1. Fun with polls: With just a few days to go before polls open, campaigns are hitting their home stretches. But after three months of electioneering, it’s unclear the results will be significantly different from the deadlock produced last time around.
- A series of polls published Thursday showed both the right-wing religious bloc and left-center-secular camp unable to form a majority without reaching across the aisle.
- That includes a Knesset channel poll that gave Likud a whopping 36 seats, 4-5 more than anybody else, and dropped Otzma Yehudit out of the running. Other polls put Blue and White with a slight lead, but without enough support to parlay it into much more.
- Israel Hayom published a poll Friday morning heralding on its front page a Blue and White-led left-center coalition with 62 seats, i.e. a majority, compared to only 58 for the right-religious.
- One needs to read between the lines, though, to understand this supposed majority of 62 seats is not actually new and not actually possible, since it means putting the Joint (Arab) List together with Yisrael Beytenu, a scenario about as likely as Israel winning the World Cup.
- It’s not surprising that the paper, regarded as a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, would push such a narrative, as it wants Likud to appear as an underdog to scare the party’s supporters into making sure to vote.
- Channel 12 looks at the same polls and sees a lead opening up for Likud. “The gevald campaign worked,” the channel says on its Mako website.
2. Fuzzy numbers: Haaretz’s Yossi Verter calls the polls predicting no clear winner a “bad dream.”
- “The latest polls paint a despairing picture. Like a bad dream that recurs nightly, they do not forecast a clear-cut decision on September 17. If no electoral breakthrough occurs in the next few days (though it usually does at this stage), we will find ourselves, on the morning after, mired deep in a political and constitutional nightmare,” he writes.
- Crunching the numbers a bit more, Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur finds a wealth of possible scenarios after the dust settles, a whole lot of horse trading and no clear indication of how things may look in the weeks after September 17 other than fraught.
- “Israeli elections are generally not won on election day, but in the complex coalition-building process that follows. Netanyahu did not win the April 9 race, and would likely have lost it outright had he let the president hand the coalition-building mantle to the next candidate in line, Gantz. To avoid that, he pushed the country to new elections. Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz believe they will have such a ‘reset’ option in the coming round of talks,” he writes.
- Indeed, building a coalition can be messy business, as Israelis were reminded a few months ago. But some pundits who prematurely declared victory for Netanyahu just on virtue of having a potential coalition have apparently not learned their lessons, like Yedioth’s Yuval Karni, who says the whole election will boil down to a simple question: Can Netanyahu and his right-wing allies get to 61 seats.
- In the case it doesn’t — as seems likely — he predicts Blue and White head Benny Gantz will be able to form a unity government with Likud as the second possible outcome.
- “More than anything, Israel just needs a couple of years of stability and conscientiousness. As things look now, Netanyahu is not able to provide that,” Nahum Barnea writes in the same paper.
3. Love the hate: One big question is whether extremist right-wing party Otzma Yehudit will squeak in, possibly changing the math.
- Netanyahu has wavered on whether to back them in the hopes of getting another four seats to glom on to his potential coalition, or to fight them and try to convince voters not to throw their votes away by casting ballots for the Kahanists.
- On Thursday, Channel 12 news juxtaposed Netanyahu saying on Wednesday that a vote for Otzma was a vote in the trash, with his comments on Thursday insisting that they are going to cross the threshold.
- Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu changed his mind about attacking Otzma after being presented with an internal survey from settler leaders showing the extremists getting four seats and then some, and even more if the Chabad Lubavitch community can be convinced they have a chance at making it.
- “The next step is another survey, this time from Likud. If it shows the government stabilizing, he will continue to back Otzma Yehudit. If not, he’ll go back to attacking it.”
- In the meantime, Otzma has no shortage of attackers, as does Netanyahu for ostensibly backing the Kahanists.
- “A right-wing coalition dependent on Otzma would make the current coalition seem like a league of liberal leftists,” writes Chemi Shalev in Haaretz. “It would horrify half of Israel and repel whatever is left of its support in liberal democratic countries and circles. It would advance full speed ahead to annexing the territories, clamp down on the country’s Arab minority and on leftist dissent, and undermine whatever is left of Israel’s checks and balances and rule of law. It is a government that Netanyahu would never dream of heading, were it not for his overriding need to escape the already partially amputated arm of the law.”
