If the issue is security, Bibi will win

January 28, 2015
Sarah Benton

Orthodox Jews turn out en masse for the funerals of four rabbis killed by two ‘lone wolf’ Palestinian attackers in Jerusalem. A policeman was also killed.

How Will Violence Affect Israeli Election?

By Linda Gradstein, The Media Line
January 21, 2015

Focus of Elections Could be Security or Economy

A 22-year-old Palestinian boarded a bus in Tel Aviv, whipped out a knife, and started indiscriminately stabbing fellow passengers, leaving 13 wounded, several seriously. He ran off the bus, and was quickly shot and captured by Israeli police.

During questioning, he told security forces that he carried out the attack because of Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip during last summer’s fighting with Hamas, and because of Israel’s actions on a site that is holy to Jews and Muslims. He also said he had been motivated by watching Islamist materials that spoke of “reaching paradise.”

The attacker was apparently acting alone, and not affiliated with any terrorist organization, although it was welcomed by Hamas. It is similar to several recent attacks in Jerusalem, most recently the November attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that left four worshippers and a policeman dead.

Israeli analysts are divided over what the effects of these attacks will be.

“These terrorist attacks will strengthen (current Prime Minister Binyamin) Netanyahu,” Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent of The Jerusalem Post told The Media Line. “All of the polls show that Israelis trust Netanyahu with their security more than any other party leader by far, so terrorist attacks play into the hands of Netanyahu.”

Other analysts say that it is still almost two months to the election and the situation can change dramatically during that time.

“Two months is an eternity in Israel and this was a relatively minor incident,” Yehuda Ben Meir of the INSS think tank at Tel Aviv University told The Media Line. “However, if Iran or Hizbullah launches a major retaliation against Israel that could become a major issue.”

Iran and Hizbullah has blamed Israel for an attack this week in Syria that killed at least six Hizbullah fighters and an Iranian general. Both Iran and Hizbullah have threatened revenge.

This election comes just two years after the last election, and current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has already been the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israeli history after David Ben Gurion. There is some anger against Netanyahu for calling the elections, which many Israelis see as a waste of time and money.

It is also still not clear whether the main issue of the election will be security or economics. Netanyahu has a clear advantage over his primary rival – Labour party leader Yitzhak Herzog, who is running together with former Justice Minister Tzippi Livni, and has agreed to rotate the Prime Ministership.

Latest polls show the Zionist Camp winning 23 – 25 seats if the election were held today, followed by Netanyahu’s Likud with 20- 22 seats. However, when it comes to putting together a majority coalition with a minimum of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Likud seems likely to be able to do that more easily. If Likud ran with the right-wing Jewish home party headed by hardliner Naftali Bennnet, polls show they would achieve 40 seats, well on their way to forming a coalition. However that seems unlikely given personal tensions between Netanyahu and Bennett, who was once his chief of staff.

Netanyahu is seen as stronger on security, while Herzog and Livni score better on social and economic issues, including the astronomic cost of housing in Israel.

“Likud wants the main issue to be security and the Zionist Camp wants it to be economic,” Shmuel Sandler, a professor of politics at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “The problem of the Zionist Camp is that their partners, the Palestinians, don’t seem to be co-operating.”

Almost every Israeli election since the 1970’s has been about security – should Israel withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for a peace deal with the Palestinians. Only one election, the most recent in 2013, really focused on social issues, following massive street protests in 2011 against the cost of living. Two of the top positions in the Zionist camp are held by young social activists who led those protests.

In that election, a new party called Yesh Atid led by former TV presenter Yair Lapid won an impressive 19 seats and Lapid became Finance Minister amid promises to lower prices on many consumer goods and to build thousands of affordable houses. Two years later, none of that has happened, and Lapid is expected to lose much of his power after the next election. A new party, headed by a former Likud cabinet minister, Kulanu, is making similar promises.

Israeli analysts caution that the situation is fluid and said Israelis often wait until the last minute to make up their minds.

“I’m giving Netanyahu a 50-50 chance,” Jerusalem post reporter Gil Hoffman said.

Isaac Herzog (Labour) and Tsipi Livni (Hatnuah) have renamed their joint slate ‘Zionist Camp’. They hope this will blot out the odour of leftism and softness that clings to them.

The ‘anti-Zionist’ camp goes mainstream in Israeli elections
Both Netanyahu and Livni are leveraging their international influence for electoral gain: Netanyahu in Congress and Livni at the United Nations. And, will the real Zionist camp please stand up?

By Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, +972
January 23, 2015

Elections are almost always referendums on the incumbent, and an incumbent always has an advantage against any challengers. One of those advantages is the ability to demonstrate leadership and to exploit platforms unavailable to his or her challengers, i.e. speaking before a joint session of Congress.

Such advantages tend not to be fair, or even legal in some cases. In Israel, for instance, there are laws that prevent public servants from using their official platforms to campaign. The most famous case was during Ariel Sharon’s 2003 campaign when the Central Elections Committee instructed Israeli media to cut away from a live speech by the prime minister because it was political, they said. Prime time television news literally cut away from Sharon mid-sentence.

