Mergers and rumours – Election roundup Sunday 25 January 2015

I know I was writing about list mergers a month ago, and here I am doing it all again. Luckily there’s only one more week of this until the lists are filed and mergers are impossible, but until then there are plenty of rumours:

For the past week there have been continual low-level rumours that a Likud/Bayit Yehudi merger was still a possibility and could happen within days. Any such deal would HAVE to happen by the end of the week when the lists are supposed to be finalised. There have even been polls that suggest that the merged party wouldn’t lose seats in the merger. The big winners would be Benjamin Netanyahu, who’d almost assure that he’d remain as Prime Minister after the election, and Naftali Bennett, who’d be well-positioned to take over from Mr Netanyahu if and when he does eventually retire. It’d basically be the same as the Likud/Beiteinu deal last election, which is why both parties are suspicious of it. I suspect Likud in particular would be resistant to any such deal but would find it hard to defy Mr Netanyahu during an election campaign.

Tonight, there are possibly-linked rumours that the leadership of Bayit Yehudi is going to refuse to unify with the Tekuma party. Bayit Yehudi and Tekuma ran a joint list last election, and a month ago Tekuma was planning to leave the list and join up with Eli Yishai’s Yachad Ha’am Itanu faction. The party decided to keep its partnership with Naftali Bennett, who offered Tekuma better-placed candidates as an enticement to stay. But it’s Tekuma candidates Orit Struck and Bezalel Smotrich that have been the most controversial people on the joint list, perhaps damaging Bayit Yehudi’s appeal to more-moderate voters. If Bayit Yehudi decides to kick out Tekuma now, Tekuma will surely join Eli Yishai after all, dragging his party over the electoral threshold, with probably no cost to those people on the Bennett-side of the joint list. Of course, it would also leave the way clearer for a merged list with Likud.

Another joint list is that between the two Arab parties and Hadash, running as the ‘Joint List’. The list has said it won’t join any government, but might recommend Issac Herzog as Prime Minister in an attempt to get rid of Mr Netanyahu

One merger that now isn’t happening is Kulanu and Yesh Atid. It seems that there were serious talks but ultimately Moshe Kahlon announced that his party would run alone.

The final rumour is barely more than a whisper of a whisper: If Likud joins up with Bayit Yehudi, then Yesh Atid might join with the Zionist Camp (aka Labour) to create a centre-left counterweight list.

All of this will have to be sorted by the end of the week. Nothing could change or everything could change.

Oh, and one party seems to be out: Moshe Feiglin left Likud announcing he’d run in the election as head of a new party. As of today there is no party and Mr Feiglin organised his son’s wedding on election day. So it’s pretty safe to say that he’ll be too busy to run an election campaign.

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Election roundup Wednesday 21 January 2015: Part 2

(Part 1 here)

Of course now, there are lists and candidates, there can be gaffes and dirt.

There have already been a load of them.

As soon as the Labour primary was finished, Bayit Yehudi put out images attacking the party’s candidates — running as the Zionist Camp — as being anti-Zionist, including quotes in which some candidates appeared to say they supported marking Naqba Day or that the Hatikva was racist. Particular fire has been focused on new candidates Yossi Yonah and Zohir Bahalul, who’ve been involved in activism against Israeli government policies including supporting soldiers who refused to serve in the West Bank. The candidates claimed that the short (few-word) quotes used by Bayit Yehudi were taken out of context. This is part of Bayit Yehudi’s main electoral strategy, which seems to be based around attacking Labour as way to prove they ‘take on the Left’.

One of Yisrael Beiteinu’s new candidates is Shira Mistriel, a 24-year-old student from the Facebook generation who didn’t think to clean up her Facebook before entering politics. A trawl of her Facebook wall revealed her joking about a stone-throwing Arab being run over by a Jewish driver in 2010, laughing at him as a ‘smelly Arab’. A few other Facebook comments from her late teens made jokes about Arabs too. This triggered a debate about the use of old Facebook posts in political campaigns and whether it’s fair to blame someone from teenage stupidity.

Another new candidate drawing attention is Bayit Yehudi’s Bezalel Smotrich, one of Tekuma’s members running in 9th place on the Bayit Yehudi list. Mr Smotrich was once arrested by the Shin Bet with 700 litres of petrol, which they believed he was planning to use in terror attacks on Israeli infrastructure to stop the Gaza Disengagement. No charges were brought. Mr Smotri now runs an NGO dedicated to trying to demolish the houses of Israeli Arabs and Bedouin in the Negev if they were built without permits.

