As Israel enters the last week before elections, a relatively dull and dormant election season finally picks up steam. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has much reason to worry after polls by the Knesset Channel and Channel 2 both showed his party losing ground while Zionist Union, the Labor-Hatnua amalgamation, forges ahead.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon may draw consolation from the fact that while his party is not gaining traction in the polls; it is at least not seen to be losing support. Kahlon says the identity of the next prime minister depends on his recommendation and indeed all drafts for a possible coalition include Kulanu. With a possible eight Knesset seats for Kulanu, maybe Netanyahu and Herzog should listen.
Late on Tuesday a video surfaced claiming to show the execution by Islamic State of an East Jerusalem Palestinian who the group accused of being a Mossad agent.
The Times of Israel covered events as they unfolded.
Herzog mum on whether he’d join unity gov’t
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog distances himself from comments made by painter Yair Garbuz and playwright Yehoshua Sobol and said they were not connected to his party.
The two men of letters (Garbuz is also a prolific writer) earlier this week and over the weekend made comments which could be construed as dismissive of traditional and religious people.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Herzog said he is a traditional man who goes to the synagogue occasionally and believes all people should be allowed to live according to their faith.
Asked whether he would agree to join a unity government with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Herzog said he had no intention of conducting coalition negotiations “already today.”
Poll gives Zionist Union 3-seat edge over Likud
A new Knesset Channel poll with just over 1,000 respondents gives Zionist Union 24 Knesset seats, Likud 21, Yesh Atid 14, the Joint (Arab) List 13, Jewish Home 12, Kulanu 9, Shas 7, UTJ 6, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz five seats apiece and Eli Yishai’s Yachad four.
The poll was published early Tuesday morning. The margin of error was not stated.
‘No matter who’s PM, peace process is stuck’
Almost two-thirds of Israeli Jews do not think Palestinians will more readily come to an agreement with Israel if a Herzog/Livni government led the country instead of a Likud government.
According to the monthly Peace Index poll, published by the Israel Democracy Institute in conjunction with Tel Aviv University, 32% of Israeli Arabs believed the party which forms the next government will have an influence on talks between Israel and the Palestinians, while 31% thought it makes no difference.
Almost half of Israelis (49%) believe the Obama administration will be friendlier to a government led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. Thirty-three percent believe the US administration will not treat a Herzog/Livni government differently than it does now the Likud government led by Netanyahu. A minority of 7% believe Obama will be more hostile to Herzog and Livni than he is perceived to be toward Netanyahu.
The survey was conducted on March 1-3, i.e., before Netanyahu’s Congress speech and the responses from the White House. Six hundred respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult population of Israel participated. The margin of error is ±4.1%.
Yadlin boycotts parley over Marzel attendance
The Zionist Union’s candidate for defense minister, Amos Yadlin, leaves an election gathering held at Bar-Ilan University after finding out that right-wing activist Baruch Marzel is one of the participants.
Yadlin was notified in advance that Marzel will not be taking part, a spokesperson told Israel Radio, but the Bar-Ilan University Student Union denied any agreement on the matter.
A Yadlin representative tells the station that he was told he would be appearing alongside public figures who do not share his views, “but only those who cherish democracy.”
PM boasts influence of Congress speech
Following his speech before Congress, officials in the US and across the world have become more receptive to Israel’s fears over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists.
Talking to a cadre of high-ranking IDF officers, the PM reiterates that he believes the impending deal between Iran and major world powers in its current form will enable Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.
“One week after my address to Congress I get the impression that there are more and more voices, especially in the US but also in other places, that support Israel’s position,” Netanyahu says.
— Avi Lewis
Knives out between Jewish Home, Yesh Atid
The Jewish Home party fires back at Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid after his comments at a conference of business organizations this morning. Lapid boasted of his party’s achievements and accused Naftali Bennett of harming the Israeli economy.
“Lapid is misleading the public on a whole new level here, painting a reality which never existed,” senior Jewish Home officials tell the NRG news website.
The Yesh Atid leader “attacks Bennett because he has no answers of his own,” the officials add. “The public has had enough of politicians who play the ad hominem game. It’s time he answered questions.
