Israel’s political battle lines harden as the clock is ticking to a new election and further indictments against religious-right leaders are announced
The first public opinion poll after PM Netanyahu’s indictments is out today together with the Sabbath and it shows both of the large parties with an increased number of Knesset seats; Blue and White in the lead with 36 (currently 33) and Likud with 33 (currently 31). However, the uptick in support for both large parties is coming from cannibalizing their own blocs rather than from bringing in voters across the bloc lines as the bloc picture remains unchanged.
The center-right-religious bloc is still in the lead with 55 seats (same as now) and the Arab-left-center-left bloc comprises of 57 seats (same as now). The remaining eight seats belong to maverick Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party, which maintains the strength it had found after he scuttled the formation of a religious right government after the April election. This result is meaningful because it shows that Lieberman’s voters, most of whom are repatriates from the former states of the USSR value his opposition to religious coercion in Israel more than they may dislike his failure to support the formation of a right-wing government.
What this poll shows most of all, is the futility of taking Israel into yet another election, since it is unlikely that it would solve the current impasse.
Speaking of breaking the impasse, Blue and White’s leader Benny Gantz gave a speech tonight in Tel-Aviv in which he floated the idea of a unity government in which he would be the prime minister for the first two years and should incumbent PM Netanyahu be acquitted, he could serve as PM the following two. Unfortunately, in the same speech Mr. Gantz chose to repeat the libel that Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetoric was somehow to blame for the assassination of the late prime minister Itzhak Rabin in 1995. This kind of talk enrages Likud members both in the Knesset and outside of it and was likely a strategically placed IED designed to scuttle any chance of the Likud taking Gantz up on his unity government offer. It appears that what Gantz really wants is to allow the Likud to tear itself to pieces with challenges to Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership and show up to the next election in March in a weakened state, giving him a clear path to victory.
In the Likud, voices are indeed growing in support of a leadership contest that would allow Netanyahu’s position as the head of the party to be challenged by his opponent Gideon Sa’ar. While these voices at this point are a clear minority, it is likely that such a contest, one in which over two hundred thousand members of the Likud party would vote, will indeed take place. It is further likely, however, that Mr. Netanyahu will emerge as a clear winner, giving him a renewed mandate ahead of the next, third in a row, election.
While all of this is going on, rumours are flying that AG Mandelblit will announce this coming weeks indictments for bribery and breach of trust against the leaders of the two ultra-Orthodox parties, the Sephardi-Mizrahi Shas and the Ashkenazi Torah Judaism, Msr. Der’i and Litzman, respectively. AG Mandelblit’s actions against Netanyahu and other leaders in the religious-right movement are splitting the public opinion in Israel. To some Israelis, they appear to be anti-democratic and politically driven, a weaponization by the affluent Ashkenazi elites of the Israeli legal system to achieve political goals that they cannot achieve at the ballot box. To others, the actions of the attorney general appear to be a long overdue effort to rid the Israeli political system of systemic corruption.
Both sides, so far only a few hundred people each, have taken to the streets Saturday night. As the three-week (now two and a half) period to form a new government is progressing and should Israel find itself in the throes of yet another election campaign all in a twelve month period, expect these demonstrations to grow and the coming campaign to show promise of becoming the most vicious one in Israel’s history.
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