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From Israel “Do We Know Where We’re Going??”

March 19, 2021

The election in Israel is next Tuesday.  Here I offer my perspective on what’s happening and what we might expect.  

First, several background points:

[] Polls are inaccurate. Relying on them to secure a solid sense of where we are going is foolish.  And yet, we all watch the polls, cite the polls. There have been new results publicized daily, and each time they are somewhat different.  Trends can be discerned, yes.  But not final results, with anything resembling certainty.  Now the polls have stopped because it’s close to the election.

[] Our risk of election fraud is low.  We don’t use electronic machinery that can be connected to the Internet or otherwise lend itself to alterations. We require presentation of an official ID (which every citizen carries); it is checked against a list of people registered for that polling place.  And we don’t have absentee voting; Israeli citizens abroad must come home to vote.  The exceptions are diplomats and their families, and members of the Coast Guard. Soldiers vote on their bases. Citizens who are in quarantine because they may have been exposed to corona will have separate polling places next week.

The official symbols of the parties running are on printed pieces of paper.  (The example below is from a previous election.) The slip of the party of choice is selected behind a screen and put in an envelope, which is sealed and placed in the ballot box.  

Credit: JewishWeekly

Each polling place has observers, and at the end of the day the tallying of these pieces of paper is done twice at each polling place; even the envelopes are tallied.

This is not to say, even with this scrupulous system, that there have never been problems – people who were found to have voted twice, a tally of votes that exceeded the number of people registered, etc. But these are the exception.

[] There are 39 parties running.    

Credit: EPA

This is likely to make the head of an American spin. Hey!  It makes the heads of many Israelis spin.  Most parties will fade into the sunset without crossing the electoral threshold of 3.25% of votes, which translates to four seats in the Knesset.  It is estimated that 13 parties have a chance of crossing that threshold. Those who voted for the others will have lost their votes.  

[] Individuals do not run in elections, parties do.  Each party has a list of candidates that must be submitted by a specified date.  In different parties there are different methods for determining that list – some have party primaries, some do not.  The head of the party is first on the list.  The number of people on that list who actually make it into the Knesset is determined by the proportion of votes that party secures.  

[] There is no separate vote for prime minister.

Someone is said to be running to be prime minister if he or she is head of a list that stands a realistic chance of being the one that garners the most mandates (Knesset seats).  Or someone who imagines him/herself to have such a chance.  

Right now, this applies to:

Binyamin Netanyahu, Likud

Credit: CNN

Naftali Bennett, Yamina

Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon

Gideon Sa’ar, New Hope

Credit: Washington Institute

Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid  

Credit: El Pais

To this list I want to add Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, not because he is a candidate for prime minister, but rather because I believe he has an important role to play.

Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg 

~~~~~~~~~~

The current political situation is critical, and, as I have emphasized again and again, what we need is a strong right wing government, solidly committed to protecting Israel’s rights.

As we strive to foster this, we must look not only at who can achieve the most mandates in the election, but also how the strongest possible right wing coalition can be established after the election.  It is a two-step process.

Not once in an Israeli election has a single party achieved the 61 mandates required to govern the country; there is always a coalition of parties.  (As we move forward, I will deal with the process for forming that coalition.)

When a party head is short on mandates and must pull in other parties in order to reach the minimum of 61 seats, those parties have demands and leverage.  This goes without saying.  Imagine, for example, that the party being courted demands the defense ministry.  The Civil Administration that administers Judea & Samaria answers to the defense minister.  The orientation of that minister can affect progress of Jewish development, as well as the rate at which illegal Arab construction is dismantled.  

Providing electoral strength to the right wing parties that would be an essential part of a coalition is critically important:  Each portfolio, each chairmanship, shared with another party carries implications for the government.

~~~~~~~~~~

Let us, then, take a look at the situation:

Alex Traiman, writing in JNS, says, “The Polls show that the election is Netanyahu’s to win or lose. If he cannot form a coalition, it’s unlikely that another candidate would fare any better, although one should always expect the unexpected in Israeli politics.” (Emphasis added)

https://www.jns.org/opinion/the-differences-between-israels-2020-and-2021-elections/

There is a fairly broad consensus on this. The Likud is polling stronger than any other party, even if various polls vary by one or two mandates.  Actually, the last polls show Likud gaining strength.

