Israel election campaign update

In an update to our January 11 blog kicking off Israel’s election season ahead of polling day on April 9, AIJAC tracks recent developments in the various campaigns.
  • Likud holds its party primary
Of principal interest are the preliminary results of the February 5 primary for the Knesset list of the ruling Likud party, which is still expected to be the largest party in the next Knesset, at least according to the latest polls.
In a significant development, several candidates viewed as loyalists of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fared worse in the primary than others who are seen as more independent, leaving many of them unlikely to obtain Knesset seats after the election.
Winners included Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Gideon Sa’ar – a former Likud minister seen as a possible successor to Netanyahu – and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, among others.
Some of the notable MKs who were shunned in the primary were the eccentric and scandal-prone Oren Hazan, Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick and the personable Sharren Haskel, who once lived in Australia for several years and has visited here as an MK. There is still a chance Haskel could be chosen for a Likud seat reserved for women, although that won’t become known for several days.
Yediot Ahronot political reporter and columnist Moran Azulay wrote for Ynet on February 6 that the primaries produced a campaign slate with “a top tier that has already shown it will not sit on the fence for Netanyahu at any price”.
While in the left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper, political columnist Yossi Verter commented that, in defying Netanyahu, the results showed that Likud voters “are not a flock of sheep that scares every time a herding dog barks and rushes submissively to the corral”.
  • Jewish Home (Bayit Hayehudi) party names new leader, selects Knesset list
Following the defection of former leader Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked to form the New Right party, Jewish Home (Bayit Hayehudi), selected former IDF chief rabbi, Rafi Peretz, to lead their list.
Rabbi Peretz, 62, previously served as head of the pre-military academy “Etzem” and was a helicopter pilot in the Israel Air Force. Upon retiring from the IDF, he returned to head Etzem.
The same primary that elected Peretz to head the party also selected current MK Moti Yogev as number two on the list, while the third spot is reserved for a yet-to-be-selected woman and the selection for fourth and fifth spots were two close to call. However, recent polls disagree over whether Jewish Home will attract enough votes to cross the threshold, and in any case, the Jewish Home’s list is seen by some analysts as tentative, as it would certainly be affected by an expected merger with MK Bezalel Smotrich’s right-wing faction, National Union.
According to Ma’ariv (Story available only in Hebrew), a final decision on such a merger is imminent, held up by disagreement over how power would be shared between Peretz and Smotrich.
  • Benny Gantz mulls alliance with Yair Lapid, reveals more of his positions on the issues
Similar disagreements over leadership are reportedly preventing a merger between the centrist Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) and Hosen L’Yisrael (“Resiliance for Israel”) parties, led by TV journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, respectively.
This, despite the fact that the latest poll by Ha’aretz shows such a merger would tie the Likud and create a real possibility of assembling an alternative coalition to Netanyahu, and, should Gantz succeed in luring his predecessor as IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to join the party, polls suggest Likud would fall behind the Gantz-Lapid bloc.
Gantz, who has been cautious with his media exposure in regard to staking out political positions on controversial positions, conducted a rare interview with Yediot Ahronot writers Hanoch Daum and singer-turned-journalist Shlomo Artzi where he spoke out in support of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and spoke in terms of separating from the Palestinians.
In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu attempted to attack Gantz from the right as someone who would capitulate on Israel’s security interests with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to which Gantz responded: “You evacuated Jews. You paid protection money to Hamas. Your time is up – we are moving onwards.”
  • Labor attempting to find a way to appeal to voters
Meanwhile, in the Labor camp, influential Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who had said last month that he regretted supporting Avi Gabbay as Labor leader, reportedly buried the hatchet with Gabbay on February 4 (Hebrew story only), stabilising the ailing party, which is polling at a historic low.
Meanwhile, Hatenuah (Movement) leader Tzipi Livni, recently ousted from the Labor-led Zionist Union criticised Labor for deciding to focus on economic issues in the campaign rather than promise to inject more energy into the moribund peace process with the Palestinians.
  • Ultra-Orthodox agree on continued alliance
After announcing a split between the factions of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party on January 10, the party reconciled and agreed upon a list six days later, with the factions to split their list evenly between Chassidic Agudat Yisrael and Litvak Degel Hatorah. Agudat Yisrael will get the first seat.
  • Arab parties begin to choose lists though alliances still unclear
Finally, the four Arab parties have apparently decided to run separately rather than continue the Joint List ticket from the last Knesset. The anti-Zionist Balad party  – which held four seats in the list – has named Mtanes Shihadeh to lead its slate, and made waves on February 2 by identifying itself with Palestinian nationalism.
The Times of Israel reported: “It is not yet clear how the four parties making up the Joint List will run in the upcoming elections. [Veteran MK Ahmed] Tibi has announced his Ta’al party will run separately from the others, and it’s possible for the Joint List to fragment further. However, talks between Ta’al, Ra’am, Hadash and Balad are ongoing.”