June 26, 2019

Election Handbook: Labor Searching for Leader (again…)

Avi Gabbai, the new leader of Israel's centre-left Labour party, delivers his victory speech after winning the Labour party primary runoff, at an event in Tel Aviv, Israel July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until next Election Day, September 17. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

 

Bottom Line

It’s an early phase of the campaign. Parties begin to reorganize.

 

Main News

String of politicians and columnists on the right begin talking about a possible Netanyahu-less future.

Polls show former Minister of Justice Shaked is the candidate most right-religious voters want as the head of a united right-of-Likud party. She did not yet announce her future steps.

Labor party head Avi Gabbai decided to let someone else take charge. His number two, General Russo, quit politics. MK’s Peretz, Shmuli, Shafir, expected to battle for the top job.

Meretz Party leader Tami Zandberg faces a challenger, former MK Nitzan Horovitz.

Legal cases against Benjamin and Sarah Netanyahu advance in the legal system.

First gay minister appointed by the PM to lead Justice Ministry (and signal that Likud does not dance to haredi tune).

 

Developments to Watch

Themes: Will the calls for a rightwing coalition without Netanyahu continue to gain momentum?

Personalities: Is Ehud Barak going to run for Labor leadership? Where is Shaked going to land as a candidate?

Political: Will we see any movement in the polls?

 

The Blocs and Their Meaning

For now, one poll prophesied a possibility of a rightwing coalition without Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu. It is the latest poll, so whether this is a new trend is still early to say. Netanyahu aims for such coalition, as Lieberman intensifies his attacks on Netanyahu (personality cult) and the ultra-Orthodox (his goal is to attract rightwing voters who dislike the Haredis).

We added a Blue and White coalition to the graph, with B&W, Labor and Meretz. Obviously, such coalition is not realistic at this time. So it will have to include Lieberman (but he says he will not join it), or Haredis (ditto), or Arabs. In fact, only by adding two of these three components we can begin to see a B&W coalition.

 

 

A Party to Watch

Yes, it is early, but Blue and White is in some trouble not only because it cannot form a coalition. It also seems to be losing voters. Not many of them, but some. Here are the latest polls:

 

Dissecting Israel’s Next Election

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, from the Jewish Home party, enter the room before delivering their statements in Tel Aviv, Israel December 29, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Kern

Israelis are in uncharted waters. The country faces an election less than half a year after the previous election. Israelis must endure a second election campaign during the summer. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump called the situation “messed up,” and because there is no greater expert on messed-up elections, we must believe that he is right. 

The basic reason for what happened in Israel last week is as mundane as it is technical. Had the right wing had one more seat to spare — just one — a coalition would have been formed. Had the New Right party had a couple of hundred more votes — moving it across the electoral threshold — there’d be no problem. Had the right not insisted on dividing its votes across a wide spectrum of small parties, it would now rule. 

But the right wasn’t wise and was also somewhat unlucky. A clear majority of voters failed to produce a clear enough electoral victory. Thus, the result of the next election depends on two basic questions: Is anyone likely to change his or her mind and switch sides? Will the right be smart enough not to repeat its mistakes?

The first question is important and misleading because observers often get confused as they follow the ups and downs of different parties. So it’s important to remember that the fate of parties is of little consequence in the great scheme of things. What counts is the fate of blocs. And what this means for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition at this stage is quite simple: whether he can get the support of 61 members of Knesset without having to rely on the unreliable support of Avigdor Lieberman and his party. That why Israel’s Election Handbook — a feature posted twice a week on the Journal website detailing the intricacies of Israel’s elections — includes a two-part graph: the right wing including Lieberman, and the right wing excluding Lieberman. 

“When there are many parties, the risk of losing votes grows.”

The second question, about the right’s wisdom, is the one on everyone’s mind at this early stage of the summer campaign. The goal of the right is clear: to have few parties competing for votes on the right. The fewer the better. When there are few parties, votes aren’t wasted. When there are many parties, the risk of losing votes grows. But having fewer parties isn’t easy. For one, because voters are spoiled and want to have the exact flavor, and not an approximation of it, as they buy their cone of political ice cream. And, of course, there is the issue of personal ambitions. 

Here is an example: Ayelet Shaked is used to being an important minister. She doesn’t want to give that up. But she has a problem. Her party, the New Right, lost in the last election. The party she abandoned as she formed the New Right, the Jewish Home, already has new leadership. The party she aspires to join, Likud, seems uninterested. Shaked is stuck. On the one hand, polls paint her as the most popular minister in the outgoing government (she was justice minister). On the other hand, she has no party. That is, unless she establishes her own party, whether it’s the failed New Right (for a second run with her partner, Naftali Bennett) or any other party. Only in such a case, she would be undermining the camp of which she is a part, by splintering it again. 

So we have ego on one side and political realism on the other. We have particular tastes on one side and the need for large umbrellas on the other. Israel’s situation hasn’t changed since the last election, the agenda of voters didn’t change much, the complexities and challenges are the same, and similarly, so are the beliefs and tendencies of the voters. Still, one thing must change for the next election to provide a definitive result compared with the previous election: As a collective, the right needs to get smarter. Can it? Will it? 

Likud is not taking in Shaked — that’s a sign that the right did not learn its lesson. Bennett is planning on running again. Another sign. The Jewish Home is reluctant to make room for its previous leaders. This is an understandable position, but also a sign. Hopefully, in a few weeks this process will end positively for the right. Because if not, what we have in store is not a victory for the left. It is another show of political paralysis.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain.

Election Aside, the Debate Is Real

Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Last week, my column carried the headline “A Week Before Chaos.” This week I must call it a day before chaos — or not. As I write, there’s a political crisis in Israel and there’s a deadline to resolve this crisis: the night of May 29. That’s after the Journal goes to press. Thus, I will share with you three observations concerning this crisis, which addresses whether Israel has a new government or is forced to call a new election.  

Perception and Reality
What is the essence of the crisis? Observers see it in one of two ways: They believe what the politicians say, or they believe that what the politicians say is determined by a hidden agenda. There are two ways to view Avigdor Lieberman’s sudden decision not to accept a compromise and insist on passing a draft law of Charedi soldiers without even a slight change. There are two ways to view why Charedi leaders wouldn’t just accept the proposed law without change.

Does Lieberman want to pass legislation because he truly believes that’s the best thing for Israel, or is it because he wants to (take your pick) torment Netanyahu, sabotage the coalition, get more seats, position himself as a leader of a certain faction, or all of the above? And what is the motivation behind the Charedi insistence on changing the law? Is it because they truly believe the law endangers their way of life, or (take your pick) want to showcase their power, have internal political problems, climbed a tree and can’t climb down, or all of the above?

Question of Priorities
The Charedi draft is like climate change. There is a relative consensus that the current situation is unsustainable. There is broad agreement that something must change. There are even certain remedies that many Israelis would agree on. However, there is lack of political will to implement these changes. 

And, no, this isn’t because of politicians’ misbehavior. It’s because of voters’ misbehavior. Although voters say and feel (and there is a plethora of data to support this argument) that they want change, at the polls, they vote against change. Why? Because they prioritize other things over the Charedi draft, such as wanting the right wing to rule, such as wanting a coalition that would support settlements, such as not believing members of the centrist camp are truly centrist, not leftists.

Lieberman decided to offer these voters an interesting alternative: an unquestionable right-wing agenda and a path to correcting course on the Charedi draft. By doing this, much more than challenging the Charedi parties, he is challenging Likud. His message to right-leaning, nationalistic voters is simple: Likud gives you only half of what you want. I will give you both.

The Charedi draft is like climate change. There is a relative consensus that the current situation is unsustainable.

The Looming Charedi Crisis
If there is a new election in Israel or not; if Netanyahu keeps his seat or not; if the Charedis win or lose this round; if the next coalition passes the draft law or not, the issue of Charedi integration isn’t going anywhere. The following two paragraphs describe it in a nutshell. They are taken from the forthcoming translated version of my latest book (with professor Camil Fuchs) “#IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution.” 

Charedi society presents a challenge to Israel in three respects: economically, for failing to integrate and contribute; defense, for dodging the burden of the military draft; culturally, for trying to enhance religious coercion in the public space. But Israel also presents a challenge to Charedi society in several ways. For many years, the leaders of the Charedi public have successfully coped with their surroundings by means of a certain model, centered on the preservation of a socially isolated and culturally fortified space. It is precisely the success of this model that clarifies why Charedim resist attempts to impose change on them. If the model works, it is not worth revising.

The external and internal pressures on Charedi society to change are, however, growing. They are intensifying from the outside: The Charedi population is growing rapidly, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide for them on the backs of other taxpayers. The pressures are also intensifying from the inside: The young generation is pained by its estrangement from Israeli Jewish surroundings; it’s also searching for a way to improve its living conditions and alleviate at least some of the tensions damaging their relations with other sections of society.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain.

A Week Before Chaos

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters

Hopefully, by the time you read this, the construction of the next Israeli government will have become clearer. But it’s quite possible that the process still will be murky. When the Journal went to press on May 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his party, Likud, were struggling in their quest to form a coalition, and time was running out. By May 28, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition, President Reuven Rivlin will have to give the task to someone else, or a countdown to a new election will begin.

Yes, a new election. There is much talk about that possibility because some obstacles to forming a new ruling coalition seem insurmountable. Example: The leader of the Israel Beiteinu party demands that a military draft law be passed without change. The leaders of the Charedi United Torah Judaism party wouldn’t agree to pass it unless changes are made. Can there be a compromise? Not really. Because the question at hand is binary — either the law passes as written or it’s altered — a compromise means that one faction must accept defeat. Of course, it can be compensated in other ways; it can win other, parallel battles that might sweeten the bitter pill. But it’s a pill that someone must swallow. And as of May 21, both patients were keeping mum. 

How did we arrive at this point of uncertainty and possible chaos? On election night, the right wing was victorious and seemed ready to seal a deal. But with time, it became clear that the victory was simultaneously too decisive and not decisive enough. It was too decisive in the sense that all the parties involved got cocky, basked in their glorious victory and, possibly, lost touch with reality. It was not decisive in the sense that the majority of the right is clear when we count the votes, but not as clear when we count the seats in the Knesset (see the graph on the right). That’s because many right-wingers voted for parties that ended up below the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. 

With time, it became clear that the victory was simultaneously too decisive and not decisive enough.

Netanyahu can blame only himself for this complicating factor. In the last days of the campaign, he was warned time and again that by trying to get more votes for Likud, he could end up hurting his future coalition. That’s exactly what happened. Likud got stronger, the New Right party failed to get into the Knesset by just a few hundred votes and four seats were lost. 

These four seats are sorely missed. They would have made the difference between a prime minister who has no room to maneuver — every member of every potential party counts — and a prime minister with some leverage. With the New Right out of the picture, Netanyahu must include everybody to surpass 60 votes. So he must find a way to satisfy Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and the Shas party’s Aryeh Deri. 

