Horse race fever: 7 things to know for December 16
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Israel media review

Horse race fever: 7 things to know for December 16

The Likud leadership primary is covered as dramatically as possible, with support tallies and polls making it seem like anyone could win the triple election crown

Like its owner, Goldstein's horse sports the Star of David during competitions. (Courtesy of Danielle Goldstein)
Illustrative: A horse. (Courtesy of Danielle Goldstein)

1. Scoreboard politics: After two elections and oodles of primaries, Israel’s media is nothing if not addicted to horse races, and is drumming up the drama in the Likud primary while it waits for the next general election to percolate.

  • The race has essentially become a tally of how many MKs Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Gideon Sa’ar can get into their corner of the ring.
  • Haaretz leads off with the news that former minister Haim Katz is throwing his weight behind Sa’ar. The paper notes that Katz, who heads the Likud Central Committee, “has a lot of power within the party.”
  • Overlooked by the paper, which has made few bones about its stance that Netanyahu should be shown the door, is the fact that Katz is also facing criminal indictments.
  • The paper, notes, almost as an aside, that most Likud bigwigs support Netanyahu, and Channel 12 news as well tries to make it look like more of a close race, writing that the “number of supporters in Sa’ar camp is growing and growing,” though his support remains at a fraction of Netanyahu’s among the party’s top dogs, at least publicly.
  • Israel Hayom reports that “after years of sleepy primaries in Likud, the internal fight is turning into the winter’s official point of arousal.”

2. Stuck in the middle: Channel 13 reports that many eyes are looking to Gilad Erdan to see whom he will back, with the minister remaining coy, if he’s made a decision at all.

  • “Even if in the end [he picks someone] — his backing will not be resounding,” Sefi Ovadiah writes.
  • Channel 12 notes that Yuli Edelstein is also not expected to endorse anyone publicly, maintaining his neutral profile as interim Knesset speaker.
  • Not everyone is so diplomatic. Likud minister and Netanyahu loyalist David Amsalem gets a smattering of press after telling Kan radio that “most people in Likud think the gap between Netanyahu and Sa’ar is like between a Mercedes and a Sussita.”
  • Covering the quote, Yedioth Ahronoth is sure to include an old drawing of the short-lived Israel-made vehicle, for any readers who may have forgotten the forgettable car.

3. Less is more: Amsalem isn’t done yet. Channel 12 quotes the communications minister saying that if Sa’ar leads Likud, the party will drop all the way down to five seats or so.

  • “There’s no argument that if the prime minister is not at the head of Likud, we will not get five or 10 seats,” says the budding Nostradamus, perhaps exaggerating a tad.
  • However, he also says he “appreciates Sa’ar” and does not discount him. Don’t ever say he didn’t do anything for him, eh?
  • Despite the bold prediction, Kan publishes a poll that shows that if Netanyahu continues to lead the party, the left-center-Arab bloc will reach 59 seats, whereas the right-wing bloc will only get 53.
  • The poll shows, though, that Likud under Netanyahu will get 31 seats, while it will only get 27 under Sa’ar.
  • So how does the math work? Simple. If Netanyahu leads Likud, the far-right Jewish Home-National Union-whoever else will fall below the threshold. However, if Sa’ar leads the party, far-right voters will flee Likud and push the extremists into the Knesset.

4. Three to get ready (don’t mention four): Likud isn’t the only party trying to get its ducks in a row. Haaretz looks at what all the factions need to do before Round III, with some having their work cut out for them and some just looking to keep their heads above water.