“We have yet to hear from Lapid answers as to why, when he was finance minister, he blocked Bennett’s initiatives for unemployment payments for independents, tax breaks for small businesses and raising the wage of IDF soldiers. Now, he promises precisely these things. The public wants results, not excuses.”
Deri pegs odds of sitting with Lapid in gov’t at ‘zero’
Shas leader Aryeh Deri tells Ynet the odds of him sharing a government with Yesh Atid are “negligible, close to zero.”
Deri says he was personally offended by Lapid’s suggestion to “rehabilitate” Deri during a Channel 2 campaign two weeks ago.
Lapid made the comment during the debate in reference to Deri being convicted in court for bribery and other offenses.
“A younger lad sits there, and with all due respect I don’t know why he would have more rights than me. This guy tells me ‘I’ll help you and rehabilitate you.’ Where does he get this racism from?”
Deri adds that he does not “reject Lapid because of the personal tone of his comments but because of his campaign of excluding ultra-Orthodox [citizens of Israel].”
Has Netanyahu run his course as PM?
With only a week left until Israelis go to the ballot boxes, predicting the outcome has become more of a gamble. A known fact, which most serious pollsters take into account, is that Israelis tend to lie on surveys. Election results in Israel have notoriously been known to make even the most experienced statisticians blush when real exit polls are published.
Here’s the take of Times of Israel’s founding editor David Horovitz.
Arab list candidate says IS inspired by Zionism
The Bar-Ilan University election conference boycotted by Amos Yadlin becomes stormy, as the head of the Joint (Arab) List’s communications unit, Raja Za’atra, says Islamic State was “inspired” by Zionism and that Hamas is not a terror organization.
“From where did IS learn these crimes? Look at what the Zionist movement did in 1948. The rapes, looting, massacres – were all carried out also here,” News1, an online service, quotes Za’atra as saying.
Asked whether Hamas is a terror organization, Za’atra answers: “No. A people living under occupation has a right to resist the occupation.”
Abdullah ties IS to Palestinian cause
King Abdullah II of Jordan warns that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is essential for combating Islamic extremists, saying the conflict serves as a rallying cry for jihadists.
Abdullah tells the European Parliament that the battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria was “first and foremost” a fight for Muslim nations to carry out.
Jordan has stepped up its role in the US-led coalition against IS after the group burned to death a captured Jordanian military pilot in a grisly video released last month.
But Abdullah says the root problem was the world’s failure to “defend Palestinian rights.”
“This failure sends a dangerous message,” he says, “and it has given the extremists a powerful rallying cry. They exploit the injustices and the lingering conflict, to build legitimacy and recruit foreign fighters across Europe and the world.”
Meretz campaign focuses on party’s survival
With a dire showing in polls and after the Joint (Arab) List refused to sign a vote-sharing agreement due to its being “overly Zionist,” Meretz heads into the last week of the election campaign with a message stressing its sheer survival is in jeopardy.
Online ads run the message “We must not lose Meretz – it depends on you!” alternating with “One cannot live in a merciless country.”
On its website, the party says voters “must not buy into the spin of Zionist Union according to which replacing the government depends on the number of Knesset seats of the largest party,” but rather “on the number of seats of the parties in the larger bloc.”
Meretz has been bleeding votes to Zionist Union, while some of its radical left electorate – even Jewish Israelis – have not abandoned Hadash following the unification of Arab parties and intend to vote for the Joint (Arab) List.
PA gov’t slams Liberman’s ‘racist’ remarks
The Palestinian government issued a harsh condemnation of “the racist call to murder by the extremist Liberman, who said the heads of Palestinians should be taken off with an ax. This is a clear call for the murder of Palestinians and Arabs and an ethnic cleansing campaign.”
The announcement also said that “the Palestinian government stresses that the hate from Liberman necessitates that the international community condemn him, boycott him and try him at the International Criminal Court over his terrorist exclamations.”
The announcement comes in response to a comment by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman who said earlier this week that Israel should “wield an ax and cut off the heads” of Israeli-Arab and Palestinian terrorists.
Herzog, Livni slam Joint List member’s remarks
Zionist Union issues a harsh condemnation of Joint (Arab) List man Raja Za’atra’s comparison of IS to Zionism. In a statement, the heads of Zionist Union called on the heads of the Joint List to distance themselves from the comments made by the head of the party’s communications unit.
