Weekly Report: 15th week of second Israeli election campaign

Only a few more days to go and while things are happening, they are not heating up.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

סקר ערוץ כנסת
סקר ערוץ כנסת
צילום: ערוץ כנסת

The last full week prior to the upcoming election on September 17th did not change the overall lackluster campaign atmosphere.

Rockets once again were fired from Gaza into Israel. On one occasion, a campaign event for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other politicians in Ashdod was interrupted by rocket sirens. Netanyahu left the podium. He returned to speak afterwards.

An important issue under debate was the proposed law to place cameras at voting stations. Attorney General Mandelblit attended a cabinet meeting to lobby against this proposed bill. During the week this bill was voted down as it did not reach the required 61 votes. Netanyahu blamed Avigdor Liberman -- leader of Yisrael Beytenu -- for the failure of the bill to pass.

During the Knesset session, the leader of the Joint Arab List, Ayman Odeh, was forcibly removed from the plenum after he placed a cellphone camera directly in front of the Prime Minister's face in response to the PM saying that cameras are everywhere. today.

Earlier the Supreme Court rejected a petition of Blue and White to freeze the Likud's bill to legalize videotaping polling booths on election-day even before it becomes law. The Supreme Court stated that this could only be done if it becomes law through approval in the Knesset.

During the campaign, some fatigue regarding Netanyahu and the Likud was found among part of the right-wing voters. One expression of this was when former Likud Minister Benny Begin announced that he would not vote for the party.

In the last five polls, by September 10, Blue and White had on the average 32 seats, one more than Likud. This however did not represent an increase of the center-left block because the Democratic Union only polled 6 seats on the average and Labor-Gesher was between 5 and 6 seats. Other polls showed the Likud leading (see photo).a

One poll found that if Blue and White cancelled the rotation between Gantz and Lapid it would increase support for the list by one seat. This seat however would be taken away from the Labor-Gesher list so that the center-left block would not gain anything.

The main new element of the last five polls was that in four out of five of them, the extreme right Otzma Yehudit party passed the electoral threshold gaining four seats. This had only happened once previously, in the more than fifty polls since the Knesset was dissolved. It was reported that Likud research had found that many English speaking voters had switched to Otzma Yehudit from Zehut after it dropped out of the election due to an agreement with the Likud.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz appealed to Arab voters. He said: "There is no obstacle for me to take care of problems of violence in Arab society, in planning problems, in education problems." He added that he would not bring the Joint Arab list into his coalition for diplomatic reasons which referred to their position on the "Palestinian" issue. Arab parties have never been part of a coalition in Israel. Blue and White candidate Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF Chief of Staff said that it was still not too late to kill Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asked the State Prosecution to determine whether there were any criminal aspects by the Fifth Dimension, a cyber security company which went bankrupt. It was owned by Gantz. Any suspicions however do not concern Gantz himself.

The mudslinging also continued. United Torah Judaism leader Yakov Litzman, attacked Gantz after the latter said that he wants a secular unity government. He added that Gantz’ number two, Yair Lapid is a "contagious disease that Gantz has caught." Concerning Lapid, Litzman said "whoever hates our religion, I believe, has anti-Semitism. I won't take it back."

It seems that the upcoming elections are unlikely to lead to the easy establishment of a new government. With that probably in mind, President Reuven Rivlin said that he was surprised when Netanyahu refused to return the mandate for forming a coalition to him after failing to do so in late May. Instead he led the Knesset in a vote to dissolve itself, forcing a new election. Rivlin also said that he would do everything possible to avoid a third election.

There was a report that Likud MK Miki Zohar had a meeting with the leaders of the new extreme right wing one-issue religious Zionist party Noam to find a way to have them drop out of the race. It was reported that in that case, the Likud offered to change the plans for the Western Wall and to change conversion laws. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that this report was ridiculous.

Netanyahu announced that after the election he would unilaterally apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea communities. He also said that all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (they are all in Area C under Israeli control) would be annexed but he would only do so after US President Donald Trump released his peace plan and it would be done in coordination with the U.S. as much as possible. Liberman promised that Israel will apply sovereignty to Ma'ale Adumim, a city near Jerusalem with close to 40,000 inhabitants.

There were major developments in the United States which may affect Israel. US Special Envoy for the Middle East Jason Greenblatt resigned. Furthermore, President Trump fired National Security Advisor John Bolton --- a friend of Israel -- due to disagreements about speaking to Iran's Rouhani.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism. This report appears abroad in other languages.