1. Survey says: Hastily conducted polls released Sunday showed the New Right, the new party carved out of Jewish Home by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, getting anywhere between 6 and 14 seats, and Jewish Home crashing to 3-6 seats (a three-mandate result would push it out of Knesset altogether if current threshold rules stand).
- The polls also showed Likud remaining the top party, though the poll that showed the best result for New Right showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s faction dropping to 25 seats. Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience, meanwhile, remains in the mid-teens, though one poll, by the Walla news outlet, had it sliding to 10 should he bring former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon on board.
- Meanwhile, all the polls have Zionist Union slumping to 10 or below.
- Jeremy Saltan, a former Jewish Home adviser whose Knesset insider blog is a primitive analog to Nate Silver’s 538 website, gives New Right an average of 10.3, Jewish Home a paltry 3.2, Likud 27.6, Israel Resilience 13.4 and Zionist Union 8.8.
- As a whole it’s hard to come away from the polls feeling smarter about the elections and how they will go. Aside from the wide range of results, there’s also the general unreliability of polls, especially in Israel where many pollsters use questionable online and text message surveying methodology if they are transparent about their methodology at all, the fact that nobody knows anything about many of the parties or their platforms, the long time there is still to go before elections and the fact that parties making big news always get a bump (as in the US after a convention).
2. A million little parties: Still, the possible Balkanization of the right wing given the split has led to some worries that the bloc could be weakened, especially should Jewish Home fail to pass the electoral threshold.
- “Tensions on the right are rising. Fears: The split will weaken the bloc,” reads the front page of Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely circulated daily and an echo of Likud’s thinking at the moment.
- The paper plays up Likud attacks on the new party and the fact that Jewish Home could disappear altogether.
- Coupled together with confusion about what Gantz stands for and if he will partner with Ya’alon, the possible rise of Orly Levy Abekasis, whether Bennett or Shaked is the real leader of the New Right and whether they will just join back up with Jewish Home or Likud after the elections, voters and candidates alike are left to navigate a minefield with figurative blindfolds on, hoping only that the picture will clear up in the next 100 days.
- “It seems now more than ever the Israeli public is confused not only between the right and left, but between the smaller parties, satellite parties and sister parties that are blurring identity and befuddling the voters,” Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yuval Karni writes, evincing nostalgia for the good old days when the right and left were dominated by singular parties.
3. Hug of death: Israel Hayom columnist Mati Tuchfeld writes that Netanyahu is still not decided on whether to embrace the New Right as a potential partner in a coalition, or go full throttle against it.
- “The prime minister can give Bennett the same embrace he gave him before the last election — a warm, tight hug that kills him,” he writes, sounding not at all thuggish. “But he should only do that if Bennett says he will recommend Netanyahu to head the government. So long as he doesn’t, he should be a target for attack.”
- But ToI’s Jacob Magid points out that Netanyahu’s bid to scare the settlers into voting for him may not work this time around, noting that some settler leaders boycotted a recent meeting with the premier.
- A “new generation of more combative settler leaders threatens to test the support that the premier may have been able to take for granted for the past four years,” he writes.
- However, at the end of the day, Netanyahu’s argument that anyone but him winning will mean leftists can take their homes away may still win out: “There are those that after the second, third and fourth time, it makes less of an impression on them; but at the end of the day there’s a reason why it’s worked so well for him in the past,” Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damari tells Magid.
4. Battle plans: It’s not only against Bennett and Shaked that Netanyahu may be drawing up battle plans. Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson writes that with so many Netanyahu confidants jumping ship or turning state witness, his campaign may resemble more of an insurgent battle effort than a lumbering regime clinging to power.
- “The Netanyahu of early 2019 is more isolated than ever before. The years of criminal investigations have driven away his most loved friends and trusted aides: Billionaires Arnon Milchan, James Packer and Sheldon Adelson, and his private lawyer and cousin David Shimron, will never speak to him again. His lawyers, Jacob Weinroth and Yaakov Neeman, whom he loved with all his heart and trusted with everything, have passed away,” he writes.
