Pre-election analysis and Q&A

January 21, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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Gil Hoffman, the Chief Political Correspondent of the Jerusalem Post spoke to Australian media by teleconference on the eve of the Israeli elections. J-Wire participated.

The conference, arranged the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, was “attended” by mainstream media.

Gil Hoffman

Gil Hoffman

Hoffman began the conference by saying that media has been speaking with have “been getting the election all wrong”. They have been of the view that “Israel is moving to the right” citing a BBC interview he had with the BBC in which every question was based on that viewpoint. He said that in Israel itself the media “are talking about how the opposite is happening” and how “Netanyahu is going to suffer a terrible blow”.

He said that the Israeli Prime Minister is entering the election with 42 seats in the Knesset but seems likely to have only 32 following the election. Referring to hi-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, Hoffman said that it is expected to do well although the number of seats right of Likud is expected to be less than n the last election.

Clearly stating that he considered Israel to be at war, Hoffman said that he found this decline in a right wing presence as “surprising” referring to the recent rocket attacks that “normally when you have a war during an election, that moves people to the Right.”

Referring to the Palestinian, he told the journalists that for the last four years Netanyahu had been “begging them to come” to the negotiating table to which there had been no positive response…another factor which should be mvoing the electorate to the Right.

Asked why this was happening with Hoffman responding that “they are voting on different issues…they are voting on the economy just like a normal country, they are voting on matters of religion and State and what it means to be a Jewish and a democratic State at the same time”.

He added that they are voting on personality. Referring to Bennett he said they are not voting for him because his is right wing or on the Palestinian issue, but rather “because he is charismatic and people also admire someone who has made millions in hi tech and has a military background”. He said that while Netanyahu has turned people off personality-wise, Bennett has all they want “wrapped into one”.

His conclusion is that in the new government, Netanyahu is going to have to form a coalition with more centre left parties saying that in the current parliament there are only five centre-leftists but the new government is expected to have between fifteen and twenty….”a very big difference which will have an impact in a few months when the peace process comes back to the table.”

Hoffman told the conference that June is expected to be a big month in Israel. President Obama will visit the country coinciding with the 90th birthday of Israeli President Shimon Peres who is in favour of the resumption of peace talks. He said that Obama is expected to speak to both the Israelis and Palestinians in a bid to relaunch the peace process and get things back to the table adding “I think you will be surprised as to how far Natanyahu is going to be willing to go.”

J-Wire asked Hoffman if this was the first time social issues had forced defence into a back seat in an Israeli election. “Absolutely” was his short answer adding that in the past Israelis voted on two issues…”war and peace”. Hoffman said that 18 months ago 350,000 Israelis were on the streets protesting about the economy.  He said that “even though our economy is doing relatively well, the gap between rich and poor is among the highest in any Western nation and the cost of living is way too high and it’s hard for people to get their start.”

One journalist asked if Naftali Bennett is expected to be part of the government after the election but Hoffman replied “nobody knows” adding that if Netanyahu could have his way…”absolutely not”. He said that if Bennett was to get fifteen seats “it would be hard for Netanyahu to leave him out”.

Hoffman said that this election to date had not been between Left and Right but rather between Right and Right and Left and Left because “there are too many parties in the Centre”. Hoffman said that there is one centre left party in the current Government but he expected Lapid’s party to join David Barak’s in the next Government. He predicted that Kadimah may have only three seats in the new parliament but could have “a lot of sway”. Hoffman said that “maybe Netanyahu will take one ultra-orthodox party”.

J-Wire’s Henry Benjamin asked Hoffman if there appeared to be a generational change among Israeli voters and if the younger generation was having an influence on the election.

Hoffman answered by saying that the turnout in the last election was about 64% but this time it is expected to be higher “because of Facebook and Twitter which have made the young people be a lot more involved”.  He said that because there were a lot of young Israelis who remained undecided, politicians  “have been going to pubs every night”. He said that Livni has been in pubs every night as she has very little support among young people.

NSWJBD CEO Vic Alhadeff questioned the Jerusalem Post journalist about the three Arab parties position. He said that if they joined up they would have “much more of an impact”. He said that there are 17 non-Jews in the outgoing parliament out of its 120 members. He said that the Arab vote had been 50% whereas the general vote had been in the 60s. But he said that “yesterday the Arab League issued a statement calling on the Arabs to vote.”

Hoffman was questioned on the two scenarios…a government on the extreme Right assuming Bennett won enough seats and a Centrist party assuming he did not and what impact each would have on the peace process.

He said that Lapid and Bennett “have a lot in common” and “they are the two trendy parties”. He said that if it was a dominant Right Government “there would be no peace process” but added that Netanyahu is not interested in that citing his government’s failure in 1996 but he believes that Netanyahu maintains that Iran is the real enemy and his focus lies there.

Asked why they Arabs were less inclined to vote with Hoffman answered “they are obviously frustrated…they would like a better situation for themselves and a lot of them have become more radical against Israel.” He said that the result of the Arab Spring could make them more democratic or more frustrated. He said that apart from the Arab parties, there were Arab members of parliament within the main parties.

When questioned about Bennett’s attitude to the settlements, Hoffman was quick to point out that he has a different dynamic than Liberman. He said that most of Bennett’s support did not come from the settlements but from young society in Tel Aviv saying,”there are a lot o people in the Centre who just like him personally. These people are not right-wing…they just think he is really cool. If he does well it will not be a statement from Israelis saying ‘no Palestinian State’…it will be a statement saying ‘we like hi tech'”.

A journalist asked about  government policy on settlements following the election. Hoffman said that he expected this to be dealt with during Obama’s visit. He said that the Government is differentiating between the settlements which for part of the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the others. They expect the former to remain within Israel…”what the Clinton and Bush administrations told Israel to do”. He said that Obama’s policies should have driven the electorate to the right but he if the percentages left to right 55/65 switch in this election, the Israeli media’s headlines will shout “Israel moves to the left”.

Hoffman said that the financial benefits of the natural gas fields would not affect this election.

One TV station asked if the Government moved to the centre would it mean the end of the exemption from military service for the ultra orthodox. Hoffman said it would be the first thing to be dealt with by the new Government.  He said that the Supreme Court had already directed that the failure to participate in military service by the ultra orthodox is illegal.

Hoffman ended the conference by saying: “This election is not about war and peace. It’s about who we are. It’s about how to be a Jewish State and a Democratic State at the same time. It’s about how to handle the gap between rich and poor…and what Israelis really care about.”


















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