I’m whatever you want me to be: 6 things to know for September 16
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Israel media review

I’m whatever you want me to be: 6 things to know for September 16

With less than 24 hours until polls open, party leaders throw out lofty promises in an effort to get out the vote for an election that few are excited about

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Blue and White head Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Noam Revkin Fenton, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White head Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Noam Revkin Fenton, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Home stretch: Candidates are making final appeals to voters on the last day of the year’s second election campaign, which just about all parties and media outlets are in agreement will be decided by the bloc that can get its weary voters off their butts and into a ballot booth on Tuesday.

  • After spending the last several months declaring from every podium possible that his first coalition-building phone call upon winning tomorrow will be to the right-wing Likud, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz assures left-wingers that the only way to implement the policies advocated by the Democratic Camp and Labor Parties is to vote for him to become prime minister.
  • Right-wing daily Israel Hayom, seen as Likud’s de facto media outlet, pounces on the quote and bend Gantz’s words into a “We will implement the policies of the left” above-the-fold headline.
  • The rest of the coverage across the major media outlets is dedicated to parties’ final campaign rallies. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Amichai Attali reports from a Likud rally in Bat Yam where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a “last minute cancellation” of his appearance in order to attend an “emergency meeting” over the worrying prospect of low voter turnout. (In fact, Netanyahu was occupied for at least part of the evening giving an interview to Channel 13.) Despite his having pulled the stunt in each of the last two elections, Likud supporters stay positive after receiving the news that their fearless leader will not be gracing them with his presence. Instead, they break out in song and dance, chanting “Bibi! Bibi!” with the same fervor that was seen from loyalists last week as Netanyahu was rushed off the stage of an Ashdod rally due to rocket fire from Gaza. “This love, that is reserved for no other politician or party, is a subject worthy of its own academic study — one integrating political science together with psychology,” Attali writes.

2. Keys to victory: Israel Hayom maps out where each party will be investing its resources during tomorrow’s vote.

  • With Likud, no specific area is marked, but activists and lawmakers are slated to personally drag voters in towns known for their high Likud support to the polls. In the last election, this was seen in places such as Ashdod, Ashkelon and Afula. Netanyahu is also slated to stream Facebook Live freak-outs throughout the day warning voters that Likud is losing.
  • Blue and White will be putting its eggs in secular Tel Aviv’s basket, with senior officials in the party telling Israel Hayom that obtaining a 70 percent voter turnout rate could ensure an extra seat and maybe even a victory.
  • Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina party will be seeking to simply stop Netanyahu’s traditional last-minute snarfing up of its votes in an effort to  get as close as possible to a double-digit seat count. To do this, Yamina MKs will be spending their time in national religious communities, where voters have in the past been prone to jump ship from the party that is said to represent them and switch to Likud thanks to Netanyahu’s successful “gevalt” campaigns.
  • Labor will be taking a page out of Netanyahu’s book, warning potential supporters that it may not even cross the electoral threshold, in a scenario that would guarantee a right-wing coalition that would legislate Netanyahu out of his criminal indictments. Democratic Camp officials tell Israel Hayom that they will be focusing on convincing potential Blue and White voters that it is not the size of the party that dictates who will be picked to form the government, but rather the size of the bloc that supports said faction. (The election-day goals detailed by Israel Hayom for the Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Otzma Yehudit were rather obvious and therefore need not be restated.)

3. How dare they launch rockets on my parade: Defense analyst Amos Harel has a pretty dramatic scoop leading Haaretz’s front page about how Netanyahu planned a large offensive in Gaza after rockets were fired near the Ashdod rally he was addressing last week, but scotched the plan after the attorney general and security chiefs talked him down.

  • According to Haaretz, Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, sought an “extraordinary” and “far-reaching” military reaction to the rocket — the nature of which was not disclosed — but several security officials were hesitant to take such action.
  • It said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed the prime minister that, based on a 2018 amendment to Basic Law: The Government, the prime minister was required to consult the cabinet on any decision on a major military operation that had a likelihood of leading the country to war.
  • “It’s also reasonable to draw the conclusion that Mandelblit’s opinion was coordinated with the heads of the security services,” Harel writes.

