Likud leads but Bibi loses out to Kahlon

December 9, 2014
Sarah Benton

Moshe Kahlon speaking in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2014. Photo by Flash90

Moshe Kahlon for prime minister of Israel

I’m planning to vote for Meretz, but if Kahlon has a chance on election day of beating Netanyahu, I’ll vote for him.

By Larry Derfner
December 06, 2014

I was talking a couple of days ago about the upcoming elections with a friend from work, a middle-class, American-born Ashkenazi immigrant with a Ph. D. in political science. He told me he was voting for the left-wing, largely Arab Hadash party. I asked who he would vote for if, on election day, which is tentatively set for March 17, the “wild card” in the race, ex-Likudnik Moshe Kahlon, had a chance to become the next prime minister. “Then I’d vote for Kahlon,” he said. Myself, I’m planning to vote for Meretz, the left-wing Zionist party, but if Kahlon has a chance on election day of beating Netanyahu, whom the polls now rate the favorite, then I’ll vote for Kahlon, too.

This is meant as an illustration of Kahlon’s potential; Hadash and Meretz voters are the last people who would seem likely to vote for a politician whose role model is Menachem Begin. Polls now give Kahlon about 10 Knesset seats (out of 120); he’ll need double that to lead the next government. But I think he can do it. The latest poll, conducted for The Jerusalem Post and Ma’ariv and released Thursday, finds him the single most popular candidate for prime minister, outpolling Netanyahu, 46% to 36%.

Bibi can be beaten. He’s been around too long, he hasn’t delivered much, the atmosphere in the country is extremely unpleasant, and people are tired of his mouth and face. They blame him for these unwanted early elections that are going to cost $500 million. They see the government as a mess with him sitting atop it. They want somebody new, but Netanyahu’s only rivals until now, Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, below, are too far right for the mainstream.

Kahlon is not. Alone among Israeli politicians, he can win support from the sane right, the center, and even – if it’s between him, Netanyahu and Bennett on election day – the left. He has exclusive ownership of the No. 1 campaign issue – economic hardship, especially the high cost of living – from having broken the cell phone monopoly and dramatically slashed cell phone prices as communications minister in 2012, a move that instantly made him the wonder boy of Israeli politics. As the only Mizrahi in the race, he can attract a lot of Mizrahi votes from Likud and the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, yet is likable and educated enough (with degrees in political science and law) to neutralize Ashkenazi prejudice inside the ballot box. His absence from politics for nearly two years has spared him from the public’s rising disgust with politicians, which just went up several more notches on account of the new election. He’s not a hater, not an Arab basher, not a Likud fascist, which also carries a lot of appeal with the mainstream. In that way he’s a breath of fresh air, like President Reuven Rivlin.

If Kahlon’s party – which doesn’t even have a name or a list of candidates yet – is the largest vote-getter and he becomes prime minister, he will not end the occupation, certainly not in a first term. He’s not a peacenik; he’s never shown any inclination to take down settlements or agree to a Palestinian state. (Though at a campaign stop in a Tel Aviv pub on Friday, he reportedly described himself as “center and slightly right-leaning,’ and said, “I will not hesitate to concede territory for real peace. I will not miss an opportunity for peace.”) And even if he were to move left in office, he would not have a government behind him; the right-wing parties are too popular to form a ruling coalition without at least one of them, and none would sit still for any peace agreement that the Palestinians could be party to.

But if Kahlon became Israel’s next leader, at the very least he would not seek to humiliate Arabs at every turn; he would not pick fights with them like Netanyahu and his allies constantly do. Also, he would make it acceptable again to talk about helping the poor, not just the middle class. He told Yedioth Ahronoth in April, as reported in Times of Israel:

Likud for me was really the Likud of Menachem Begin, who also represented a social vision: reducing disparities between rich and poor, neighborhood renewal, social rehabilitation, and education reform. It was a pragmatic Likud that knew how to make peace when needed. That is Likud for me. But that Likud no longer exists today, and I struggle to accept some of the things taking place within the party. Likud is a way of life, Likud is social awareness, Likud is compassion and carrying for the weak… But Likud is no longer there, it has strayed from the path. In recent years Likud’s social banner has been dismantled… for the sake of political-security gains.

And while the assumption should be that he wouldn’t end the occupation in his first term, it’s not an impossibility for all time, like it is with Netanyahu and Bennett. Kahlon is guaranteed to have sincere advocates of a two-state solution high on his party list; among his potential running mates are ex-Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, former Mossad head Meir Dagan and economist Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg. Plus, if elected, he would very likely take Isaac Herzog’s Labor, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and/or Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid into the government with him. He could turn serious about a peace deal, and if he were prime minister, there would be tremendous pressure from various quarters for him to do so. New elections and new governments come along remarkably often in Israel; a second Kahlon government could look very different from a first one.

We have to get rid of Netanyahu. The rotting of this country and the dying of hope must be stopped and reversed. With the right wing so powerful in Israel today, the only candidate who at this point has a chance to pull it off is Kahlon.