Mr Smotrich was attacked this week for running a ‘Beast Parade’ in Jerusalem in 2006 as an ‘alternative’ to the Gay Pride parade, where he implied that gay people were worse than animals. He reportedly told Haaretz “I did it when I was young, and I regret it”. Yesterday it was also revealed that he’d run a campaign to stop bus companies from employing Israeli Arab drivers

Another Bayit Yehudi candidate, Sarah Eliash, 17th on the list, made the news yesterday for her position that women should not serve in the IDF. She told a radio station last year “I think that the IDF is not a fitting framework for women, I would not recommend that girls to be in it”. Ms Eliash, a High School principal, also said that she encouraged girls in her school not to join the IDF and to do National Service instead. While a common position in the National-Religious world, the idea that women shouldn’t join the army doesn’t fit so well with the modern open image the party’s trying to project.

Part 3 will have to wait until tomorrow, when we’ll talk about political ads and more merger rumours.

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Election roundup Wednesday 21 January 2015: Part 1

It’s been a long time since I wrote an election update so there’s a lot to say. I’m going to split this one into parts. Part 1 will discuss party lists, Part 2 will talk about candidate rows and part 3 will deal eith anything else. Anyway, here’s part 1.

Party Lists

First off, most parties have their lists now. Labour‘s Primary didn’t produce many surprises, with Shelly Yachimovich coming top and Stav Shaffir doing well. General Amos Yadlin joined the list too, as their Defence Minister candidate, after Shaul Mofaz decided not to join Labour.

In the Bayit Yehudi primary, a few of Naftali Bennett’s preferred candidates didn’t come high enough to be in realistic slots. Overall, the Bayit Yehudi list has several women in realistic spots, making the relative lack on the Likud list more apparent. The primary election was mired in complaints by candidates and nearly didn’t happen after a court injunction froze the election but then the injunction itself was vacated because the complainants didn’t pay the court fee. Despite one recount, some of the lower-placed candidates are still trying to take the whole process to court citing irregularities.

Likud had its own recounts following its primary two weeks ago. Two well-known figures, MK Tzipi Hotovely and former MK Avi Dichter, were fighting over the 20th spot on the Likud list. After a recount, Ms Hotoveli took the place and Mr Dichter was moved down into an unrealistic spot. He’s now also going to court to contest the recount.

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu added General Yoav Galant, women’s campaigner Rachel Azarya and Ethiopian journalist Tzaga Malcho to his list, which has a good gender balance and a nice array of experts. It seems like he’s doing something similar to Yesh Atid last election.

Yesh Atid hasn’t published its list yet, but David Stern MK, a Tnua MK who was left out in the cold when Tzipi Livni teamed up with Labour, has joined the party.

In Yisrael Beiteinu, many of the existing Knesset members are out – David Rotem, Uzi Landau and Yair Shamir are gone – replaced by new names, with current MK Orly Levy becoming number 2 on the list. A friend of mine, Ashley Perry, is running at number 20 so good luck to him!

There’s little change in the Meretz list, which mainly chose existing or past MKs for its top spots.

Hadash had perhaps the biggest change after Chairman Mohammed Barakeh withdrew, leaving the way clear for Aimen Odeh to become the new Chair.

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Election Roundup Sunday 4 January 2015

Likud is the first party to complete its primary, with the results out last Friday. Benjamin Netanyahu easily won the leadership again, beating Danny Danon and surprising nobody. Gilad Erdan came first in the Likud list, with other more-moderate Likud members in the top 10 such as Silvan Shalom, Moshe Yaalon and Tzachi Hanegbi.

Some of more right-wing Likud members did much worse, with Moshe Feiglin coming low down the list in an unrealistic position for the next Knesset. The only woman in Likud’s top ten is Miri Regev, who’s one of the more right-leaning Likud MKs, while Tzipi Hotovely came down low enough to be doubtful for re-election. A lot of commentators have noted the dearth of women on the Likud list.

Mr Netanyahu has the right to add a couple of appointees to the Likud list and there’s a rumour that he’s going to hold some sort of public vote to choose them. Perhaps this will be announced at tomorrow night’s big event; Likud is holding an event in Tel Aviv on Monday night which party spinners say will be very significant.

Of course, following his defeat in the primary, there are rumours that Moshe Feiglin is considering founding a new party. I doubt he actually will, though. There were similar rumours in past primaries.

Labour announced formally that Manuel Trajtenberg would be joining their list and would be the party’s first choice for Finance Minister. This was pretty widely expected. In another piece of Labour gossip, leader Issac Herzog admitted that he’d been having voice training.

An Israeli Minister, apparently Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, was alleged to be having secret meetings with Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of PA President Abbas. Everyone has denied this story on all sides, so it’s probably true.