Likud is a right wing party.  Its platform makes this clear, as do the positions of a number of the members of the party sitting in the Knesset: Yoav Kisch, Yariv Levin, Yisrael Katz, etc.

Binyamin Netanyahu, however, is known for speaking to the right, for election purposes, and then acting to the left because it is difficult for him to withstand pressure from the international community.  There is much he might have done over the years to enhance Israel’s rights in the Land that he has not done.  Right now we are looking at the horrendous illegal Arab building in Area C, which has not been stopped.

Thus is a strong right flank in his coalition essential.

~~~~~~~~~~

Netanyahu’s complex situation is at the very heart of our current political drama.  The nation owes him a debt of gratitude on many scores. I have written about this many times: His strong position on Iran; his skill in helping the negotiations for the Abraham Accords; his ability to deal with Putin so that the Russians would not stop Israeli actions against Iran in Syria; his foresight in convincing Pfizer to use Israel as its testing ground – enabling us to be the first in the world to move past the pandemic, etc. He brings to the office rhetorical skills and polished English, which make him a hit internationally.

He is, however, a flawed human being (as are we all). Perhaps his greatest weakness is with regard to his personal relationships with political associates.  Rather than nurturing long-term solid relationships, he has a reputation for using people and then tossing them aside.  Several current political rivals – such as Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman – began as his associates within Likud and were then alienated.  The political landscape would be different today, had he been different.

Add to this his apparent conviction that he can keep going as prime minister indefinitely, and need not consider a successor.

~~~~~~~~~~

All of this has engendered a divisive and shameful political climate in which a portion of the electorate cries, “Anybody but Bibi!!”  While at the same time, another portion continues to believe he is best suited to run the country.  The latter is obviously a group of notable strength, as evidenced by the fact that the polls show Likud with the most mandates.  

The “Anybody but Bibi!!” tone is deplorable.  It is nonsensical: an ugly, stupid position that engenders a hostile political environment devoid of meaningful discourse.  The campaign cried out for positive input.  Anybody?  Really?  Replacing Bibi only makes sense if there is a candidate with a solid forward looking agenda, healthy political experience, and a certain political wisdom.

~~~~~~~~~~

Yair Lapid has been an “Anybody but Bibi!!” candidate, and it is on this score alone that I believe he is utterly ill-equipped to lead the nation, even as he declares “I am ready to be prime minister.”  Never mind that he is not among the deepest of thinkers. He is showing solid support in the polls among “Anybody but Bibi!! voters, which is why he waxes enthusiastic about his chances and some analysts are looking at him with interest.  I will add that he is centrist-left, which is not what we need.

~~~~~~~~~~

Gideon Sa’ar clearly set out with the goal of replacing Netanyahu, as well.  While his tone is very different from Lapid’s, I find him opportunistic, and he makes me uncomfortable.  I was firmly finished with him when I learned he had hired people from the American group “The Lincoln Project,” a group that fights dirty.  (He later let them go, when scandal broke about the Project.)

He started out with great energy, but his polls have slipped – are continuing to slip – and the aura of excitement associated with his campaign has fizzled. He was running well ahead of Bennett at one point, but has now dropped back.

Sa’ar had made several public declarations about the fact that he will never sit in a coalition in which Netanyahu is a minister.  Unless he backtracks on this, which is something politicians do all of the time, he is going to be in the opposition – and those who joined with him in great excitement, such as Ze’ev Elkins, who bolted Likud to join New Hope, will find their political careers greatly diminished.

It could be, I imagine, if Netanyahu is short on right-wing mandates, that he will petition Sa’ar to join his coalition. This we will have to watch.  

~~~~~~~~~~

For those who seek a right wing candidate then, there is Bennett, and there is Smotrich.   

I believe Bennett has the potential to be prime minister, and this may yet happen down the road.  He conducted himself well in various roles in the last few years, including during a brief stint as defense minister.  He is not showing the numbers that could make him prime minister now, but a vote for him strengthens the right wing.  Yamina most definitely should be in the coalition.

I cannot help but think about how different matters might be if Sa’ar had not come along and divided the respectable right-wing competition to Netanyahu.

