Israel media review

Fool me thrice, shame on everyone: 7 things to know for March 2

Israelis head back to the polls, hoping this time will be different but fearing that’s about as likely as the day passing without fake coronavirus news

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

A voter and his daughter cast a ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020 (Flash90)
A voter and his daughter cast a ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020 (Flash90)

1. Third and long: It’s election day (again) and Israeli papers are on it like white on rice. Who will win? Nobody knows for sure, and if history is any guide the press won’t have any better idea of how Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz really fared by the time the sun comes up on Tuesday (though it will certainly pretend it does). Nonetheless, the word “determine” as in “determine the results” is all over the news, reflecting the idea that Israelis’ votes will finally, finally determine an outcome.

  • “Go out and determine,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom, devoting its full front page, and more, to getting out the vote (for Likud).
  • “These are the cities that could determine the election,” reads a headline posted by Kan news, focusing not on swing cities like Rehovot and Rishon Lezion but on party strongholds with low turnout numbers, like Kiryat Shmona and Bat Yam for Likud, and Tel Aviv and Haifa for Blue and White.
  • Channel 13 runs an identical headline, but adds the smaller parties into the mix, like Nazareth, where it notes “the Joint List won 110 seats” — i.e. almost the entire vote — but turnout was only at 55 percent, below the national average. If Nazareth residents close the gap, they will add 7,400 votes, a quarter of a seat, in one city alone.”
  • The channel adds that United Torah Judaism needs Beit Shemesh to pull its weight and Yisrael Beytenu needs Ashdod to pull its.
  • As for Yamina and Labor-Gesher-Meretz (LGM) “they have a smaller chance of benefiting from higher turnout as their strongholds already enjoy above-average turnout.” Good job, settlers and leftists.

2. Rock the vote (but not the boat): Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page headline, meanwhile, reflects the feeling of most voters, of being stuck in a never-ending cycle of elections that won’t actually bring a government: “Maybe this time?”

  • While elections are normally accompanied by pro-forma columns in the papers about the importance of democracy from figures such as President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Central Elections Committee head Neil Hendel, this time those columns are nowhere to be seen, two apparently being the limit for their speechwriters. (Rivlin later says he’s embarrassed as he votes.)
  • Instead, columns that are aimed at battling perceived voter apathy — there was no such trend in the second election and polls actually show turnout may remain high regardless — are tinged (OK, slathered) with partisan arguments.
  • Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev describes Monday as “D-Day for Democracy,” writing shrilly that Gantz won’t solve all of Israel’s problems, but if Netanyahu wins, “the only democracy in the Middle East will begin a steady slide to an autocratic regime no different than others. In the eyes of many of his opponents, a vote for Netanyahu is tantamount to a stab in Israel’s back.”
  • “Not voting means abandoning oneself, one’s family, friends, acquaintances and the public as a whole to Netanyahu’s toxic and hate-filled visions, toward which Israeli voters have hitherto marched en masse,” he adds.
  • In Israel Hayom, editor Boaz Bismuth writes that “March 2020 elections are not normal elections. … because of the lack of faith among voters and disappointment in the system, a high turnout is needed at the voting booth. The voter is the one who decides … put a slip in the ballot box to put an end to this parody that is called ‘Israeli elections’”
  • “In a kleptocracy, voting is important,” tweets radio and Channel 12 journalist Nehama Dueck.

3. 10 more years? Unlike the past two elections, this time momentum is actually seen on the side of Likud, thanks to polling and a move away from the party’s traditional tactic of getting out the vote by scaring voters into thinking the party is about to lose.

  • An online poll by Channel 12 attempting to gauge the mood of voters finds that 80 percent of those in the Likud camp are optimistic, versus a mere 49 percent optimistic among Blue and White voters. (The poll is obviously very flawed and as unscientific as they come.)
  • “Instead of hysterics, a day before the vote the Likud is in euphoria. What do they know?” asks a suspicious Ravit Hecht in Haaretz.
  • “Netanyahu is trying to impart a message – to those who are exhausted, who are revolted by the idea of a fourth election – that only a vote for him will end this circus,” she writes, noting the shift in tack. “These messages are firing up the Likud faithful, who look and sound like they’re anticipating success.”
  • That momentum is seen most clearly in the pages of Israel Hayom, which fills the lion’s share of its massive election edition with columns pushing the idea that the right wing is on its way to victory.
  • “After a year of upheaval, the right is going to the polls in droves,” reads the headline of a column by Limor Samimian Darash in the paper’s op-ed page. “We’ve woken up and are standing on our feet, ready for the final battle,” she writes.
  • Kan reports that the numbers back up the rise of the right:
  • “The right’s strengthening came partially after those who were undecided made their decisions. Likud has also strengthened on the back of Yisrael Betytenu, which got just six seats in the [latest] poll.”

