Promises, promises: 6 things to know for March 11
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Promises, promises: 6 things to know for March 11

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is flogged as a turncoat after apparently dooming Arab-backed government; but some note Benny Gantz was also quick to drop his campaign vows

Labour-Gesher party co-chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis at a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 11, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )
Labour-Gesher party co-chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis at a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 11, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )

1. She did what? Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’ decision to oppose a Blue and White-led minority government backed by the Arab-majority Joint List, effectively dooming the bid, makes headlines on Wednesday and prompts calls by fellow party members for her immediate resignation.

  • The union of Levy-Abekasis’ Gesher with the ailing Labor party and left-wing Meretz was always an awkward one, as the former was previously a member of the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party until 2016 and made no claim to have reversed her right-wing positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other matters. Her strong focus, however, on social issues — along with fears the greatly weakened left-wing parties would crumble in the elections — allowed the alliance to move ahead. Still, the reversal of her position on a Joint List-backed government caught many by surprise, including, reportedly, Labor leader Amir Peretz.
  • “She didn’t update me,” a source close to Peretz is quoted by Yedioth Ahronoth as saying. “He’s in total shock. He feels betrayed.”
  • Yedioth quotes sources in the left-wing alliance as estimating that Levy-Abekasis is on her way to joining the Likud party, in exchange for a ministerial portfolio and party support for the presidency of her father, former minister David Levy of Likud. “She wouldn’t be behaving this way if she didn’t close a deal first with Likud,” an official is quoted as saying.
  • Peretz has yet to comment, but Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz called for her to immediately step down; in her statement, Levy-Abekasis had also said she was not beholden to the partnership with Meretz. “MK Orly Levy must return the mandate,” Horowitz says. “Her comments are irresponsible and outrageous. During the entire election campaign, Labor-Gesher-Meretz members, including herself, clarified that they support a narrow government led by [Benny] Gantz and supported by the Joint List. Her about-face on this promise spits in the face of voters. She must leave the seat she received from left-wing votes.”
  • Her statement came hours after Blue and White MK Yair Lapid said openly for the first time that his party was seeking to form a minority government — with Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu — backed on the outside by the Joint List. Two rightist members of the centrist party, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, have vowed to oppose it, but Levy-Abekasis’ vote was the clincher that appeared to make it an impossibility.
  • In his Facebook post, Lapid said there were two alternatives: a minority government or fourth elections.
  • “Orly Levy has chosen fourth elections,” tweets Channel 13’s international correspondent Nadav Eyal.

2. Off with her head. Or his: In the papers, some pundits go straight for her jugular.

  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Sima Kadmon goes ahead and brands Levy-Abekasis a backstabbing traitor.
  • “Chutzpah, opportunism, cowardice, betrayal – there is no word that would be too hyperbolic to describe what MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, No. 2 on Labor-Gesher-Meretz, did when she announced she wouldn’t support a minority government supported by Balad and the [rest of the] Joint List. And to ensure that the thrusting of the knife in the back of the party was deadly enough, she continued to twist in when she added that she doesn’t view herself as committed to the alliance with Meretz, a partnership that she claimed was ‘forced upon me and Amir Peretz my partner by many people, including Blue and White.'”
  • Kadmon writes that unlike the rightist Blue and White MKs Hendel and Hauser, Levy-Abekasis has openly backed the prospect of a Joint List-backed coalition, as recent interviews shared on social media yesterday attest.
  • Others see Peretz of Labor as responsible. “Amir Peretz insisted on Orly Levy despite the fact that her electoral value is like that of a plane ticket to Paris in the age of corona[virus]. If he can’t ensure her loyalty to the voters, let him pack already,” tweets Haaretz’s political correspondent Chaim Levinson.
  • “I don’t understand the excitement around Orly Levy,” adds Haaretz analyst Anshel Pfeffer on Twitter. “It was expected that she would probably defect [to the right] and she was the most obvious candidate. It is indeed a despicable act and electoral fraud but I voted for Labor-Meretz while assuming that would happen. It doesn’t matter. Most of the country voted against Netanyahu by a wide margin of 120,000 votes and in the Knesset there are still 61-59 against a government led by him. Get to work.”

3. What about Blue and White’s vows? From the right, many point out that despite the left’s anger at Levy-Abekasis, Blue and White openly walked back its campaign promise not to negotiate with the Joint List, without facing a public flogging.