“The comparison between inhuman terrorist beheading experts to a nation that was reborn and gave so much to the world is despicable and shows ignorance and hatred. We believe the Arab citizens of Israel expect the Joint List to advance their rights and needs and solve their economic and social problem, instead of inflaming hatred and lies. It is very said that those pretending to speak for the Joint List harm the will of both Arabs and Jews to coexist.”
Earlier, Za’atra said: “From where did IS learn these crimes? Look at what the Zionist movement did in 1948. The rapes, looting, massacres – were all carried out also here.” He was quoted on News1, an online service.
Asked whether Hamas was a terror organization, Za’atra answered: “No. A people living under occupation has a right to resist the occupation.”
Housing starts in 2014 lower than 2013
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that construction for new housing was on the decline across Israel during 2014, reflecting negatively on a government already tainted by a comptroller report which accused it of not doing enough to fight the rise in the cost of housing.
The number of housing starts in 2014 was 8% lower than in 2013, especially in areas where demand is high.
According to the data, a full one-third of construction that was completed during the past year came from private homes or duplexes – i.e., houses for the richer citizens of the country.
In Jerusalem, Haifa and the northern region, a minor increase in housing starts was noted. This was not enough, however, to halt the overall downward trend.
According to Channel 2, in West Bank settlements the drop in housing starts is more steep – with 52% fewer housing starts than the previous year.
Qatar to build 1,000 Gaza homes
Qatar launches a project to build 1,000 homes in the Gaza Strip to house Palestinians displaced by last summer’s war between Hamas and Israel.
The Gulf state, which hosts the exiled leadership of Gaza’s Islamist rulers, was the largest single donor at an October conference in Cairo to raise funds to help rebuild the blockaded territory.
“Qatar made a pledge at the donors conference. Today we are putting that into effect, by beginning construction of 1,000 housing units,” the head of the Qatari project, Mohammed al-Emadim, says at a news conference in Gaza City.
He doesn’t specify where in the densely populated coastal enclave the homes would be built.
Qatar pledged $1 billion at the conference, almost a fifth of the total $5.4 billion promised in international aid.
Jihadi John’s translator speaks out
An Islamic State man who served as the translator from Arabic to English for “Jihadi John,” an executioner speaking English with a pronounced London accent, was interviewed and described a “hierarchy of killing” that members of the group adhere to.
According to a report in Sky News, the man says he saw “Jihadi John” kill Japanese citizen Kenji Goto with his own eyes.
The man also described how “Jihadi John” would give the cameraman during IS-filmed executions directions on where to put the camera and other “artistic” decisions, as well as how many IS members were allowed to kill Syrian captives, but only “Jihadi John” was allowed to execute prisoners from Western countries.
Read the full story here.
Kahlon promises to open more banks
Moshe Kahlon says “so long as our party will be kingmaker we will go with whoever is willing to close social gaps,” insisting that he is not beholden to either PM Netanyahu’s Likud or to any other party.
In a Channel 2 interview where social justice leader Dafni Leef was listening in and allowed to ask Kahlon two questions, the Kulanu leader promises Leef that he will nationalize welfare services that were deregulated in recent years.
Kahlon rejected Leef’s accusation that as welfare minister he did not fight the deregulation of several services that lie within the purview of the Welfare Ministry. “This was the doing of Isaac Herzog, who was welfare minister before me, though naturally I don’t blame him” since Herzog was carrying the government’s policy at the time, Kahlon says.
“I am on principle against deregulation of institutions which take care of people. Some services, the state must buy them from outside, but not those dealing with people. Wherever we find faults – we will re-nationalize services,” Kahlon says.
Kahlon also says he wants to open new banks and says Netanyahu, Bennet, Lapid and Herzog “all know” there are only three banks in Israel. “The largest bank in the US has 15% of the banking market and there is constant pressure on it to shrink… here there three banks in the entire system,” the finance-minister-hopeful says.
‘Israel should invest more in manufacturing’
Industrial magnate Stef Wertheimer says Israel is justified in boasting its booming hi-tech sector but would be wise to invest in manufacturing and the industrial sector.