Theoretically, Lieberman remains on the sidelines while letting the prime minister form a 60-member coalition. This means less political chaos, but for Netanyahu — who is under indictment for corruption charges — it also means a hoard of other defeats. Example: The prime minister wants to pass legislation that would save him from prosecution as long as he is in office. Some Israelis believe that such legislation would be the end of democracy as we know it; others believe it’s necessary for Israel’s political stability. One way or the other, a 60-member coalition doesn’t have the votes to pass the law that could save Netanyahu from his legal trouble. At least two members of Likud already said they oppose the law, breaking with the majority within the party but clarifying a murky situation: A smaller coalition is not what Netanyahu could possibly want.

Here comes the part where I’d like to tell you what’s going to happen next, except that, first, it’s too early; second, I write my Journal column several days before it’s read; and third, all bets are off. Maybe, a last-minute Kawhi Leonard-like slam dunk (or jump shot) would present itself. It could come in the form of compromise (Lieberman or Charedis caving in) or a surprise move (unexpected members of other parties joining in).

Maybe a small coalition will have to live with what’s possible rather than what’s desirable for the prime minister. Maybe someone else will get a chance to form a coalition; on May 28, the president has the authority to task someone else with the job. Maybe another election. Amazingly, a week before the deadline, this doesn’t seem impossible (visit Rosner’s Domain online for updates).


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Israelis Voted Center (Yes, They Did)

Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

We don’t expect our politicians to be completely truthful on a good day. When coalitions are formed, their members do nothing but lie. So as you observe Israel from afar in the next six or seven weeks, remain skeptical. Don’t believe the rumors about certain parties having their way; don’t believe the gossip about this or that person getting this or that position; don’t buy the reports about future government policies. Remember: They all spin, maneuver, mislead, pretend. It’s all part of coalition negotiation. It’s all a part of politicians having to look like winners at the end of a process whose main essence is compromise. 

The eventual outcome is pretty much set: A government of right-religious parties with Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. If you disliked the outgoing government, you are not going to like the new government. If you feel that the exiting government was reasonable, you are likely to have the same feeling about the incoming government. All in all, Israel went through a tough campaign to find itself in about the same place. If you read this column in the past couple of months, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

This is who we are: right wing and traditional. But don’t be fooled by images — we aren’t extremists. In the last election, a majority of Israeli Jews voted for two centrist parties, Likud and Blue and White. One of them will form a coalition, and thus must give more radical elements the power to dictate their terms. And yet, the majority of centrists marks a certain boundary that the radicals cannot cross, so as not to put their majority status at risk. 

Where do we see this boundary? We see it everywhere. Example: The ultra-Orthodox parties never seriously attempted to ban soccer games on Shabbat. They didn’t attempt such a thing even though they oppose all commercial activity on Saturdays. They didn’t attempt such a thing even when their political power was at its peak. They didn’t attempt such a thing because of the transparent boundary of centrism. The Israeli center is ready to have a debate about many things, but it’s not ready to even begin a conversation about soccer games. 

“So as concerned people follow the formation of a new coalition, my first advice is to be suspicious, and my second is to be calm. Israel’s policies will remain close to the centrist majority.” 

Another example: No government thus far has proposed to annex the West Bank and naturalize its Palestinian population. I don’t expect any future government to suggest such a thing. Why? Because of centrist Israelis who want Israel to retain its clear Jewish majority. Not even the radicals of the right can persuade an Israeli government to adopt such a policy. Not even if these radicals have the power to make or break a government.

So as concerned people follow the formation of a new coalition, my first advice is to be suspicious, and my second is to be calm. Israel’s policies will remain close to the centrist majority. Israel’s policies will remain close to the policies of previous governments. No, Israel isn’t going to retake Gaza — not unless the situation, security- wise, becomes unbearable. No, Israel isn’t going to eliminate the supreme court. It might tweak its wingspan of authority, but that’s not the same thing. No, Israel isn’t going to force religiosity on its elementary school students, not even if the somewhat radical leader of the Tkumah party becomes education minister. By the way, one of the great secrets of the Education Ministry is that officials there have very little room to maneuver. They can make changes, they cannot revolutionize. Certainly not in one term. 

Remember that fact if you are an outsider who tends to worry a lot about Israel’s future. Remember that you were probably as worried, if not more, after the 2015 election. Four years later, Israel is not in ruin. Four years later, few things changed, some for the better (the number of students excelling in math), some for worse (traffic congestion). Some remained about the same. 

Remember that fact if you are an outsider who expects a new government to make all your dreams come true. That isn’t going to happen. The next Netanyahu government will have a narrow majority of a few seats, and will be able to implement only the policies that all members of the coalition accept. The rightists will have to take into account the center-right members. The untrained-Orthodox will have to be considerate of the secular members. And all parties will have to take into account the voters, most of whom aren’t radicals.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Bibi and Gantz Should Put Their Country First and Unite

From left: Benny Gantz; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photos by Amir Cohen/Reuters

If there’s one thing that has done significant damage to Israel, it is a parliamentary system that gives inordinate power to small, extremist parties which don’t represent the Israeli mainstream. Because the electorate has been so fragmented, larger parties have been forced to hook up with smaller parties who wouldn’t mind, for example, turning Israel into a theocracy or annexing the West Bank tomorrow. 

In return for their valuable seats, these parties extract concessions that lead to divisive policies which alienate much of the Diaspora, not to mention many Israelis.

The good news is that with the results of the April 9 elections, these extremist parties can go where they belong—out of power.

For one of the rare times in Israel’s recent history, two parties—Likud and Blue and White—have garnered a significant majority of 70 seats, with each party gaining 35 seats. 

For the good of Israel, these two parties must unite.

While there are members of Likud that many would consider extremist, they’re still better than the alternatives. Moreover, in a coalition with a centrist party like Blue and White that would garner the support of the majority of Israelis, extremist impulses are more likely to be tempered.

Under the right-wing-religious coalitions of recent years, the opposite has happened. Instead of tempering their extremist impulses, the smaller parties have flaunted them. They’ve had so much power for so long they now expect to get their way. 

Having these kinds of coalitions which reject so much of the Israeli mainstream is corrosive to democracy. The Israelis who voted for two parties and 70 Knesset seats are the new Israeli mainstream, and their collective voice must be heard.

Over the next few weeks, as the traditional coalition horse trading will dominate the news, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have an opportunity to do something extraordinary— they can unite and take their country in a healthier direction. They can put the interest of Israel first.

Yes, it will take an enormous effort to swallow egos, bury hatchets and negotiate compromises. The looming indictment of Netanyahu further complicates the picture.  But if a center-right coalition that has the support of most Israelis and can lead to more reasonable policies is not worth the effort, nothing is.

The Easy Answers Fallacy

Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Recent events in both the United States and Israel highlighted two of the most intractable problems that have plagued the Israeli-Palestinian and American Jewish scenes over the past decade. Speakers at the AIPAC Policy Conference talked about Jewish unity while Israeli politicians sounded increasingly hawkish as rockets from Gaza targeted Israeli civilians and destroyed a home near Kfar Saba. It was an in-your-face reminder that American Jewish frustrations with Israel and Israeli frustrations with Hamas are ever present. But it also should be a reminder that these problems are stubbornly persistent because there are no easy answers to them, and that the lies we tell ourselves about how they can be resolved are an attempt to make ourselves feel better rather than figure a way out of the morass.

Given the recent angst among American Jewry about its role in Israel and to what extent the Israeli government respects or values American Jewish views and priorities, Benny Gantz’s AIPAC debut was guaranteed to address these anxieties. Gantz did not disappoint, talking about the strength of the Jewish people emanating from Jewish unity, the importance of American Jewish support for Israel and the respect that Israel has for American Jews. The most memorable line of his speech was when he said that he has been to the Western Wall and that it is long enough to accommodate everyone, in reference to the deal for a mixed-gender prayer space to be controlled by the Conservative and Reform movements that was nixed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The first section of the Kachol Lavan party’s platform, which deals with security and diplomacy, refers to the relationship with American Jewry as a component of Israel’s security and pledges to heal the rift between Israel and American Jews. I have no doubt that Gantz is sincere in these beliefs, and it is easy to imagine a Gantz premiership being the key to solving this nagging problem of American Jewish distancing from Israel.

But the truth is that while Netanyahu has exacerbated the divide, it is not just about him. It is tempting to place all of the blame at his feet, and liberal American Jews will remain furious at his evident disregard for them and the way in which he made the Iran nuclear deal debate even more divisive and uncomfortable for American Jews than it already was. Yet the issues between American Jews and Israel are structural ones that go way beyond one man and his politics. Even if Gantz is able to form the next Israeli government and he does his utmost best to assuage American Jewish concerns, there will still be a disconnect between what Israelis and American Jews feel the proper role is in Israel for non-Israeli citizens. There will still be fundamental misunderstandings in Israel about how American Jews conceive of their Judaism and transform their theology into practice. Most saliently, there will still be enormous discontent among American Jews over Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the conviction that Israel is not serious about a two-state solution, and enormous frustration among Israel’s Jews that their American counterparts do not appreciate their security dilemmas and are too blithely and naively willing to gamble with their safety. Netanyahu is part of the problem, but he has also been conveniently used as a set of blinders that make the Israel-American Jewish rift appear a lot narrower than it really is.

Hamas’ wanton disregard for life and eagerness to terrorize civilians also lends the appearance of providing an easy answer — namely, that if Hamas continues to shoot rockets at Israeli towns, send incendiary balloons to burn Israeli farms and organize violent riots with the intention of breaching the border fence, then Hamas should be removed by force. Nearly every Israeli politician running to replace Netanyahu and nearly every potential Netanyahu coalition member competing with Likud for right-wing vote share criticized Netanyahu’s approach to Gaza from the right, painting him as too cautious and pledging to restore deterrence. For all the tough talk, you may have noticed that not one of Netanyahu’s critics — not Gantz, not Avi Gabbay, not Naftali Bennett and not even Avigdor Lieberman — came out in favor of actually going into Gaza and removing Hamas.

“For all of the bluster, there is no plausible Israeli prime minister who would go into Gaza with full force and end Hamas rule once and for all. It is too risky, too prone to disaster.”

It is true that Netanyahu is famously cautious and risk-averse when it comes to sending Israeli ground troops into battle. It is also true that Israel has fought three conflicts with Hamas in Gaza since 2008, and none of the prime ministers, defense ministers, chiefs of staff or heads of Southern Command in charge during any of those three conflicts has advocated Israel removing Hamas from Gaza. It is because “Destroy Hamas!” is an easy slogan, but not one that can be practically carried out absent enormous costs — not only the costs of actually fighting to remove Hamas, but the costs of then occupying and administering Gaza in the middle of a political and security vacuum and a humanitarian nightmare. The problem of Hamas is immune to easy answers, and yet we like to tell ourselves that the solution is as simple as “overwhelming force” or “restoring deterrence” or “making Hamas pay.”

Netanyahu has spent a decade trying to avoid tough decisions on Gaza, hoping that applying spurts of pressure combined with spurts of limited openings will be enough to keep Gaza quiet. It is the reason that Gaza is his political Achilles’ heel, since it is always at risk of exploding and everyone knows that Netanyahu has done nothing over a decade in power to fundamentally alter the situation and remove the threat of Hamas. As with the situation between Israel and American Jews, he has his fair share of the blame. But it is critical to recognize that for all of the bluster, there is no plausible Israeli prime minister who would go into Gaza with full force and end Hamas rule once and for all. It is too risky, too prone to disaster and carries with it the entirely different problem — as the U.S. knows all too well from its experience in Iraq — of what to do on the day after. And unlike the U.S. in Iraq, Israel cannot decide one day to just pick up and go home thousands of miles away. Potential solutions to Gaza do exist, but they aren’t easy and they don’t involve fantasies of wiping out Hamas militarily in one fell swoop and having everything else fall into place.

