James J. Marlow
There is almost zero movement in the polls this week, which means there is almost zero chance of a coalition-building attempt. This tells us that the two opposing sides in Israeli politics are once again, evenly balanced, but I could have told you that before this fourth election was voted upon.
Likud remains the leader of the pack by 9-10 seats with Yesh Atid coming in at a distant second. Around twenty per-cent of voters are still undecided which party they will choose on 23 March, but most know which side they are considering.
For example, a typical Israeli voter, including myself thinks, do I want a left-wing or right-wing party? Do I go for a religious or secular faction? Or do I choose a smaller party that could make a significant difference when building a coalition or avoid running the risk of wasting my vote, if the party fails to cross the minimum threshold?
These are the questions that cross a voter’s mind when he or she walks into the booth and is confronted with a blue tray of Hebrew lettered slips — 39 of them this time, each representing one of the 39 parties running.
But the election could end up being decided by not who is at the top of the polls, but rather, at the bottom.
Meretz, Blue and White and the United Arab List (Ra’am) on the left, with the Religious Zionists Party on the right, are all polling on the borderline and fighting for their political lives. It is impossible to predict which of these parties will make the 3.25% electoral threshold and which one will flush away tens of thousands of votes.
ELECTION NEWS BRIEFS:
• As expected, the High Court overturned a Central Elections Committee vote (16-15 with 2 abstentions) to ban Labor’s number 7 candidate, Ibtisam Mara’ana Menuhin from running for Knesset. In the past, she has made many insensitive comments about the Holocaust, but the court ruled, she should still be able to run. Labor are polling between 5-6 seats.
• Senior Likud officials are complaining over not receiving a role in the party election campaign. PM Netanyahu last week pledged to appoint campaign managers in the field, but Likud MKs have said the party’s director is blocking campaign efforts because he says, there is no budget to operate field positions.
• Shas and United Torah Judaism parties this week threatened not to join a government led by Netanyahu unless he commits to reverse the high court decision this week, recognising reform and conservative conversions received in Israel.
• The Chairman of the Central Elections Committee Justice Uzi Fogelman has banned segments of the “Stand-Up Nation” TV show in which PM Netanyahu explains his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the peace accords. Fogelman said the clips could be shown after the election, but right now constitute election propaganda and influence voters. The Likud party says it will appeal, as there are non-stop interviews with other politicians.
• Blue and White leader Benny Gantz continues to be defiant in calls for him to pull out of the race before election day. Some polls have shown that Blue and White will not cross the minimum 4 seats required to gain entry into the Knesset. But Gantz has been polling at a steady 4-seat prediction, with one poll this week putting him on 5 seats.
• The Likud postponed the launch of its election campaign at the Jerusalem Convention Centre last Tuesday night. The party planned an “in-person” event, in line with Green Pass regulations, but came under sharp criticism for a mass event before the next phase of the opening comes into effect. The reason given for the postponement was last Tuesday afternoon’s urgent coronavirus cabinet meeting.
• Yamina head, Naftali Bennett, told Kan News that he would not sit in a government, headed by Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid. Bennett said, “Lapid is from the left and the majority of the country is on the right”. However, Bennett did concede that he would sit with Lapid in a government. The next day, New Hope leader, Gideon Sa’ar also confirmed he would not allow Lapid to become PM. In response, political commentators speculated that Bennett and Sa’ar could merge after the election giving their bloc around 23 or 24 seats and have a rotation PM role with each other. This is a serious blow to Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beteinu) who last week, called on Bennett and Sa’ar to nominate for PM, the leader of the second-largest party, which is likely to be Yair Lapid.