~~~~~~~~~~

Bazalel Smotrich, a lawyer, is very savvy, and very devoted to our rights in the Land.  He founded Regavim, which fights for those rights, but resigned when he entered politics.  He is a no-nonsense fighter.  I know him because of my work with Legal Grounds and respect him enormously: he is focused and forthright. He just gave an interview in which he said that there is no one but Netanyahu who can establish a right-wing government, and his party will be part of it.

Right now, the Religious Zionism party is showing between four and six mandates in the polls.  I am eager to see him garner as much strength as possible so that his party can enter the coalition with solid leverage.  It is people such as Smotrich who will keep Netanyahu headed in the right direction.

~~~~~~~~~~

On the Religious Zionism list is Simcha Rothman, a very articulate attorney who is attracting much positive attention. Rothman is founder of the Movement for Governability and Democracy (Meshilut), a leading voice in the fight against judicial activism and for the proper separation of powers in Israel. This is a cause that is critical to Israeli democracy.

Rothman is heading the party’s Anglo campaign.

~~~~~~~~~~

Last comments: A coalition of political convenience that consists of parties with vastly different positions is a recipe for inaction and dissension.  For example, if Netanyahu were to bring Lapid into his coalition (he won’t).  We saw this with the “unity” government of Likud and Blue & White, which was a nightmare.  For successful governance the major parties must be in sync in broad terms.  This is yet another reason why right wing parties must be strong.

Thankfully, Avigdor Lieberman – another “Anybody but Bibi!!” politician has lost much of his previous political strength.  It is my opinion that he shouldn’t be included in a coalition because he is devious and untrustworthy.  I suspect this is how Netanyahu feels. Lieberman has a penchant for changing his positions; he was once considered right-wing but I don’t think we could say that today.

The two ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas and UTJ) will very likely be enfolded into the coalition because their numbers (roughly 15 mandates) will be needed to round out the coalition. They are not “right-wing,” but rather involved with their own concerns.  There is talk that some who previously voted with the ultra-Orthodox will now consider moving over to Religious Zionism. That would be excellent.

Gantz of the centrist-left Blue & White is running very poorly, as are the left-wing parties.

~~~~~~~~~~

© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 19, 2021

“Do We Know Where We’re Going??”

The election in Israel is next Tuesday.  Here I offer my perspective on what’s happening and what we might expect.  

First, several background points:

[] Polls are inaccurate. Relying on them to secure a solid sense of where we are going is foolish.  And yet, we all watch the polls, cite the polls. There have been new results publicized daily, and each time they are somewhat different.  Trends can be discerned, yes.  But not final results, with anything resembling certainty.  Now the polls have stopped because it’s close to the election.

[] Our risk of election fraud is low.  We don’t use electronic machinery that can be connected to the Internet or otherwise lend itself to alterations. We require presentation of an official ID (which every citizen carries); it is checked against a list of people registered for that polling place.  And we don’t have absentee voting; Israeli citizens abroad must come home to vote.  The exceptions are diplomats and their families, and members of the Coast Guard. Soldiers vote on their bases. Citizens who are in quarantine because they may have been exposed to corona will have separate polling places next week.

The official symbols of the parties running are on printed pieces of paper.  (The example below is from a previous election.) The slip of the party of choice is selected behind a screen and put in an envelope, which is sealed and placed in the ballot box.  

 

Credit: JewishWeekly

Each polling place has observers, and at the end of the day the tallying of these pieces of paper is done twice at each polling place; even the envelopes are tallied.

This is not to say, even with this scrupulous system, that there have never been problems – people who were found to have voted twice, a tally of votes that exceeded the number of people registered, etc. But these are the exception.

[] There are 39 parties running.    

 

Credit: EPA

This is likely to make the head of an American spin. Hey!  It makes the heads of many Israelis spin.  Most parties will fade into the sunset without crossing the electoral threshold of 3.25% of votes, which translates to four seats in the Knesset.  It is estimated that 13 parties have a chance of crossing that threshold. Those who voted for the others will have lost their votes.  

[] Individuals do not run in elections, parties do.  Each party has a list of candidates that must be submitted by a specified date.  In different parties there are different methods for determining that list – some have party primaries, some do not.  The head of the party is first on the list.  The number of people on that list who actually make it into the Knesset is determined by the proportion of votes that party secures.  

[] There is no separate vote for prime minister.

Someone is said to be running to be prime minister if he or she is head of a list that stands a realistic chance of being the one that garners the most mandates (Knesset seats).  Or someone who imagines him/herself to have such a chance.  

Right now, this applies to:

Binyamin Netanyahu, Likud

 

Credit: CNN

 

 

 

 

 

Naftali Bennett, Yamina

 

Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon

Gideon Sa’ar, New Hope

 

Credit: Washington Institute

 

Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid  

 

Credit: El Pais

 

To this list I want to add Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, not because he is a candidate for prime minister, but rather because I believe he has an important role to play.

 

Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

 

