Bringing up the rear: 8 things to know for March 10
Israel media review

Bringing up the rear: 8 things to know for March 10

A scrap in the basement of the political arena takes center stage, with former Likudnik Moshe Feiglin seen getting the upper hand and making problems for Netanyahu

Right-wing parliament member Moshe Feiglin seen outside the closed entrance to the temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on October 30, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Right-wing parliament member Moshe Feiglin seen outside the closed entrance to the temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on October 30, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Right back in the driver’s seat: Two polls confirm that support for Blue and White is dropping.

  • Surveys in both Haaretz and Yedioth show the centrist party slinking to 33 seats, and an earlier Israel Hayom poll also showed the party dropping to 33.
  • The polls also show drops for Likud, though not by as much.
  • The real upshot, though, is that all three polls show the right-wing bloc (including the ultra-Orthodox) being able to form a coalition fairly easily, with the center-left plus Arab parties still falling below 60 seats.

2. Fighting in the cellar: The most dramatic developments, though, are at the bottom of the lists, with a fierce battle over who will cross the threshold.

  • “Bottom fight,” reads a headline in Yedioth, and Israel Hayom’s front page crows that the election is “in the hands of the bubble factions.”
  • In Haaretz’s poll (like the one in Israel Hayom) the right-wing Zehut party, led by Moshe Feiglin, makes it into the Knesset, while Yisrael Beytenu and Gesher do not.
  • In Yedioth, meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu gets in and the other two are left in the cold.
  • Haaretz notes that “for various reasons Yisrael Beiteinu poses difficulty for pollsters. Its significant presence in local government is likely to help in the April 9 general election.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Mati Tuchfeld writes that Yisrael Beytenu “is the weakest right now, but that can change.”
  • While both Yisrael Beytenu and Zehut are staunchly right-wing, their leaders have both have had beefs with Netanyahu and they may end up playing kingmaker. Same for Kulanu, which is slightly less right wing but seems to get along with Likud. Gesher could have the same role, though it is seen as leaning center-left. Only some of them will get in, and those who do could end up determining the whole shebang.

3. Moshe’s moment: Feiglin alone, though, is the one to capture the press’s imagination and extra attention Sunday, with even Haaretz calling him “fashionable.”

  • Yedioth tracks Feiglin’s rise by noting that Google searches for his name in February jumped to 71,500 in February, from a mere 12,400 just two months earlier.
  • As for his popularity, the paper isn’t sure what to make of it, chalking it up, at least in part, to “leftists and Green Leaf voters who see in Feiglin a compatriot in the use of soft drugs.”
  • A buttoned-up, pot legalization-backing, anti-Oslo settler, Feiglin’s rise comes after having spent the last decade in the political wilderness after finishing in the top 20 in the Likud primaries in 2009, only to be shoved down to 36th place by Netanyahu, locking him out of the Knesset.
  • “Netanyahu spared no tricks or legal maneuvers to oust Feiglin from the Likud. Now the same man is about to take the political arena by storm, returning in a rare position of power that will make Netanyahu long for the days when Feiglin was just a troublesome member of his own party,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter notes.
  • Netanyahu clearly fears that his old foe could turn out to be trouble, with Israel Hayom, a paper seen as a mouthpiece of the prime minister, running a headline reading “Feiglin is dangerous.”
  • “It’ll be hard to work with him and in any case he is not right-wing,” a Likud source tells the paper.

4. Coexistence coalition: It’s generally assumed that the Arab parties won’t join a Gantz-led coalition, though they could vote in concert with them, giving them a blocking majority.

  • In the New York Times, Ayman Odeh, head of the Hadash-Ra’am Arab-led faction, writes that it’s time for all that to change for the Zionist parties to form coalitions with their Arab partners, despite Netanyahu trying to make it seem like joining up with Arabs is a bad thing.
  • “Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel represent 20 percent of the population. We cannot change the course of the country alone. But there is no electoral math that leads to victory for a center-left-wing coalition without the participation of the Arab parties,” he writes.
  • On Twitter, US-based expert Shibley Telhami notes that he’s traveling to Israel to conduct a survey on attitudes toward just that type of arrangement.

5. Could another former IDF chief be on his way to politics? That’s the feeling, with Yedioth reporting that Gadi Eisenkot is folding up his uniform and entering civilian life early.

  • Eisenkot, who is no longer head of the army, should be taking the year of pre-release break traditionally given to officers who are readying to leave the army. In asking to be released from that early, he’ll miss out on hundreds of thousands of shekels, but also shorten the “cooling off period” he must wait to enter politics after leaving the army.
  • MK Elazar Stern tells Army Radio that Eisenkot told him he has no political plans, but just didn’t want any ties to the army as he heads to Washington to become a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy.
  • Many don’t buy it, though, and the news makes waves, at least among those looking three years ahead (or to the next election, according to some readings of the law).
  • “I can’t remember such a dramatic decision before,” former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu writes on Twitter.
  • Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach asks why there is already such a fuss over someone whose political positions are not known: “He seems like a nice guy, but who says he’ll be a good fit for politics, or make a good MK,” she asks on Twitter.

6. Don’t worry about peace: After elections comes the Trump peace plan (maybe), and Axios reports that while trying to sell the plan to the Middle East, the Trump administration is also having to contend with Evangelicals who might not like Israel making concessions, Axios reports.

  • The site reports that the White House hosted a meeting between top Evangelical pastors and negotiator Jason Greenblatt last week.
  • “A source who attended the meeting said that several of the Evangelical leaders raised concerns about the peace plan, especially about the possibility it will give the Palestinians a capital in parts of East Jerusalem,” the report reads.
    But fear not, Christians. Evangelical with Jewy name who lives in Israel Joel Rosenberg is reported as telling the meeting attendees that “Palestinian President Abbas is never going to make a deal, so there is no need to be too worried that Jerusalem is going to be sacrificed.”

7. Semite Shmemite: Evangelical support for Israel is also being looked at under a microscope thanks to a tearful diatribe by Meghan McCain over alleged anti-Semitic statements by congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

  • “If what Ilhan Omar were saying for the past few weeks were said by a white Republican male, how would you be reacting to it right now?” she says on ABC’s The View.
  • Omar retweets a comment calling McCain’s speech “faux outrage.”
  • Jewish lefty cartoonist Eli Valley goes over the top, as is his wont, with a drawing of McCain Jewing herself up to a ridiculous degree, yellow star and all.
  • McCain’s response, to accuse Valley of anti-Semitism, doesn’t really help matters, and the entrance of Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig into the whole spat just takes the whole thing to another level.

8. What do Israelis think of all this? Nothing! As Allison Kaplan-Sommer points out in Haaretz, the story has completely bypassed the Hebrew language press, which is too busy reporting on elections and Eurovision.

  • But the lack of reportage also points to a deeper understanding, according to AKS, that Israelis no longer much expect pro-forma Democratic support, after a decade of Netanyahu at the helm.
  • “What has played out over the past week was solely an American story; Israel wasn’t even a minor player,” she writes. “The drama’s plots and subplots involved Republicans and Democrats, the ‘mainstream’ and ‘progressive’ wings of the Democratic Party, and the pro-Israel lobby and American Jewish community (two groups that are no longer identical or interchangeable, given the growing presence and influence the evangelical community wields in the former).”
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