Israel media review

Right of passage: 8 things to know for March 12

A Likud-led bloc appears to be gaining in the polls thanks to lots of little parties, and Blue and White may be veering hard to the right in response

Union of Right Wing Parties' candidates from the Jewish Home and National Union parties at the joint list's campaign launch event in the Jerusalem Gardens Hotel on March 11, 2019. (Miri Shmanovitz)
Union of Right Wing Parties' candidates from the Jewish Home and National Union parties at the joint list's campaign launch event in the Jerusalem Gardens Hotel on March 11, 2019. (Miri Shmanovitz)

1. Right gains might: Another day, another poll showing gains for the right-wing bloc. Channel 13’s survey published Monday night showed a supposed right-wing bloc getting 64 seats to 56 for a center-left bloc that includes support from Israel’s Arab-led parties.

  • The poll projects Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu and Zehut all getting into the Knesset with four seats, unlike other recent polls which have shown Yisrael Beytenu far from reaching the threshold, and/or Zehut left out.
  • The poll is unique in that it has a much larger sample size than most, 1,300 respondents, which is more than double what most other polls have. But Channel 13 did not publish a margin of error, or any other methodology, making it somewhat suspect.
  • And while the poll is supposed to represent a cross-section of Israeli voters, it’s not at all clear that Russian-speaking is one of the criteria used, which could explain why Yisrael Beytenu, which is supported by older Russian speakers, would have wildly different numbers from poll to poll.
  • In Israel Hayom, which has become something of a campaign tool for Likud, commentator Mati Tuchfeld claims that internal polls by various parties are also showing Blue and White’s electoral strength dropping, writing that the party “is in panic mode.”

2. Joint effort: The poll assumes that Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party would automatically glom onto the right wing, but the party has made it clear that it will only join a coalition that supports legalization of marijuana, making it something of a kingmaker.

  • Seemingly noticing the changing winds, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his party’s Likud TV webcast that he is “looking into” supporting legalization, either trying to draw in weed-smoking voters or get a peace pipe ready for Feiglin.
  • On Twitter, Israel Radio’s Ilan Lior points out all the other times Netanyahu has said he is “looking into” things that never happened, from a casino in Eilat to deporting relatives of terrorists to Gaza.
  • Also not encouraging to those who back legalization is an international police raid Tuesday on the operators of the Telegrass Telegram channel, a popular marketplace for weed and other controlled substances.
  • Several people link the bust to the political goings on and mock the police for concentrating on what seems to be a mostly harmless network, but others note that the group wasn’t only a marketplace for marijuana, but harder substances as well that would be illegal whether or not cannabis was legalized.

3. Weed out: It’s not just Likud that is worried about Feiglin’s rise. United Right Wing Parties No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich calls the Zehut leader an “irresponsible megalomaniac” in an interview with Israel Radio.

  • Smotrich also puts down legalization, accusing Feiglin of trying to flood the streets with drugs and claims he’s never smoked a doobie, “heaven forfend.”
  • In Haaretz, though, op-ed columnist Amira Hass decries Feiglin over his right-wing views that align with Smotrich and the rest of the far right (and not so far right.)
  • Netanyahu’s recent declaration about Israel not being a state of all its citizens was born of “fears that votes might go from him to Feiglin and Kahanist candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir,” she writes.

4. Otzma who? But Ben-Gvir and other Kahanists were kept far from view at an event launching the not very unified URWP, ToI’s Jacob Magid reports.

  • “Otzma Yehudit’s … name was included on the URWP logos plastered on blue and green signs, flags and balloons throughout the darkly-lit auditorium — but representatives, activists and supporters from the extremist party were not visible among the roughly 250 people in attendance,” he reports.
  • While Otzma’s inclusion had set off fighting within the party last month, on Monday night the “limited disagreements voiced at the time of the merger vote last month had dissipated, and if any internal quarrels exist, they were not apparent.”

5. Blue and White and Arab-free: Blue and White meanwhile appeared to lurch rightward at its own event Monday night, the party’s first-ever town hall, with party leader Benny Gantz saying he is open to sitting in a coalition with “anyone Jewish and Zionist,” apparently ruling out non-Jewish minorities as potential partners.

  • A party spokesperson declined to offer an on-record explanation when asked about the comment by The Times of Israel.
  • The comment came as Netanyahu is under fire for his continued delegitimization of the country’s Arabs, especially after he told a model that Israel is not a country of all its citizens but a state for Jews.
  • In the wake of the comments, the Guardian again devotes an editorial to pillorying Netanyahu, writing that “They would be shameful if he were capable of shame.”
  • But the paper also takes aim at Gantz for his hawkish positions, saying he “has positioned himself as the not-Netanyahu rather than anti-Netanyahu candidate.”
  • In Yedioth, columnist Ben Dror Yemini accuses Likud of being the party that is actually trying to make Israel less Jewish.
  • “The real threat against the the Jewish nation-state comes from Netanyahu’s party. That’s where they decided on annexation. That’s where they are working to realize the vision of one big or bi-national state,” he writes.

6. Golan rights: While Likud has pretty much stopped talking about West Bank annexation, while touring the Golan Monday with US senator Lindsey Graham, Netanyahu made an open plea for the US to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic plateau.

  • Graham backed the idea and told reporters he would try to sell it to the Trump administration, with which he has become close.
  • Speaking in Hebrew, Netanyahu said that Graham’s position was already backed by Trump, though his language made it unclear as to whether he meant Graham’s support of Israel or recognizing Golan annexation specifically.
  • It’s not that crazy. In The New York Times, David Halbfinger mentions Golan recognition as something Trump may throw Netanyahu’s way just before the election to give him a boost and get him re-elected.
  • Barak Ravid of Axios and Channel 13 reports that Gantz’s aides think Trump will announce it during an expected meeting at the White House later this month.
  • “Gantz’s aides told me that if Trump does this, it will give Netanyahu a huge achievement to campaign on,” he notes.
  • Asked about the Golan by ToI, the White House refuses comment and the State Department says its position is unchanged.

7. AIPAC picks: Netanyahu won’t be the only one in Washington later this month, with Gantz also confirming that he will be in town to speak at the AIPAC policy conference.

  • Also present will be Oded Revivi, who serves as a so-called foreign envoy for the Yesha Council of settlements, in the first time a settlement leader has been invited to address the confab.
  • AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann tells ToI’s Raphael Ahren that his invitation does not indicate a shift in the organization’s long standing positions.
    “At every policy conference, we have scores of speakers from across the political spectrum — including those with diverse views on settlements — and this year is no different,” he says.

8. Brexit for Jews? Jexodus, a poor portmanteau supposedly supporting Jewish millennials who are leaving the Democrats because of anti-Semitism in the party, got a big boost when first “Fox and Friends” mentioned it and then Trump tweeted about the organization.

  • So who, or what, is Jexodus? The conservative Daily Wire site reports that the movement is the brainchild of Republican activist Jeff Ballabon and other right wingers. Its spokesperson is Trump-backing model Elizabeth Pipko. So while there do appear to be Jews and millennials involved, there don’t seem to be any actual former Democrats.
  • Further making clear that this is likely a clumsy astroturf effort rather than an actual grassroots movement is the fact that the website was registered all the way back on November 5, 2018, before Ilhan Omar and others being accused of anti-Semitism had even been voted in, let alone entered Congress.
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