- “Netanyahu sees his campaign headquarters as a small guerrilla organization, inspired by his bureau. The fewer the number of disloyal people, the better. As of now, the focus of his election campaign will be the ‘enormous and unprecedented’ achievements his fourth government is responsible for. The schedule will be made up of big events, those that take control of the day’s agenda, which Netanyahu is an expert in creating.”
5. New Right, old order: The New Right released its logo Sunday, with the most interesting aspect being the order of the names listed as the head of the parties — with Shaked before Bennett.
- This comes days after a Hadashot news survey found Shaked to be the most popular minister, just ahead of Bennett and Netanyahu, and the logo may reflect voters’ likely preference for her.
- ToI’s Raoul Wootliff, notes though, that the party’s slate will have Bennett in the 1 slot with Shaked as his No. 2.
6. He speaks! Meanwhile Benny Gantz is still a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a potential politician, with his seemingly deliberate silence getting more and more attention.
- Gantz showed up at a memorial for writer Amos Oz and was surrounded by the press there, managing to speak a few actual words, in English no less(!), which garners magical excitement among the jabbering journos and puttering pundits covering this election.
I call this "Exit Benny Gantz pursued by the press". pic.twitter.com/HFQy4guxbN
— Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) December 31, 2018
- His stirring oratory will surely make those who assume Israel lost its greatest voice in Oz think twice: “It’s all about Israel,” he says, sending hearts soaring heavenward with his poetic vision. “Left, right, doesn’t matter.”
ברייקינג: גנץ דיבר 5 שניות pic.twitter.com/6vZ153vEC5
— יענקי פרבר (@yankihebrew) December 31, 2018
- Gantz’s silence, uncharacteristic for a politician, let along an Israeli, has become a running joke, but the move is likely genius, ensuring he retains an air of mystery, alienating himself from as few potential voters as possible and making it so that when he finally does open his yapper, he’ll get all the headlines, no matter what he says.
- Even now, those five seconds of pabulum are enough to garner headlines that can only make Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon drool.
7. The boys from Brazil: While Gantz and Bennett get the headlines, Netanyahu is having a ball in Brazil with his good buddy Jair Bolsonaro, as well as getting some rare positive press by eating at a restaurant just like normals do, and playing soccer on Copacabana Beach just like the locals who happen to have large security details with them. Don’t break your leg!
אחרי רצף פגישות מדיניות מוצלחות מאוד בברזיל, יצאנו לפגוש את העם ברחוב. אהבה אדירה למדינת ישראל! ???????? ???????? pic.twitter.com/mqczK3FH9p
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 29, 2018
- Netanyahu’s victory lap included a speech to Jewish leaders in Rio during which he boasted that Bolsonaro told he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, and then a speech before a friendly audience of evangelical Christians.
- The cherry on top there was the presentation to him of a special commemorative stamp with his face on it and a 70, marking the years since Israel’s creation.
- As Haaretz journalist Noa Landau points out, not quite hidden in the 70 is the Hebrew word for “savior,” which may be a bit much, even for a politician who has touted himself as King of the Jews.
Apparently, this new Brazilian stamp was issued today in honor of the visit. Notice: inside the the number 70, the word ‘the savior’ in written in Hebrew. Jesus or Bibi? ???????? pic.twitter.com/I2zO1yDOCx
— Noa Landau נעה לנדאו (@noa_landau) December 30, 2018
8. One shot, three takes: A New York Times investigation published Sunday found an Israeli sniper had indeed been responsible for the killing of a popular Palestinian medic on the Gaza border on June 1, raising many questions about the army’s conduct, policies and own probe into the incident.
- The report also serves to illustrate how ideological biases inherent in Israel’s top newspapers come through in stories like this.
- Left-leaning Haaretz’s headline reads “The paramedic who was shot by the IDF did not pose a danger to troops.” Populist Yedioth’s headline focuses on the incident being reported at all and how it will make Israel look, calling it “the investigation that embarrassed Israel.” And righty Israel Hayom goes with Israel’s already declared response that “The IDF did not intentionally shoot the paramedic who was killed on the Gaza border.”