Politicians from left and right on Monday morning excoriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his announcement the previous evening, less than two days before the election, that he intended to appoint a hugely popular Likud member as the next head of the Israel Land Administration.
It’s “utterly pointless and inexplicable,” said Labor Party chair Shelly Yachimovich of the move to give the job to Moshe Kahlon with Tuesday’s vote looming. This is especially true considering the fact that Netanyahu’s initiative would require the enactment of a new law to bring the authority under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office, she said.
Yachimovich, who’s running on a platform that emphasizes economic concerns and the plight of the middle and lower classes, termed the decision “populist.”
“For four years, Netanyahu did nothing but drive up the price of housing,” she told Israel Radio, noting that during the current government’s tenure, real estate prices rose 48 percent. “There’s a limit to how much you can insult the public’s intelligence.”
According to the prime minister, Kahlon’s appointment would bring in someone capable of lowering housing prices, especially for young couples and discharged IDF soldiers. Netanyahu, during the election campaign, has frequently extolled his government’s achievement in cutting cellphone bills by hundreds of shekels per household per month. Kahlon, as communications minister, led the reforms that reduced prices.
“The move is utterly meaningless,” charged Aryeh Deri, the resurgent Shas leader who’s second on the ultra-Orthodox party’s Knesset slate, claiming that Netanyahu’s announcement was spurred by the persistent slide in support for his Likud-Beytenu list.
“Perhaps it was necessary in order to prop up the prime minister’s campaign,” Deri said. Likud’s campaign manager had promised the party “45 seats after the merger [with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu], even 47 seats. And now they’re projected to win 32, 33 seats,” he said.
“I get it, they’re feeling the heat,” Deri added. “But the public won’t buy it… And anyway, I heard that Minister Kahlon is actually planning to go study in the US until July. Perhaps he can do the job by remote control from Harvard?”
Deri’s Shas party, which has long been a staple of Likud-led governments including Netanyahu’s outgoing ruling coalition, stands to be adversely affected by the move to instate Kahlon. The Construction and Housing Ministry, which is currently presided over by the party’s Ariel Attias, would be rendered far less influential if the ILA is moved to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Kahlon, for his part, allowed that the timing of the appointment wasn’t ideal.
“Look, let’s not be naïve,” he said on Monday morning. “We’re currently at the height of an elections campaign, and in this elections campaign, every party reports to the voter regarding its intentions… it’s true that we’re right before the elections; no one is trying to justify themselves or make it look pretty.”
On Sunday night, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, head of the Central Election Committee, ordered Israeli media not to broadcast the press conference at which the appointment was announced, ruling that it could be regarded as election propaganda, which is banned if not aired within the officially designated time slots.
Tzipi Livni, the leader of the center-left Hatnua party, said Netanyahu’s initiative was “illegal.”
“I must say that, personally, I very much like Kahlon, but on the day before the elections — give me a break, this is a joke,” she said. “Bibi, as is his wont, is all slogan but no action.”
“I’m very sorry for Minister Kahlon,” said the leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Zahava Gal-on. “He’s a personal friend of mine and a person whom I very much admire. I think he’s collaborating with insipid spin that conveys nothing but the panic of the prime minister… this is a last-ditch attempt to slow down the slide in the number of seats [lost by Likud-Beytenu] due to bickering with the Jewish Home party.”
It was a shame, she added, that Kahlon “cooperated with the prime minister’s move, which was fueled by disorientation, panic and hysteria.”
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan of Likud hit back, claiming that “the Israeli left is so consumed with hatred for Likud that it’s lost its mind.”
Kahlon, who served as an MK from 2003, announced his temporary departure from political life last October. At the time he stressed, however, that “obviously I’m not leaving Likud,” and promised to work for the party to ensure it won the elections. In recent weeks he’s re-entered the public sphere as the star of some of the party’s pre-election ads.
Political analysts regard Kahlon — one of seven children born to a family of immigrants from Libya — as a vital link between the Likud’s top leaders and the rank-and-file Sephardi supporters of the party.