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Israel media review

Et tu? What the press is saying about ‘drinking’ votes and a royal rumble

The home stretch before the election has parties turning on potential or former allies as they jostle for position within their blocs; and a grim threshold inspires a look back

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Poll dance: With a fresh round of elections around the corner, parties are pulling out the knives against some rivals while getting in bed with others as the always-bizarro campaign cycle comes to a frothing head.

  • A poll from Channel 13 shows the far-right Religious Zionism set to win a whopping six seats, more than pretty much any poll has shown before, and enough to get the party’s candidate from the homophobic Noam faction into the Knesset. The poll gives RZ one more seat than the channel’s last poll, while giving Likud one less, which leads the channel and other outlets to make a direct connection between the two as if votes are flowing directly from one party to the other, though it’s more likely that something more complex is going on. (Not to mention that the margin of error, 3.6 percent, is equal to four seats, making a one-seat move almost meaningless.)
  • As noted in ToI: “The survey indicated that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, nor those opposed to him, can form a majority coalition of at least 61 seats. Likud, UTJ, Shas and Religious Zionism have 47 seats, which rises to 58 if Yamina joins. The anti-Netanyahu bloc of Yesh Atid, New Hope, Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Blue and White and Meretz also has 58 seats. Ra’am with its four seats could therefore become the tiebreaker.”
  • Likud minister Israel Katz dismisses the poll numbers, hinting at a long-rumored party plot to trick pollsters into thinking the party has less support than it does. “I assume we’ll get more than the polls. There are Likud supporters who have a habit of not answering polls or don’t make their answers clear. I haven’t met anybody dissatisfied with Likud.”
  • Israel Hayom, meanwhile, buries the nominally bad news and highlights the fact that the poll found 38% of voters undecided.

2. Blocbuster: Those undecided voters are likely undecided between a handful of like-minded parties, hence why the political calculus has now turned mainly to infighting within the supposed blocs.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls the infighting within the blocs “a drinking contest,” referring to the idea that parties slurp up the votes of other parties like a milkshake.

  • Kan reports that “extraordinarily, the Netanyahu family has ordered senior party officials to ‘drink up Bennett,’ to attack him, speak against his plans for the day after the election and against his expected partnership with… Lapid.” The fact that the station lazily and matter-of-factly asserts the Likud talking point that Bennett will join up with Lapid when he has said the opposite should give a pretty good clue as to where the story/talking point is coming from.
  • Israel Hayom gives a taste of the various games being played as parties jockey for position within the blocs, with a front page showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sporting Beitar Jerusalem gear and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid next to the headline “Netanyahu attacks [Naftali] Bennett, Lapid attacks the bloc.”
  • What’s the difference? Netanyahu isn’t attacking Religious Zionism, but actually stumping for them, as noted by Haaretz’s Yossi Verter, who calls the prime minister a “lobbyist” for Itamar Ben Gvir, the most extreme member of the party.
  • He also writes that Lapid’s strategy, which involves eating his own bloc’s babies in the hopes of having enough seats to outpace Likud, is “playing with fire.”
  • “In his situation it’s possible that there is no other relevant game; Labor is stabilizing in the polls at six seats, he can pinch a seat from them with confidence. But [Blue and White] remains a wild card, and therein lies the risk: If it really is worth four to five seats and one of them goes to Yesh Atid, forcing Benny Gantz under the threshold, taking 100,000 votes with him, the bloc seeking change will be fatally damaged, and the Netanyahu bloc will profit,” he writes.
  • But Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak tells Army Radio that he’s “not sure that a vote for Blue and White is a vote for our bloc.”
  • And Lapid’s babies aren’t taking the fight lying down, but are biting back at him. “When Bennett says he won’t recommend Lapid [for prime minister]… what happened three times already will happen again. If Lapid is [too] big, we’ll have fifth elections.”
  • Zman Yisrael’s Tal Schneider writes about former Labor voter Yaniv Carmel, who isn’t telling people whom to vote for, but rather whom not to: Ben Gvir. Schneider writes that Carmel is going door to door in right-wing strongholds asking people to vote for anyone but RZ. “My working assumption is that Ben Gvir’s story does not go down easy with right-wingers. He’s been normalized, because he is an experienced media presence and interviewee, but even for Bezalel Smotrich’s supporters, his presence is not easy,” he says.