A conference last weekend in Nazareth discussed a united list between the two Arab parties and the Arab/Jewish Hadash party. Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg even popped up, on Shabbat, wearing a kippa and claiming that a merged list was so important that he was prepared to break Shabbat to advocate for it. No decision was taken, though.

Finally, many people were surprised by reports that Channel 2 journalist Tzion Nanous had joined Bayit Yehudi. The story was reported on several websites until it became clear what had happened – Nanous had been added to the party’s WhatsApp group as a reporter, and some party members interpreted the “Tzion Nanous has joined” message incorrectly. On Twitter, Naftali Bennett joked “That’s how it started for Yigal Manon too”, referring to another journalist who recently joined the party.

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Election Roundup Tuesday 30 December

Shas

Lots of drama in Shas. Last night videos of late Shas Rabbinic leader R. Ovadia Yosef attacking current leader Aryeh Deri were released to the media. In the videos, R. Yosef calls Mr Deri a thief and a bad person, says he’s too independent and claims Deri tricked Shas into supporting the Oslo peace proces.

This was a huge deal for a party whose support and legitimacy still comes largely from R. Ovadia Yosef. Yesterday, Deri resigned as Shas leader – but a few hours later the Shas Council of Torah Sages (the committee of Rabbis that theoretically runs the party) refused to accept his resignation. Today, raising the stakes, Deri also resigned as a Knesset member, immediately followed by ALL the other Shas MKs too.

This is, of course, the classic Israeli resignation-so-you-can-be-convinced-to-stay. At this point nobody expects Deri to go. The resignations from the current Knesset were symbolic only and won’t affect their running for the next Knesset. According to Haaretz, the Rabbis’ letter begging Deri to stay was written before he’d even resigned!

Perhaps most surprisingly, a poll today showed that all of this has had little impact on Shas. While Eli Yishai took a chunk of Shas’ support with him when he formed his own party two weeks ago, the only poll since the tapes’ release shows essentially no change in Shas’ already-weak position.

Likud

In Likud, the leadership and Knesset primaries will happen tomorrow. Most of the drama in Likud has been arguments over rules and courts. Basically, Benjamin Netanyahu has been un-disqualified as expected, and will be running for Likud leader against Danny Danon. Mr Netanyau will win comfortably.

In the primary itself, 70 candidates are running overall with 38 running for the 17 ‘safest’ seats. There will also be a vote to allow Mr Netanyahu to appoint some of his own hand-picked candidates to realistic list positions. This plus other reserved seat rules means that not all the 17 ‘top’ candidates will necessarily be in the first 25 places on the Likud list.

There were also reports of various dirty deals and vote-trading happening in the primary, but I don’t fully understand them. One thing that is worth mentioning is this bizarre and cringe-worthy video by Likud primary candidate Oren Hazan. His father, Yehiel Hazan was a former Likud MK who was convicted of illegally stealing the votes of MKs while they were away from their seats. The video, a Godfather pastiche, has the criminal ex-MK Hazan telling his son to run in the Likud primary for the good of the family. It’s really weird.

Kulanu

There are rumours that Kulanu’s next signing will by Jerusalem Deputy-Mayor Rachel Azaria. Ms Azaria founded the “Jerusalemites” local party and is an advocate for women’s rights, especially in issues around religion. I voted for her for city council and she’d be an interesting addition to Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu list as well as their first woman.

In an attempt to counter Mr Kahlon’s perceived support in Jerusalem, there were some reports that Netanyahu had asked Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to also serve as the Minister for Jerusalem. This report was denied, and it also is reportedly illegal for a mayor to be a government minister.

Channel 10

Channel 10, one of Israel’s terrestrial TV channels, will close tomorrow night after the Communication Minister – who happens to currently be PM Benjamin Netanyahu – didn’t agree a bailout deal. Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sarah have reportedly had his sights on Channel 10 since the channel ran critical reports about the Netanyahus’ foreign travel.

Israel only has five free-to-air Hebrew channels at the moment, and Channel 10’s news in particular is one of the best (Channel 2 is also good). The channel has been on strike, showing a picture of Mr Netanyahu and blaming him for the closure. Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni called on Mr Netanyahu to save the channel, and even President Ruvi Rivlin publicly backed a bailout. Supporters of Mr Netanyahu, though, pointed out that many of Channel 10’s supporters had no problem with the law to limit the free distribution of pro-Netanyahu newspaper Yisrael Hayom.

Channel 10 has been broadcasting a screen attacking Mr Netanyahu
Channel 10 has been broadcasting a screen attacking Mr Netanyahu

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