One minister is staying (voluntarily) even though he really wanted to leave, and another minister is leaving (also voluntarily) even though he really wanted to stay.
With three months to go until elections, Israel’s political picture is still hopelessly muddled. But after Monday, it is starting to clear up a bit.
Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin announced Monday that he is running for a spot on Likud’s already overcrowded Knesset list, despite having publicly toyed with the idea of leaving politics altogether. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pressured Begin to stay on and even pledged to name him on an “unofficial” list of recommended Likud politicians he is expected to publish closer to the party’s primaries (held on November 22).
Though widely expected to become by far the 19th Knesset’s largest faction, the Likud has far more candidates than it has seats to offer. About 100 Likud members are already vying for spots on the list, but the polls don’t predict more than 30 seats.
In the outgoing Knesset, Begin, a minister without portfolio, was Netanyahu’s man for special missions, such as working out a compromise with the settlers of Migron, whom the Supreme Court ordered evicted.
A geologist by profession, Begin — who chairs the government’s Ministerial Committee on Earthquakes — was also behind Sunday’s earthquake drill.
Begin — the son of former prime minister Menachem Begin — already took a hiatus, from 1999 until 2009, after having served in the Knesset since in 1988.
Now to the minister who wanted to stay, but is leaving: Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz was actually fighting until the last breath to retain the chairmanship of his Jewish Home party, but on Monday night announced he was quitting the race to support contender and veteran MK Zevulun Orlev.
Just this weekend, Hershkowitz fought hard in a televised debate against Orlev and the third candidate, Naftali Bennett. But since Monday was the day before the deadline for candidates to hand in the signatures they collected to get on the ballot, Hershkowitz threw in the towel before waiting to lose the race.
Party insiders say that Hershkowitz, who is not running for a second term in the Knesset, chose to drop out because Bennett — Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a high-tech millionaire (but political greenhorn) — had become too popular with the party’s base. Others whisper that Hershkowitz plans to return to academia — he is a former senior official at the Technion; some say he could become the university’s next president.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave a fiery address in Tel Aviv on Monday, fiercely attacking the current government and clearly showing that he’d be all up for giving politics another shot. But he resolutely refused to answer all questions regarding his political future, saying that he has not made a decision.
“What’s all the excitement about?” Olmert, wearing a flashy yellow shirt, told reporters who huddled up around him and battered him with questions. Good question, Ehud.
Meanwhile, Olmert’s former foreign minister and ex-Kadima head Tzipi Livni met with Histadrut chief Ofer Eini (which, you guessed right, sparked rumors of a political alliance). But Livni also did not reveal whether she plans to return to the political limelight. For now, she just clarified that she would not join an existing party — rumors earlier said she would either join Labor or Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid — and that if she were indeed planning a comeback, it would be “to offer an alternative” — in other words: a fifth party competing for the crowded centrist vote.
Labor gets a strong-arm candidate
In other election news, the Labor party seems to finally have found a candidate with enough clout in the security establishment to begin to balance the list’s heavy focus on socioeconomic and political topics: Maj. Gen. Uri Sagi.
After social-protest torchbearers Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli and left-wing heavyweight Yariv Oppenheimer (currently of Peace Now) announced their candidacies, the former commander of the famed Golani Brigade and former head of the IDF intelligence branch is exactly what party chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich needs to lend her list more credibility in security matters.
In other Labor-related news, the US-based political strategist and pollster Stan Greenberg has joined the party’s election team. Greenberg has worked on the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair and other center-left candidates around the world.
Lapid, the former TV anchorman turned political superstar, presented two more names that will feature on his Knesset list, both from the municipal level: Herzliyah Mayor Yael German (who used to belong to Meretz) and Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen.
Channel 2 reported on Monday evening that academic Adi Koll would also run on the Yesh Atid list. Koll created and heads Tel Aviv University’s “Access for All” program, which offers marginalized groups (such as immigrants, battered women, at-risk youths) special introductory courses taught by students.