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Israel media review

Leading from behind: 10 things to know for April 5

Final polls show Blue and White with a 4 seat lead over Likud, which the former sees as the perfect clincher and which the latter will likely use to slurp votes from the right

A laborer walks past electoral campaign posters in Tel Aviv, on April 3, 2019. ( JACK GUEZ / AFP)
A laborer walks past electoral campaign posters in Tel Aviv, on April 3, 2019. ( JACK GUEZ / AFP)

1. Gantz pulls ahead: With just a few days to go until elections, a last batch of polls are out, and most show Blue and White opening a 4-5 seat lead over Likud in the final stretch.

  • A Yedioth Ahronoth poll gives Blue and White a 30-26 lead over Likud.
  • Israel Hayom/i24 News gives Blue and White an even bigger lead, 32-27. The poll also includes the percentage of voters for parties who are sure of their vote. At the top of the list is Labor with 77 percent, followed by United Right Wing Party (76%), Blue and White (72%), UTJ (71%) and Likud (70%). At the bottom are Meretz (48%) and Ta’al-Hadash (47%).
  • A Channel 12 poll, conducted by the same pollster, shows similar results, with Blue and White up 30-26 over Likud.
  • But turning everything on its head are polls by Kan and the Jerusalem Post, the former putting Likud ahead 31-30 and the latter giving Blue and White a slight edge over Likud 28-27.
  • The apparent lead for Blue and White comes just days after other polls showed them with a serious deficit to Likud.

2. Labor’s return: One thing almost the polls agree on is the Labor party getting double digits.

  • Most polls put the party at 10 or 11 seats.
  • That number was considered unfathomably high just a couple of months ago. Then again, just a couple of months before that, 10 or 11 would have been considered unfathomably low.

3. Chop-a-bloc: The main takeaway from the polls though, is that with most small right-wing parties making it in, the right-religious bloc has a comfortable lead with an easier pathway to forming a coalition.

  • BW No. 2 Yair Lapid tells The Times of Israel, though, that things are not as they seem and if the party can just manage to snag four more seats than Likud, “no power on earth” will stop them from forming a coalition.
  • Lapid’s theory is that President Reuven Rivlin will not make history by giving a smaller party first crack to form a coalition, and given the chance, they will be able to talk their way into 61 seats, including by appealing to the ultra-Orthodox, who won’t want to be in the opposition.
  • “People say stuff at election times. And then, when governments are formed, people say different things… My advice is always to go back to basics: Winners get to form governments. Losers don’t,” he says.
  • He also claims that media polls are overstating how many small parties will get in, accusing people like Avigdor Liberman and Moshe Kahlon of lobbying news outlets to keep their parties above the threshold, on the theory that nobody wants to vote for a party not predicted to make it in.

4. Panic mode: Friday’s batch of polls are the last that can be published before exit polls come out when voting is over on Tuesday night. The law was instituted due to the effect polling can have on skewing voter patterns, but it’s hard to see how it won’t have an effect.

  • While the small parties still below the threshold, such as Gesher, can probably kiss their chances goodbye, the bigger parties and especially Likud may be exactly where they want to be.
  • If history is any guide, Netanyahu will use the polls showing he is behind, and the fact that even Blue and White says the biggest party will get first crack, to push votes away from the right-wing bloc and into his camp.
  • In 2015, the last polls prior to the election showed a slight lead for Zionist Union over Likud, and even poorly gathered exit polls showed them neck and neck. But election day panic-mongering (“The Arabs are voting in droves”) put Netanyahu in the driver’s seat, and it’s to be expected he’ll try the same again.
  • Channel 12 reporter Dafna Liel tweets a picture of what she says is a script being given to Likud canvassers making calls across the country. The script is different depending on which party the person says they plan to vote for, but the common theme is that “the largest party will form the coalition,” and so those on the right need to vote Likud.
  • Interestingly, the plan includes campaigning against Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu, two parties in danger of falling below the threshold, stripping Netanyahu of eight potential seats for his coalition.

5. Pollster problems: In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer goes through all the reasons Israeli polls are so hard to get right, and there are many.

