By Tal Schneider & Noga Taronpolsky
Happy President’s day! Here in Israel, we still seek a prime minister.
1. While we are in the presidential frame of mind, who remembers Jacqueline Kennedy’s elegant, televised Valentine’s Day tour of the White House in 1962?
Tomorrow, Tuesday, Israel’s Comptroller General will release a report detailing alleged misappropriation of public funds at Netanyahu’s official residence. In anticipation of this unpleasantness, Mrs Netanyahu– yes, the same Mrs Netanyahu who Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly begged the media to lay off– appeared in a painfully cloying Valentine’s Day video of her own.
Alongside the TV personality Moshik Galamin, she detailed the manner in which her home is falling apart.
2. Uri Orbach, a universally beloved figure on the Israeli political scene and one of Naftali Bennett’s notable Jewish Home assets died on Monday at the age of 54 of an unspecified illness.
3. Netanyahu, that master of the public discourse, managed to drag his arch-enemy President Rivlin into the electoral campaign. (In Israel, the president is a figurehead who remains frozen in neutrality.) Netanyahu was the provocateur, saying “we’ve heard reports our of the presidency that Rivlin will ask whoever wins the greatest number of Knesset mandates to form the next government, and not the party that has the greatest chance of forming a coalition.” The accusation may sound counter-intuitive—duh, whoever gets the greatest number of votes gets the call—but this is not the case in Israel’s fractured political reality, wherein whoever can wrangle the largest coalition, a task at which Netanyahu excels significantly more than at getting votes, expects to be called upon.
In any event, Rivlin’s office issued a withering denial.
Netanyahu’s statement, it must be said, is odd, implying, as if he were a journalist, that there is a leak in the president’s very small circle of aides.
Despite both being Likud members, Netanyahu and Rivlin have a long-standing enmity. When Rivlin ran for president, Netanyahu tried every trick in the book (and then some) to scuttle his election. Kicking him out of the Knesset Speaker’s job. A change in Israel’s Basic Law (the state’s non-constitution Constitution.) Postponing the presidential election. http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-may-postpone-presidential-elections/the presidential election. Nothing worked.
4. Last week, the prime minister visited Eli, a remote West Bank settlement. Despite the left’s stream of accusations against Netanyahu and his own declarations about “reinforcing the settlement movement, Netanyahu does not tend to grace West Bank settlements with his own presence. The last time he was in Eli was almost 20 years ago. Just before the elections of 2013 there was a report that Netanyahu visited Rechalim, that had just been codified as a settlement after years as an illegal outpost. But between 2009 and 2013, ie, non-electoral years, you could count on one hand the number of times Netanyahu had visited the West Bank, not to mention the more controversial isolated communities. (His detractors would say he prefers his plush digs in Caesarea to the hard-scrabble pioneering life, but let’s leave it here for now.)
5. Netanyahu is an awesome campaigner. In the past few days he has stretched into his role as acting education minister (remember: last December, in a move that presaged these elections, he fired the 6 Yesh Atid ministers) to try to stack the committee choosing Israel Prize winners. The Israel prize is Israel’s version of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the top civilian award endowed by the state. It is a big deal.
Netanyahu’s FDR-like attempt to remake the committee backfired monumentally. But even when the attempt was scuttled by the Attorney General and it seems to be spiraling into a debacle, it solidified his credentials as a right-wing underdog battling the cultural elites of the left. In the dust-up it became easy to forget that the right and the Likud have ruled Israel for almost 20 years without a break.
6. On the left, on the other hand, it’s one thing after another. Herzog/Livni’s faltering campaign was so worrisome that the powers that be decided on the risky move of replacing their entire strategic team mid-election season. As of last week, Reuven Adler, the late Ariel Sharon’s David Axelrod, is in charge.
7. The centrist Yair Lapid has had a few decent weeks. After starting out at a shaky 8 to 9 seats, his poll numbers now seem to be steady at about 12 Knesset mandates. Throughout the last week, his team has been saying they will not recommend Netanyahu form the next government, without making explicit the next step, which would imply they’d recommend Herzog.
8. In response to complaints about the free electoral publicity Netanyahu is likely to get from his March 3rd Congressional appearance versus the prime minister’s counter-claim that he will be addressing a matter of urgent national importance, Justice Salim Joubran, the head of Israel’s Central Election’s Committee, announced a Solomonic decision: the event will be broadcast with a five-minute delay in Israel. Just in case.