~~~~~~~~~~

The current political situation is critical, and, as I have emphasized again and again, what we need is a strong right wing government, solidly committed to protecting Israel’s rights.

 

As we strive to foster this, we must look not only at who can achieve the most mandates in the election, but also how the strongest possible right wing coalition can be established after the election.  It is a two-step process.

 

Not once in an Israeli election has a single party achieved the 61 mandates required to govern the country; there is always a coalition of parties.  (As we move forward, I will deal with the process for forming that coalition.)

 

When a party head is short on mandates and must pull in other parties in order to reach the minimum of 61 seats, those parties have demands and leverage.  This goes without saying.  Imagine, for example, that the party being courted demands the defense ministry.  The Civil Administration that administers Judea & Samaria answers to the defense minister.  The orientation of that minister can affect progress of Jewish development, as well as the rate at which illegal Arab construction is dismantled.  

 

Providing electoral strength to the right wing parties that would be an essential part of a coalition is critically important:  Each portfolio, each chairmanship, shared with another party carries implications for the government.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

Let us, then, take a look at the situation:

 

Alex Traiman, writing in JNS, says, “The Polls show that the election is Netanyahu’s to win or lose. If he cannot form a coalition, it’s unlikely that another candidate would fare any better, although one should always expect the unexpected in Israeli politics.” (Emphasis added)

 

https://www.jns.org/opinion/the-differences-between-israels-2020-and-2021-elections/

 

There is a fairly broad consensus on this. The Likud is polling stronger than any other party, even if various polls vary by one or two mandates.  Actually, the last polls show Likud gaining strength.

 

Likud is a right wing party.  Its platform makes this clear, as do the positions of a number of the members of the party sitting in the Knesset: Yoav Kisch, Yariv Levin, Yisrael Katz, etc.

 

Binyamin Netanyahu, however, is known for speaking to the right, for election purposes, and then acting to the left because it is difficult for him to withstand pressure from the international community.  There is much he might have done over the years to enhance Israel’s rights in the Land that he has not done.  Right now we are looking at the horrendous illegal Arab building in Area C, which has not been stopped.

 

