Do or die: 7 things to know for April 9
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Israel media review

Do or die: 7 things to know for April 9

Israelis vote following an election campaign viewed by many as one of the country’s ugliest, but it only may have only been a preview of what is to come in coalition negotiations

Bride Tsufit Lam casts her ballot at a voting station in the West Bank settlement of Elazar during Knesset elections, on April 9, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Bride Tsufit Lam casts her ballot at a voting station in the West Bank settlement of Elazar during Knesset elections, on April 9, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

1. Time to shine: Some three and a half months after lawmakers voted to move up general elections that had been scheduled for November 2019, Israelis are finally going to the polls on Tuesday to pick their representatives for the 21st Knesset.

  • With many Israelis enjoying a day off from work, President Reuven Rivlin implores voters to celebrate not only the pleasant beach weather but Israel’s existence as a democracy.
  • “Go out and vote,” Rivlin writes in a pair of columns published in the widely read Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom tabloids.
  • Following a campaign season characterized by mudslinging and negative headlines, a major question will be if many Israelis are turned off from voting or if they build upon the upward trend in overall participation rate after it bottomed out in the Aughts.

2. All about the Benjamins: After a campaign season with relatively little focus on the differences in the candidates’ worldviews, many voters’ key consideration going into Tuesday’s polls is whether they want Benjamin Netanyahu to serve a fourth consecutive term and fifth overall as prime minister, or if they prefer to show him the door and take a chance on former IDF chief and political newcomer Benny Gantz.

  • Israel Hayom, Yedioth Ahronoth and the Haaretz daily all feature dueling photos of Netanyahu and Gantz on their front pages, with the latter’s top headline calling it a “referendum.”
  •  “Bibi or not Bibi, that is the question,” writes Yedioth analyst Sima Kadmon, ascribing Netanyahu’s motivation to call a snap poll to an ultimately unsuccessful bid to preempt the announcement of corruption charges against him by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
  • “This and only this is what stands today as the test for the public: Do we want a continuation of Netanyahu’s rule – a prime minister who will be blackmailable in negotiations for his coalition, subject to pressure from the pillars holding up his next government,” she writes.
  • Haaretz’s main editorial argues right-wing, left-wing and centrist parties will not be the only thing Israelis are voting for, but also “in effect the very existence of a democratic state.”
  • “In this sense, these elections are indeed about the continuation of Netanyahu’s rule. Not only Netanyahu as a person, rather Netanyahu as a ruling culture,” the left-wing broadsheet opines.
  • In Israel Hayom, a freebie seen as strongly supportive of the incumbent prime minister and his ruling Likud party, columnist Amnon Lord says the very fact the election is seen as a referendum on Netanyahu “proves the rightness of his path.”
  • “Netanyahu is a prime minister capable of carrying out his job at a high capacity even when all elements, including international ones, are working against him,” writes Lord, saying Gantz meanwhile “will need all the help he can get” if he becomes premier.

3. Judgment day: Though polls have repeatedly forecast a majority for nationalist and religious parties, Netanyahu has been campaigning relentlessly in recent days for right-wing voters to back Likud, a move that could backfire if some of his potential coalition partners fail to secure enough votes to enter the Knesset.

  • While the New Right and other right-leaning parties have not been shy in expressing their displeasure over Netanyahu’s strategy, ultra-Orthodox parties are also expressing concern that they could lose votes to Likud or be wiped out all together.
  • “I feel like my life’s work is in danger. That is my feeling, unfortunately,” Shas leader Aryeh Deri tells Channel 12 news, saying Netanyahu has shown “ingratitude” in light of his party’s support for the premier.
  • Netanyahu’s get out the vote push for Likud is also causing some consternation in United Torah Judaism, with a party source telling Haaretz that it has brought out its “judgment day weapon” – popular Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky – over the past week to shore up the support of voters who may be on the fence.

4. Eyes on the prize: With Netanyahu expected to have an easier path to assembling a coalition, Gantz’s Blue and White party will likely need a multi-seat advantage over Likud to get the chance to try to form a government.

  • Voting at his local polling station in Rosh Ha’ayin, Gantz calls on voters to “make it happen.”
  • Though lacking the extensive military credentials of Gantz and Blue and White’s fellow former military chiefs Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, the party’s no. 2 Yair Lapid puts out a video of himself kickboxing Tuesday morning to show he is ready to “fight for every vote.”
  • His personal trainer and bodyguard tells ToI’s Raoul Wootliff that Lapid was “very, very focused today” and quips he “would have destroyed” the punching bag if a picture of Netanyahu’s face had been on it, but says the only beat-down will come at the polls.

5. In the trenches: Much of the campaign has been fought on social media in light of laws limiting electioneering in traditional news mediums and this could be even more the case on Tuesday following Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer’s decision to bar candidates from being interviewed by media outlets on election day.

  • The committee convened in the morning following an appeal against the decision, while Mercer was also asked to weigh in on Likud’s apparent planting of hidden cameras among election observers at polling stations in Arab towns.
  • Yedioth’s Ynet news site, which reported on the cameras, said it cost Likud “a not insubstantial sum” in fines.
  • Likud has heavily played up Arab Israeli political involvement during the election campaign, with the party regularly claiming without basis that Gantz would form a so-called “blocking coalition” with Arab parties to prevent Netanyahu from cobbling together a ruling majority.
  • In the 2015 election, Netanyahu released an election day video warning “droves of Arabs” were going to the polls that many political observers have credited with giving his Likud in an edge in the vote and it remained to be seen whether the prime minister, who has earned the nickname “the magician” for his political cunning, would resort to another such appeal this elections.

6. All over again: While many Israelis may be relieved for an election that has been descried by pundits as one of the country’s ugliest to end, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise when the polls close at 10 p.m. and the positioning to form a coalition begins immediately afterward.

  • “If this election campaign was one of the ugliest, the coalition negotiations between who will form the government with six or seven parties… will cause many to feel nostalgia for the campaigns,” Yossi Verter writes in Haaretz.
  • Assuming right-wing parties win a majority, Netanyahu’s future as prime minister could depend on former Likud members Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Liberman and Moshe Feiglin, who respectively head the Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu and Zehut parties.
  • In Yedioth, Amit Segal says that while ideologically the three are a better match for Netanyahu, Gantz may have more to offer if Netanyahu is indicted for corruption following his hearing with the attorney general.
  • “Gantz will offer them four years of government and not a year at most under Netanyahu,” he writes.
  • While the premier’s potential exit from the political stage may present Liberman and Kahlon with a chance to return to Likud, Segal adds that “besides [ministerial] portfolios Gantz will offer them the goods in cash, Netanyahu – hopes in credit.”

7. Revolution in the air: After a series of moves seen as boosting Netanyahu’s reelection bid, most recently the recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, US President Donald Trump on Monday declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror group.

  • In a Hebrew-language tweet, Netanyahu thanks Trump for “acceding to another one of my important requests,” though noticeably does not include this line in a subsequent post in English.
  • With the US president highly popular among Israelis, Netanyahu touts their warm relationship by showing off a copy off the Golan recognition order signed by Trump in an interview with Channel 20, and has a pollster for the American leader in a video calling on right-wing voters to get their butts to the polls.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif, apparently a Times of Israel reader, tweets the move was “a(nother) misguided election-eve gift to Netanyahu,” while also saying it demonstrated his point the move was pushed for by “Netanyahu firsters.”
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