Amid the largest annual show of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the shadow of an Israeli election, it is easy to think that we have all of the answers and that solving problems is easy. The reality, though, is a lot more complex than a pep rally speech or a campaign slogan.

A version of this story originally appeared in Israel Policy Forum.


Michael J. Koplow is Israel Policy Forum’s Policy director, based in Washington, D.C. 

On the Path to Annexation Coalition?

From left: Benny Gantz; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photos by Amir Cohen/Reuters

According to exit polls conducted on Israel’s national election day, April 9 (this story was written when only exit polls were available, and the final vote tally wasn’t known), no leader got a clear mandate to do as he pleases. Voters finally can rest after having played their role in this election. Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, are just beginning a long journey of tough and treacherous negotiations with small and power-hungry parties. Their aim seems simple: to gain the support of 61 members of the Knesset. But it’s not really simple. For one, because getting to 61 seats means, in many of the possible scenarios, getting the support of parties with a great sense of entitlement. 

Let’s examine the scenarios, all of which must be based on early results and exit poll numbers. By the time you read this, the numbers might have changed (for information on changes, including updated graphs of possible coalitions, see the Journal website). But one thing is worthy of note at the outset: Israelis didn’t approve of small, radical parties in this election. Israelis voted for the center. They voted for two parties whose ideologies are  similar. More than half of the votes went to the two big mainstream parties: Likud and Blue and White. 

Blue and White has more seats, so its leaders will argue that they deserve a chance to form a coalition. But the party’s advantage isn’t overwhelming. Its leaders argued during the past few weeks that they need an advantage of more than five seats to get a mandate from the president. The exit polls didn’t reveal such an advantage, and so, if it can’t present President Reuven Rivlin with new information — such as a commitment of parties such as Kulanu or Yisrael Beiteinu to join a Gantz coalition — the president is unlikely to choose Gantz over Netanyahu. Rivlin probably would prefer that because although it’s common knowledge that relations between Rivlin and Netanyahu are quite tense, there is the office to consider, and the legacy. Rivlin must have looked at the polls on the night of April 9 and realized that he will have no choice. Netanyahu has a clearer path to forming a coalition.

Netanyahu’s coalition is likely to include all of the members of his previous coalition. The Likud Party is stronger than is was in 2015, but this strength will not translate to more leeway in the forming of the next coalition. That’s because small parties in small coalitions tend to be demanding. A coalition can’t form without the United Right, so the party will expect significant reward. A coalition can’t form without Kulanu, so that party’s Moshe Kahlon will expect significant reward, possibly even the position of finance minister. Yes, he might have only four seats, but he still wants to retain this senior position. 

“Blue and White is probably the most mainstream party in Israel’s history.”

The price will be paid by the members of Likud. Netanyahu won’t have many cards to play with. If he must give away the education, defense, finance and justice minister posts, Likud members will get less senior cabinet ministries. And yes, they will grumble, they will complain behind Netanyahu’s back. But they can’t much argue with a leader who delivered another victory, for a fifth time. True, the Likud party is not the largest party. It was not the largest party 10 years ago and still formed a coalition.

In every election, there are few memorable events that join the pantheon of great political moments. In 1981, tomatoes were thrown at Shimon Peres. In 1996, Israelis went to sleep thinking that Peres would be the next prime minister, and woke up the next morning to discover that no, it was Netanyahu. In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin made a memorable, if brute, victory speech (“I will lead, I will navigate”). In 2001, the fierce Gen. Ariel Sharon was downgraded to a teddy bear-type grandfather. 

In 2015, Netanyahu’s election day warning that Arab voters are “flocking to the polls” was the high point — and low point — of the campaign. And no, this Netanyahu last-minute clip wasn’t the direct cause for Likud’s final surge and ultimate win. There’s no proof to back that up. And yet, it was a moment that captured the essence of Netanyahu’s political strength and weakness: his mastery of political strategy and laser-beam ability to implement it, and his complete lack of concern for decency. 

In 2019, Netanyahu displayed those same qualities with a vengeance — first, when he was pushing hard for the merger of right-wing and radical right-wing factions. He was the matchmaker of the Jewish Home, a very right-wing party, with Otzma Yehudit, a small, fringe faction that many, including Supreme Court justices, consider to be at least partially racist. One member of this faction was eliminated as a candidate by the court, but the other stayed. Netanyahu, in his quest to use all available votes on the right, is personally responsible for the fact that this radical member of the Knesset gained a seat at the table (on April 9, leaders of the Jewish Home vowed that he will get the seat no matter the number of seats the party ends up capturing).

During the final days of the campaign, Netanyahu did something that seems like the exact opposite of what he intended to do previously. In a blitz of interviews and other public appearances, he warned voters that the right-wing camp was about to lose, and that the only way to prevent such an outcome was to vote for Likud. Not any party that was part of the bloc. Not any party that had committed itself to join his coalition. Only Likud. Netanyahu trusts no one. Not the leaders of the New Right party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, not the leader of Kulanu, Moshe Kahlon; not the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman. The media counted all these leaders as members of Netanyahu’s bloc. And yet, the prime minister decided to take a risk and propagandize against them. 

The risk was twofold. 

Risk No. 1: Parties essential to forming a coalition might not cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%. Only a few weeks ago, Netanyahu was willing to tolerate a racist so as not to lose any vote, but now he was suddenly willing to risk many votes of parties who might not cross the threshold. 

Risk No. 2: Leaders essential to forming a coalition might get angry and decide to take revenge after the votes are counted. These leaders were disappointed by Netanyahu’s so-called “Gevalt campaign” because it put them at risk. But the prime minister is cynical about such things. When he wins, all is forgiven. At least, he hopes it’s forgiven. If he loses, none of it matters. 

Netanyahu’s lack of concern for decency was his rival’s main asset. Gantz heads a group of decent leaders. For most of the campaign, with few exceptions, they didn’t use harsh language, didn’t incite against others, didn’t attempt to polarize the public. They made a bet that Israelis got tired of Netanyahu’s hyperactive rhetoric. They made a bet that many Israelis who might agree with Netanyahu’s policies are tired of his personality. Thus, their main effort was not to be an ideological alternative to Netanyahu, but rather to be a behavioral alternative to his way of politicking. And in a way, their bet worked just fine: Blue and White came from behind and within two to three months to become the largest Israeli party — in fact, the largest party in many years. The last party to gain a similar number of seats was Sharon’s 2003 Likud Party.

“Rivlin must have looked at the polls on the night of April 9 and realized that he will have no choice. Netanyahu has a clearer path to forming a coalition.”

The party that was assembled for this mission, Kahol Lavan (Blue and White), is a makeshift group of former generals, officials, activists and celebrities who agree on most things and also agree to be agreeable when they disagree. That’s one thing that Netanyahu isn’t capable of doing. Moshe Yaalon is a former member of Likud, and a rather hawkish member. Yair Lapid was a minister in Netanyahu’s government, and is also quite hawkish. The party that Lapid headed until the merger into Blue and White was also a diverse group of people who don’t always agree with one another. 

Blue and White is probably the most mainstream party in Israel’s history. It says nothing controversial. It does nothing controversial. It proposes nothing controversial. It is a party of the status quo. That is its main strength, that is its main weakness. Thou shalt not insult your fellow citizen. Thou shalt not hurt any feelings. Thou shalt not rock the boat. Thou shalt not storm the Bastille — be it the Supreme Court, the media, old elites, the academy. These leaders insisted on only one controversial position: They will never join a coalition headed by Netanyahu. On the night of April 9, they reiterated their commitment to never sit with Netanyahu. So, a unity government is out of the question, unless further complications make such option the only wat to avoid another round of election.

To make himself attractive to right-wing voters, Netanyahu made a bold statement that on the eve of election day got only a fraction of the attention it deserved. Asked by an interviewer if the next government, headed by him, would annex the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, the prime minister said yes. “I’m going to apply sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlement points because from my perspective, every such point of settlement is Israeli,” Netanyahu said. Some of his rivals dismissed this as empty campaign rhetoric. They were wrong. 

Well, not completely wrong. The timing surely was tied to the election and to Netanyahu’s decision to pillage his allies on the right. But they would be wrong to assume that annexation would be nothing more than a campaign ploy. Netanyahu, usually cautious in the diplomatic arena, often reluctant to initiate moves as bold as annexation, smells an opportunity. The annexation of the Golan Heights recently was recognized by President Donald Trump’s administration. If the Golan can be annexed, why not Gush Etzion? 

Not long ago, an Israeli presented this exact question to a Trump administration official. “What’s the difference between the Golan and the Gush?” The response was silence. Obviously, the official didn’t see much difference. The Gush was taken away from Israel in the war of 1948 and was recaptured by Israel in 1967. Two years ago, Lapid, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals, participated in a foundation stone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in Kfar Etzion. He said that the Gush is “at the center of Israeli consensus.” When Netanyahu ponders the possibility of gradual annexation of areas in the West Bank, backed by the Trump administration, the Gush is a good place to start.

“In a blitz of interviews and other public appearances, Netanyahu warned voters that the right-wing camp was about to lose, and that the only way to prevent such an outcome was to vote for Likud.”

On the eve of the election, the Trump administration handed Netanyahu another piece of political ammunition. In an unprecedented move, the administration designated the elite Iranian military unit, the Revolutionary Guard, a “terrorist organization.” It took the prime minister maybe 20 minutes from the moment the decision was announced to the moment he first used it in a radio interview — one of more than a dozen a day he conducted between April 7 and April 9.

Trump was Netanyahu’s most useful political tool. Trump’s friendship with Netanyahu was his most talked-about asset. The president moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, canceled the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. Netanyahu believes that he deserves some of the credit for these actions. He believed that the voters give him credit for these actions. 

Gantz could take credit for no such achievements. A few weeks before election day, he knew nothing about the looming Trump peace plan. He was not briefed by anyone. He was not asked to weigh in. Gantz knew all along that Netanyahu is Trump’s choice. In private conversations, he made the assumption that if and when he becomes prime minister, the administration will be quick to adjust to the new reality. And he is probably right about that.

On the night of April 9, the Trump peace team was following the news coming out of Israel and weighing its options: They can hold publication of the plan until a new government is formed, or they can put the plan on the table now or right after Rivlin decides who gets to form the next government. 

Each of these options has its advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the later date would give a new Israeli government time to prepare for what’s coming. Choosing the earlier date would shape the negotiations as a new coalition is formed. Before election day, more than a few observers and pundits assumed that an early issuance would be a pretext to forming a unity government. The plan would hand Netanyahu and Gantz the ladder with which to climb off the tree of mutual snub. 

There is logic behind such an assumption. The parties on the right probably would object to any peace plan; Netanyahu and Gantz recognize that Israel must respond positively to the plan; unity is the logical outcome. That is, if one assumes that the right would object to the plan. But what if the Trump plan is much more acceptable to right-wing voters than previously assumed? What if the plan is one that a Kahlon and a Lieberman and a Rafi Peretz (of the Jewish Home) can accept as a basis for negotiation? 