“Tech is important, but if you look at even the successful tech start-ups, you see they employ only dozens of people at most. Tech is never going to have the impact on the job market that manufacturing has,” Wertheimer says in an exclusive interview with the Times of Israel.
To read the full interview, click here.
2 dead, 46 hurt in blast at Sinai army post
A suicide bomber and roadside explosives targeting police and military in northeastern Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula kill two and wound 46 early Tuesday, security officials say. In a city south of Cairo, two suspected terrorists died when a bomb they were carrying on a motorbike explodes.
Egypt has battled a burgeoning insurgency in northern Sinai for years but attacks against army and police there have dramatically increased since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. The military has carried out an extensive offensive against militants in the region, declared a state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Authorities also demolished houses near the Gaza border to combat trafficking of arms and jihadists through underground tunnels.
In the first attack, the suicide bomber drove a stolen water tanker packed with explosives to the police compound in el-Arish city. His refusal to slow down at the gate prompted police to fire at the vehicle, setting off the explosives inside, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
A civilian passerby, a driver for the nearby electricity company, was killed. Most of the policemen were wounded by shrapnel.
Later, Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif said the bomber was trying to reach a nearby hotel where a large number of police officers reside.
Shortly after, an army officer was killed and three soldiers wounded when suspected militants blew up their armored vehicle using roadside explosives a few kilometers (miles) from the site of the first bombing, officials said.
Yadlin says PM’s speech alienated Democrats
Zionist Union’s candidate for the role of defense minister, Amos Yadlin, says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the US Congress last week “destroyed the possibility of recruiting Democratic senators and representative for a majority which could overrule a presidential veto.”
A responsible government, Yadlin tells Israel Radio, needs to come to an understanding with the US that if Iran breaks any agreement signed with it, the sanctions regime should be immediately reinstated and a military attack of nuclear facilities considered.
Yadlin says Netanyahu’s speech drove a wedge in Congress and leaves no option for a two-thirds majority which has the power to overrule a veto by the president.
Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, who was interviewed alongside Yadlin, says the Americans “can’t be trusted” to increase sanctions on Iran, “let alone attack its nuclear facilities.”
IDF officer lightly hurt by shooting from Syria
An IDF officer was lightly wounded in the Golan Heights from shooting from across the Syrian border.
The officer is part of a unit conducting routine security operations in Kibbutz Elrom.
Ex-caretaker of PM’s Residence says he has more incriminating info on Netanyahu
Former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence Menny Naftali says he can “make life really hard for the prime minister” ahead of the election, but is avoiding doing so. Naftali says he will have his say when the time comes and urges Israeli to “watch TV this evening.” Naftali makes the comments on an Israel Radio show.
In a testimony filed at the Jerusalem Labor Court by attorney Amnon Zakai, who was in charge of grocery shopping for the Prime Minister’s Residence, it is written that Naftali is a “violent and rude man” who “abused his subordinates.”
Shmuley Boteach apologizes to Susan Rice for ad
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach apologizes to US National Security Adviser Susan Rice for his organization’s full-page ad in The New York Times accusing Rice of turning a blind eye to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
In an Op-Ed in the Washington Post titled “Dear Susan Rice, I’m Sorry,” Boteach said that the ad placed by This World was more of a personal attack than an opinion on policy.
“That was not our intent,” Boteach wrote. “We hoped to focus on policy, and we failed. I apologize fully and hope you will forgive me. It is the job of a communicator to communicate. Effectively. And having come up short, I will try again.”
The ad, which said “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide,” noted Rice’s complaints about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress on the proposed Iran nuclear deal. It said Rice’s objections “could not be more wrong” and criticized her for refusing to use the word “genocide” in reference to Rwanda as a member of President Bill Clinton’s national security team.
An array of Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federations of North America, condemned the ad, which ran on Feb. 28.
Channel 2 poll gives Zionist Union 25 seats
A new Channel 2 poll finds Zionist Union with 25 Knesset seats and Likud with 21 – the widest gap measured in surveys so far.
Third largest come the Joint (Arab) List and Jewish Home with 13 seats each, Yesh Atid with 12, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu with 8 seats, Shas with 7 seats, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism with 6 seats each, Meretz with 5 seats and Yachad with 4 Knesset seats.