4. I’ll annex Texas if you want me to: Meanwhile, Netanyahu is continuing full speed ahead on a blitz of the same media that he boycotts when it’s not a week before the election. During his latest appearance on Army Radio, the premier declares his plans to annex the hardline settlement of Kiryat Arba along with the Jewish enclaves in Hebron.

  • Earlier this month, he ignored calls to build a wheelchair accessible entrance to Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site, but apparently he’s moved onto bigger and better things.
  • I said this to President Trump: I intend to extend sovereignty over all communities and blocs — both the land and the communities — as well as areas with importance to security or to Israeli heritage,” Netanyahu says. “I told him no one would be uprooted, I told him I won’t recognize the [Palestinian] right of return, I told him Jerusalem must remain united. All these things were said.”
  • As for Blue and White, it too has its share of lofty predictions, including a scenario described by MK Yair Lapid in a Times of Israel blog in which he imagines Netanyahu serving in the opposition: “Netanyahu arrives late. He looks grayer than usual; suddenly, his age is noticeable. He’s holding a thick folder in his hand. His lawyers gave it to him. Inside it are all his indictments and the testimonies, including the submarine scandal. He sits down and starts to read.”

5. Worse than Amalek: As politicians prepare to haunt voters into the voting booth, a UTJ MK whips an insult out of his bag to describe its rivals that would be the biblical equivalent of “worse than Hitler.”

  • Ynet reports that the comparison between secular lawmakers Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman and the biblical arch-nemesis of the Jewish people, Amalek, was made by Moshe Gafni at a mass rally that saw tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox participants converge on Jerusalem.
  • Lapid and Liberman, Gafni said, are waging a “cultural war” against the ultra-Orthodox community, Ynet reports.
  • As for Shaked, her bone to pick is with Netanyahu — not Benjamin but rather his wife Sara. The Yamina leader tells supporters the premier and his “immediate circle” hold an “irrational” grudge against her and are working to sideline her right-wing party.
  • She does not specify who this “immediate circle” comprises, but appears to be referring to Sara, who is widely reported to harbor a deep antipathy toward Shaked.

6. Preventing the “theft” of the elections: With the camera bill quashed, right-wing activists are preparing alternative tactics to prevent alleged voter fraud in Arab communities.

  • A group of settler and national religious leaders launched an online fundraising campaign for an initiative they titled “Gatekeepers.” The organizers say they will use the NIS 100,000 ($28,336) they hope to receive to fund the salaries of hundreds of individuals recruited to stand outside polling stations in ballot stations in Arab towns and cities. The initiative is designed to “protect” the polling committee officials representing right-wing parties inside, organizers maintain.
  • Attorney Shachar Ben Meir petitioned the Central Elections Committee, demanding that it order Gatekeepers to cease its activity. Ben Meir argued that it was tantamount to hiring a “private militia,” which will interfere with the election process and could possibly lead to violence at the polls during Tuesday’s vote.
  • However, after the Attorney General’s Office issued a legal opinion saying there was no justification for nixing the initiative, election committee chairman Hanan Melcer is slated to follow suit.
  • As of Monday afternoon, the campaign had reached just 26% of its goal. One of the organizers, former Jewish Home official Haim Falk, acknowledged in a phone call to ToI that the fundraising had failed and that they currently only have enough money to pay for 40 activists, who would be responsible for patrolling roughly 120 polling stations. However, he remained optimistic that additional donations would come in to allow for the employment of others. Moreover, he said that he expected some activists to volunteer for the campaign without asking for payment.
  • As for whether voter fraud is actually a phenomenon in Arab communities or elsewhere, law enforcement officials tell The Times of Israel that the claim is more of an election ploy used by Netanyahu to get out the vote and not supported by evidence.
  • “And to say that nothing is being done to combat voter fraud is preposterous,” one official official says, referencing a pilot program launched by Melcer to prevent fraud during tomorrow’s election.
  • Haaretz reports that Likud has pre-recorded “gevalt” messages it plans to send to voters at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow. The left-wing daily gets hold of one of the messages from Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, warning Israelis that Arab voter turnout is at a record high and that if right-wingers don’t get to the polls, the entire settlement enterprise will be put at risk. Likud denies the report, though the recording speaks for itself.
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