“In Israel’s context, unilateralism usually is associated with withdrawal… Netanyahu’s unilateralism is different. It is about annexation of areas and settlements. Netanyahu’s unilateralism could be a glue that holds together a coalition.”

Don’t dismiss such an option, and with it the option that an early publication of the plan would help Netanyahu form not a unity government but rather a right-religious government. Here is what Netanyahu is going to tell them: We have a great opportunity to completely overhaul the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. We can form a coalition, say yes to Trump, wait for the Palestinians to say no (they already did, and will do it again), and then turn to unilaterally shaping the future. 

In Israel’s context, unilateralism usually is associated with withdrawal. From southern Lebanon in the late 1990s, from Gaza in 2005. Even today, different groups advocate for unilateral moves in the West Bank, from evacuation of settlements to setting up clear borders. 

Netanyahu’s unilateralism is different. It is about annexation of areas and settlements. Netanyahu’s unilateralism could be a glue that holds together a coalition. There is a narrow window of opportunity, he would whisper to his prospective allies, when I am still here — before the indictment and trial and verdict (those joining him will get cushy jobs and will be asked to commit to see him through the trial). There is a narrow window of opportunity, he would whisper to his prospective allies, when Trump is still in office — before the threat of a Democrat in the White House (maybe Beto O’Rourke, who called Netanyahu a “racist” earlier this week) makes unilateralism too risky. 

Let’s get over our personal grievances and work together to seize this opportunity, Netanyahu would tell them, with the Trump plan laid on the table. If this is a plan that guarantees no evacuation of Jewish settlements; if this is a plan that guarantees a retention of control over the Jordan Valley; if it guarantees freedom of operation to the Israel Defense Forces in all of the West Bank; if it calls for a united Jerusalem; if this is the plan, and indeed, it seems to be the plan — would they dare say no?


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

The Very Short Rosner Guide to Voting in Israel’s Elections

 This is a translation of a guide for the Israeli voter that was published in the Hebrew-language daily newspaper Maariv. If you are an American who could not vote in Israel’s election, it still could help you understand how and why Israelis vote the way they do.

Is it hard for you to decide? It shouldn’t be. The very short Rosner Guide for voting is going to solve your problems.

1. If you are an Arab who wants to annoy the Jews: Vote Ra’am-Balad.

2. If you are an Arab or a Jew who wants to do something really radical (or a communist, but there are no real communists): Vote Hadash-Ta’al.

3. If you are a Jew who wants to do something radical but not as radical as voting for an Arab party: Vote for libertarian Zehut.

4. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Israel is to blame for the fact that there is no peace (but also do not want to vote for an Arab party): Vote Meretz.

5. If you are an Israeli with a strong historical sentiment for the founders’ generation: Vote Labor.

6. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing everything right but incites the public and creates a polarized political atmosphere: Vote Blue and White.

7. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right: Vote Likud.

8. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right except for economics: Vote Kulanu.

9. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right except for security, and also that voting for Likud is not cool: Vote for the New Right.

10. If Naftali Bennett’s kippah looks too small to you, and Yaakov Litzman’s kippah looks too black for you, and you find it difficult to forget that Netanyahu does not have a kippah: Vote for the United Right.

11.  If you are an Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Jew who thinks that someone sees you even behind the curtain: Vote United Torah Judaism.

12. If you tear up at the mention of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: Vote Shas.

13. If you trust only a leader with a Russian accent like yours: Vote Yisrael Beiteinu.

14. If you go with the heart, regardless of the electoral threshold: Vote Gesher.

Appendix for difficult cases:

If what really matters to you is the bloc, not the party, vote Likud or Blue and White.

If it is difficult for you to decide which bloc, see points 6 and 7. Then you’ll know.

If you answered yes to two questions — say, you have sentiments for the founders but you also go with the heart — vote for a party that has a chance to pass the electoral threshold. If both have a chance, vote for the smaller of the two parties — it probably needs you more (and we already said you have a heart).

If you do not feel like voting for any party, try something radical (options 2 and 3). If that does not help, exercise your right (yes, in a free country this is also a right) to not vote.

In such case, do not complain about the results.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israel and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Vote Is a Fresh Start

People pray at the Western Wall on Jan. 12. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

And the results are … confusing! Israel’s election day ended with no clear indication of who would be the country’s next prime minister and what the balance of power in the Knesset might look like.

Even if Benny Gantz’s victory declaration was premature — as of the Journal’s press time, we didn’t know the outcome — the impressive showing of his Blue and White Party signaled the arrival of a major centrist force in Israeli politics.

However the results play out, Netanyahu — who also declared victory — continued to enjoy support from about 30 percent of the electorate. So, “Mr. Security” survived again. He was threatened with indictment; he had three IDF chiefs of staff speak out against him; he had a submarine scandal that could have torpedoed him, but Bibi maintained his base — as did the right-wing bloc.

For an overwhelmingly liberal American Jewish community, the confusing outcome is confounding. Most American Jews cannot fathom how any Israeli can tolerate a leader who bonds with President Donald Trump, flirts with Kahanists, demonizes Arabs and blusters about annexing the West Bank.

I have problems with Netanyahu, too. But abandoning the people of Israel because the nation of Israel has trouble disentangling from this admittedly charismatic and surprisingly successful leader is not just unfair but spoiled. The Blue and White Party’s results show that Bibi’s Israel is only one of many Israels that exist. If you’re disappointed, acknowledge the disappointment, fight to improve matters, but also view this one leader in a broader context.

“Regardless of who governs Israel, American Jews should seek other sources of leverage to strengthen Israel-Diaspora relations and advance their agenda.”

Considering Israel as a Jewish Democratic State — the Jewish national homeland — offers four lenses for viewing the campaign and its outcome:

Israel as a Jewish state: The election raised a red flag — the state’s Jewishness must not become right-wing property. Judaism is not the opposite of democracy — nor, as American Jews would testify, is Judaism hostile to liberalism. Shame on right-wingers for trying to monopolize the Jewishness issue, and shame on left-wingers for abdicating on it. Fortunately, as true centrists, Blue and White leaders integrated the word “Jewishness” into their vocabulary as a spur to morality, outreach and democracy.

Israel as a democracy: Critics will deem every vote for Bibi as a vote against democracy. I disagree. Instead, we should salute the Middle East’s only free and functional democracy — and the world’s 10th oldest continuous democracy — for another peaceful election. Add props to Blue and White for making democracy and the fight against corruption a centerpiece of its campaign.

Israel as a state: Bibi’s sweet spot. Even Blue and White admitted that Netanyahu has been effective diplomatically, economically and existentially. Those disappointed with Bibi’s survival should recognize that Bibi’s supporters are not dupes — they figured that prime ministers are not popes. They respect his accomplishments.

Israel’s Diaspora: Many American Jews are left wondering how their feelings were so irrelevant despite polls showing that 95 percent of Israelis value Diaspora relations. Israelis’ concern for the Diaspora doesn’t affect electoral outcomes for the same reason that many American Jews will vote against Trump despite his support for Israel. Most American Jews don’t vote pro-Israel; they vote anti-Trump or pro-choice and social justice. It doesn’t make them anti-Israel, just more concerned with domestic issues when voting — which requires you to choose one person or party. Similarly, Israelis don’t vote peoplehood but statehood — especially security.

Israel will survive and thrive. The Israel-Diaspora relationship should survive and thrive. But regardless of who governs Israel, American Jews should seek other sources of leverage to strengthen Israel-Diaspora relations and advance their agenda. And they should reach out to Israelis who care about their brothers and sisters abroad, but who feel they have to vote to keep the state alive first.


Gil Troy is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University in Toronto and author of the recently released “The Zionist Ideas.”

Israel’s Election Night Handbook: A Fifth Netanyahu Victory

The following comments will be updated throughout the night. So please, come back to get a clearer picture of the results (Latest Update: 07:00AM Israel Time, 9:00PM LA Time).

 

Exit Polls / Results

The larger bloc is the right-religious bloc. Some parties are still hanging close to the electoral threshold. This was a long night, but the more we see, the clearer the picture.

 

 

Netanyahu’s coalition: 67

 

Big Winner

Netanyahu. A rightwing coalition can be relatively easily assembled. Gantz cannot form a coalition. When he made his victory speech, the crowd shouted: “he is a magician”. Well – he is.

 

Other Winners

All Small Survivors: If the exit polls get it right, the following parties were saved from drowning bellow the Electoral Threshold: Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Meretz. It was not easy for them.

 

The Next Coalition

One bloc has clear advantage as it aims to form a coalition. The following graph is based on 94% of the vote.

 

 

Losers

Benny Gantz is not really a loser, In a short period of time he managed to form a new party and lead it to an impressive achievement. He could not alter Israel’s basic political tendencies. He could not convince the voters that he is could be a PM better than Netanyahu.

The Arab Voter decided to stay home. The outcome, as one can expect, is less Arab representation in the Knesset. From a highpoint 13 seats in the outgoing Knesset to less than 10 seats in the incoming Knesset. The leaders of the Arab parties ought to reconsider their decision to split into two lists rather than one unified list. The voters ought to think if such political apathy serves their interests.

The Labor Party managed to get 6 seats.

Naftali Bennet barely made it (or did not make it) into the next Knesset. His decision to abandon the Jewish Home and form a new party, The New Right, and his ambition to become the right’s new leader, suffered a huge blow tonight. His partner, Minister Ayelet Shaked, agreed to follow his lead. She was hesitant to begin with, and would probably recalculate her own path forward, possibly alone.

Moshe Feiglin, the leader of libertarian Zehut, was an activist, he was a member of Likud, he’s been around for a long time, always on the margins. He expected to get 6 seats, but does not get much in real world.

 

For more coverage on the 2019 Israeli election, click here. 

Israel’s Election Handbook: Your Coalition Builder

Benny Gantz, head of Resilience party and Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, hold a news conference to announce the formation of their joint party. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

The two main parties aim to draw voters from small parties.

Main News

Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to convince voters from the New Right, Zehut, Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu that to preserve right-wing rule they must vote Likud.

Blue and White attempts to do the same with Labor voters (and possibly Meretz voters) – arguing that a significant win is essential for those wanting Blue and White to get a chance at forming a coalition.

Latest polls show that many Israeli Arabs to not intend to vote in this election cycle.

No new published polls until election day. This means that the public is in the dark.

Developments to Watch 

Material: All is quiet on the fronts. If this changes, it could help certain parties and hurt others.

Political: Will more parties make clear commitments never to join a Blue and White coalition?

The Blocs and Their Meaning

There is not much point in looking at polls from last week at this time. So today we begin our coalition building process. In Israel, Election Day is only the beginning. The outcome will set the stage for the next phase: forming a coalition. Bellow, we will show you five options for coalitions. The numbers are based on the average of the last 5 polls that we have. Obviously, these will have to be updated on election Night, when we have real numbers rather than presumed or imaginary. Look at the possible coalition formations, each followed by a few comments on the feasibility of it.