4. Rhapsody in Blue and White: On the other side is Blue and White, which is seen as struggling to keep up, even by those ostensibly in its corner.
Army Radio writes that this time around it is the left engaged in a “gevald” campaign, meant to scare voters to the polls.

  • “Netanyahu’s impressive campaign stands out even more against the lazy, flaccid campaign of Blue and White. The voters love a candidate who speaks from the gut, with frankness, even if it’s fake honesty,” writes Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, setting up five possible scenarios, writes that the most likely is a slight advantage for Likud, with the result being that “the pressure on the Kahol Lavan leader to compromise, in order to prevent a fourth election and form a stable government while Israel and the world may be facing a global coronavirus crisis, along with an economic downturn, will be almost unbearable.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Yossi Beilin also writes that he thinks Gantz will need to compromise and “not repeat his mistake “ of refusing a rotation government. “He cannot contribute to forcing a fourth round that will place Israel in a ridiculous light, and freeze required moves in areas that touch the lives of many.”

5. Stuck in the muck: That’s not to say that everyone approves of the way Likud has run its campaign, not by a long shot.

  • “There has never been a campaign in Israel in which one of the sides acts in such a skilled, coordinated and malicious way,” writes a hyperbolic Nati Yefet in Zman Yisrael, calling Netanyahu a “megalomaniac.”
  • “Netanyahu’s ever-changing campaign slogans and the self-praise he exudes in every rally and interview barely mask the prime minister’s real goal: to avoid prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” reads the lead editorial in Haaretz, warning of dangers to Israel’s democracy if he wins.
  • In Yedioth, Sima Kadmon writes that both campaigns by now have dropped any pretense of caring about “the state of the health system, the elderly, the economy or even security.” Instead they only care about who will be in the Prime Minister’s Office.
  • That’s too bad, because the New York Times goes through the laundry list of issues that should be paid attention to in the elections even though nobody is, and it is not short.
  • “Even as Israel has matured from a small, desert nation fighting for its survival into a regional power with an enviable high-tech industry, it has neglected the transportation, education and health-care systems that experts say are vital to its prosperity. As the country holds its third election in a year, major challenges in each of those areas have drawn precious little attention,” the grey lady kvetches.

6. Nothing to fear, but fear of fear itself: The elephant in the room is hopefully wearing a mask and not infecting the rest of us.

  • The polls open just hours after news breaks of three more confirmed cases in Israel, bringing the total to 10.
  • “Israel goes to the polls under the shadow of the coronavirus,” reports Channel 13.
  • Ynet reports that the 5,000-odd eligible voters under quarantine who will use the special isolation voting booths will be met by paramedics doubling as poll workers, who will be protected, since they need to have the voters take off their face masks to confirm their identities.
  • Just as worrisome as the virus are fears that the fears will be used to lower turnout in certain areas, with many pundits accusing Likud of such a plan.
  • “Good morning my friends from the Likud campaign. Just a reminder, the polls are not yet open. Don’t get confused and accidentally start sending messages now about coronavirus being found in some of them,” tweets Haaretz reporter Chaim Levinson.
  • Army Radio reports that police are preparing for a “flood” of fake news. But elections czar Orly Adas tells the station that “there is no real punishment for spreading fake news, unless the head of the Central Elections Committee decides there has been actual disruption of the vote and places an injunction.”

7. Nothing to fear, but fourth itself: The other elephant in the room is fourth elections, which are seen looming and possibly inevitable.

  • “See you in the fourth,” columnist Hanoch Daum writes tongue-in-cheekily in Yedioth.
  • “There is no force in the world that will stop new elections,” he writes sadly.
  • “The worst: everybody is talking with apathy about the realistic, worrisome possibility of more elections,” reports Kan.
  • Fourth elections are already passe. The Independent reports that “Foreign diplomats [say] privately they are so convinced of a deadlock, their teams are preparing for a fourth and fifth vote, which would push into 2021 and mean the country had been operating with a caretaker government for three years.”

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