As Israel’s election day nears, politicians whet their knives

April 5, 2019 by Israel Kasnett -
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The not-so-packed Jerusalem Post 2019 Elections Conference held at the InterContinental David Tel Aviv hotel attracted mostly older people interested in hearing representatives of each political party outline their platform ahead of next week’s elections.

Israeli political candidates address the “Jerusalem Post pre-election event” in Tel Aviv, April 2019. Photo by Israel Kasnett.

While no candidate said anything substantially new, what made the conference attention-grabbing were some pointed questions by the panel, off-the-cuff answers by the candidates and even catcalls from the audience.

Minister of Education and Chairman of the New Right, Naftali Bennett, participated laid out his party’s key election promises.

First, he outlined his intention to declare victory against Hamas: “People think that there is nothing to be done about Hamas. … The first action I will do as defence minister will be to restore quiet to the south. It will take a few months, but we know how to do it.”

Bennett said that he would launch a “very sophisticated air operation,” which would likely not entail the entry of the Israel Defense Forces into Gaza. “I promise that we will restore security to the residents of the south for decades to come. This is not a decree of fate, whatever we are told.”

Bennett also said that he intends to cancel the Committee for the Appointment of Judges: “If Ayelet [Shaked] will be appointed to return as justice minister, we will abolish the Judicial Appointments Committee in which judges appoint themselves in a closed club.”

He then turned his focus on the unions, asserting that “we will take care of putting the Histadrut in its correct place, which is to protect the weak, and to stop being a force that paralyzes the Israeli economy, the self-employed and the Israeli public.”

Avi Nissenkorn, chairman of the Histadrut labour union, is a candidate for the 21st Knesset for the Israel Resilience Party, as part of the Blue and White list.

Bennett is currently threatened by Zehut Party leader Moshe Feiglin, a Libertarian-Nationalist party that appears to be taking votes from the right and the left as it rises in the polls to numbers comparable to what Bennett’s party is expected to see.

Feiglin was asked by senior Ma’ariv analyst Ben Caspit whom he would recommend to the president to form the government, to which Feiglin replied that he doesn’t yet know. Feiglin, along with another centre-right party Kulanu, headed by former Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, has left open the possibility that they might join a coalition headed by the Blue and White Party.

Caspit mentioned he understood that Feiglin wants to “build the Temple in two or three years.” Feiglin corrected him, saying he wants to build it now, but cannot do it alone.

“Many of Feiglin’s voters are young people in the religious Zionist movement,” said Bennett. “I say to each of them: Feiglin is a man with good intentions, but behind him are people on the left as well as on the right. … Every vote that goes to Feiglin brings the bulldozers closer to your houses. It would be a vote of remorse. … Now a new generation has grown who do not know the old Feiglin, but this is the same book in a different cover. Do not vote to destroy your house.”

‘Who knows better to stand up for our security?’

With all the available options of political parties and platforms to choose from, the data shows that the Israeli public still largely supports a right-wing government led by Likud.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Guttman Center at the Israel Democracy Institute, 42.5 per cent of Israelis favour a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while 40.5 per cent favour a government headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Analysis by age reveals that the preference for Gantz is greater among those aged 45 and over, while preference for Netanyahu is greater among younger voters.

Gideon Sa’ar, No. 4 on the Likud Party slate, pointed to Israel’s successes over the last few years in a number of fields, including diplomacy and the economy. He asked in a rhetoric fashion: “Who knows better to stand up for our security? A right-wing government led by Netanyahu? Or a left-wing government?”

Sa’ar criticized Gantz, saying, “I don’t remember an election in which a candidate who presented himself as the alternative did not provide an alternative on any key issue. He has tried to hide his views on key issues and says ridiculously that there is no right or left.”

Former Minister of Defense Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon of the Blue and White Party, said Israel’s government has been in some sort of “state of emergency” over the past few years. He slammed the current government and urged people to vote for his party.

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