Base: This is Netanyahu’s desired option. But according to most polls, getting to 61 by putting together the members of the base coalition is far from assured. To get there, the parties on the right will need to perform a little better than expected, without any of them falling below the electoral threshold. At least three parties might not make it: Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu and Shas.

Base, expanded: The same coalition with the addition of libertarian Zehut. This is assumed to be the most likely coalition to emerge on election Day. It will be very right-wing and very religious. It will not be easy to assemble and handle (because all parties know that they are essential and hence have many demands). It will complicate Netanyahu’s position when the Trump Plan is published (because many parties in this coalition will reject all plans). But – it could give Netanyahu what he desperately wants: an escape route from his legal troubles.

Unity: If Likud and Blue and white decide to form a coalition together life will be easy, on paper. All they need (and might not even need that) is to get one or two smaller parties to join in and have a broad coalition acceptable to most mainstream Israelis. Or maybe not? Blue and White voters will have a hard time adjusting to a coalition with Netanyahu. Blue and White leaders vowed never to join a coalition with Netanyahu (they agree to a coalition with Netanyahu-less Likud). Netanyahu also vowed not to form a coalition with Blue and White. And he is not likely to trust them to see him through his legal troubles. One way to get over this obstacle: Netanyahu retires, the two main parties form a government. Obviously, the PM does not appreciate the idea.

Blue and Right. Benny Gantz believes that ultra-Orthodox parties, and other right-wing parties, who currently say they will not join his coalition, are about to change their minds after the votes are counted. Zehut and Kulanu are candidates, and never say never. United Torah Judaism and Shas did say never – not to Gantz, to his partner Yair Lapid. Still, he hopes that when they face the dilemma of Gantz or nothing they will choose Gantz. Will there be such dilemma? In a way: If Blue and White get a lot more votes, if the President gives Gantz the option to form a coalition, if Netanyahu, no matter what he does, can’t form a 61 coalition. In such case it could be Gantz or nothing (or new election – a risk for everyone who managed to cross the threshold).

Center Left coalition. This is another Gantz option, if he decides to rely on Labor and Meretz to his left and add the ultra-Orthodox and Kulanu (assuming they agree to such arrangement). As you can see, the polls predict that such coalition will be very tight. It will also be very hard to manage. So, this is the least likely coalition to imagine, unless the numbers change dramatically. That is, unless we discover that the polls are completely off.

The Very Short Rosner Guide to Voting in Israel’s Elections

The following article is a translation of a guide for the Israeli voter that was published today in Maariv (Hebrew). If you are American, who cannot vote in Israel’s election, it could still help you understand how and why Israelis vote.

 

Is it hard for you to decide? It shouldn’t be. The very short Rosner Guide for voting is going to solve your problems.

1. If you are an Arab who wants to annoy the Jews: Vote Ra’am-Balad.

2. If you are an Arab or a Jew who wants to do something really radical (or a communist, but there are no real Communists): Vote Hadash-Ta’al.

3. If you are a Jew who wants to do something radical but not as radical as voting for an Arab party: Vote for libertarian Zehut.

4. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Israel is to blame for the fact that there is no peace (but also do not want to vote for an Arab party): Vote Meretz.

5. If you are an Israeli with a strong historical sentiment for the Founding’s generation: Vote Labor.

6. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right, but incites the public and creates a polarized political atmosphere: Vote Blue and White.

7. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right: Vote Likud.

8. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right, except for economics: Vote Kulanu.

9. If you are an Israeli who thinks that Netanyahu is doing everything right, except for security, and also that voting for Likud is not cool: Vote for the New Right.

10. If Naftali Bennett’s Kippah looks too small to you, and Yaakov Litzman’s Kippah looks too black for you, and you find it difficult to forget that Netanyahu does not have a Kippah: Vote for the United right.

11.  If you are an Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox who thinks that someone sees you even behind the curtain: Vote United Torah Judaism.

12. If you tear up at the mention of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: Vote Shas.

13. If you trust only a leader with a Russian accent like yours: Vote Yisrael Beiteinu.

14. If you go with the heart, regardless of the electoral threshold: Vote Gesher.

 

Appendix for difficult cases:

If what really matters to you is the bloc, not the party, vote Likud or Blue and White.

If it is difficult for you to decide which bloc, see points 6 and 7. Then you’ll know.

If you answered yes to two questions. Say, you have sentiments for the founders, but you also go with the heart: vote for a party that has a chance to pass the electoral threshold. If both has a chance, vote for the smaller of the two parties — it probably needs you more (and we already said you have a heart).

If you do not feel like voting for any party, try something radical (options 2 and 3). If that does not help either, exercise your right (yes, in a free country this is also a right) not to vote.

In such case, do not complain about the results.

Israel’s Election Handbook: Rockets and Smears

Iron Dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel near the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

Rockets come from Gaza, smears from all political parties. At the moment, both do not seem to have much impact on Israel’s voters.

Main News

The Gaza situation is the main news. So far, an all-out breakout of violence was avoided. But this can change any minute. Today and tomorrow (Friday, Saturday) are especially sensitive, as Gazans plan to have rallies near the border.

Blue and White leaders suspect that Likud is spying on them. Likud tries to paint Blue and White leaders as paranoid.

The opposition is still trying to utilize the submarine controversy against the PM. Likud attempts to convince the public that there is a parallel scandal involving Benny Gantz.

Developments to Watch

Material: Gaza. Benjamin Netanyahu is exposed to attacks by his main rivals – all of which argue that his policies are too mild. Sudden eruption of a larger scale military operation could impact the voters in unforeseeable ways (or not at all).

Political: Blue and White fails to gain. It fails in its quest to build a significant and consistent advantage in the polls. If the chances of the party to become a ruling party seem diminished, many so-called “strategic voters” might go back to voting for the parties they like, rather than voting for the party they do not like as much in search of victory. In other words: the more Gantz declines, the higher the danger of a dynamic that could lead to ultimate collapse.

Legal: It is still unclear if a formal investigation of the PM’s part in the submarine purchase is forthcoming. This could be an important development, but time for it is running out.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The closer we get to election day, the more technical we must become. Let’s begin with the two main parties. Both need to convince the president to hand them the key to form a coalition. Netanyahu hope to have a case – in the form of an easier more obvious path to a coalition. Gantz can counter this case by getting a lot more seats in the Knesset. One or two more might not be enough. This graph shows all polls since the beginning of March. For now, what we get in the polls is a closing gap between the two main parties. If the outcome is almost a tie, or a tie, Gantz has little chance of even getting a chance at forming the next coalition.

And here are the polls of the last three days, and what they tell us about the head to head battle between the two main parties. The last column is the averages based on these polls.

Next: the wildest of all wild cards. Many parties are going up and down in ways that put them in real danger. They might cross the electoral threshold of 3.25% or might not. They might get in with four seats or more and might not. If Kulanu gets 3.24% of the vote, the right-wing bloc loses close to four seats. If Balad-Raam does not get in, the anti-Netanyahu camp shrinks by three to four seats (note that the averages presented here are somewhat misleading. When a party does not close the threshold in a poll we count it as zero  seats. In reality, zero seats usually means that the party got 2-3% of the vote, not 0%).

The electoral threshold could easily become the determining factor in this election. If such thing happens, all bets and predictions are off.

 

Last but not least: the blocs. Specifically, the question of whether Netanyahu is going to be strong enough to declare victory on election day. To do such thing two factors must be considered. 1. Does the right-religious camp has more than 60 seats. 2. Is this a reliable conglomerate of parties that would all be committed to forming a right-religious coalition.

Since we last checked, Netanyahu’s position improved somewhat. Based on polls published in the last three days (seven polls) we can say that 1. He has a coalition. 2. He is close to having a coalition even if one of the two most problematic parties – Kulanu and Zehut – make trouble. 3. This still does not cover for a case of electoral threshold complications (for example, if Israel Beiteinu ends up not getting in). 4. This coalition will be unruly and possibly unstable and very right-wing. 5. For Gantz, forming a coalition seems almost impossible (that is to say, in a polite way, impossible).

 

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: Kahol-Lavan Leads Comfortably

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, U.S., March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

After the big bang, the new Kahol-Lavan list (Gantz and Lapid) presents a serious challenge to Likud.

 

Main News

Reports: Attorney General is set to publicize his decision in the Netanyahu cases towards the end of the week.

Post-merger polls give Gantz-Lapid an average 5 seat advantage over Likud.

Netanyahu’s main effort is to paint Kahol-Lavan as “left”.

AIPAC’s denouncement of the deal that is likely to bring Kahanist activists back into the Knesset is used as political ammunition by Netanyahu’s opponents.

Several parties, including Kulanu and Meretz, are still very close to the electoral threshold and could be in danger.

 

Developments to Watch

Legal: Reports currently suggest that the Attorney General will announce a decision to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing. Two cases (4000, 1000) seem finalized, a third (2000) is still under considerations. One indictment will be for bribery.

Diplomatic: Netanyahu will travel to Russia later this week for a meeting with Putin. He will travel to Washington next month for AIPAC. Gantz was also invited to AIPAC. The reception of both will be interesting to follow.

Political: right-wing infighting: Bennet tries to appeal to Likud voters; the right-wing union (The Jewish Home, Tkuma, Otzma) goes after Bennet voters.

 

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The Likud might not be the largest party on Election Day. This makes its claim on forming the next coalition trickier. It will have to assemble a majority of MK’s supportive of Netanyahu as PM and show that no other party can form a coalition. Will it be able to do such thing? Let’s look at two graphs and then explain what they mean.

The first graph shows the numbers of Likud vs. Kahol Lavan since last Thursday (8 polls) and the average for each of these two parties. The second graph looks at the performance of the right-religious bloc of parties taken together (the 67 coalition).

 

 

 

  • The right-wing religious coalition of 67 (in the current Knesset) maintains a thin lead over the other camp – that is, the camp that wishes to unseat Netanyahu and form a different coalition. This lead is stable from the time new election were announced in late December, but since this is a small lead (61 is the minimum required), even slight erosion puts the bloc in danger.
  • That the right-wing-religious coalition has only small advantage, does not mean that the other bloc can form a stable coalition. Arab parties do not join coalitions, and hence Kahol-Lavan would not be able to gather an above-sixty coalition. That is, unless some of the parties that we currently count as part of the Likud bloc decide to switch their loyalties after Election Day.
  • The likely candidates to do such thing are Kulanu and Israel Beiteinu. Then again, having Lieberman and Meretz in the same coalition – that is supported from the outside by Arab parties – is not easy to imagine.
  • What right-wing parties are afraid of is a unity government of Likud and Kahol Lavan. To have such coalition, Gantz and Lapid will need to accept a coalition headed by an indicted PM (they currently say they will not accept it). Another distant possibility: Netanyahu quits, and the Likud Party enters a unity coalition with someone else at the helm.

 

 

 

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: The Big Gantz-Lapid Bang (and What It Means)

Benny Gantz Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

Updated 2pm Israel Time: A big bang. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid agreed to merge. Everything is up in the air.

Main News

Gantz and Lapid agreed to merge. Gantz will be PM for two and a half years, Lapid will succeed him. That is, if the party wins. The list will run under the title Blue and White.

Another former chief of staff joined the merged party: Gabi Ashkenazi.

The religious right merged: The Jewish Home, Tkumah and Otzma Yehudit will run together.

