Israel election summary

6 March 2019
Israel's general election is just around the corner and the winner will have a massive impact on everyone our region. But things get confusing pretty quick. We are delighted to welcome expert political analyst Ellie Stern as this week's guest writer. She will explain the difference between Bibi, Benny and Bennett, and Likud, Labour and Lapid. Buckle up!
– by Ellie Stern –

On Monday night, just over a month away from the Israeli Knesset (parliament) elections on April 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed his people a rare shade of vulnerability, telling a crowd of diehards in his ruling Likud party that victory was “not in the bag,” warning of a difficult battle ahead.

How Israel's parliament currently looks
Netanyahu’s Likud is up against a newly formed but no less formidable centrist alliance that recently surged ahead to become the race front-runner.

Netanyahu, even if you truly resent him for it, is unquestionably one of the smartest world leaders. He is alleged to have an IQ of 180, placing him in league with roughly 0.0000001 percent of the population. In other words, odds are he has been the smartest person in every room he’s ever entered.

This means it’s almost impossible to tell if he is truly scared for his political future as he faces potential criminal indictment in three separate cases of corruption during his decade in office, or if he is using fear tactics to incite his latent supporters currently hidden behind other candidates for the highest office in the Jewish state.

This is something he has done before. In 2015, in an election day video, Netanyahu warned that “Arabs were coming to the polls in droves,” in order to push those who assumed his assured victory and decided to stay home.

His top challenger is Benny Gantz, former IDF Chief-of-Staff and Chairman of the Israel Resilience party (Hosen Israel). He teamed up with former finance minister and centrist darling Yair Lapid, who commands the Yesh Atid party in February - much to the delight of Israel’s largely centrist population who have, during the Netanyahu years, felt themselves shrinking from view.

Israel's Prime Minister and Attorney General
On the last day of February, Netanyahu and the world received the news that he would face a hearing based on the assessment of Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he should be charged with bribery, breach of trust, and fraud.

Until this recommendation was made, the majority of voters who support Netanyahu were unmoved by him facing criminal charges. Polls still showed the Likud party winning enough seats to remain in power.

However, following the announcement, polls saw the Gantz and Lapid’s “Blue and White” centrist alliance significantly passed the party that has ruled Israel without recess since the late 70s. There have been several shock developments and break-ups this campaign season, but none as pivotal as this.

The new centrist 'Blue and White' alliance
Not only do the recent polls show Blue and White surpassing Netanyahu’s Likud by roughly 7 mandates, they also show a diminishing likelihood that Israel’s current PM will stay in power with a majority government, with odds tipping toward a center-left bloc being in charge of Israeli government policy for the next four years.

For Israel’s embattled Labor party - which once sat at the helm of the government before the Likud came to power in the country’s most significant political shake up to date and is now projected to earn just seven or eight seats (down from its 24 seats in the previous parliament) - Blue and White represents a hope that they might once again serve in the government and not its Opposition.

Israel’s Arab parties, now running in two separate joint lists, represent a bloc on their own. That makes three if you’ve been keeping track. The right-wing & religious bloc, the center-left bloc, and the Arab bloc.

Netanyahu and other right-wing officials have said that Gantz plans to ally with the Arab parties in order to form a government. However, considering Gantz’ career as IDF chief during Israel’s last two deadly wars in Gaza in 2012 and 2014, it is unlikely he or they will want to come together, even if it means a certain victory of the long-ruling right wing.

Between February 28 and March 1, Israel’s public broadcaster Kan published a poll showing Likud falling to 29 seats to Blue & White's 37 seats, and with 41% of respondents listing Gantz as the most suitable candidate for prime minister, compared to 40% for Netanyahu.

In order to receive seats in the Knesset, a party must receive over 3.25% of the total votes cast, roughly equivalent to four seats. There were 10 different party blocs represented in 2015's elections and it will be interesting to see how many of them survive this time around. There’s a real possibility that some of the smaller parties - both on the left and right - may not make it all together.

All parties have a policy regarding a potential peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, but security, corruption and the economy are typically much more important issues for most parties. Another key issue, mostly for the religious Jewish parties on the right, is the debate over military service for the ultra-Orthodox.

Ultimately though, to know the answers to all of these questions we can only wait. Soon Israel will either have a new Prime Minister, or the country's longest serving Prime Minister - with an ugly court case hanging over him. Be sure to expect plenty of twists and turns and a little over a month from now the region's politics may look quite different.


Ellie Stern is an Israeli-American journalist and breaking news editor at i24NEWS. She has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution from Tel Aviv University and two Bachelor's degrees (in Human Development and International Studies) from the University of California, San Diego. Her expertise include politics, history, economics, and linguistics in both Israeli and US contexts.

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2 comments:

  1. I find it amazing that even Green Olive might consider the "Blue and White" party centrist, almost as amazing as that anyone might still consider the Labour Party "left". The only thing that I can find unusual about Gantz and his cronies is that they might turn out to be a junta of generals planning a military takeover. They are just as racist and just as unconcerned about civil and human rights as the Likud is, refuse to consider negotiations leading to a Palestinian state, and believe they can win a war in Gaza, and seem to have no economic platform. While I'm just as eager as anyone to send Netanyahu home, and while Gantz might perhaps have a chance to replace him, it's hard for me to imagine he would run the country in a direction I'd be happy with....sigh.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Su - Actually Green Olive does not consider the "Blue and White" party to be centrist. Any opinions expressed in the article are solely that of the author, Ellie Stern.

    However it is interesting to note that the terms 'left' and right' in Israeli politics can either be considered on their own terms, or through a European or American political prism. Within the spectrum of Israeli Jewish politics, the Blue and White party is certainly in the Center. However in terms of the political norms in Europe it is decidedly right wing.

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