3. The king and Bibi: Netanyahu’s aborted plans to fly to the UAE for a quick pre-election jaunt have swiftly snowballed into a diplomatic spat.

  • Maariv’s Ben Caspit reports that Netanyahu unilaterally ordered the closing of Israeli airspace to flights heading to and from Jordan in retaliation for Amman’s delaying of a plane slated to shuttle the premier to the United Arab Emirates last week.
  • The dramatic move was called off at the last minute. “Barring Jordan-bound planes from using Israeli airspace would have been a violation of the peace deal Israel struck with Jordan in 1994. The directive would also have violated the aviation deals Israel has reached with countless other countries, including the United States, which use Israeli airspace for flights landing in Jordan or ones that use Israeli and Jordanian airspace to reach other destinations in the region,” ToI reports.
  • In Yedioth, Smadar Peri writes that it’s no surprise that Jordan has a beef with Netanyahu, as King Abdullah made his bitter feelings about the Israeli premier known five years ago.
  • “Since then, Netanyahu has tried to set up meetings and been refused. Gantz and [Foreign Minister Gabi] Ashkenazi have been invited for meeting, and the king plans on presenting Biden the map of ties with Israel: Mostly defense cooperation and almost anything else, just not Netanyahu.”
  • But Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari writes that the Jordanians weren’t really looking to start a fight, but knew they needed to save face after Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein was unable to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem due to disagreements over security arrangements.
  • “The Jordanians are aware of the fact that they are dependent on Israel for water and are rapidly increasing their dependence on Israel for gas,” he writes.
  • One hopes there is peace with big plans in the pipeline (pun intended). Globes reports that included in a promised $10 billion Emirati investment in Israel is a train line linking the countries via Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and a deep water port in Eilat shared between the countries.
  • “US involvement will also be important. The Trump administration had intended investing $30 billion in these sort of projects. But the fund through which the money would have been invested has been put on hold by the Biden administration. But estimates are that after studying the plans, the Americans will come back down off the fence,” the financial daily reports.
  • In Israel Hayom, which ignores the story about Netanyahu ordering the airspace shut, Eyal Zisser chides the media for trying to portray the spat as a spat. “These media-contrived mountains out of molehills, however, are destined to pass, the train of peace firmly on its tracks. This train cannot be stopped, because it is moving on the solid ground of Israel’s economic, security and diplomatic might, which is recognized by all its neighbors.”

4. The six thousand war: Israel Hayom also takes a different tack as Israel passes the grim milestone of 6,000 dead. As noted by the Seventh Eye media watchdog, all other major papers at least note the number of dead, whereas Israel Hayom instead runs a front-page headline saying that coronavirus wards are closing, which it calls a “shot in the arm.” (Could it be that Israel Hayom, openly campaigning for Netanyahu, doesn’t want to make his leadership look bad?)

  • Channel 12 reports that Monday is the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown. To mark the occasion, it asks each party what it would have done differently. Each party responds save one: Likud.
  • Among those who do respond is UTJ, which says the biggest mistake was stopping public transportation on Purim 2021, “as proven by the fact that there was no rise in morbidity over Purim. The government needs to apologize to the thousands who suffered.”
  • In Yedioth, which places the number 6,000 dead on its front page, columnist Nadav Eyal tries to sum up “the failure until now,” pointing blame at many of the usual suspects, including the media.
  • “Apathy and populism ran wild among the media, which unendingly slammed the public with conflicting messages from experts who turned out to be anti-experts. They told the public it was nothing, or that the virus had been exhausted, that it was the flu, or that the country had already reached herd immunity,” he tsks.
  • In Haaretz, Ido Efrati reports that medical professionals blame the swift jump in deaths on the British variant. “’If the death rate of hospitalized patients was about 6.5 percent during the first and second waves, that figure rose to over 10 percent during the third wave,’” says Prof. Dror Mevorach, head of Hadassah Ein Karem’s coronavirus unit. “’We saw many people with a very severe illness. Some waited too long at home before arriving at the hospital. For others, it developed very rapidly.’”
  • Dr. Aharon Bolshinski, the head of the coronavirus ward at Wolfson hospital, tells Army Radio more trouble may be on its way: “The South African strain is rearing its head in Israel. There’s also differentiation by ages, the level of protection from the vaccines is less for the older population than for young people.”
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