  • “Labor-Gesher, which tried to draw right-wing voters from Israel’s outlying areas, came up with a disappointing six seats. In the third round, the bar is set much lower – both parties say the campaign is about passing the electoral threshold,” the paper notes.
  • Meanwhile, it reports that the Joint List is looking to push beyond its supposed Arab ceiling by appealing to Jews as well: “We think our members’ exposure to the Israeli public in the last election will raise our profile with this community and bring in some Jewish voters,” a party source is quoted saying. “Raising the percentage of Jewish voters could contribute a lot.”
  • In Bloomberg, columnist Zev Chafetz is less than optimistic March 2 will bring anything new and mentions the dreaded F-word: Fourth (elections).
  • “For months Israelis have been fed an unceasing diet of cynicism, lies, blatant self-dealing, intolerance and disregard by politicians of all the parties. Many voters will stay home on March 2. Those who do vote will go to the polls with the sinking feeling that, when the ballots are counted and the coalition bargaining is finished, they may find themselves facing a fourth election,” he writes.

5. Third election, third world: Yedioth continues its theme of tallying all the things Israelis are missing out on while the country cycles through endless elections, this time focusing on “the unending pain” of those seeking medical care, and those trying to treat them.

  • The tabloid describes “full hallways, substandard conditions, and staffs that are being crushed by the load.”
  • “This is a third world country. I’ve been waiting two weeks for a flu shot, I haven’t managed to get immunized because the clinics ran out,” a Beersheba resident tells the paper. “The staffs are trying, but the situation in the emergency rooms is no good. You need to think a million times if it’s worth it to go.”
  • In Foreign Policy, Sam Sokol writes about the poor state of Israeli diplomacy, with the diplomatic corps complaining about having no money and no leadership.
  • “I know officials in foreign capitals who had to pay for meals and transport when doing their job and quite a few that had to cancel events because there was no budget. It’s harming our diplomatic relations and our image in the world and ability to sign agreements,” one former senior official is quoted saying.
  • Hanan Goder, Israel’s non-resident ambassador to South Sudan, is described having to search through the ministry’s gleaming Jerusalem HQ for some instant coffee: “We’re on zero. We have no budget… We’re counting cups.”

6. Show me the money: Israel Hayom knows where the funds are, but it might have an easier time trying to chase down a leprechaun.

  • The paper’s lead story claims that Jews who fled Arab lands and Iran around the time of the state’s founding left behind some $150 billion in assets, according to a government report set to be published in the coming weeks.
  • The paper calls the estimate “conservative,” and notes that the figure is not converted into today’s money. A rough estimate done by me comes up with a 2019 value of some $1.5 trillion, or about half the GDP of the entire Middle East.
  • The paper claims that it is the first time the figure has been calculated, after years of work. Now that it has it, it hints that it will be used as a demand in future peace negotiations with the Palestinians: “It is necessary to ensure that all refugees in the Middle East receive equal treatment under international law,” the report reads.

8. Even when its good for the Jews its bad for the Jews: Those riches are just a small taste of what the US Jewish community has today, according to former diplomat Alon Pinkas in Yedioth, penning the daily dose of alarm over anti-Semitism in America.

    • “If you look at the Jewish story for the last 2000 years, there has been no Jewish settlement more successful, more prosperous, richer, freer from being pursued, and enjoying more from freedom of religion than the Jews of the US. The only other contender is Israel,” he writes. “On the other hand, groups that collect and analyze data on anti-Semitism have published numbers showing a significant increase in open anti-Semitism, and there is a feeling of fear and lack of security that American Jews have not felt for decades.”
    • US President Donald Trump may have tried to address that with his latest executive order, depending on whom you believe. But according to the New York Times, the move has led many on college campuses to fear what its effect may be.
    • “I just fear it’s going to backfire for Jews,” a Duke student is quoted saying. “It reframes the debate from ‘is this anti-Semitic’ to ‘is this suppression of free speech.’”
    • In Haaretz, columnist and former MK Odeh Bisharat writes that the order actually fuels anti-Semitism by lumping all Jews together.
    • “The flip side of this Western embrace is that all the Jews in the world become responsible for all the injustices committed by this messianic right-wing government in the occupied territories,” he writes. “This is the unholy covenant that is being realized between the anti-Arab right in Israel and the Western right, which considers all Jews responsible. Therefore, if you reverse the logic, these resolutions are actually anti-Semitic because they don’t allow any room for criticizing or opposing Israeli policies.”
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