By: Tal Schneider, Noga Tarnopolsky
What to watch for in today’s primary:
1. With the exception of a little over a year and half way back in 1999, when Ehud Barak was Prime Minister, Labor, the party that led Israel for its entire founding generation, has now been out of power for twenty years. It is true that Barak served as Netanyahu’s second term defense minister, but this resulted only Barak’s departure from the party, which, not coincidentally, was left in tatters.
Labor party leader Yitzhak Herzog and his contingent thirst for a return to power at the next elections, on March 17.
2. And speaking of Herzog, 54: he’s not well-known abroad, but as the son of a president and the grandson of a chief rabbi, he’s local aristocracy. He started out as Barak’s cabinet secretary, paid his dues in a string of lowly cabinet posts, then served as an MK before being elected to lead Labor a little over a year ago. Now, he hopes to replace Netanyahu. Herzog is considered a highly competent leader adept at working across the aisle, but suffers from the widespread perception that he is, in Jeffrey Goldberg’s blunt assessment, “a non-charismatic figure.” And it is this very lack of charisma, aka a lack of studliness, which may prove an obstacle in a country used to voting in military men. On the other hand, he’s enjoying a surge in the polls ever since the “anyone-but-Bibi” motto caught on. He’s not up for reelection as party leader on Tuesday, but his party and its opening team will be exposed to the public.
3. Many in the Labor party would have preferred to head to the polls with social/economic issues rather than security/strategy issues at the top of the public agenda. Netanyahu is publicly burnishing his personal national security bona fides and– as of last week– added both to his talking points and to his campaign budget a proposal for “political reform” which would enable him to remain in power even if he lost a vote of non-confidence. But the prime minister’s message comes across as not much more than a rehash of his previous campaign messages (a risk when you’re campaigning twice in two years!) while, on the other side, Labor’s emphasis on the importance of security on the personal and economic fronts seems to be resonating with voters. Netanyahu’s attempts to skirt responsibility for Israel’s soaring cost-of-living and housing prices during the six years of his rule appear laughable to many Israelis.
4. Gender. The Likud, that had primaries a few weeks ago, was widely mocked for the lamentable presence of only two women in its top 20. So Labor is itching for a better showing– in fact, they’re hoping three women make it to the top ten, in addition to the number two spot that is saved for Tzippi Livni, the former justice minister whose union with Labor revived the party’s electoral chances.
5. Believe it or not, the Start-Up Nation is significantly behind the rest of the world when it comes to electoral technology. We at politi.co.il were forced to update you Re:Likud results by posting leaked iPhone pictures of paper ballots as the results streamed in. Yes, paper. Really. The Labor party has set up a primary website, and if all goes well, Israelis– and, crucially, the media– will be able to follow results in real time without resorting to furtive images of crumpled pieces of paper in a back room.