta’al, the two Arab parties): 13
Jewish Home (Naftali Bennett’s far right party): 12
Kulanu (a new centrist party headed by Moshe Kahlon): 9
Shas (a religious party representing Jews of Middle Eastern descent): 7
Meretz (leftist Zionist party): 6
United Torah Judaism (a religious party of Jews of European descent): 6
Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman’s right wing/Russian party): 5
Yachad/Ha’am Itanu (A far right party headed by Eli Yishai): 4
(Note: the numbers add up to 121 due to rounding)

A careful observer might notice a big problem for Herzog if the election comes out this way.

First of all, Herzog would have to get enough parties to recommend to the president of Israel that he be given the first opportunity to form a government. Ha’aretz seems quite certain that the Joint List would do so, but that is far from certain. Kulanu has already stated that they would not recommend any party. Without the Joint List, Herzog would have only 43 or 44 recommendations, and that won’t be enough.

But let’s say he does get past that hurdle. That Joint List question comes up again.

No Israeli governing coalition has ever included Arab parties. Herzog has given no indication that he is ready to break that precedent. Even if he were to do so, it’s at best a 50-50 chance that the Joint List would accept. His clear coalition partners are Yesh Atid and Meretz, so he needs to get the support of enough other parties to collect 17 more seats.

Without the Joint List, Herzog would need to bring in both religious parties and Kulanu. That might not be possible with Meretz and Yesh Atid in the coalition, both of whom are unlikely to be deemed acceptable to the religious parties (and the feeling is mutual). Even if the Joint List agreed to join with Zionist Camp, Yesh Atid might bolt as a result.

The road forward for Netanyahu is much cleaner. He could, potentially, get as many as 64 or 65 seats in a coalition of Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Shas, UTJ, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Yachad. Even if one party objects to another potential coalition partner, Netanyahu could afford to lose one if things break right.

It’s important to note that this poll is the most optimistic one yet for those who hope to see Netanyahu defeated. It can be argued that, since this is the last poll from this particular source, it points to a trend that could continue for the next week and give a few more seats to a potential Zionist Camp coalition. The more likely indication, however, is that even if Herzog manages to best Netanyahu in total seats for his party, he will be unable to form a government.

It never hurts to be optimistic. But the wiser course is to prepare for Act IV of the Reign of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu Hits New Low In His Campaign Of Fear

I just got this tweet from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Twitter account:
שוב נחשף אופיו האמיתי של המחנה האנטי-ציוני בראשות בוז’י וציפי. כאשר ח”כ עתידי ברשימת “העבודה” משבח סוכן של חיזבאללה – מה יש עוד 6915863535_dbfef3f7f4_zלהוסיף?
It says: “Again, the true face of the ‘anti-Zionist’ camp headed by Buji (Herzog) and Tzipi (Livni) is revealed. When a future member of the Knesset from the Labor list praises a Hezbollah agent, what more is there to say?”

I submit, these are the ravings of a lunatic mind.

Bibi is referring to testimony given by Zuhair Bahloul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who is #17 on the joint Labor/Ha’Tnuah list, dubbed “The Zionist Camp.” Bahloul is a well-known figure in Israel, a soccer and basketball broadcaster for Israel’s Channel 1. He is also known for his efforts in bringing Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel together to promote co-existence and equality, which has generally been the sum total of his political activity.

In this case, Bahloul was testifying on behalf of the family of a man who was convicted of aiding a Hezbollah plot to attack Shimon Peres in Turkey. The man, Milad Khatib, accepted a plea bargain and is serving a seven-year sentence. Bahloul’s testimony was offered in defense of Khatib’s family, not Milad himself. (It’s worth noting that such scrutiny is not generally focused on families of Jewish radicals, even the ones sometimes labelled “terrorists” after so-called “price tag” attacks). 
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