Gesher did not join Gantz, and in most recent polls does not cross the electoral threshold.

Last minute drops and recruits: Tzipi Livni and the Hatnuah Party dropped, General Tal Rousso joined Labor.

Talks about mergers of Arab parties, and of Labor with Meretz continue. The dead line is Thursday night, Israel time.

Developments to Watch

Political: Fresh polls – starting today – are necessary, to understand the implications of the merger. Likely outcomes: Likud grows (because of voters wanting to ensure its victory); Labor loses the gains of recent days (because of voters who see opportunity for change); other small parties pay a price (Kulanu, Gesher, Israel Beiteinu, Meretz). Some of them will not cross the electoral threshold.

Legal: Next stop, indictment. Everybody is waiting for the Attorney General to publicize his decision on the Netanyahu case.

Social: The barrier between right-religious parties and radical Kahanist activists was removed. This reflects important changes and splits in the Zionist-religious camp. Netanyahu played the role of matchmaker, as not to lose rightist voters who could elect parties that do not cross the electoral threshold.

Social: Lapid downgraded most representatives who emphasized state-religion issues in his party. This is not an important issue for the voters in this election.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The old polls mean little when realities change. Still, some media outlets conducted “scenario polls” that tested what happens in case of significant mergers. Clearly, what the voters say they might do in a theoretical setting is not what they will do in a real situation, and yet, for now this is the only tool we have by which to examine possible implications of the merger. So here is a graph based on the last 4 scenario polls. What you see in the graph are three things: How Likud fairs, how the new party fairs, and how Netanyahu’s coalition of 67 (the one that was the basis for his government for most of the last four years) fairs. The last column, in a different color, is one of averages. Look at the graph, followed by a few comments:

 

 

  • Likud and the new party compete for two things. The first of which is to be the larger party – as to force the president to consider it worthy of forming a coalition (the larger party does not always get the job, but it is unlikely to see a distant second party getting a shot at forming a coalition). The new party seems to achieve this goal.
  • The second competition is for the bloc, and the post-election coalition. For now, Netanyahu has the advantage when we look at the blocs if – and this is not a certainty – all the parties in his 67 coalition agree to return to the same coalition.
  • Netanyahu’s advantage is small and fragile. Some of the parties might be tempted to go with other coalitions (Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu). Some might not cross the threshold.
  • Still, it will not be easy for Gantz and Lapid to form a coalition. Arab parties are out of the question. Meretz is unlikely to join in what’s going to be a centrist coalition. So the new party will have to find a way to tempt the ultra-Orthodox parties to consider a coalition.
  • Last but not least: If Netanyahu is forced to stay with the base for a new coalition, the Trump plan is in even more trouble than we think. Or maybe it’s Netanyahu in trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: The New Face of Likud

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

The Likud Party has a decent list of candidates.

Main News

Likud Primaries: a solid outcome, with experienced and respectable candidates at the front row.

Netanyahu failed to block the rise of former minister Gideom Saar within Likud.

Benny Gantz is still doing well in the polls. But his rise came to a halt.

Talk about possible last-minute merge of centrists (Gantz and Yair Lapid) intensify.

Five to six parties are close to the electoral threshold and might not get any Knesset seats.

The Jewish Home chose its new leader: Rabbi Rafi Peretz, from the conservative wing of the Zionist-religious sector.

Developments to Watch

Political: Will the new Likud party list give Likud a boost in the polls?

Personal: Gideon Saar just bit Netanyahu in his own home court and earned a Likud front seat against the PM’s will. Netanyahu must decide if wants this internal Likud fight to continue or declare a cease fire.

Personal: Are there any signs that Lapid is getting used to the idea of being Gantz’ No. 2.

Political: The Jewish Home must decide if it is ready to become a party of an even more conservative rightwing religionists and take under its wing the Kahanist wing of the ultra-right.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

Simply put, Likud still has best chance of both winning and forming the next coalition. The Netanyahu 67 coalition is now at average of 63. A slight decline, but still a majority. The right-religious bloc is very close to 60 seats, and with a small addition from the center can form the next coalition.

 

Focus on One Party

Not long ago, Orly Levy Abekasis was getting ready to becoming Israel’s political rising star. She was to be the newcomer who made it against all odds, all on her own, by forming a party focused on social justice. Today, above Levy’s party there’s a huge question mark. She can still run and get a seat at the table. She can merge with one of the other parties (it’s a little complicated for her, because of legal issues involving her decision to quit her previous party and stay in the Knesset). Or she can see more decline and end up bellow the electoral threshold. He average of seats for the year is 4.7. Her average in the last five polls is 3.2. That is – not enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: Is the Rise of Gantz for Real?

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

For now, Benny Gantz is the alternative.

Main News

Gantz had a successful first appearance, and he is rising in polls.

His numbers improve mostly by taking from other parties in the center and left blocs.

Moshe Ya’alon is Gantz’ No. 2.

Many parties, including The Jewish Home, Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Gesher, Meretz, barely meet the electoral threshold.

Developments to Watch

Political: Gantz’ had a solid performance in his first speech. The boost in the polls was to be expected. The question is: Will it last. Another question is: how strong will he become. With nine  seats less than Likud, Gantz will not get a chance to form a coalition.

Political: Gantz’ list is “white” – namely, too Ashkenazi. It is also manly – or, as some critics argued, chauvinistic. These two issues must be corrected, and soon.

Political: Leaders in all blocs, but especially on the right must pay attention to the electoral threshold. The Jewish Home, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, are all in danger (according to the polls). The right can end up throwing away more than 10 seats on parties that will not make it into the Knesset.

Personal: Yair Lapid is likely to be under pressure to team up with Gantz and thus give the centrist bloc a shot as winning the election. For now, he stands firm against such pressure. He wants to be Prime Minister, not Gantz’ second in command.

Personal: Livni is still under water. Ehud Barak not likely to make a comeback. Ashkenazi, another former General, is still undecided.

What’s the Race About

Is Gantz for real, or just having his moment in the sun.

Possible Wild Cards:

More parties sinking under water.

Gantz’-Lapid merger (could end up having as many as 35 seats according to some polls).

Security crisis.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

The rise of Gantz can be meaningful in three ways.

  • If it convinces other centrist parties and their voters that he is the real player that ought to be supported.
  • If it gets him close enough to the numbers of Likud, and make the possibility of him getting a first chance at forming a coalition realistic.
  • If the bloc of right-religious parties loses ground (and seats).

For now, none of this happened. Gantz is not dominant enough to make Lapid join him (he might succeed with Gesher). He is still far from Likud (average 8 seats less). The right-religious bloc still has an edge. Take a look at the graph. It shows the average of how the blocs did before and after the rise of Gantz. As you can see, most of what Gantz gained comes from his own bloc (center) or from the left.

Still, we do not want to underestimate Gantz’ achievement. In close election, and when many parties barely scratch the electoral threshold, every seat counts, and Netanyahu’s coalition of 67 (before Lieberman’s departure) is loosing seats. The parties that made this coalition currently get around 63 seats. As you can see, most of this change happened before Gantz’ rise.

Focus on One Party

Gantz, in the 4 polls before and the 4 polls after vs. Lapid before and after. Gantz, in the 4 polls before and the 4 polls after vs. Likud before and after. As you can see: Gantz must worry Likud, but to Lapid he is a more immediate threat.

Israel’s Election Handbook: Right Getting Closer to 60

Israeli lawmakers attend a preliminary vote on a bill at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

A relatively quiet election week. No splits, no mergers.

Main News

Northern front in the news: Israel bombing Iranian installations in Syria.

Netanyahu’s lawyers tried to convince the Attorney General not to publicize a decision on indictment before Election Day.

More details about the PM’s involvement in media manipulation was revealed.

Developments to Watch

Political: Benny Gantz launched a campaign that’s very much focused on him as a brave and combative soldier. Polls do not yet tell us if this campaign makes him more appealing to Israelis (see “focus on one party” at the bottom of this post).

Political: The Jewish Home is slated to decide on Thursday how to compose its next leader – by a committee of by party operatives.

Personal: Four MK’s (out of current 10) already left Kulanu. More to come.

Material: Security issues and the Syrian front creep into political campaigns. Netanyahu’s decision to take responsibility for Israeli attacks is criticized by opposition parties (the attacks themselves are supported by almost all parties).

What’s the Race About

Netanyahu’s legal troubles.

Possible Wild Cards:

Syria.

Dramatic damning information against Netanyahu.

Benny Gantz-Yair Lapid last-minute merger.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We want to save you time. So here is all you need: the political blocs’ averages of the last year, and of the last week (last five polls). As usual, there are two options for counting the blocs, but the overall picture is clear. 1. There are few changes. 2. The left (Labor, Meretz, Arab parties) is slightly smaller. Right and center slightly gained. In fact, in the latest polls the right-religious bloc is getting close to a desired 61 bloc – a bloc that could give it the option of leaving all centrists outside the next government.

The blocs are:

Option 1:

  • Right: Likud, New Right, Jewish Home, Israel Beiteinu, UTJ, Shas
  • Left: Labor, Meretz, UAP, Taal
  • Center: Resilience, Yesh AtId, Hatnuah, Kulanu, Gesher

Option 2:

  • Right: Likud, New Right, Jewish Home, UTJ, Shas
  • Left: Labor, Meretz, UAP, Taal
  • Center: Resilience, Yesh AtId, Hatnuah, Kulanu, Gesher, Israel Beiteinu

Focus on One Party

How is General Gantz doing? Here is the graph of all polls in which he appeared as running with a separate party (that is to say: we did not include scenario polls of him running with Labor or Lapid). As you can see, his numbers slightly declined. His average of polls since new election were called on December 25 is more than 13 seats (13.2), but his average of the last five polls is almost a seat less (12.4). Does this mean he is losing steam? Not necessarily. Gantz just started his campaign, did not yet speak, did not yet reveal his list of candidates, did not yet merge with anyone.

Israel’s Election Handbook: Stability of the Right

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9th. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

Likud gaining in recent polls.

Main News

Minister Shaked under attack, following a scandal involving an ally.

Labor MK’s leaving the party (3 thus far).

Lapid also promises to change Nationality Law.

Developments to Watch

Political: The Jewish Home party named a list of activists, rabbis and leaders. These people will name the new leader of the party. In recent polls, the party doesn’t always get enough votes to get into the Knesset.

Political: According to the first poll to test the split in the United Arab List, MK Ahmad Tibi made the right choice when he decided to run alone (the Taal Party). He is projected to get 6 seats, instead of the 2 he currently has. The UAL declines to 6 seats (from its current 13).

Personal: Labor MK’s Nahmias-Verbin, Bar, Broshi, will not run again. They say it is an ideological decision, but it is worth noting that the prospect of them getting into the next Knesset were dim.

Material: Possible merger of all Haredi parties is under serious discussion. This can save Shas whose current situation is fragile. It is also interesting as Ashkenazi and Sephardic haredis do not usually mix.

Material: Gantz’ slogan revealed: “Israel comes first”.

What’s the Race About

When will Gantz finally say something? Will his numbers hold when he does?