According to these results, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog could establish a 64-MK coalition, giving him a narrow majority, with Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu. Natural ally Meretz would presumably refuse to be part of a coalition with ultra-Orthodox parties.
A second option for Herzog revolves around the notion of sharing power with Likud: A government with Zionist Union, Likud, Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Shas and UTJ would be 73 MKs strong.
On the other side, Netanyahu could easily establish a narrow right-leaning government with Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ and Yachad, and reach 65 MKs. It is widely assumed Netanyahu would not wish to establish a very hawkish government, however.
Regarding the man most suited to fill the role of prime minister, Netanyahu still enjoys a strong lead with 49% support against Herzog’s 36%, the poll finds. 15% of respondents were not sure either way.
1,003 respondents took part in the survey, which has a margin of error of 3%.
Presentation of deal on circumcision postponed
A proposal to cancel a requirement for signed parental consent for a controversial circumcision rite set to be presented to the New York Board of Health was postponed.
City officials said Monday that the metzitzah b’peh plan would be presented to the Board of Health in June and voted on at the next meeting, The Wall Street Journal reported. In February, a coalition of rabbinic leaders and city officials said they reached agreement on the rite and that the proposal would be presented to the board this month.
“The administration and the coalition of religious leaders are formalizing specific terms of the agreement around metzitzah b’peh,” the city said in a statement from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released Monday, according to the newspaper.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed source familiar with the negotiations as saying that the delay was “largely related to the city working out the specifics on how public health investigations will be conducted.” There also were some legal issues, according to the source.
Metzitzah b’peh, in which the mohel sucks blood from the wound following circumcision, is a common traditional practice among many haredi Orthodox mohels. When performed directly with the mouth as opposed to through a sterile pipette, it has been directly linked to the transmission of the herpes virus.
Under the agreement, if an infant is found to have herpes associated with the ritual, the mohel will be tested for that strain of the virus, and if discovered to carry it will be banned for life from performing the ritual.
Herzog reportedly wooing Peres for support
Channel 2 reports that Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog is trying to convince former president Shimon Peres to pull his weight behind Herzog’s campaign. According to the report, which was based on anonymous sources, officials in Zionist Union told Herzog recruiting Peres would actually be counterproductive and may hurt the party.
Herzog in response says “I am not dealing with this, these reports are sheer nonsense.”
Rivlin urges unsure citizens to ‘go and vote’
President Reuven Rivlin invites more than 100 Israelis who declared on Facebook they are not going to vote to his official residence in Jerusalem, in order to try and convince them to go to the ballots next Tuesday.
According to a report on Ynet, Rivlin tells the guests that “desperation is the enemy of democracy.” Rivlin called on them to examine their priorities, “choose what is best for you, those who deal with what is important to you. Desperation increases the power of extreme, violent groups which are dangerous for everyone. Those who choose not to vote hurt those closest to them.”
New IS video purportedly shows execution of ‘Mossad agent’
A new video release by Islamic State, one of the most stylish and professionally edited clips to date, shows what the terror group claims is the execution of a Palestinian from east Jerusalem who was accused of being a Mossad agent.
The executioner in the new clip is a wee boy about 12 or 13-years old. Wearing commando fatigues, and standing near an older fighter in his 20s, the older IS fighter recites an Islamist text in French, with a heavy Arabic accent.
The boy is then shown to shoot the man from point blank, once until the captive collapses and then several more times.
Parts of the difficult-to-watch clip are filmed in stylish black and white or extreme slow motion, all in high definition. It is hard to say whether the clip shows a genuine execution.
Massive strike in South planned for Thursday
Residents of southern Israel plan to strike in factories and public authorities from Ashdod to Eilat on Thursday. The Histadrut Labor Union publishes a list of places expected to take part in the strike.
The initiative comes two days after termination letters sent to hundreds of employees at Israel Chemicals Ltd. Enter into effect.
Apart from factories, social and public services like the Israel Postal Service, Eilat Airport, Eilat and Ashdod sea ports, Mekorot and the Israel Electric Company.
Israel Railways, Wizo services and the health and special education systems will not take part in the strike.