By Tal Schneider and Noga Tarnopolsky
♣ Remember Jon Stewart’s humorous dissection of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, which included, as an aside, wonderment at how the guy just does not age?
It turns out he’s not the only one. According to the business tabloid The Marker, Yitzhak Herzog’s enviable baby face has caused a few rumpled foreheads, and the Labor campaign has actually used a Photoshop-like service to add the wrinkles of age and gravitas to its candidate’s unblemished face.
♣ There is a growing sense that the Likud campaign is crashing. Off-the-record, candidates who number in the top ten acknowledge that the situation is, um, not good. They say that in stark contrast to their subdued events, on the ground at labor party rallies you can feel a real hunger for power.
Polls are starting to reflect that gap: two new polls show Labor pulling in at about 24, 25 Knesset seats whereas the Likud is stuck at 20, 21. Labor’s internal polls seem solid: a few days before the uptick, Yitzhak Herzog commented to a few foreign journalists that the public polls “are a bit behind the public.”
The amorphous body known as the punditry is taking it a step further, now forecasting 28 seats for Labor and a mere 18 for Likud.
In his latest events, an ebullient Herzog (yes) has claimed he’s aiming for 30.
♣ The Commanders for the Security of Israel, the (unprecedented) group of army and intelligence generals who are working to unseat Netanyahu held a much heralded but not very informative presser in Tel Aviv. A few days earlier, I (Noga) interviewed Labor’s candidate for Defense Ministry, General (ret.) Amos Yadlin. Yadlin is the former commander of the air force and head of air force intelligence.
What do you plan to do day 1? I asked. “I came to right the ship,” he said. “As things stand we are not going anywhere, or we are headed for an iceberg. The captain has no vision of where he’s headed. He is good at creating fears and offers no hope.”
Cracking a joke about pessimists being optimists with experience, Yadlin describes himself as “an optimist with experience.” I spoke with him a few days before the polls turned more sharply towards Labor, but it may be significant that in listing Israel’s critical strategic challenges he listed #1 the need for a powerful army and #2 the need for excellent ties with the United States. That is the same order that consistently appears when Israelis are asked the same question.
In an important indicator of where insiders see this going, (ultra-Orthodox) Shas leader Aryeh Deri says he would join a Herzog-led government.
♣ It is interesting to note that despite the Likud’s declining poll numbers, the right wing, and specifically Jewish Home (Bennett) and Israel Beytenu (Lieberman) are not on the rise. It looks like the undecideds are swimming towards Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu.
♣ Earlier this week, I (Tal) attended a Kahlon campaign rally in Hadera, which a city in which this former Likudnik has deep roots. It was interesting, especially to see him surrounded by close friends and family. His sister spoke, his mother and two of his brother’s sat in the audience. The crowd numbered in the hundreds but even in this moment of almost-intimacy, it was clear the campaign is aiming far beyond the home crowd. Not enough has been written about this interesting candidate but he is emerging as the biggest challenge the Likud has seen in a long while. He repeatedly declares himself to be the true heir of Menachem Begin. He says that the Likud has lost all compassion. His message is getting out there.
Kahlon is focusing on the socio-economic status of his public, and he delves into their overdrawn bank accounts , the taxes they pay, the mortgages, the health care system, that is in strain, gaps in education, the dearth of public transportation for the poor. In short, he is sitting down with them and making himself part of the discussion. His stated goal is to be named Israel’s next Finance Minister of Israel, and even with the 10 or so seats his party is now showing in the polls, it looks like he has a chance.
♣ Yair Lapid continues to fill big halls. He is a master at the ground game. The crowds come to hear him campaigning and for a moment you could think you’re at a Sunday service at some mega-church. Mass listen to the preacher and asked to solve personal problems. Lapid has hit some sort of a double whammy: in the same couple of days he was voted Israel’s best party leader on women’s issues and Israel’s hottest male politician. In an interview I (Tal) conducted with him for the feminist website Saloona he pledged to appoint women to senior posts at every ministry and to rectify the imbalance in the civil service.
♣ And after the elections? A senior Labor Party official I (Noga) spoke with outlined the following plans for a first hundred days: 1. Pass a social-economic plan addressing the housing crisis; 2. Repair and strengthen the bond of trust with the United States; 3. Try to restart talks with the Palestinians. Start with confidence-building measures.