The Blocs and Their Meaning

Here is one of the two options of political blocs we track (in the other one, Israel Beiteinu is in the center). Note that we added the new Arab Party, Taal, to the left bloc. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 25, the day new elections were announced.

 

 

What you can see here (for the two options) is how little changed on average since the beginning of 2018. We compare the average of polls since January 2018, to the average of the last 5 polls. The result: 2-3 more seats for the center, 2-3 less for the left. Over all, the political situation remains the same. A coalition can be formed by the right plus some of the center, or by the center plus a lot more of the right. Since the Likud Party is head and shoulders above all other parties for now, the likelihood is for a right plus some center coalition.

 

 

Focus on One Party

Since Tzipi Livni was forced to separate herself from Labor (and the Zionist Camp), her party, Hatnua, is included in polls. But the party does not do very well. In fact, in most polls it gets less than the minimum required to get to the next Knesset (4 seats is the minimum – in rare cases 3). Here you can these polls. When Livni does not cross the threshold, we apply 0 (seats) to her party even though she does get some votes. 1.89 is her average seat number (that’s equals 0). 6 is the number of MK’s she won with the Zionist Camp. It should be noted that if Livni gets closer to election day in such fragile situation, many of her voters could end up deciding to cast their vote for a party with better chances to have representation in the Knesset (likely choices, Lapid and Gantz).

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: No Mergers, No Doubts

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

Bottom Line

Splits continue – mergers await.

Main News

The Arab Party is also on its way to a split.

Netanyahu made his case against pre-election decision on hearing.

Internal security warns from outside interfering in election, Russia rebuffs allegations.

Schedule

Feb. 11 is the day of Labor Primaries.

Developments to Watch

Political: Arab split could mean two Arab parties in the Knesset, or one party that does not cross the finish line (leading to a reduction of the record number of Arab MK’s in the current Knesset).

Personal: According to polls taken since she split with the Labor Party, Tzipi Livni does not make it into the next Knesset. She must find a new political home, or she might disappear.

Material: It’s not clear if and how Russian intervention can impact Israeli voters. This is not America: Voters are generally speaking more informed, engaged and involved.

What’s the Race About

Still nothing. But to get some more input listen to the Rosner’s Domain podcast with veteran political commentator Yaron Deckel.

Possible Wild Cards:

A decision to indict/not indict Netanyahu.

Resignation of Labor’s Avi Gabbay.

Violence in Gaza.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 25, the day new elections were announced. Since then, parties fractured, but blocs remain relatively stable.

What you can see next (again, for the two options) is how little changed on average since the beginning of 2018. We compare the average of polls since January 2018, to the average of the last 5 polls. The result: two to three more seats to the center, one to two less seats to the right and the left. Over all, the political situation remains the same. A coalition can be formed by the right plus some of the center, or by the center plus some of the right.

 

Focus on One Party

While other parties go up and down, the Likud Party is relatively stable. It also has a projected number of seats that’s more than double than the next party in line. If there are no mergers that can push other parties above the 25-seat line, there is little doubt that the Likud will form the next coalition. The President cannot let a party with 13 or 17 seats to form a government, when Likud has 28 or 30 seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: Silent Treatment

Ehud Barak.

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip.

 

 

Bottom Line

Netanyahu utilizes his legal troubles to rally the base.

Main News

Netanyahu released a video demanding that any decision by the Attorney General concerning his indictment will be postponed until after Election Day.

The AG will reportedly announce his decision a few weeks before Election Day.

Schedule

First public appearance of General Benny Gantz – the head of the most fashionable party to the left of Netanyahu – is expected sometime. For now, Gantz’ silence draws ridicule but does not hurt him, politically speaking.

Developments to Watch

Political: There are too many parties. Talks about possible mergers will continue until the last minute. Can the center unify? Can the religious-right? Can Haredis?

Personal: A few players did not yet throw their hats into the ring. The two most important: Former PM Ehud Barak. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. It is not clear if any of them can tip the scale in a certain direction.

Legal: Netanyahu intensifies his attacks on the legal system. This strategy has two reasons. 1. His base is highly suspicious of the system. 2. His attacks are likely to draw angry responses, and some of them, by people much less experienced than him in public speaking, could help his campaign.

What’s the Race About

Is the legal system trying to topple an elected PM?

Possible Wild Cards:

A last-minute merger of all centrist parties (Gantz, Lapid, Livni, and maybe more).
A highly convincing indictment that leaves Netanyahu little choice but to seek a deal.

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. In the graphs bellow you can see what happened to these blocs since Dec. 30. Parties fractured, but blocs remain pretty much the same. The averages of polls since January 2018 (column 11) and of the last 10 polls (column 12) show relative stability. If things do not change, the right will win the election, but the Likud Party is going to need to convince at least one centrist party to join the coalition. This could become complicated for an indicted PM.

Focus on One Party

When Israel decided to go to election, The Jewish Home seemed like a midsize party. Then its two leaders, Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, suddenly left it. Not it is a party whose future is unclear. It can be small – or disappear. That is, if the party does not meet the electoral threshold (four seats). In such case, the right-wing bloc could lose the equivalent of two to three seats.

The average number of seats currently projected by polls is 3.2. Namely – no seats.

 

 

 

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: Split on the Right

We call this format a Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain from now until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip. See an Update with the newer polls from Sunday here

Bottom Line

Israel’s political system fragments on both right and center.

Main News

Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left The Jewish Home to form the New Right party. Generals Benny Gantz and Moshe Yaalon to join forces.

Schedule

February 21: Last date to present the lists of candidates for all parties.

Developments to Watch

Political: How many voters leave The Jewish Home for the New Right. How many voters the New Right is able to get from other parties (Likud, Yesh Atid, Gantz, Shas).

Personal: Will MK Bezalel Smotrich become the new face of The Jewish Home? Who will he recruit to attract more voters? Will Tzipi Livni find a new political home (she does not seem to want to stay in the Zionist Camp – nor does Gabbai seem to want her to stay)?

Material: The growing tension around Gaza can put Bibi Netanyahu is an awkward position, and is likely to strengthen Lieberman (who left the coalition arguing that Israel’s deterrence no longer work in Gaza).

What’s the Race About

Who better represents the ideologies and interests of the center-right and right?

Possible Wild Cards:

Eruption of violence in Gaza.

A decision to indict Netanyahu.

The Polls and Their Meaning

Below are the parties gaining and losing seats according to the polls since December 25, compared to the number of seats they won in 2015 (The New Right is not yet here). Note that Likud seems very stable and that the two parties who gain most seats are new parties – the old parties either lose (Zionist Camp) or stay about the same.

 

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options of political blocs. As you can see, in both cases, the right-religious bloc does not have more than 60 seats and thus cannot form a coalition by itself. It will have to be joined by at least one of the centrist parties. Columns 13 and 14 are averages – 13 of all polls since January 2018, and 14 of all polls since December 25, when new election were announced. For now, what we see is stability. Parties fluctuate, but blocs remain the same. With such outcome, it is clear that Likud will form the new coalition.

See an Update with the newer polls from Sunday here

 

Focus on One Party

This is what the Yesh Atid Party looks like in polls since the beginning of the year. It looked in a much better position when Gantz was not yet a part of the picture. It currently looks as just one of many second tier parties. The average for Yesh Atid in polls since December 25 is 13 seats, two more than it currently has in the Knesset.

Israel’s Election Handbook: A Day After Update

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. Photo by Amir Cohen/REUTERS.

 

This is a short update of Israel’s Election Handbook from yesterday. We recommend that you read both to get the fuller picture.

Many media outlets conducted polls the day after new elections were announced. So, we use the opportunity to show how these polls change the picture of Israel’s political blocs’ map.

The bottom line is still similar to what we said yesterday: “the right-religious bloc does not have more than 60 seats and thus cannot form a coalition by itself. It will have to be joined by at least one of the centrist parties. The center and the left can theoretically form a majority – but only if they can agree to rely on the United Arab Party, an unlikely scenario. If things stay the way they are, the likely coalition will be one similar to the current coalition. The right, plus a party or two from the center – Netanyahu will have room for negotiations”.

We offer two options for potential political blocs. You can see the list of parties in each bloc for each option on the right.

 

 

If you are interested in averages, here is how the polls of the last 48 hours split the three blocs (the numbers refer to average number of projected seats in the Knesset):

 

Israel’s Election Handbook: A Timesaver Guide to Israel’s Coming Elections

A general view shows the plenum as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

This format of reporting on Israel’s elections will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain from now until April 9. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, he-said-she-said no news, unimportant inside baseball gossip. Click here for updates.

Bottom Line

It is going to be short and fierce. Three months plus small change. Netanyahu has the edge, but legal troubles can complicate his situation.

News

Election Day is April 9.

Schedule

The votes necessary to call new elections are expected this week.

Four parties must hold primaries within a few weeks: Likud, Labor, Jewish Home, Meretz.

Several candidates who are still sitting of the fence must decide if and how they intend to enter the fray. The most notable of these candidates is former IDF chief of staff, Benni Gantz.

Developments to Watch

Political: The attempts of Israel’s center-left to form a new bloc of parties that can effectively challenge Netanyahu. Without such a bloc, it’s not clear if there’s a viable path for anyone to compete with the Likud Party.

Personal: Where is Gantz is going? He is the wild card for now, according to the polls.

Legal: Attorney General schedule. In short, will he or will he not make a decision to indict Netanyahu as the police and the State Attorney recommend.

Material: The crash of markets. This can lead to economic anxiety, even though Israel’s economy seems to be in a solid position.

What’s the Race About?

For now, one issue: should Netanyahu get a fifth term?

Possible Wild Cards:

A decision by President Trump to put his peace plan on the table.

War.

The Polls and Their Meaning

These are the averages for each party both since January and in the last 3 polls. Expect many changes as new parties form and old parties split or collapse. This will be a rapid process.

(for even newer numbers see our Day After Update)

 

The Blocs and Their Meaning

We offer two options for potential political blocs. As you can see, in both cases the right-religious bloc does not have more than 60 seats and thus cannot form a coalition by itself. It will have to be joined by at least one of the centrist parties. The center and the left can theoretically form a majority – but only if they can agree to rely on the United Arab Party, an unlikely scenario. If things stay the way they are, the likely coalition will be one similar to the current coalition. The right, plus a party or two from the center – Netanyahu will have room for negotiations.

 

Focus on One Party

This is what the Zionist camp looks like in polls since the beginning of the year. The two orange dots are scenario polls in which Benni Gantz joins the Zionist Camp. Clearly, the party can benefit from a leadership shakeup.

 

Counting to Election Day: The Cruelest Battle

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett attending the annual Bible Quiz in Jerusalem, on May 12, 2016. Photo by Shlomi Cohen/Flash90

Is Israel going to New Elections?

Yesterday two events made early elections – possibly in May – much more likely. Event one: the police recommended to indict PM Netanyahu on bribery charges. Event two: The Supreme Court gave the government until mid-January to pass a military draft law (for which there is not majority support among current coalition members).

To make this possibility easier to asses we’re republishing the table of recent polls –with the most recent updates – and explaining the chances for success and failure of the parties. Follow the comments, look at the table.

 

 

1.

