IN THE MEDIA
AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro discusses the Israeli election on ABC NewsRadio
Mar 23, 2021
AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro was interviewed by Glen Bartholomew on ABC NewsRadio on March 23.
Glen Bartholomew: Ahron Shapiro is a senior policy analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, and joins us now. Good morning, regular protests outside of the prime minister’s residence saying enough is enough. Is that feeling growing?
Ahron Shapiro: You know, I’m not sure it is. They are very passionate, but the polls just don’t seem to show any great movement into that camp. There are very polarized people, very strong views, the people who support the prime minister of people who are against [him]. And here we are going into an election and we’re not really seeing any great shift.
Glen Bartholomew: Yet another election. Ahron, what do the opinion polls say? Is it looking extremely tight?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, it’s very confusing because there are five parties which are sitting at the very edge of the electoral threshold, meaning that if they go under a certain amount [of votes], they don’t get into the Knesset. And if any one of those don’t get in, it really does impact whether a government can be formed at all, or which side, the pro-Netanyahu camp or the anti-Netanyahu camp, will prevail.
Glen Bartholomew: Because we should point out that I think no party has ever won a 61-seat parliamentary majority on its own. So those alliances to form a governing coalition are crucial.
Ahron Shapiro: That’s where the game is. It’s all about making alliances and it’s very complicated. And this election is the most complicated, I’d say.
Glen Bartholomew: Which is saying something given the recent 12 months or so, where there seemed to be one long festival of democracy. I’m not sure how the voters are enjoying it. Where do we stand? Is the prime minister’s party support secure? I think they have the most number of seats, about 30, but of course they had a bit of a split of their own in December.
Ahron Shapiro: Well, yes. I think there were people that were expecting to see more defectors from the Likud follow the people out, the ones that weren’t happy with the prime minister, who felt that they were being marginalized. And they didn’t like the course of the party. They felt it was being too dependent on one person. So they split off, made their own party, but it turned out they didn’t draw very much support away with them. So what they’ve done is instead they’ve been playing with the support from anti-Netanyahu people and arguing over who should represent them in that bloc. But they’re really not pulling too many people away from the Likud, other than the very seats that they took with them.
Glen Bartholomew: Mr Netanyahu, continuing to face corruption charges. Where’s that process at?
Ahron Shapiro: It’s moving very slowly. And the coronavirus situation in Israel, which was very, very difficult through most of this year has slowed that process considerably. It’ll continue to move forward regardless of what happens politically. But these things take a long time and it can be drawn out.
Glen Bartholomew: Why haven’t the Likud considered a new leader? Is there not many rivals to Bibi Netanyahu?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, you know, you’d have to go back to the mid-2000s. At that time, the Likud was in really bad shape. What happened was there was a prime minister named Ariel Sharon. And he left Gaza. And when he told [his party] that they were withdrawing from Gaza, pulling out settlements, taking out soldiers, this split the Likud terribly and left the Likud in shambles, and Netanyahu took those remnants of the Likud and built a party that was very loyal to him. And he built it, you know, to his credit, he built it up very strongly. And now all the elements who want to grow up in the party don’t get very far because Netanyahu doesn’t really trust anybody to have that amount of power. So he centralized the power around him, and we’ve seen a lot of people who have tried to challenge Netanyahu. The political road is full of roadkill of this nature!
Glen Bartholomew: I think we spoke one of the last times around, it’s hard to keep track with these elections, but his main rival and the man who [he] was supposed to share some power with was Benny Gantz. But what’s happened to him? There are suggestions that, that he and his party, may we no seats this time, that’s a big fall from grace.
Ahron Shapiro: Well, yes. You know, we’ve actually seen this before, when I was thinking about it. Before, you know, there’s always been an anti-Netanyahu element and there used to be a party called Kadima. It was Ariel Sharon’s party. It moved on and there was somebody [who led it] named Shaul Mofaz and he joined the Netanyahu government and it killed his career. In the next election he barely got in and he disappeared from the political scene. And unfortunately, we’re seeing the same thing with Benny Gantz. He’s being punished for having joined the government by his main supporters. His core of support were people who don’t like Netanyahu and when he joined the government, he said he was doing it for reasons of unity for [fighting] the coronavirus. But in the end, he was punished for his naivete.
Glen Bartholomew: Seen as a bit of a sucker being played by Netanyahu, not necessarily the person they want going around. All right. So let’s see what the fate of the new challenges are. As you say, there’s a few of them around, but opinion polls, from what I can see, think it might be quite tight. So could we see yet more deadlock and even an unprecedented fifth consecutive election?
Ahron Shapiro: Well, yes, because… I’ve talked about the very complex nature of coalition building, and there’s so many people who say they won’t sit with this party or won’t sit with that party. It really makes it seem more likely that unless Netanyahu somehow makes it to a majority of [Knesset] support and that’s not clear that’s going to happen at all, we may see another election. And that’s just mind boggling because the country needs a government that can make budgets and make big long-term decisions. And unfortunately, they’ve been in this stalemate where they can’t get past Netanyahu and can’t rally behind him either, but he benefited a lot, as you said, from the vaccine rollout, which was world leading, world-class the way that he was able to draw in all the different vaccination programs into the country, into Israel, and do so in such a successful manner. And that has really paid off in spades in the election campaign.
Glen Bartholomew: Let’s see what happens in that this election, the fourth one in 12 months, at least everybody knows where to go to vote. Ahron, we’ll stay in touch. Thank you.