He could flop in the campaign, or he could do well but not well enough to challenge Netanyahu and Bennett for the leadership. In that case, I’ll vote Meretz and my friend from work will vote Hadash. But if Kahlon is in contention for the prime ministership on election day, I think there will be a massive shift of voters to his party. Israelis want change, they don’t want Netanyahu anymore, they don’t want the coldness, hostility and stagnation they now associate with him. Kahlon has the most winning smile in Israeli politics, he’s not arrogant, and his image is of a doer, not a demagogue. The left-center-Arab parties can’t win the election, but he can, and if he does, it will be a huge improvement over the horror show we’ve got. As for the chance of him ending the occupation, I’ll quote from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Bibi’s new friends, United Torah  MKs (above) and Shas, both right-wing religious parties, came to his rescue by voting through his legislation in December. See As Knesset dissolves, ultra-orthodox parties show they’re back. Times of Israel, December 9th, 2014

‘Post’ poll: 60% of Israelis don’t want Netanyahu anymore

Survey finds Kahlon, Sa’ar preferred for March 17 election; Herzog even with PM.

By Gil Hoffman, JPost
December 05, 2014

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of coasting to an easy victory in the March 17 election took a surprising hit on Thursday when a Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister newspaper, Ma’ariv Sof Hashavua, found that a hefty majority of Israelis want him to lose.

The poll, taken on Wednesday among 500 respondents representing a statistical sample of the adult population, indicated that the election could end up being close and assumptions that Netanyahu cannot be defeated may be incorrect.

It asked respondents whether they want Netanyahu to remain prime minister after the vote. Sixty percent said no, 34% said yes, and 6% did not know.

The poll asked about several party leaders and asked respondents whom they would prefer one-on-one if there were direct elections for prime minister.

In a head-to-head race between Netanyahu and former welfare and social services minister Moshe Kahlon, 46% preferred Kahlon, 36% Netanyahu and 18% did not know. Between Netanyahu and former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, 43% said Sa’ar, 38% Netanyahu and 19% did not know.

Likud activists revealed on Thursday that Sa’ar is considering making a political comeback just three months after announcing at a pre-Rosh Hashana toast that he was taking a break from politics.

He is mulling running against Netanyahu in the January 6 Likud leadership race, they said. Sa’ar declined to comment.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog of Labor was almost tied with Netanyahu in the poll, with 44% saying they would prefer him, compared to 45% for Netanyahu and 11% who did not know.

Netanyahu defeated the other party leaders, beating Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett by 12 percentage points, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid by 17 points, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman by 28 points.

While a Geocartography Institute poll broadcast on Army Radio this week predicted the Likud would win 30 Knesset seats and polls on Channel 2 and 10 reported 22, the Panels poll found Netanyahu’s party would win only 21, just three more than Bayit Yehudi’s 18.

If the election were held now, Labor would win 14 seats, Kahlon’s party and Yesh Atid 11 each, Yisrael Beytenu nine, United Torah Judaism and Meretz both eight, Shas seven, Hadash five, and Hatnua and the United Arab List four each. Balad and Kadima would not pass the electoral threshold, which has risen from 2% to 3.25%.

The poll found that 64% of respondents believe the country’s socioeconomic situation has got worse under the outgoing government and 58% think the security situation has worsened.

When asked what issue will decide which party they will choose on Election Day, 34% said the economy, 30% security, 14% social justice, 10% matters of religion and state, 5% Arab-Jewish relations and 2% education and culture. Just 1% said Israel’s foreign relations. The poll had a margine of error of ± 4.3%.

Herzog said on Thursday that Netanyahu can be beaten and that parties from across the political spectrum could end up recommending to President Reuven Rivlin that he form the government rather than Netanyahu. Channel 10 reported that Liberman and Kahlon could join the Left in trying to prevent Rivlin from assigning Netanyahu the task of forming a governing coalition.

Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni will decide in upcoming days whether to run together with Labor. The poll found that if Livni joined Labor, the party would rise from 14 seats to 20. Livni and Herzog will travel to Washington together this weekend for the Saban Forum.

Someone who described himself as a Netanyahu confidant texted Lapid’s No. 2 in Yesh Atid, MK Shai Piron, on Thursday about the possibility of him leading a break-off party from Yesh Atid and joining a new government with the Likud, Shas and UTJ under the current Knesset. Such a move would end the process of initiating an election.

Yesh Atid blasted the reported attempt to split up the party as a “hysterical and pathetic” attempt to avoid elections.

“The prime minister is panicking,” Yesh Atid said in a statement. “He knows he is going to lose his seat in the next elections and is making every effort to prevent them.”

Shortly after the reports emerged, Netanyahu’s office denied the premier’s involvement in any attempt to split apart Yesh Atid.

“This is a pathetic political spin that reflects the panic that grips the failed finance minister Lapid,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Also on Thursday evening, Labor MK Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, 78, was taken to Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in Tzrifin. A hospital spokesman said he was suffering from a fever and was being treated.

Julie Steigerwald contributed to this report.

Panels poll translated into Knesset seats, December 8th. (figure in brackets is existing seats)

21 [18] Likud
18 [12] Bayit Yehudi
17 [15] Labor
12 [19] Yesh Atid
10 [13] Yisrael Beitenu
10 [–] New Kachlon Party
08 [07] Yahadut Hatorah/UTJ
07 [11] Shas
07 [06] Meretz
05 [04] Hadash
05 [04] Ra’am-Ta’al
00 [03] Balad
00 [06] Movement
00 [02] Kadima

74 [61] Right-Religious (Possible BB coalition)
46 [59] Center-Left-Arab (Anti-BB coalition)

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