Shaky Prime Minister: as opposed to the general atmosphere in Israel in recent years, for the very first time there’s a strong sense among the Israeli public that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be brought down. Starting with the parliament vote on the “Israel Hayom” bill, (a daily print owned by Netanyahu’s Patron, Sheldon Adelson) a vote where his own coalition members opposed him.
Whereas the vote on the floor meant to impose constrains on the daily (prohibit the free distribution, under the claim that the practice unfairly hurts the print media market) it was perceived, by Netanyahu as by others, as a vote of no-confidence in him personally.
Netanyahu took a personal offense and on that day concluded that he has to gain better coalition partners. Right after that vote and the understanding the elections are inevitable, the public’s frustration was immediately reflected in a steep drop in the public support of Netanyahu’s leadership (Job Performance surveys). For the likes of me, who cover Israeli politics regularly, the public sentiment presented itself immediately, like an undercurrent just waiting to raise to the surface.
M&A. Up until the deadline to submit final lists of candidates on Feb 1st, the Israeli political arena is hustling and bustling with tectonic changes of the political map.
Whereas it is quite common in Israel for parties to form and dissolve or join forces, aligning themselves to the volatility in public sentiment, it seems that the 2015 elections trends are:
– mergers in the center-left of the political map (Livni joining the Labor party, possibly also Mofaz)
– splits in the right wing of the poltical map.
‘Bait Yehudi’ Party (The Jewish Home) headed by Naftali Bennett, which shines and strengthens in the polls may split and depart from the [extremist] ‘National Union’ faction headed by current Housing Minister Uri Ariel.
Shas, the ultra-orthodox Sephardic party, split just couple of days. Its former chief Ely Yishai stormed out of the staggered relationship he had with Shas current chief and overnight formed another new right wing religious party, which may as is the case with the original Shas, be a male-only party.
This fall-down comes one year after the death of Shas’ founder and spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and hence Shas appears to head off to the elections bleeding of internal feuds.
Uncertainty and Fragmentation: Political polls performed by Israeli survey firms are problematic. The 19th Knesset may have served the Israeli public for a very short period of time, yet a single significant bill led by Lieberman, Lapid and Netanyahu raised the Knesset seat electoral threshold from 2% (of all valid votes) to 3.25%. That was a major constitutional change, pushed by politicians who though it will benefit them.
Currently, I can’t think of any political science expert or a political surveyor that can anticipate the behavior of Israeli voters on election day. The general anticipation is that the Israeli political map is going to be even more fragmented, with 8 separate clusters: Arabs (The United Arab List Ra’am-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad), Ultra-Orthodox (Shas and Yahadut Hatora), right wing Orthodox (Bayit Yehudi), Nationalists (Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu), center right (Likud & the new “Kulanu” party headed by former Likud member and minister Kahlon), central Left (Labor), left (Meretz) and the confused center (Lapid). In the absence of significant core powers, the election results may lead Israel onto a long battle of failed attempts to form a coalition.
Economic vs. Security. Israelis are struggling under the cost of living economic crisis. The past 4 years have seen an unprecedented rise in consumer goods prices (36%) and a surge in housing costs. The majority of Israelis are having difficulties in sustaining the cost of rent or mortgages.
The Israeli public is currently troubled by major-interest groups and their heads influence on political decision makers and by the concentration in the Israeli economy, its wealth mostly held by 16 or so families. Astonishingly, just few months after 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, a number of polls show that the Israeli public is more concerned with the economic reality then with security and defense issues.
The press is politically motivated. Reading into Israeli papers interests and political support became part of the guessing game of the behind-the-scene-spins. Yedioth Aharonot and its online arm Ynet are doing everything in their powers to excite the Just-not-Bibi camp, hence going all the way with unequivocal support of the Avigdor-‘boycotts-Arab-business’ Liberman. Sheldon Adelson’s ‘Israel Hayom’ continues its blinded support of Netanyahu. Maariv, under new publisher, is supportive of Liberman as well. Labour & Meretz have stronghold at Haaretz and Makor Rishon paper, Adelson’s recent purchase, backs Naftali Bennet and Bait Yehudi. None of the above reads fairness or impartiality.
Translated by: Idit Mor