Israeli Elections 2019/2020 Version Three
January 13, 2020 Labor Meretz to Run Jointly, Knesset to Begin Deliberation on Netanyahu's Request of Immunity.
It has been a fateful few days in Israeli politics. With the deadline for submission of the party lists for the next Knesset just two days away, Labor and Meretz have agreed to run in a joint list. Amir Peretz, head of the Labor party had resisted the merger until now, claiming he could pull support of voters who would otherwise vote for the Likud — which was the logic of the Labor party merger with Orly Levy-Abekasis and the Gesher party before the last election. However, it did not work, and if anything, it persuaded former Labor voters to leave Labor.
This time, Peretz managed to get a better deal for Labor — with 6 of the top 10 places on the new join list designated for Labor candidates. Left off the list is fireball/dynamo Stav Shafir, who had left Labor to form the Democratic Union before the last election, with the hope the Labor Party would follow her. That did not happen, and her new “friends” left Shafir high and dry on the outside. This was quite a mistake, since Shafir has a very strong following — stronger than any of the people on the Labor-Gesher-Meretz list. The top four candidates on the new joint list are Amir Peretz, Orly Levi-Abecassis, Nitzan Horowitz, and Tamar Zandberg, none of whom generate much excitement — followed by Yair Golan in the number 7 slot and the one Arab-Israeli tapped to be on the list, Issawi Frej at number 11. I estimate this left-wing list, which had 11 seats in the last election, will be lucky to get six seats in March. Many people will look at the uninspired front-runners heading the list and decide they might as well give their votes to the Blue and White Party to make sure Gantz’s party is the largest, by far.
On the right-wing, the Jewish Home Party led by Rabbi Rafi Peretz agreed to a merger with the Kahanist Otzma party. In addition, the New Right Party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have decided to run alone. This is a similar configuration to the first election, when Bennett and Shaked did not pass the threshold to enter the Knesset. Bennett is convinced that his current position as Defense Minister will result in his receiving more votes. I question that assumption. The first time, Shaked had been seen as a successful Justice Minister and Bennett as a relatively successful Education Minister. Now, after only a few weeks on the Defense job, he comes across more like a little boy playing with his new toys.
The initial polls after today's developments show very little movement. But it’s a little too soon to reach any conclusions. More importantly, this will be an election decided primarily over the turnout. However, one interesting result of the poll, is that, for the first time, it shows Gantz dead even with Netanyahu in suitability to be Prime Minister —which may have something to do with the other major political development of the last two days.
Last week, Netanyahu requested parliamentary immunity for the crimes he has been charged with. Something Netanyahu said he would not do. What Netanyahu did not expect was that Blue and White, with the support of Avidgor Lieberman, would push for his immunity request to be heard in the current parliament, which had disbanded, but is still legally the Knesset. The Knesset’s legal advisor issued a ruling stating that if a majority of Knesset members wished to establish the Knesset Committee to hear the Prime Minister’s request they could do so.
So, today the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee met to establish the committee to hear Netanyahu’s application for immunity. The Likud, who for the first time in 11 years finds itself a minority in the Knesset, repeatedly called foul and asserts it will go to the Supreme Court to stop the proceedings. They are somehow missing the irony that the same party who kept complaining the Supreme Court should not interfere in the actions of the Knesset is now trying to insist they do that.
What the exact impact of the Netanyahu immunity hearing amid an election campaign will be is hard to know, but it is unlikely to help him. Netanyahu seems to be hoping Donald Trump will announce his “Deal of the Century” to distract the public from his legal morass. Benny Gantz has stated that releasing such an announcement would be clear interference in the Israeli elections —
What Trump will decide to do on this matter is unclear as it is on many other matters.
December 27, Netanyahu Wins Likud Primaries
It is with great reluctance that I post my first entry into my election update for the third Israeli election within one year. However, with Prime Minister Netanyahu winning his primary election bid, that time has come.
