By Noga Tarnopolsky and Tal Schneider
A few points summing up Israel’s Alice in Wonderland election in which nothing is at it had seemed before.
♣ Netanyahu called for an early election in the expectation that this would be a cakewalk; he arranged his congressional address while strategizing that it would come at the crest of a billowing campaign. None of this has happened.
The strain is starting to show. Other than Adelson’s supportive `Israel Hayom` Netanyahu has not spoken to the media since early January. Unsure of how to proceed in this topsy-turvy election, he has chosen to lash out at a newspaper publisher as his top enemy. It is as if Obama engaged in personal attacks on Rupert Murdoch instead of having either a campaign or a media strategy. Here is the PM last week, attacking Noni Mozes, the head of the Yedioth Acharonoth publishing group.
♣ Lieberman may have made the single worst wager of the year: he championed a change in electoral law raising the minimum threshold for inclusion in parliament from 2% to 3 1/4%– or about 4 Knesset seats. The excuse was good governance; the real reason was his desire to be rid of Israel’s three predominantly Arab parties.
The result is that Lieberman’s party, buffeted by a series of corruption scandals and by its leader’s wishy-washy political positions, now skirts oblivion and the Joint List of Arab parties are surging to about 14 Knesset seats.
♣ Bennett’s Jewish Home lost 4 mandates after what Bennett (yes) called “the worst political gaffe a politician has made:” trying to introduce/impose a popular ex soccer player high on his party’s list. Confronted with a rebellion, Bennett took back the appointment and has never regained momentum.
♣ Labor is hitting its stride. The Israeli voter, who famously votes on the issue of security, is as sick of hearing the word Iran and s/he is sick of hearing about Netanyahu’s personal melodrama—the wife, the never-ending lawsuits by former staffers, the endless excuses for Israel’s income chasm .Yithak Herzog, the Labor leader, who has always been branded something of a wimp, is now brandishing his geekishness like a flag. See? No bonkers wife! No extravagant use of public funds! Herzog, the son of a president and grandson of a Great Rabbi and thus something of a local Kennedy, lives in the (remodeled) home in which he was raised.
Mostly, Israelis are nerve-wracked about their paychecks, and Labor has come up with a real economic platform. (When Likud politician Gilad Erdan was asked recently why the Likud doesn’t have an economic platform he said the prime minister was too busy.)
♣ In an election year everyone foresaw as ho-hum- more-of-the-same, the political map is shifting as if moved by tectonic plates. Labor’s natural coalition partner, Meretz, the party that brought the world Oslo, is flirting with extinction. (Again, the new threshold plays a significant role here.) The Israeli left tends to whinge that its difficulties stem from Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, twenty years ago, but the fact is that the left failed the test of leadership during the second intifada, which Israeli’s still remember, and that their current leader’s mercurial style has not gone over well with the voters.
♣ This leaves us with a much more fractured political map than anyone anticipated, with two centrist parties—Yesh Atid, the big surprise of the 2013 election cycle, in which it took 19 seats—and Kulanu, the newly formed party run by Moshe Kahlon, the popular former Likud minister.
♣ And then you’ve got the Joint List, that newly formed Arab amalgamate I mentioned up top, that finds itself with the very real possibility of leading Israel’s next opposition. If the Likud and Labor form a national unity government, which complicated electoral results may force them to do, Ayman Odeh, a charismatic 40-year-old lawyer from Haifa who is running for the Knesset for the first time, may become the local equivalent of Nancy Pelosi, and as leader of the opposition, would receive regular intelligence briefs. The very idea that an Arab, as accomplished as he may be, may get so high up in the hierarchy is giving the right a conniption.
♣ Meanwhile, with no debates between the principal candidates, the prime minister running from the media and the rest of the parties scattering, the principal forum for public discussion (and disenchantment) is a stream of unregulated satirical or infantile videos. These sometimes go off the rails. Last week, the Likud was forced to apologize after it released a clip equating striking stevedores from Ashdod with Hamas terrorists and implied they were all “homos.” Not joking. The prime minister was part of it.