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.

Election roundup Monday 15 December

Today’s election update:

After last night’s press conference at which Shas leader Arye Deri was supported by founder R. Ovadia’s daughter, Adina bar-Shalom, today several recordings surfaced of Mrs bar-Shalom criticising Deri’s leadership of Shas.

Eli Yishai, the former Shas leader who left the party yesterday, held a press conference tonight to discuss his own new party. Well, he tried to – but it was disrupted by Shas people calling him a traitor, grabbing the picture of R Ovadia and forcing Yishai to flee into a side-room, protected by hotel security, for his own safety. So that went well. Meanwhile, everyone is waiting to see if Uri Ariel will join Yishai to form a new party or will stick with Jewish Home.

More trouble for Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Likud ‘court’ ruled that he’d actually lose last week’s vote on whether to make the party Primary earlier. He’s said he will appeal this ruling tomorrow, and it might end up at the Supreme Court. All this while he spent all day in Rome meeting John Kerry.

The far-right is planning another comeback, with Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel resurrecting the Otzma L’Yisrael faction. It will probably struggle to make the new 4% election threshold, though.

Moshe Kahlon and Yair Lapid met today in a supposed-to-be-secret meeting. Rumours say it was discussing ‘uniting the centre’, though this is not thought to be a full merged list and more of a cooperation agreement.

Labour MK Avishai Braverman announced that he wasn’t planning to stand for the next Knesset.

Election roundup Sunday 14 December

Political catch-up after a busy day (long post but short paragraphs):

  1. Eli Yishai has left Shas to form a new political party, provisionally called “Maran” (offensive much?). He might be joined by Uri Ariel of Tekuma, leaving the Bayit Yehudi. If they join up, the new CharDal (charedi-nationalist) party, probably Israel’s most right-wing party, will be called Yachad.
  2. Staying on Shas. There were rumours of big news from Shas, which initially seemed confirmed when Arye Deri annouced he’d hold a joint press conference with Adina bar-Shalom, R Ovadia’s daughter and a champion for Haredi women’s education. Rumours were that she would be on the Shas list to be an MK. The actual announcement – that she’d chair a new Women’s Committee for Shas – was a let-down. The other Shas news of the day was that Shas MKs met in secret and decided not to leave the party with Yishai.
  3. Every male Ashkenazi over the age of 35 seems to be running in th Bayit Yehudi primary. Today, Danny Dayan, the former head of the Yesha Council and a Likud stalwart, joined the party. Several other people have announced they’re standing in the primaries, including reality TV stars and political commentators
  4. Meanwhile, Yoni Chetbourn, a Bayit Yehudi MK, has quit the party tonight. Rumours he’s joining Yishai’s thing.
  5. Despite repeated rumours about people joining Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, almost nobody is confirmed. In fact, as soon as a name is mooted someone comes out to deny they’re interested – Rami Levy, Michael Oren and Avi Katz of Cofix have all denied that they’re on the Kulanu list, though some are reportedly considering it.
  6. Last night Tzipi Livni was on the satirical news show Matzav HaUma and said some rude things about the Prime Minister, resulting in some very upset people saying rude things about her. I saw the show and actually thought she was pretty funny.

The Israeli Public and a Strike on Iran

When I came to Israel nearly a year ago,  there was intense speculation that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was imminent. Working inside the Jewish community in the UK, we had lots of worries about a possible strike, Iranian retaliation and the political and security ramfications. British news, Israeli news, world news were all talking as if a strike could happen any day.

One of the first questions that my friends in the UK used to ask me about moving to Israel was “How is it over there? Is everyone worried about Iran?”. And I answered, no. Nobody was talking about Iran. It wasn’t being debated or overtly worried about. The topics of the day in Israel flowed seamlessly one into the other: The social justice movement, the Gilad Shalit deal, evacuating Migron and other unathorised settlement outposts, Haredi enlistment, new elections,  a new coalition, Egypt and then social justice again.

In all this time Iran never left the headlines. It was frequently the lead story on the news here. But it somehow hadn’t permeated the country’s consciousness. It was a bit like the whole population was in denial about the fact that the air-raid sirens (which every town in Israel has) could start ringing at any minute to alert us of a counter-attack, giving us just 30 seconds to get to our bomb shelters or secure rooms.

There also wasn’t really any debate about the wisdom or necessity of any strike. That was odd for two reasons. Firstly, retired senior Israeli security figures kept popping up on the news to say they thought a strike was a bad idea – the sort of thing that would normally start a public debate. Secondly, though, Israelis debate everything. All of the issues I mentioned above were and remain contentious. Was the Shalit deal a sacred trust to a soldier in captivity or was it a price so high that we should never pay it? Would forcing Haredim into military or civil service unify the country or pull it apart? But on the Iran issue, there was no real debate at street level. The Op-Eds and interviews didn’t filter down to café chats. It just wasn’t there.

In the last few weeks, that seems to have changed dramatically. Suddenly I seem to hear nothing else but Iran talk – and again I don’t mean on the TV. Cab drivers will ask my opinion on the issue, old men playing chess or cards talk about whether a strike would be successful, people chatting at Kiddush after the Shabbat synagogue service question whether Hamas would join any retaliation and what Syria would do.

I’m not sure what’s caused this. Yes, the Home Front Security has stepped up its work clearing bomb shelters and giving out gas masks (I got mine), but this has actually been ongoing for months. Maybe it just took a long time to sink in. An Iran strike is a big deal. So, of course, is a nuclear-capable Iran.

So everyone is a bit more nervous, but that’s probably to the good. And the question is being debated, and that’s probably good too. Of course, this being Israel, the debate isn’t always the most respectful or mature. But it’s a start.

I realise that I haven’t mentioned my own thoughts on an Iran strike. I’ll deal with that in another post.