It’s early. We don’t yet know who is running and how. The most important decision will be made by former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz. This table shows that he can get from 15 to 20 seats as a head of a standalone party, or close to 25 as the head of the Zionist Camp. With more seats he can dream about becoming the PM – with an independent party he can join all coalitions and get a significant portfolio (most likely, Defense). Looking at the current table, going alone makes more sense, as Netanyahu seems likely to have a majority for a coalition similar to the one he had until a few weeks ago.

2.

If Gantz runs alone, the Zionist Camp is in huge trouble. It will become insignificant even as an opposition party.

3.

Netanyahu can have a small yet coherent coalition without Gantz or Lapid. Or he can take one of them and have a very large coalition. Or he can take both and have a gigantic coalition (our table’s “centrist coalition” option includes Lapid but not Gantz). Such a coalition could get more than 80 seats in the Knesset. The question of course is whether it can also be functional.

Remember that Netanyahu did well this term with a small and coherent coalition.

4.

It’s important to remember that parties with 4-5 projected seats might not pass the electoral threshold. If, for example, Shas fails to get 4 seats (as some polls might predict, despite their average being close to 6 seats), coalition calculations become more complicated.

5.

Note that about 20 seats are going to new, unknown, barely established, never tried before parties (Levy Abekasis and Gantz). Clearly, Israelis are looking for something that doesn’t currently exist in their political universe (maybe: a way to beat Netanyahu).

6.

These polls were all taken before the police recommendation. Don’t be so sure that the recommendation will hurt Netanyahu. In fact, it could strengthen him. Especially so if rightwing voters feel that he needs their votes to win.

7.

Going to new elections over the draft bill can also be tricky. All in all, Haredis are not well liked by most Israelis, nor is IDF draft deferment. If the opposition gets a chance to convince the public that this is the most important issue on the agenda, the public might give it more votes. Surely, Netanyahu is going to argue that security is the important item, and that no one else has the needed experience to keep Israel safe.

8.

This isn’t necessarily a race for PM. Unless something dramatic changes, Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister. I’d think about it as the race to be Defense Minister. Lieberman wants the position back – and will get it back only if he has enough seats. Bennet wants it badly, and with enough seats for the Jewish Home he can make it a condition. But there is also Gantz. If he gets many votes, Netanyahu can use him either to tame Lieberman’s/Bennet’s ambitions – or as Defense Minister in a coalition that begins with 45-50 seats (Likud + Gantz).

In other words: there is good chance that the race for Defense Minister will be much fiercer, crueler, bloodier and more interesting than the race for PM.

Israel: The State of the Political Race

A general view shows the plenum as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

The numbers below are taken from polls conducted in Israel after the abrupt resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this week. Only one of these polls tested the option of a new party headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz. In all but one of the polls, the current coalition has a majority without a need to add more parties to the mix (ironically, the one newspaper whose poll does not predict such majority was done by Makor Rishon, an ideologically right-tilting newspaper). Netanyahu lost popularity this week – as many polls show – but when it comes to forming the next government he is still on solid ground.

 

A Few notes:

 

  1. This is early, and we ought to expect many changes until election day (time unknown).
  2. Still, presuming a repeat of the current coalition would be reasonable, and viable (as you can see in the table below).
  3. Gantz can run alone, or join a party, or a conglomerate of center-left parties, in an attempt to reshuffle the political cards.
  4. The two Ashkenazi Haredi factions that compose United Torah Judaism are, well, not as united as they used to be. A split is possible (meaning, one Hasidic and one Yeshivish party).
  5. Our “centrist coalition” option is based on the contours of Netanyahu’s third government: a coalition without the Haredi parties. Since parties disappeared (Hatnuah) or were established (Kulanu) since that time, we tried to assess how such coalition is likely to look like. Likud + Yesh Atid + Jewish Home + Kulanu + Israel Beiteinu + Abekasis.

 

 

News Notes: West Bank Annexation, BDS battle, asylum seekers

1.

In the news: Likud party calls for de-facto annexation of Israeli settlements.

More than three years ago I made the following argument: “It’s not easy to mark the exact moment when a peripheral idea suddenly becomes mainstream. But it’s safe to say that in today’s Israel the worrisome idea of annexing land in the West Bank is no longer marginal or considered as extreme as it once was”. Still, the recent Likud vote in support of annexation does not worry me – at least no more than I was worried three years ago.

Why?

  1. Because it was a political move with no actual consequences.
  2. Because it does not have the support of the more serious leaders of Israel.
  3. Because the word “annexation” means nothing until all other aspects of annexation are clarified.

In other words: saying “annexation” is no more than a simple statement: Israel ought not leave Judea and Samaria. As a statement, it does not startle me. As a plan – it is no plan. Can Israel stay? What will be the price of it? What happens with the Palestinians who live there? Until these question have a clear and reasonable answer, annexation is a childish provocation, not a real threat.

2.

In the news: Organizations that promote a boycott of Israel are no longer welcome there.

There is no reason for BDS activist to come to Israel other than make trouble. There is no reason for Israel not to block the entrance into the country of people whose main motivation is to make trouble. The rest is noise, the rest is political propaganda: “anti-Democratic measure” (it is not, Israeli citizens can still oppose Israeli policies), “the policy of autocracies” (not true – a Democratic has the right to decide not to let certain people in, and most democracies do), “will drive young Jews away from Israel” (tough luck, not everything Israel does is aimed at gaining the approval of young liberal Jews).

The bottom line is simple: you want to harm Israel – don’t expect Israel to accept you with open arms. You want to harm Israel – don’t expect Israel to be sensitive to your hurt feelings.

3.

In the news: Israel offers to pay African migrants to leave, threatens jail.

The debate over how to deal with people who seek asylum in Israel has two main components:

  1. Does Israel have the right to block the entrance, or deport, people it does not want as citizens.
  2. What measures can Israel take to achieve such goal.

That we have trouble having this debate is any sensible way is due to the fact that the two camps having this debate do not believe that the motivation of the other side. There are those believing that the other side – while saying he is for a fair treatment of asylum seekers – truly seeks to rob Israel of its right to keep its entry gate. There are those believing that the other side – while saying he merely wants to keep Israel’s cohesive character – are willing to treat asylum seekers cruelty and inhumanly.

In truth, most Israelis – not activists, politicians, headline grabbers, populists – believe is quite simple: keep Israel cohesive, and don’t open the gates to people disrupting its cohesiveness. But also refrain from being cruel, or racist, or inhuman. To achieve such goal, the main challenge is not one of policy, but rather of mutual trust.

We, the Pickles

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most memorable phrase of the past week — the phrase for which his speech at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset will be remembered — is untranslatable.

Yes, you can call it the “pickles speech,” but this makes no sense. In Hebrew, “pickles” is “chamutzim.” In Hebrew, “chamutzim” is also “sourpuss.” So, the “pickles speech” (in Hebrew, “Ne’um HaChamutzim”) is truly the “sourness speech.”

Netanyahu mocked his rivals by calling them “pickles,” as he blamed them for being irreparably sour and dissatisfied. “You are constantly grousing,” Netanyahu said about them, “attacking and nitpicking. … You deal with nonsense, but you know deep down that in democratic elections, we will win.”

Yet the chief pickle of the day was not the usual opposition leader or some party hack. It was Israel’s president, a Likud Party veteran, Reuven Rivlin. Without mentioning Netanyahu or his party by name, Rivlin harshly criticized the attitude of the ruling majority and its tendency to treat all criticism as politically motivated and hence illegitimate. “The media is political, the democratic institutions — everything from the [civil service] professionals to the state comptroller — political,” Rivlin said. “The Supreme Court is political, the security forces are political. And is even the IDF, our Israel Defense Forces, political? The entire country and its institutions are filled with politics.”

The debate between these two leaders was as profound as it was personal.

The debate between these two leaders was as profound as it was personal. They clearly dislike each other, but that’s beside the point. What they say is what’s important, and what they say it what’s disturbing.

Rivlin, rightly, feels that his party and former friends lost their way, and lost their sense of stately responsibility. He did not say this in such words, but what he meant was: You all have become party hacks, no longer caring for the country and its people, only caring for maintaining your government.

Netanyahu, rightly, feels that no matter what he does, his critics grumble. If the economy is doing well, he does not get credit. If Israel is strong, he does not get credit. If terrorism is contained, war is avoided, relations with the United States are solid and Israel’s position in the world improves, he does not get credit.

Both of these leaders lost their trust in the good faith of important institutions — a disease of our time (see this week’s number on the right side of the page). Rivlin, for example, does not believe that the government is acting in good faith to better Israel when it attempts to rein in the Supreme Court’s activists. Netanyahu does not believe that police are acting in good faith to better Israel when they investigate his deeds and misdeeds.

This is a disturbing sentiment, because trust is all a government has in a democratic society. Without the general trust of the public, it cannot properly function. If citizens do not trust the police, they will not complain, nor tell it the truth. If citizens do not trust the courts, they will not accept their verdicts. If citizens do not trust the government, they will search for ways to circumvent the government — to change the rules or ignore them.

Lack of trust is a dangerous disease because it is very hard to heal. Netanyahu is unlikely to heal it, because of his belief that every attempt to mend the differences will be a sign of weakness and used against him. Rivlin is unlikely to heal it because the minute he steps into this minefield, he becomes a suspect in the eyes of those who see conspiracies and enemies around them. The opposition is unlikely to heal it, because it has political motivations that it rarely resists — namely, when opportunity to politicize an issue presents itself, the opposition usually jumps on it and thus reveals its un-stately motivations.

Maybe the next leader, after Netanyahu, can do something to mend this sense of mistrust. Maybe, but Netanyahu is not going away without a fight. Why would he, when all he sees around him are blunt attempts to dethrone him by means other than winning an election — investigations, insinuations, allegations, exaggerations and the pickiness of pickles? n


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick sets up office outside Temple Mount to protest ban on visits

Likud lawmaker Yehuda Glick sitting outside the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem in protest on the ban on Knesset members visiting the site, Aug. 14, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from the Likud party, held office hours outside an entrance to the Temple Mount to protest an ongoing ban against Knesset members visiting the holy site.

Glick, a longtime activist for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, told reporters that the action Monday would only last one day.

“I’m here to protest the fact that the prime minister won’t enable police to allow us to enter the Temple Mount,” he said. “I suffer every day I can’t enter the Temple Mount.” “There’s no reason in the world to think that my entering the Temple Mount will stir trouble.”

In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist shot and nearly killed Glick for his Temple Mount activism.

Since capturing the Temple Mount from Jordan in 1967, Israel has controlled access but allowed Jerusalem’s Islamic authority to manage the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims alike.

In November 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered lawmakers to stay off the Temple Mount amid a wave of Palestinian terrorism linked to claims that Israel was trying to change the status quo. Israel denied the claims. After Glick filed a petition against the ban, Netanyahu in early July decided to allow lawmakers to visit the site on a trial basis.

However, on July 14, before the decision went into effect, three Arab Israelis shot dead two policemen on the Temple Mount. Israel responded by suspending the plan and installing walk-through metal detectors at the Muslim entrances to the site. Amid prayer sessions, riots and regional pressure, Israel eventually removed the metal detectors. But the ban on visits by lawmakers remains in place.

Still, in July, some 3,200 Jewish Israelis visited the Temple Mount — more than in any month since the state took control of the site.