Low and lower: 8 things to know for February 20
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Low and lower: 8 things to know for February 20

After being pummeled, Gantz hits back at Netanyahu, only to be met with self-righteous cries of ‘shame on you’ from a Likud busy officiating a racist political wedding

Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz speaks at a party gathering in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019, in a speech in which he castigated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz speaks at a party gathering in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2019, in a speech in which he castigated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. ‘Merciless beating’: There’s nearly two months to go before elections but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience faction are already fighting like Jets and Sharks, flinging mud at each other with alarming ferocity.

  • Haaretz’s Yossi Verter quips that with his ragtag party looking like a “focus group testing a new kind of breakfast cereal,” Gantz’s attack on Netanyahu was designed to keep him from slipping in the polls.
  • Gantz portrayed Netanyahu as an American-trained fake who spent years enjoying the high life in the United States while he, Gantz, was risking his life in the trenches with his soldiers.
  • “Gantz attacked Netanyahu single-handedly Tuesday night with an aggressive speech full of pointed, insulting remarks – some of which were low blows – aimed at returning voters to him,” Verter writes, noting that Gantz’s listeners gaped at the broadsides.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea writes that the “shaming attacks” were what comes of political warfare: “When Netanyahu is throwing daily accusations with no end and [Yair] Lapid is leaving him hanging without any fighting spirit, there’s no option of sitting on the fence.”
  • In the same paper Sima Kadmon describes Gantz as having “beaten the prime minister mercilessly with his bare hands.”

2. Shame, shame, shame: Netanyahu didn’t just stand there like a punching bag, responding by defending his military record and claiming that he spent time in the US to learn English.

  • The second claim is perhaps specious, some point out, since Netanyahu went to high school in the US and had good English before he went back stateside to go to college and make money (like many others).
  • Netanyahu said Gantz should be ashamed, and others are making like peons in “Game of Thrones” on that front. Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar, no big fan of Netanyahu, tells Army Radio Wednesday morning that Gantz needs to act more statesmanlike: “We’re political opponents and we can argue over the direction. But to put down our whole party in this way?”
  • Another line of attack seems to be shifting the conversation toward Gantz’s soft spot: economics and lack of experience.
  • In Israel Hayom, seen by many as a Likud party organ, columnist Amnon Lord claims that the Israel Resilience slate has nobody with any foreign policy or economics experience and warns Israelis that they will suffer under his regime.
  • “What the list means is that if Gantz is elected he will off course latch onto Labor and Meretz on social issues, and in less than a year Israel’s credit rating will drop, the government budget will widen, the deficit will grow, and investors will keep their money in their pockets and take a wait-and-see approach,” he writes.

3. Black mirror: The back-and-forth isn’t ending there, by the way, with some saying Netanyahu is calling the kettle black, given his party’s attacks on Gantz, especially over the Madhat Yusuf affair.

  • “Israeli political rules: Likud politicians are allowed to spread lies about Gantz’s wife hating soldiers, he himself leaving a soldier to die and being a secret mole for Obama as chief of staff. At the same time, no politician is allowed to talk about Netanyahu’s biography. It reminds me of the PC-sensitivities of the American left,” Haaretz’s Amir Tibon tweets.

4. Unite the right: Netanyahu had bigger fish to fry than Gantz, though, with him and his party seemingly expending all their efforts toward convincing the far-right Jewish Home and even farther-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) to merge.

  • Late Wednesday morning, there is an announcement that the pressure paid off, with the parties reaching a deal to join forces.
  • Israel Hayom had devoted its first several pages to the push Wednesday morning, including columnist Meir Indor pleading with religious Zionist rabbis to force them to unite by comparing the “war of egos” between the parties to the Talmudic story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza, an allegory about Jewish hatred about a man accidentally invited to a meal who was kicked out and embarrassed, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans.
  • “It would seem fitting that the rabbis, who know how much can be destroyed in a battle over respect and egos, would intervene in this political fight between the parties,” he writes.
  • Given Otzma Yehudit’s extremist stances and out-and-out racism, some see Jewish Home making a deal with the devil for political expediency.
  • The choice is “to be with Kahanists and enter the Knesset or not to get in but at least being able to look yourself in the mirror,” Channel 13’s Barak Ravid writes on Twitter.
  • Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan Sommer, writing before the deal was sealed, described Otzma Yehudit as a toxic ugly duckling that nobody really wants around.
  • “Otzma’s platform reflects its [Kahanist] roots. The ultra-nationalist and anti-Arab party opposes any form of a Palestinian state and any relationship or negotiation with the Palestinian Authority, while calling for outright annexation of the entire West Bank and cancellation of the Oslo Accords. It also calls for Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, embraces deportation, aspires to ‘a Jewish majority and a loyal civilian population through emigration,’ and says Israel should employ ‘every legal means that will help the enemy leave our land,’” she writes.

