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.

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

Election Roundup Sunday 28 December

Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party finally has a couple of candidates. Joining him are Michel Oren, the former Ambassador to the USA, and Eli Alalouf, an Israel Prize winner who chairs a committee on investigating poverty in Israel. They’re both serious names and solid professionals, but it’s hard to pin down the precise character of the party yet. Maybe as more people join it’ll become clearer.

Meanwhile, another Israeli Ambassador to the USA, incumbent Ron Dermer, got into trouble for endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu on an American TV show. Mr Dermer, a close friend of Mr Netanyahu, told a cable channel that

“I have no doubt that when [Israelis] look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Ambassadors are supposed to be politically neutral in their roles, and Mr Dermer might get into trouble with the Civil Service Commission.

More  Yisrael Beiteinu-linked figures have been detained and questioned for involvement in an alleged huge corruption scandal. The latest person questioned seems to be former Jerusalem Mayoral candidate Moshe Leon, though I can’t confirm that because journalists have been hinting at it rather than outright reporting it.

A Labour Court hearing into claims by a former worker at the Prime Minister’s House, though, was postponed until after the election after Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the case could influence the polls. The ex-worker was allegedly going to reveal a lot of the private goings-on inside the Netanyahu household. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman attacked the delay, noting that a full investigation into his party was allowed during election time but an ongoing case about Netanyahu was delayed for political reasons.

Danny Danon continued the trend of releasing ‘funny’ videos, by putting out a cartoon song set to the tune of “Oh Susanna” depicting him as an Old-West sheriff kicking out Haneen Zoabi, attacking Tzipi Livni etc. The video, called “Oh Zoabi” has been criticised by some for sexism and Zoabi herself reported it to the police as incitement. While clearly NOT incitement, I thought it was a bit crass and a little sexist. I also thought its general silliness shows Danon is not really running for Likud leader anymore, and is just trying to secure a good place in the party Primary.

Another media figure is joining the Bayit Yehudi list. Yinon Magal, editor of Walla news, has been given one of the automatic spots that are in the gift of leader Naftali Bennett. Yinon has come under immediate criticism, though, due to the increase in sexual content on Walla under his editorship, with some Bayit Yehudi members questioning his suitability as a candidate for the religious party.

Meanwhile, the polls are messy: some show Yisrael Beitenu almost disappearing while others show that the current investigation has had no impact at all. Some show both Shas and Yishai’s ‘Yachad, Ha’am Itanu’ party struggling to make threshold, while others have both comfortably in the seats. More on this later in the week.

Political update Monday 22 December

Will they or won’t they? Well, they didn’t. After weeks of speculation, vacillation and hesitation, Tekuma decided to remain a part of the Bayit Yehudi faction instead of breaking away to join Eli Yishai. Inside Bayit Yehudi they’re likely to win several seats in the next election. As part of Yishai’s new party they risked winning fewer or even none. One Israeli commentator described the decision as ” a choice between winning the lottery or jumping off a roof”. Nevertheless, Tekuma nearly chose the roof, with party leader Uri Ariel speaking in favour of the split. Reportedly, one reason that the Tekuma central committee decided to stay in Bayit Yehudi was that joining Yishai would have banned women from running for the party. One of Tekuma’s current MKs, Orit Struck, would have found herself barred from their list. Anyway, after all that fuss nothing much has changed except that Tekuma managed to get a better seats deal out of Naftali Bennett and the relationship between Bennett and Ariel must be pretty awful.

Of course, it’s also bad news for Eli Yishai, whose new party without Tekuma looks a lot like it might fail to get any seats at all. That could change if he announces some popular list members or wins the backing of enough Shas-supporting Rabbis.

In Likud, Moshe Feiglin dropped out of the race for the Likud leadership after the party decided to hold the leadership and primary elections on the same day.  Other Likud members are still trying to get the two elections to be run separately by taking the issue to court. Benjamin Netanyahu got into trouble for allegedly using Likud party resources to help his leadership campaign, forcing him to write a letter of apology to the party.

Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua party doesn’t really exist anymore, but it still managed to have its own internal argument. Elazar Stern, a current MK for HaTnua, hit out at Ms Livni for merging with Labour and leaving him without a party or a seat. There are rumour he might join Yisrael Beiteinu.

Tzipi Livni was also attacked by Likud after John Kerry went around telling people she’d convinced him to block the Palestinian UN plan because it would strengthen the Israeli right. Likud said that this proved that Livni was in cahoots with the USA to oust Netanyahu, while Livni said it proved that she has real international influence.

Meanwhile, the two big parties are both tacking centrewards. Mr Netanyahu agreed to raise the minimum wage for public sector workers, a key demand of the Left, and Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni spoke about the importance of maintaining Israeli control over Jerusalem, especially the Western Wall.

Labour has also asked that we please call Isaac Herzog ‘Isaac Herzog’ and not by his nickname ‘Bouji’. Lots of Israeli politicians have nicknames that they often picked up in the army – Bibi Netanyahu, Boogie Yaalon – but apparently ‘Bouji’ doesn’t sound Prime-Ministerial.

And finally Channel 2 has set up a Whatsapp group for Knesset members which apparently now has a quarter of all current MKs and a few candidates. It seems to be the place to be, full of arguments, self-promotion and sarcastic comments. I’m trying to work out how to get invited myself.

Election roundup Wednesday 17 December

After a few days of party splits, the last 48 hours have been all talk about party mergers.

Rumours about a merger on the ‘centre’ continue. A new poll showed a theoretical merged party of Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid getting 24 seats, though that same poll had higher vote-shares (12 for Kulanu, 11 for Lapid) than other recent polls anyway. I wonder if the poll asked about the merged party first, which would artificially boost the two parties in the seperate question? Either way, despite meetings between Lapid and Kahlon, a merger is still being strongly denied.

An alternative merger being discussed is between Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. Liberman has been trying to rebrand his party as pragmatic and centrist. Again, no deal has been reached but there are rumours that Liberman and Lapid discussed it.

Staying on mergers, the merger between Eli Yishai’s new party, now called “Ha’Am Itanu” (the nation is with us) and the Tekuma faction hasn’t happened yet. Tekuma leader Uri Ariel has reportedly been made a counter-offer by Naftali Bennett to stay in Bayit Yehudi in return for higher-placed candidates on the joint list. Yishai and Ariel reportedly met on Tuesday, but no deal is done.

Yishai might be worrying, as the latest polls show his new party on only four seats and very close to not making the election threshold at all. Deri’s Shas is similarly suffering, with both parties at real risk of not making it into the next Knesset.

Naftali Bennett also made a video disguised as a bearded Tel Aviv hipster apologising to people. It’s quite funny and well-done and gets its political point across.

Professor Manuel Trajtenberg is most famous for writing the Trajtenberg report, the response and plan for responding to the demands of the summer 2011 cost-of-living protesters. Yesterday (Wednesday) he resigned from his Government job to enter politics. The talk is that he’ll join the Labour party. This is something of a blow to Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, as many people expected Trajtenberg to run with Kahlon. Kulanu has still not announced any major names as joining its list.

The Likud primary dates saga continues. First, Banjamin Netanyahu tried to move the general primary earlier, to make it the same day as their leadership primary. This suits him as it makes it harder for his challengers, Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, and it’s also a lot cheaper for the party. There was an internal vote and Netanyahu won. Then Danon and Feiglin appealed to a Likud internal court, which ruled that the vote was no good and so the old dates would stand. Now Netanyahu has appealed again and won again. But it’s not over, with Fieglin and Danon considering going to a ‘real’ court to try to argue their case.

And in perhaps the oddest news of the day, Shmuel Flatto-Sharon announced that he would run in the Likud primaries to seek a seat in Knesset. Flatto-Sharon was a French Jew who fled to Israel in the 1970s after embezzling $60 million. He was going to be extradited back to France until he realised that Knesset members all get immunity from extradition, so he formed the Flatto-Sharon Party in 1977. Via a combination of clever campaigning and outright bribery, Flatto-Sharon managed to win TWO seats in the Knesset. He wasn’t re-elected and became a talkshow host and media figure. I doubt he’ll get a good place on the Likud list but you never know.