  • Aside from problems that plague pollsters everywhere like the fact that older people and younger people use different forms of communication, are issues unique to Israel’s demographics.
  • “The ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities — and also elderly Russian speakers who moved to Israel in the early 1990s — are poorly covered by the main polling companies. When they need to be taken into account in a national election, pollsters have a hard time working out their voting patterns and potential turnout,” he writes.
  • Beyond that, “Israelis are highly engaged in the political discourse and are voracious consumers of daily news. This leads to a frenetic electorate that quickly switches its voting intentions — and some politicians are particularly adept at taking advantage of this.”
  • Netanyahu “is an expert at intervening and interacting with voters just before, or right on Election Day,” the paper’s pollster Prof. Camil Fuchs says.

6. Losing it: That intervention includes a classic media blitz by Netanyahu, who is notorious for never giving interviews. On Thursday, he hopped on Israel Radio for half an hour and on Friday morning, Israel Hayom (which is essentially a Likud party organ) publishes an interview with him.

  • “We’re very close to losing the battle,” he is quoted saying.
  • “Whereas in 2015 the Left was complacent and the Right was enlisting to vote – today the opposite is happening. The Right is complacent and the Left is enlisting to vote. When polls ask how many people intend to vote, the Left gets 100%. Not 99.2% – 100%. Everyone is going to vote. And on the Right, we’re seeing notable lower percentages than that, around 80%. The difference in percentages is equivalent to about five seats,” he says.

7. Change we can believe in: Blue and White may also be using the numbers for momentum, driving its base to the polls for the final push.

  • Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea compares Netanyahu to Hillary Clinton, in that he is a sign of the old guard when people just want change.
  • He quotes local politician Moti Delju, who notes that in the recent municipal elections voters got rid of a whole mess of incumbents, many of them accused of corruption.
  • “Does it say something about the upcoming vote? Good question. Perhaps the opposite. What’s happening in politics has made people more cynical, alienated. But the disgust is still there.”

8. Baumel battle: One sign of the cynicism may be claims that the announcement of the recovery of the body of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel after 37 years was timed to help Netanyahu in the elections.

  • Among those hinting at that was Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, drawing vociferous anger from Netanyahu and a denial from the army Gantz once led.
  • “Baumel’s body arrived at the end of March. We decided to announce, his mother is 86,” IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis tells Channel 13.
  • In Haaretz, though, Chemi Shalev writes that the return of the body was planned by Russian President Vladimir Putin to help Netanyahu at the polls.
  • “Netanyahu milked the return of Baumel’s body for all it was worth,” he writes. “Netanyahu insisted that the timing of the return had nothing to do with the elections but even his supporters would agree that if you buy that, we have a nice bridge in Brooklyn to show you.”

9. French fried: Netanyahu is even less coy about pursuing a law that could grant him immunity should he win re-election, balking at a question about it on Israel Radio Thursday.

  • In response, several political allies of Netanyahu went on Army Radio and elsewhere to say they would not agree to such a law, especially if it could be applied retroactively.
  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter predicts that should he win re-election “it’s totally obvious that Netanyahu’s supreme and indeed only imperative will be to cobble together an indictment coalition: one that will make it possible for him to continue to serve even after the hearing and after he’s indicted (something that the law permits), and possibly one that will scuttle the possibility of his being put on trial, by promoting the appropriate legislation.”
  • That would be good news for extremist Itamar Ben Gvir, who seems most gung-ho about passing a law. In a recording aired by Channel 12 news, Ben Gvir says he’s going to try to get the chairmanship of the Knesset Law and Justice Committee, which he’ll use to fast-track the law.

10. Get out the Arab vote: In his first piece for ToI, political analyst Shalom Yerushalmi writes that the mostly overlooked Arab vote, and specifically turnout numbers could upend all the calculations, especially if the Arab nationalist Balad-Ra’am party, currently polling near the threshold, doesn’t make it in.

  • “The significance of this scenario can hardly be exaggerated. Aside from the battle between the large blocs and parties, what happens in the Arab sector could end up being the most decisive element on April 9,” he writes.
  • Turnout may be higher than in the past though. Lod-born rapper Tamer Nafar releases a music video making waves in which he wrestles with the decision of whether or not to vote, eventually deciding that, “Either we vote or we end up being expelled from the homeland.”
  • “Our struggle is to not be absent from parliament,” AFP quotes Hadash-Ta’al candidate Sondos Saleh saying recently. “The laws are made there. If Arabs boycott the elections, Israel’s government will choose Arabs to represent it and who will speak in our name.”

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