5. Unite against the right: Meanwhile, last minute negotiations are taking place between Gantz’s party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

  • Gantz and Lapid spoke Tuesday night, and sources with knowledge of the negotiations were quoted by the Ynet news site as saying the conversation “went well” and that the two leaders would be meeting in the morning.
  • However by late Wednesday morning, there is no word on any talks or progress.
  • Channel 13’s Seffi Ovadia notes that it’s not clear if a Gantz-Lapid merger will actually help unseat Netanyahu, given the complicated coalition calculus.
  • “The central question isn’t whether a large merger will manage to grow the biggest bloc in the next Knesset, but whether it can siphon off votes from the right, without hurting its sister parties and having them fall below the threshold,” he writes.

6. Letter loiter: Factions have until Thursday to finalize and submit their Knesset slates. Once that happens, they will be able to pick a letter combination of letters to go on the ticket that voters put in the ballot boxes.

  • With several new parties and only a few open letters with which to make combinations, parties are beginning to to tussle over spots in line to get the letters they want, which are given on a first-come first serve basis.
  • Israel Hayom reports that New Right and Gesher have had people camping out in line outside the Knesset office where the letters are registered for three days.
  • Ynet notes that the remaining letters that are being fought over “aren’t the most attractive”: zayin (which is slang for male genitalia), yud, nun, kuf (which sounds the word for monkey), chaf sofit, nun sofit, peh sofit and tzadi sofit.
  • “Combinations like zach (zayin-chaf sofit, “clear”) or netz (nun-tzadi sofit, “hawk”) will be snapped up first,” the site reports.
  • In 2013, Eldad Yaniv’s Eretz Hadasha party gladly grabbed the zayin, and told voters to essentially “put a dick in the ballot box.” Shockingly, the party did not make it into the Knesset.

7. Sanders and Israel: In the US, electoral politics are also heating up, with Bernie Sanders announcing another run for president.

  • Haaretz’s Amir Tibon writes, “His nomination all but assures that questions about Israel, the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington and its policies will, at some point, become central to the campaign.”
  • JTA’s Ben Sales asks whether Sanders’s views on Israel, which have been to the left of much of Congress, are now mainstream with Democrats moving in that direction.
  • “Observers say he has helped make it kosher to criticize Israel within the party. And the landscape has changed as well in ways that make Sanders look more like a centrist. Two freshman congresswomen have endorsed the movement to boycott Israel, which Sanders opposes. Netanyahu has a steadfast bromance with President Donald Trump, whom Democrats detest. Polls show weakening Democratic sympathies with Israel versus the Palestinians,” he writes.
  • At least another Sanders likes Israel. Globes reports that the Colonel will soon be making a comeback, with buckets of chicken for everyone.

8. French drip (of anti-Semitism): The Israeli press has latched on to a growing anti-Semitism problem in France, with it being portrayed as having reached crisis levels.

  • Gil Taieb, a top official in French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, tells Army Radio, “We can no longer say it’s good to live in France. For the first time — we don’t know what will be tomorrow.”
  • Yedioth quotes another Jewish leader saying “We don’t know how much more we can last. This isn’t ending, shock after shock. I feel nauseous.”
  • While most blame right-wing populists for the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, in Israel Hayom’s op-ed page Hanan Shai writes that the real culprit is a new ism: Essentialism, which he describes as essentially a liberal form of communism seeking to erase national borders and ethnicities in the name of multiculturalism.
  • “Like Communism, essentialism cannot make peace with the old order, and since it’s prevented from embracing classical anti-Semitism, it focuses on hating Jews in Israel, whose insistence on protecting their nationality via a basic law is a red line.”
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