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Election Primer

Anatomy of a Close Race to Bring Down 'King Bibi'

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4 Apr 2019 (All day)
Election Primer

After surviving several crises within his ruling coalition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided in December to disband the government and go to new elections on April 9th. The reason given was an impasse over the always thorny question of ultra-Orthodox military service, but Netanyahu’s fragile coalition was down to 61 members, which left him too susceptible to the whims of even one renegade Knesset member. He also was hampered by a series of corruption probes and apparently calculated that it was best to go get a fresh mandate to rule from the people before facing down the growing scandals.

The election campaign has essentially become a referendum on Netanyahu and his legacy. Should he score a fifth term as Israel’s prime minister, he would surpass the state’s founding leader, David Ben-Gurion, in terms of both number of election victories (4) and amount of time in the premiership (11 years and counting). Netanyahu has been an incredibly competent leader on geo-strategic and economic matters, successfully promoting Israel as a hi-tech hub and even getting Arab states to align with Israel against Iran. But many in the Center/Left insist he has been in office so long he feels entitled and above the law.

Early in the campaign, Netanyahu was leading in the polls despite the criminal probes hanging over his head. With his Likud party set to retain around 30 seats again, it looked like an easy ride to re-election. Indeed, there seems to be a solid quarter of the electorate who will forever view him as ‘Bibi, King of Israel.’ His closest rival was Yair Lapid, a former TV commentator and next- generation leader whose centrist Yesh Atid party was maxing out at 19 seats – not enough to topple Netanyahu.

Then, three former IDF chiefs-of-staff decided to band together and use their collective military experience to neutralise Bibi’s advantage as “Mr. Security.” The most popular was Benny Gantz, along with Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya'alon – a former Likudnik. Based on polling data, Lapid was eventually persuaded that the only way to defeat Netanyahu was to join with the generals on a combined super-list dubbed “Blue & White.”

The Blue & White merger made a big splash at first, besting Likud 36 seats to 30. But the gap has closed over the waning weeks of the campaign as frontman Gantz has been non-committal on some of the core perennial issues facing the nation, such as peace prospects with the Palestinians. Netanyahu also has been helped by US President Donald Trump’s timely decision to recognise the Golan as sovereign Israeli territory. The most recent surveys show Blue & White neck-and-neck with Likud at around 30 mandates each, while Netanyahu has the better chance of becoming prime minister due to the Right-of-Center bloc getting roughly 68 seats to the Center/Left’s 52.

The final results could be close, however, as some of the smaller factions on the Right are hovering at the minimum threshold to enter parliament. Political analysts are always looking to identify the key swing party which could play the role of “kingmaker”, and oddly that appears to be ex-Likudnik and libertarian candidate Moshe Feiglin, who is polling well and has said he could join either a Netanyahu or Gantz-led government.

Only two former IDF chief-of-staff have ever won the premiership – Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. If Gantz succeeds, it would be a political earthquake given Netanyahu’s decade-long hold on the levers of power in Israel. Otherwise, Bibi is about to achieve legendary status, even though his legal troubles will be just beginning.

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REVIEW of Main Parties Running in the 2019 Elections

ON THE RIGHT
Likud Party
Leader: Benjamin Netanyahu
Platform: Conservative and religious hawks, pro-free market
Projected Seats: 30 (as of April 4, 2019)

Yamin Hadash (New Right Party)
Leaders: Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked
Platform: National Religious, pro-settlement, conservative judicial reform
Projected Seats: 5 (As of April 4,2019)

Kulanu Party
Leeader: Moshe Kahlon
Platform: Conservative spin-off of Likud
Projected Seats: 5 (As of April 4,2019)

Zehut Party
Leader: Moshe Feiglin
Platform: Hawkish, Libertarian
Projected Seats:5 (As of April 4,2019)


Union of Right-Wing Parties (Joint list of Jewish Home, National Union and far-right Otzma Yehudit)
Leader: Rafi Peretz
Platform: Religious nationalists, ultra-nationalists and even racist Kahanists
Projected Seats: 7 (As of April 4,2019)


Shas Party
Leader: Aryeh Deri
Platform: Sephardi ultra-Orthodox
Projected Seats: 5 (As of April 4,2019)

United Torah Judaism Party
Leader: Yaakov Litzman
Platform: Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox
Projected Seats: 6 (As of April 4,2019)

Yisrael Beiteinu Party
Leader: Avigdor Liberman
Platform: Russian immigrant hawks
Projected Seats: 4 (As of April 4,2019)

IN THE CENTER
Blue & White Party (Joint List of Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience factions)
Leaders: Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid (Rotation deal)
Platform: Centrist bid to bring down Netanyahu
Projected Seats: 27 (as of April 4, 2019)

Gesher Party
Leader: Orly Levy-Abekasis
Platform: Centrist, social and gender equality
Projected Seats: Predicted to not pass the threshold (As of April 4,2019)


ON THE LEFT
Labor Party
Leader: Avi Gabbay
Platform: Secular, socialist doves
Projected Seats: 10 (As of April 4,2019)


Meretz Party
Leader: Tamar Zandberg
Platform: Radical socialists and peaceniks
Projected Seats:5 (As of April 4,2019)


Ra'am – Balad Joint List
Leader: Mansour Abbas and Mtanes Shehadeh
Platform: Arab socialist/communist; anti-Zionist
Projected Seats: 4 (As of April 4,2019)


Hadash-Ta'al Joint List
Leaders: Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi
Platform: Radical Arab Left, pro-Palestinian
Projected Seats: 7 (As of April 4,2019)
 

*All polls courtesy of the Times of Israel and the photo is courtesy of The Independent 

 

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