4. Will anyone vote? Another big question is one of turnout, with many predicting low numbers thanks to voter apathy for a second round of voting.
- “This is bad news for Israeli democracy” writes Amir Ben David for The Times of Israel. “Many Israelis, regardless of their political affiliation, have lost confidence in the system of government; they don’t appreciate – and sometimes even outright despise – career politicians, and they don’t really believe that those they elect into office will honestly and fairly strive to serve their best interests.”
- Parties and their partisans, meanwhile, are seizing on turnout fears to push their voters to the polls.
- “If the [Tel Aviv area] doesn’t have 70 percent turnout, Netanyahu will almost certainly form a government of ultra-Orthodox and blackmailers,” Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman tells Ynet.
- The message is echoed in ads for both Liberman and Blue and White.
5. Driven to vote? Much attention is being paid to the Arab vote, and whether they will come out in large numbers.
- Channel 13 reports that several groups are running large get-out-the-vote efforts in Arab communities, spending millions of shekels on the campaigns.
- “In Nazareth, the largest Arab city, one can see voting booths, posters and internet campaigns calling on the public to vote,” the channel reports.
- That is in stark contrast to a billboards that went up in some Arab towns during the last election calling on people to boycott the election. According to Channel 12, while some suspected extremists from within the community as being behind the campaign, it turns out it was a Jewish person with an American accent and deep pockets, according to the person who put the campaign up.
- “He told me ‘there are a lot of Arabs who don’t want to vote and we don’t want Arabs to vote. I have a serious amount of money, what do you care to take this amount and put up my campaign?’” he is quoted as saying.
- In Globes, Tal Schnieder asks if Likud’s anti-Arab campaign will actually end up driving them to the polls, though in some 1,000 words she does not actually offer any insight on the matter beyond “we’ll know on Tuesday.”
6. Hero of our timing: Likud does want Russian-speakers to go to the polls, at least if they will vote Netanyahu.
- The prime minister made his most intense pitch for Russian-speakers’ votes with a quick trip to Sochi on Thursday. Though Netanyahu made the trip about security, it was clear he was trying to broadcast his closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- The only problem? Putin was having none of it, offering few warm words for the prime minister, saying nothing of their supposed personal relationship and even keeping him waiting three hours.
- “Cold embrace,” quips Yedioth, and not referring to Russian winters.
- Unlike last time around, when Russia gifted Netanyahu with the return of the remains of a soldier missing for 35 years, “this time, he had nothing to offer except the vague wishes that after the election next week, Israeli politicians will continue on Netanyahu’s path,” notes Shalom Yerushalmi for The Times of Israel.
- Liberman, who knows a bit about Russia, is quoted by Walla News attacking Netanyahu over the less than amazing trip.
- “Everything in Russia is planned down to the smallest detail. When they leave you waiting for three hours, it’s not by accident,” he’s quoted saying. “They don’t understand why Netanyahu came, what he wants from them before elections.”
7. Snoop dogged: Politico’s story that the US believes Israel is behind spying devices found near the White House briefly made waves and distracted from the election hubbub.
- In Israel, as in the Trump’s official pronouncement, there is a degree of disbelief with the story.
- Appearing on Channel 12 news, Daniel Lippman, the Politico reporter behind the story, was treated to a near-interrogation about how solid his sources are. (He believes them, he said.)
- Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz tells Army Radio there’s no way Israel would spy on the US after the Jonathan Pollard case. “Trump understands that,” he says.
- Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser, confirms that it is indeed the case, at least as far as he knows.
- “Can I tell you from personal knowledge that it’s not happening today? No. Could someone have lost it completely in some upper echelon of the government? I don’t know. But based on everything I know, it’s totally false,” Freilich tells The Times of Israel.
- In Yedioth, Ronen Bergman, probably the best-known person reporting on the Mossad today, goes as far as calling the report “anti-Israeli fake news,” saying he spoke to several intel people and they all vociferously denied it.
- “That hasn’t happened in other cases in the past,” he notes.
- Perhaps most telling is one expert he quotes who is flabbergasted that anyone would even think Israel capable of such spycraft: “It’s not just a total lie, but also a little insulting that someone would think that we need to use such inferior technology and hide devices in order to listen in on Washington.”