The two narratives of the elections took center stage across the Hebrew dailies on Sunday, with two of the papers focusing on Benjamin Netanyahu vs. Naftali Bennett and the other two devoting their front pages to Netanyahu vs. the center-left.
Netanyahu vs. Bennett
Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom use their respective front pages to focus on the war of words between the prime minister and the leader of the Jewish Home party. Under the headline “Fighting till the end,” Yedioth prints accusations by Bennett that Netanyahu has declared war on the national religious camp in a campaign reminiscent of the war on Netanyahu from the left after the Rabin assassination. Yedioth gives Netanyahu’s response to the attack with one word, “nonsense.” However, other members of the Likud party were a bit wordier in their response; one party source said of Bennett, “He’s gone off the rails.”
Likud is not the only party attacking Jewish Home. The spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, had some choice words for the party and its supporters. Yedioth runs a short article quoting heavily from the rabbi, who said that the Jewish Home party was actually a “party of goyim [non-Jews],” and that “anyone who votes for Jewish Home is denying the Torah.” The party took the high road when responding to the rabbi’s statements, with a party spokesman saying, “Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is an important public spiritual leader for a wide segment of the Israeli population, and we respect and revere him.”
Israel Hayom also illuminates the Netanyahu vs. Bennett debate by citing statements of Jeremy Gimpel, the number 14 on the Jewish Home list, relating to the third temple in a piece entitled “Bennett is defending someone who wants to blow up the Dome of the Rock.” The paper runs an opinion piece by Matti Tochfeld who says Bennett’s “goes beyond the limits of common sense” in asserting that Netanyahu was attacking the national religious camp. Referring to a campaign ad that shows Bennett with Netanyahu, Tochfeld says, “If he says Netanyahu launched a brutal attack on knit kippot [a symbol of the national religious camp] — in an offensive similar to the one made on him after Rabin’s assassination — why does Bennett bother to present a photograph of him and Netanyahu shared all over the country?” In the end, Tochfeld concludes that the pressure of the campaign is what is causing Bennett to contradict himself.
Netanyahu vs. center-left
Haaretz and Maariv focus their election coverage on the division between Netanyahu and the center-left bloc. “Netanyahu promises no tax hike; Yachimovich: He is preparing a social hell,” reads Haaretz’s economic-themed headline. The paper quotes Netanyahu from an interview on Saturday night, “As I see things today, I am not preparing to raise taxes.” Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich responded, “He is misleading the public when he says he will not raise taxes.” Yachimovich went on to say that what Netanyahu is preparing for Israel for is “a social hell, economic chaos, and political isolation.”
Maariv focuses on the Likud and the issues it is having in the polls, inducing “panic” in the party. With the most recent polls showing a new low for the party — only 32-33 seats — members worry that a poor showing will make it harder for Netanyahu to assemble a coalition. The paper reports that party members are already planning where to place the blame, and an unnamed Likud Knesset member points the finger at Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party as well as the Jewish Home party for swiping votes away from Likud.
Perhaps Likud doesn’t need to worry too much as Maariv includes a short article about recent elections and the bump the leading parties got in the final days of two of the last three elections. In 2003 Likud was projected to earn 32 seats but wound up with 38. Similarly, Kadima was projected to earn 23 in the 2009 contest and ended up with 28.
Other election news
Aside from the main election coverage, the papers all feature small pieces about various other election news, including Israel Hayom reporting on the number of ballots printed, an astounding 262 million. In Israel, a ballot is a small piece of paper that has the party name printed on it. Voters choose from a tray of all the eligible parties and seal their vote in an envelope. The paper points out that according to the law, every party in the election must have 7.5 million ballots printed, to cover all possibilities With 34 parties running, plus an extra 7.5 million blank ballots (for write-in votes or voters who want to cast a blank ballot), the total comes to 262 million ballots.
Haaretz reports that the Israeli-Arab sector is concerned about the toll apathy will exact at the polls, with a recent survey finding that voter participation among Israeli-Arabs is expected to be around 50%. This is down from the 2009 elections, when about 75% of Israeli-Arabs voted in the elections. Knesset member and head of the Balad party Jamal Zahalka told the paper, “We are trying to convince the indifferent to vote, because every vote can have an influence.”
What that influence may be is yet to be seen, as Yedioth reports, since at the President’s residence “All is possible.” Under Israeli law the president usually asks the party that received the most votes to form a government. As the paper points out, that doesn’t always happen as in 2009, for example, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party won the most seats but was unable to create a government. The article reports that Shimon Peres’s legal adviser has created scenarios for every possible outcome for the day after the elections so that the president will be ready for anything.