Jewish Journal

Israel’s crazy election cycle

by Shmuel Rosner

Posted on Nov. 28, 2012 at 11:33 am

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni greets supporters during a news conference in Tel Aviv on Nov. 27. Photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni greets supporters during a news conference in Tel Aviv on Nov. 27. Photo by Nir Elias/Reuters

This might be the craziest election cycle in the history of Israel. It is short, but not a week passes without shifts and changes in the political landscape: On Nov. 26, it was Defense Minister Ehud Barak resigning from his post to pursue new horizons. Barak is the cat with nine lives, perhaps even more, but his next incarnation will not be a political one — or so he says.

In fact, it’s been clear for a while that his political future might be in doubt (I have witnesses in Los Angeles whom I told two weeks ago that Barak’s political career is probably over). Benjamin Netanyahu could not give him what he really wanted — a place within the Likud Party and another term at Defense. His party, Atzmaut (Independence), wasn’t taking off. Going back to the Labor Party wasn’t an option. So a dignified departure seemed the appealing choice.

Our Israel Poll Trends tracker was updated on Monday (to see it, visit my blog at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/). But our statistician-in-chief, professor Camil Fuchs, keeps having to make alterations to the graph. True, Netanyahu began this cycle as the most likely candidate to lead the next coalition and is still likely to keep his job as prime minister — the Likud-right-religious political bloc currently has 69 mandates, according to Fuchs. All other things, however, are moving quickly: Parties form and crumble, alliances are shaped, old rivals find common ground, ideologies become blurred. If Israelis are somewhat cynical about the motivations of their leaders, they should be forgiven. If they seem confused, that, too, should be patiently tolerated.

Think about the following duos:

Netanyahu and Lieberman: With all other parts of the puzzle moving, the merger of Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman now seems like an island of stability and calm. Barak, by deciding to make his dramatic announcement now, somewhat helped the Likud Party to make even the primary debacle go away.

Livni and Olmert: As of now, it seems that Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni will not be running together. Or maybe they will. One thing is for sure: Wearing the mantle of decision-maker is becoming tricky for these two politicians, who can’t seem to make up their minds. 

Yachimovich and Lapid: The Labor Party is another island of relative stability and is ideologically coherent. Shelly Yachimovich is going to be the big winner in these elections. Her slogan was written for her by her rivals: One real party against the many ad hoc job seekers. Yair Lapid will be the big loser. If one wants a makeshift, incoherent, centrist-in-the-sense-that-it-has-no-clear-agenda, Ashkenazi, upper-middle-class party — if one wants the new incarnation of Kadima, without the heavyweights Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres — one will vote for the new Livni party.

On Tuesday, Livni was back, as promised. She gave a good speech but had no list of candidates yet, and no real prospect of becoming prime minister. Fuchs explains on our Israel Poll Trends that, so far, Livni is simply stealing votes from other parties in the same political bloc — the center-left. She’ll have to be able to steal a lot from the other bloc to make her presence of any significance.

Further news: The Likud Party has elected its candidates for the next Knesset, and, as usual, the list was greeted with definitions such as “radical,” “extreme” and the like.

Fact: The Likud is a right-wing party — it’s time people got used to it. 

Fact: Israeli voters — unlike their representatives in most media outlets — tend to be quite fond of right-wing political parties.

Fact: In every election cycle, a number of familiar faces are forced out, to be replaced by newcomers, and every time, the knee-jerk response is something in the mode of, “How can this novice replace that veteran?” Well, in many cases they can. Give them a term or two and they will also become veterans. 

Fact: Benny Begin and Dan Meridor will be missed, but their absence from the list is not as significant as political rivals of the party would like you to believe. When Begin was elected five years ago on the Likud list, the Kadima Party — back then, the main party of the other “bloc” — greeted him by saying that Begin was proof of the radicalization of the Likud. Today, Kadima is arguing that the elimination of Begin is proof of such radicalization.

As of press time on Tuesday, the week was not yet over: The Labor Party — probably the leading party of the center-left this round — will be electing its representatives on Thursday. The question for Friday will be: Did it pick a “radical” and “extreme” list of left-wingers? Party leader Yachimovich is working hard to prevent such an outcome, but it’s not clear if she’ll be able to get what she wants (among other things, not to have the head of Peace Now on the list).

Shmuel Rosner is the Journal’s senior political editor. He is the author of “The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney: A Jewish Voter’s Guide” (Jewish Journal Books), available at amazon.com.

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