Seven years earlier, when then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was running against incumbent Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Netanyahu accused the latter, who was on a pre-election trip to the United States, of using the visit and his diplomatic ties for electoral gain.

“I can’t find an example of any previous Israeli government whose prime minister, on the eve of elections, made a cynical attempt to use relations between Israel and the United States as a party advertisement,” Netanyahu said at the time.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the tables are turned. This time, Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress just weeks before general elections in Israel. The criticism is two-fold. Firstly, that the Israeli prime minister is using the platform to augment the perception of his influence over the Republican party in Washington and to “move the Americans,” as he once described his ability to shape U.S. policy. Secondly, some are accusing Republican Speaker of the House Boehner of interfering in Israeli elections by giving him that stage — behind the back of the Obama administration, which claims it is staying out of internal Israeli politics.

But it turns out you don’t even need to be in office to flout international clout during election season, and White House support for an Israeli candidate doesn’t always come through official channels.

Just a few weeks after former Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni was fired from her post and new elections were called, the White House’s favorite advocate of the peace process was given an indirect endorsement by a top administration official.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a closed — but expectedly porous — room full of ambassadors that he had consulted with Livni about the Palestinian UN Security Council resolution on the agenda at the time. Kerry said that Livni told him the UN resolution would strengthen Netanyahu, her political opponent — at least one reason why Washington and European states should oppose it.

There are a lot of smart people working in the State Department, and diplomats choose their words — and audiences — very carefully. There should be little doubt that by telling dozens of people about his private consultations with Livni, and by relaying what she felt could hurt her chances of toppling Netanyahu, that Secretary Kerry was indirectly endorsing her, or at the very least publicly implying the White House’s preference that Netanyahu not serve a fourth term.

But more importantly, Kerry’s leaked remarks allowed Livni to flout her own influence over the White House back home — a counter-balance of sorts to Netanyahu’s shoe-in with the Republican-controlled Congress.

In a party statement, Livni all but took credit for convincing the Western world to support Israel in the United Nations. “[Livni is] proud that she successfully protected Israel’s essential interests in the Security Council,” said a statement from Livni’s new joint election slate with the Labor party, ambitiously named “The Zionist Camp.”

‘The [anti?] Zionist Camp’

Tzipi Livni’s “Hatnuah” party joined forces with the Labour party last month in an attempt to form a political bloc large enough to unseat Netanyahu. (There is talk of Yair Lapid joining the Livni-Labour bloc if Netanyahu joins together with Naftali Bennett.) The name of the new list, “The Zionist Camp,” is an attempt by the traditionally left-leaning Labour and two-state-principled “Hatnuah” to escape the “leftist” label, which has become a huge liability in Israeli politics in recent years.

The move to the center is likely to drive leftist voters to further-left parties like Meretz, which have a much less apologetic tone for the legacy of their politics. On the other side of the political map, however, it is coming under fire for appropriating the word “Zionist,” which in recent years has lost most of its traditional meaning. Instead it has become a catch-all term for blind patriotism, support for the right-wing politics that have perpetuated the occupation, and the supremacy of Jewish identity over a civic, more inclusive and egalitarian Israeli identity.

Ronen Shoval, a candidate for Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party went so far as to file an official complaint with the Central Elections Committee seeking to stop Livni and Labor from running under their chosen name, claiming it is misleading. They are not Zionists, he says.

It would be appropriate at this time to bring up a court case that involved Shoval two years ago when the hyper-nationalist organization he founded, Im Tirzu, which has also attempted to reclaim the word Zionist, sued for defamation after being called a fascist movement. They lost. The judge ruled that Im Tirzu does, in fact, bear similarities to fascist ideology.

Netanyahu joined the Zionist-bashing party on Thursday, putting out a video statement in which he quips that The Zionist Camp is actually the Anti-Zionist Camp. Why? “When a future member of the Knesset from the Labor list praises a Hezbollah agent, what more is there to say?”

Well, there’s quite a bit more to say, it turns out. From analyst Mitchell Plitnick:

Bibi is referring to testimony given by Zuhair Bahloul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who is #17 on the joint Labor/Hatnuah list, dubbed “The Zionist Camp.” Bahloul is a well-known figure in Israel, a soccer and basketball broadcaster for Israel’s Channel 1. He is also known for his efforts in bringing Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel together to promote co-existence and equality, which has generally been the sum total of his political activity.

In this case, Bahloul was testifying on behalf of the family of a man who was convicted of aiding a Hezbollah plot to attack Shimon Peres in Turkey. The man, Milad Khatib, accepted a plea bargain and is serving a seven-year sentence. Bahloul’s testimony was offered in defense of Khatib’s family, not Milad himself…

In fact, Bahloul went out of his way to differentiate between Milad and the rest of his family: “When I heard what this young man did I was shocked,” he said, and he stressed that whatever made Milad “fall off the right path, it was not the family that brought him to this. It is not at all typical of this family.”

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