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By Ira Sharansky
Letter from Israel 

Tied score

 

March 22, 2019



There are polls every day or two. You can see the latest at 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2019_Israeli_legislative_election

They pretty much are showing a tie, or close to it between the center-left and the right.

Bibi is a sharp campaigner, managing to label his opponents the leftists, with the help of media and the Arabs. According to him, they are manufacturing stories that would incriminate him. There’s nothing wrong about accepting a few cigars or bottles of champagne from close friends.

He’s more articulate—in both Hebrew and English—than his opponents, and seems to have convinced a substantial part of the population that his service is essential to the nation. We’ve heard interviews with people who say that Bibi could get as many cigars and bottles of champagne as he wants; that he’s working 24/7 for Israel, and that’s what’s important. 

It’s either Bibi or Tibi, according to one of his slogans.

Tibi is the head of one of the Arab parties, also an MD, and probably important in anything that the Blue and White Party of Gantz, Lapid, Ya’alon, and Ashkenazi could do to form a government.

Assuming that materials gathered by the Legal Adviser to the Government will go to Bibi’s lawyers a day after the election, and that they’ll have 3-4 months to get ready for hearings; another 3-4 months for hearings; and another 3-4 for the Legal Adviser to the Government to decide finally on indictments; then a year for a trial and appeals.

From what we hear, Bibi is planning to serve as prime minister through all of that.

So far, we’re hearing from ministers in his government that they’ll stay with him at least until there is a final decision on an indictment. And from some Likud ministers the need for Likud to lead the country. That doesn’t necessarily mean Bibi, but who can be sure. 

Reports are that Bibi has support from religious Jews, many of whom are settlers in the West Bank, as well as from die hard Likudniks. The latter include individuals convinced that they are on the outside of a cluster that includes left wing Ashkenazi intellectuals who control the media, the police, and the prosecutors. That Bibi and key ministers in his government are all—or nearly all—Ashkenazim doesn’t seem to deter the thinking. 

We’ve heard from Likudniks who identify Bibi with King David, for his power and wisdom. There’s an element of the mystic that belies what we know about the cement that usually links politicians with their supporters.

Bibi’s campaign reminds us of his American friend, Donald Trump. Truth seems to have no weight. Gantz et al deny allegations that they would withdraw Jews from the West Bank and divide Jerusalem with the Arabs. Ahmad Tibi will not be quick to join with Gantz. But Bibi’s rhetoric continues, and is echoed in comments from supporters, that it’s either Bibi or Tibi that will be at the center of Israel’s government.

I hear from a number of Americans about an increase in anti-Semitism. Some link it to Bibi and what’s perceived as a right-wing government unfriendly to Palestinians.

This is a shallow view, not taking account of Palestinian resistance to anything but all that they want. It also requires me to indicate, once again, that Palestinians are strongest outside this corner of the Middle East. No sane government can seem to function without support for a Palestinian State.

But what would it be? It isn’t Bibi who has stood fast, but the majority of the Israeli population. Polls are showing the Jewish left, measured by Labor and Meretz, as getting about one tenth of the Knesset. 

And would the Palestinian State include Gaza as well as parts of the West Bank? 

Presently it doesn’t seem that the two parts would agree to unite. 

And East Jerusalem?

Would the worthies of the world force those Palestinians into an alliance with the West Bank, when most of them say that they prefer continuing their status with Israel?

Origins of anti-Semitism go back before the New Testament. Josephus provides an indication of it in the behavior of Greeks in Alexandria. The New Testament offers a basis of Christian anti-Semitism. Muslims gave expression to their own feelings throughout history. And now it’s merged with an opposition to what Israel is said to be doing to the Palestinians, far out of proportion to what other countries have expressed about minorities. 

Here the Palestinians seem to be suffering from their own faults. Claiming rights of return to what refugees from 1948 and their descendants never knew. Many West Bankers and East Jerusalemites seem to have reached an accommodation, belied by the actions of religious and nationalist figures claiming leadership, with Arab governments providing support even while those same governments are cooperating with Israel—often against the same Muslim extremists who make trouble for Israel. 

And in the West, leftists and rightists find Jews and Israel a convenient target, often not bothering to differentiate between Jew and Israeli.

Ilhan Omar has become a symbol of this, and represents a split within the American Democratic Party about support for Israel. A generation of immigration from the Middle East is making itself felt in Congress, with or without Bibi.

While Bibi plays to the mood created within Israel, claiming that those not voting for him will be voting to put Ahmad Tibi in government.

And with things heating up on both the Temple Mount and in Gaza, the Prime Minister-Defense Minister (one and the same) is in position to do something heroic to advance his position.

Recent polls indicate the Blue-White has peaked or is declining.

Gantz is not a powerful campaigner, and Ashkenazi has some problems in his background that have come to the fore. He can’t seem to get away from the Harpaz-Barak issue. Moreover, the wide range of postures in Gantz-Lapid-Ya’alon and Ashkenazi have left the party with little to offer other than opposition to Bibi as Prime Minister. 

Two small right-of-center parties may end up being deal-makers or deal-breakers.

Moshe Feiglin has a long history on the extreme right of Israeli politics. Now his combination of wanting a Jewish state with extreme liberalism has attracted the crowd wanting access to marijuana And Moshe Kahlon may also find enough voters to move him over the line and into the Knesset. Both have expressed doubts about Netanyahu, as well as muddled support of his candidacy. 

Most likely a rebellion within Likud would lead a race, but so far that seems unlikely. Netanyahu’s appeal remains strong, but perhaps not strong enough to end up with another term as Prime Minister.

Comments welcome. irashark@gmail.com

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Dept. of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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