Before I get into the Netanyahu primary victory, a few general comments: The major question in this election will be simple — how will the fact that most Israelis blame Netanyahu for bringing on a third election, and the fact the Attorney General has brought bribery charges against Netanyahu (as well as others charges) affect voters — and most importantly, voter turnout.
Will Likud voters rally for Netanyahu — causing all those who stayed home last time to rush to the polls? Or will, even more voters choose to stay at home? This is a big unknown.
The same can be said on the other side. Will Blue and White supporters feel — why bother Netanyahu is still Prime Minister? Or will B & W manage to motivate their voters to feel just one more push and we can finally unseat Netanyahu? The pivotal question on the left is whether Amir Peretz will finally come to his senses and agree to a joint list with the Democratic Camp, or if he will continue to fantasize that he an Orly Levy-Abecasis (who has failed to find a real following) will draw voters from the right-wing. If Peretz refuses to merge, there is a real chance that both the Democratic Camp (Meretz) and Labor could fail to pass the voting threshold and hand victory to Netanyahu. That is a risk few on the center-left consider reasonable to take, but Peretz has been deaf to all the entreaties; while his cohort Levy-Abecasis keeps saying that a joint run with Meretz is unthinkable, since they are “so far left”.
Now to Netanyahu’s victory — It actually came as no surprise that Netanyahu won the vote. Netanyahu’s margin of victory (72.5 to 27.5%) was more or less what most pundits had expected. No revelation, no indictment, nothing seems to weaken Netanyahu among his base. (Does that sound like any other politician on the other side of the Atlantic?). Despite Netanyahu’s clear victory, the primary did show there is a strong base of support inside the Likud for making a change. A large group, albeit a minority in the Likud, feel that having someone who is under indictment for bribery run as the head of your party is, shall we say, problematic. How will those people act on election day? Only time will tell.
This next week is an important one in the march toward the election. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether a Prime Minister under indictment is allowed to form a government. While it's clear that a sitting Prime Minister under indictment can remain Prime Minister, it's not at all clear how that applies to the formation of a new government. In addition, by the end of this coming week, Netanyahu must decide whether to formally request the Knesset grant him immunity from prosecution — a lose-lose proposition for him. If Netanyahu requests immunity, he will have undermined his claim of the last three years that there is nothing to the investigation, or any legitimate case against him. Granting Netanyahu immunity is very unpopular in the country, even among Likud supporters. If Netanyahu does not ask for immunity, a court date will be set for the beginning of proceedings against him.
Stay Tuned! It will be an interesting ride.
About this Section- by Marc Schulman
This is part three of the Israeli Elections of 2019 or Elections 2020. Israel and specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu has called a second redo. All that happened in version 1and 2 in the previous pages are relevant, but it is a new election and as such things may turn out very differently, or maybe not.
This overall website started with a section on American Presidential elections — a subject that I have written about extensively and on which I have authored a book History of American Presidential Elections: From George Washington to Donald Trump"). I have closely observed/participated in Israeli politics since 1975. In 1977 I voted in Israel for the first time, choosing the party that promised change, “Shinui”. I was in uniform the first time I voted, as I was the second time (while doing reserve duty), when I was probably one of the few people at that point to ever vote from outside Israel, as I was stationed on the Egyptian side of the border during the disengagement. Since then I received an academic understanding of Israeli politics, having been a student of the late Asher Arian, considered the dean of experts on Israeli elections. For the past more than seven years, I have once again had the chance to observe Israeli politics close-up, after returning to Israel following an absence. For the last five years, I have published a column in Newsweek called “Tel Aviv Diary”, which has given me closer access to people and events. Over the course of the coming months, I hope to chronicle and analyze the significant milestones and turning points in this year's Israeli elections, here on these pages. Some of these decisive junctures will find their way to Newsweek, and others will appear in our new Israel economic app, called DigitOne. Some of it may appear in our new economic news site DigitOne.News