  • “Notice: You cannot harp on the breaking of a promise of a single MK after an entire week of supporting the broken promises of 31 MKs. I mean you can, but it’s a little hypocritical,” tweets Channel 12’s political analyst Amit Segal.
  • Writes Haim Shine of the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom: “[Blue and White MK Moshe] ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon and Gantz promised dozens of times they wouldn’t sit in a government with the Joint List and wouldn’t form a coalition supported by it. Now it has become clear that they lied brazenly to the citizens of Israel. There is a limit to what Israelis are willing to tolerate in the name of the sick hatred of Netanyahu.”
  • In an apparent pivot toward wishful thinking, he adds: Blue and White “will soon be remembered as a curiosity. It is my hope that Orly Levy successfully convinces, for the sake of the good of the country, Amir Peretz and [Labor MK Itzhik] Shmuli to cut themselves off from Meretz, which represents the radical far-left and join a responsible government, since we have no other country.”

4. Battling for public opinion: For other dovish observers, the current political turmoil reflects a broader opportunity, namely to correct the troubled relationship between the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens.

  • In a column in Yedioth, former Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin writes: “Fellow citizens of the State of Israel, this is the time to say clearly — yes, the Joint List is a legitimate political partner. Just as the non-Zionist Haredim are legitimate partners, and just as the racist Kahanists were ‘made kosher’ without batting an eye, for the sake of fighting for the immunity of the accused of Balfour Street [Netanyahu]… Whoever calls us traitors, or non-Jews, or leftists, for supporting the original, desired and uncompromising vision of the State of Israel — they are the real traitors to the essence of the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, which is based on the values of liberty, justice and peace, in the spirit of the prophets of Israel.”
  • Sami Peretz of Haaretz urges the army generals leading Blue and White to put up a fight for public opinion: “There are a lot of dangers in forming a narrow government, beginning with the possibility it won’t last, to the branding of Blue and White as too left-wing, dragging it down to the single digits [of seats in a future election] and ending with its collapse. But Blue and White must dare. They have generals who have led military campaigns and killed more Palestinians than any other figure on the right. They knew how to fight, and it’s hard to attribute pacifism to them. And yet, they give off the impression that in the fight for public opinion they are weak and hesitant. This is both in regards to the legitimacy of relying on the [outside] support of the Joint List and in the importance of including the Arab public in the democratic game… Gantz and his friends appear themselves to be hesitant on the legitimacy of relying on the Joint List vote. But if they really intend to replace Netanyahu and form a narrow government, they must launch an advocacy battle for public opinion. If they don’t, they might as well write a letter capitulating and entering Netanyahu’s government.”

5. Are the kids all right? Meanwhile the rising number of coronavirus cases in Israel continues to preoccupy the dailies.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom lead with the youngest yet Israeli to contract the disease, a 9-year-old boy from central Israel.
  • The number of infections in Israel hits 76.
  • New measures have been introduced, including warnings to avoid nursing homes and a cap on gatherings at 2,000.
  • Haaretz interviews the owners of event halls, who worry about their future, noting waves of cancellations and saying guest lists have been slashed by half. Many customers are also pressing them to ensure the areas are sanitized, they say.
  • The paper also reports that the Education Ministry is gearing up for the possibility of canceling the matriculation exams for high school students and having classes held from home. It says 5,000 students are currently quarantined at home, 800 of them entering isolation on Tuesday due to exposure to a group of German tourists.

6. Is Israel ready for this? Yedioth says hospitals are not adequately preparing for the outbreak and will likely face a shortage of beds if the virus were to spread further. The hospitals are seeking to send patients with non-threatening illnesses home for monitoring, but are awaiting Health Ministry approval to do so.

  • “Sources in hospitals say the expected overload, which already sees a shortage of beds, will only increase. In such a situation, it will be difficult to treat the patients, which will only increase fatalities from infection. The hospitals say they understand the immediate need to start clearing out the wards, but sources in the healthcare system claim they aren’t doing so because if they send the sick home, it will likely incur great financial loss, since their budgets are conditioned on capacity.”
  • “As of today, the hospitals have been instructed to designate just 30 beds in the wards for coronavirus cases. These numbers are too small, and are not sufficient for the scenarios the Health Ministry are predicting, in which tens of thousands [are hospitalized],” it reports.
  • Israel Hayom reports that 900 doctors and nurses are currently in home isolation, most of them due to travel abroad.
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