Thus is a strong right flank in his coalition essential.

~~~~~~~~~~

Netanyahu’s complex situation is at the very heart of our current political drama.  The nation owes him a debt of gratitude on many scores. I have written about this many times: His strong position on Iran; his skill in helping the negotiations for the Abraham Accords; his ability to deal with Putin so that the Russians would not stop Israeli actions against Iran in Syria; his foresight in convincing Pfizer to use Israel as its testing ground – enabling us to be the first in the world to move past the pandemic, etc. He brings to the office rhetorical skills and polished English, which make him a hit internationally.

 

He is, however, a flawed human being (as are we all). Perhaps his greatest weakness is with regard to his personal relationships with political associates.  Rather than nurturing long-term solid relationships, he has a reputation for using people and then tossing them aside.  Several current political rivals – such as Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman – began as his associates within Likud and were then alienated.  The political landscape would be different today, had he been different.

 

Add to this his apparent conviction that he can keep going as prime minister indefinitely, and need not consider a successor.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

All of this has engendered a divisive and shameful political climate in which a portion of the electorate cries, “Anybody but Bibi!!”  While at the same time, another portion continues to believe he is best suited to run the country.  The latter is obviously a group of notable strength, as evidenced by the fact that the polls show Likud with the most mandates.  

 

The “Anybody but Bibi!!” tone is deplorable.  It is nonsensical: an ugly, stupid position that engenders a hostile political environment devoid of meaningful discourse.  The campaign cried out for positive input.  Anybody?  Really?  Replacing Bibi only makes sense if there is a candidate with a solid forward looking agenda, healthy political experience, and a certain political wisdom.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Yair Lapid has been an “Anybody but Bibi!!” candidate, and it is on this score alone that I believe he is utterly ill-equipped to lead the nation, even as he declares “I am ready to be prime minister.”  Never mind that he is not among the deepest of thinkers. He is showing solid support in the polls among “Anybody but Bibi!! voters, which is why he waxes enthusiastic about his chances and some analysts are looking at him with interest.  I will add that he is centrist-left, which is not what we need.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Gideon Sa’ar clearly set out with the goal of replacing Netanyahu, as well.  While his tone is very different from Lapid’s, I find him opportunistic, and he makes me uncomfortable.  I was firmly finished with him when I learned he had hired people from the American group “The Lincoln Project,” a group that fights dirty.  (He later let them go, when scandal broke about the Project.)

 

He started out with great energy, but his polls have slipped – are continuing to slip – and the aura of excitement associated with his campaign has fizzled. He was running well ahead of Bennett at one point, but has now dropped back.

 

Sa’ar had made several public declarations about the fact that he will never sit in a coalition in which Netanyahu is a minister.  Unless he backtracks on this, which is something politicians do all of the time, he is going to be in the opposition – and those who joined with him in great excitement, such as Ze’ev Elkins, who bolted Likud to join New Hope, will find their political careers greatly diminished.

 

It could be, I imagine, if Netanyahu is short on right-wing mandates, that he will petition Sa’ar to join his coalition. This we will have to watch.  

 

~~~~~~~~~~

For those who seek a right wing candidate then, there is Bennett, and there is Smotrich.   

 

I believe Bennett has the potential to be prime minister, and this may yet happen down the road.  He conducted himself well in various roles in the last few years, including during a brief stint as defense minister.  He is not showing the numbers that could make him prime minister now, but a vote for him strengthens the right wing.  Yamina most definitely should be in the coalition.

 

I cannot help but think about how different matters might be if Sa’ar had not come along and divided the respectable right-wing competition to Netanyahu.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Bazalel Smotrich, a lawyer, is very savvy, and very devoted to our rights in the Land.  He founded Regavim, which fights for those rights, but resigned when he entered politics.  He is a no-nonsense fighter.  I know him because of my work with Legal Grounds and respect him enormously: he is focused and forthright. He just gave an interview in which he said that there is no one but Netanyahu who can establish a right-wing government, and his party will be part of it.

 

Right now, the Religious Zionism party is showing between four and six mandates in the polls.  I am eager to see him garner as much strength as possible so that his party can enter the coalition with solid leverage.  It is people such as Smotrich who will keep Netanyahu headed in the right direction.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

On the Religious Zionism list is Simcha Rothman, a very articulate attorney who is attracting much positive attention. Rothman is founder of the Movement for Governability and Democracy (Meshilut), a leading voice in the fight against judicial activism and for the proper separation of powers in Israel. This is a cause that is critical to Israeli democracy.

 

Rothman is heading the party’s Anglo campaign.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Last comments: A coalition of political convenience that consists of parties with vastly different positions is a recipe for inaction and dissension.  For example, if Netanyahu were to bring Lapid into his coalition (he won’t).  We saw this with the “unity” government of Likud and Blue & White, which was a nightmare.  For successful governance the major parties must be in sync in broad terms.  This is yet another reason why right wing parties must be strong.

 

Thankfully, Avigdor Lieberman – another “Anybody but Bibi!!” politician has lost much of his previous political strength.  It is my opinion that he shouldn’t be included in a coalition because he is devious and untrustworthy.  I suspect this is how Netanyahu feels. Lieberman has a penchant for changing his positions; he was once considered right-wing but I don’t think we could say that today.

 

The two ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas and UTJ) will very likely be enfolded into the coalition because their numbers (roughly 15 mandates) will be needed to round out the coalition. They are not “right-wing,” but rather involved with their own concerns.  There is talk that some who previously voted with the ultra-Orthodox will now consider moving over to Religious Zionism. That would be excellent.

 

Gantz of the centrist-left Blue & White is running very poorly, as are the left-wing parties.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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