1. Get together now: An 11th-hour merger between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (plus former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi) has shaken up the political scene, with just hours to go before the deadline for parties to submit their electoral tickets.
- Haaretz calls it “the deal that will threaten Netanyahu’s rule,” while Walla news’s Amir Oren calls it “D-Day for Israeli politics.”
- The deal — should the joint party win and form a coalition after elections– will see Gantz serve as prime minister for the first two and a half years and Lapid as foreign minister before they switch.
2. What’s in a name? The party of parties has decided to call itself Kachol Lavan, Blue and White, playing up Israel’s national colors and their lack of creativity.
- Before the announcement, Channel 12’s Amit Segal wrote on Twitter that the sides were considering “Hosen L’Atid,” which combines their names and translates to the meaningless “Resilience for the Future.”
3. The Bibi referendum: Also unclear is what the centrist party will actually stand for, leading to a explainer piece like this one in Haaretz that tries to game what will happen if the party pulls votes from the right or left.
- “A campaign with a limited right-wing character by the new party could strengthen the left-wing parties Labor and Meretz because some left-wing voters, who will not identify with the new message, might abandon Gantz and Lapid,” Jonathan Lis writes.
- It may not matter, as Channel 13’s Akiva Novick notes, writing that the merger proves that the election will essentially be a referendum on Netanyahu.
- “The events of the last day proved again that there are only two groups in Israeli politics. The Bibi Camp, and the Anyone But Bibi Camp.”
4. I wanna hold your hand: Some are having fun with the merger, which almost didn’t happen.
- “If you will it, it is no dream,” writes former IDF spokesman Peter Lerman on Twitter, borrowing a quote from Theodor Herzl.
- ToI’s Judah Ari Gross imagines the quartet (including Ya’alon and Gantz) as another Fab Four.
- And others have some alternative names for the party to consider, including the monstrous portmanteau of Lapiganzogishkenazi, suggested by Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi.
— Amos Schonfield • עמוס שנפלד • عموس شونفيلد (@AJSchonfield) February 21, 2019
5. Fears on the left: The merger has added “more potency to the centrist candidates’ bid to end [Netanyahu’s] decade in power,” but it’s also added more urgency for other to bolster their positions, especially parties at risk of being cannibalized by the centrist behemoth.
- Labor and Meretz both say they are in talks to join together, though Ynet reports that Labor head Avi Gabbay sounds less than interested, telling his counterpart that “even if we don’t merge you’ll pass the threshold. The union will take away votes and not add anything, but we’ll look into the option.”
- On the left, some fear that the election could spell the end for the true left.
- “The future of the Zionist left is on the table. The ability to form a bloc to thwart the right and send Netanyahu home is on the table. The future of Zionism vs. Kahanism is on the table,” writes on Twitter Rami Hod, the head of the Berl Katznelson Educational Center. “Until the centrist merger none of this was possible. Now it is. A joint run by Labor and Meretz is the order of the day, in order to overturn the regime. Everything else is vanity.”
6. Kahanists are wrong: The centrist merger is being juxtaposed with the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit merger engineered by Netanyahu a day earlier, with the prime minister being slammed for trying to bring racists into the Knesset in order to hang onto his seat.
- Makor Rishon journalist Yifat Ehrlich has left the Jewish Home ticket apparently over the merger and in Yedioth columnist Chen Artzi-Srour, another journalist from the religious Zionist Jewish Home voter bastion, also protests.
- “These Kahanists were never part of the religious-Zionist ethos of work and Torah and loyalty to the state. Their racism, anarchism, and language of hate that they are pushing are a sock in the gut to most normal religious people, who don’t know how to deal with this new political map,” she writes.
- Haaretz’s lead editorial calls on the party to be disqualified (which they were last time around, before the Supreme Court overturned the decision.)
- “It’s ironic that the party that considers itself a bastion of morality has turned itself into the door through which despicable racists and violent nationalists will enter the Knesset. All the talk about the need to create a ‘technical bloc’ to ‘prevent the loss of seats on the right’ cannot blur the ‘moral’ choice made by religious Zionism, Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc,” the paper writes.
7. Whatever it takes: Israel Hayom, a paper seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, crows over the merger, though, after days in which the paper was essentially the Jewish Home Jewish Power Merger Picayune Beagle.
- “We see the good of the land in front of us,” reads a top headline in the paper.
- Even columnist Meir Indor, who seems to have been brought in just to lobby for the merger with page 2 columns, writes that nobody loves the merger, but it’s necessary.
- “The prime minister showed real leadership and didn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty, at a time when he needed to concentrate on one main goal — until he saw it through,” he writes.
- Some have pointed out that concentrating on making sure racists get into the Knesset so he can hold onto his rule was even more important than going to Russia to speak to Vladimir Putin about Iranian entrenchment in Syria, despite having tried for a meeting for months.
8. Center field: Despite Netanyahu happily riding a wave of racists into a fifth term (he hopes) Makor Rishon columnist Doron Matza writes that after the elections he won’t play to them but rather return to the straight and narrow center lane.
- “The day after elections belongs to those who walk in the center,” he writes. “The person best at doing that is Benjamin Netanyahu, who despite his rightist rhetoric that has characterized most of his years in power and his partnerships with far right parties, doesn’t just understand well the idea of the way of the middle, but knows how to do the impossible, i.e., to translate his theoretical views into concrete policies.”