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Yesh Atid orders canvassers to lay off Labor, Meretz as parties appear to slump

Lapid confident center-left allies will re-enter Knesset, even as poll shows his party surging at their expense; refuses to rule out relying on Hadash-Ta’al from outside coalition

A bus drives through Jerusalem with a large election poster of the Meretz party for the upcoming elections on October 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A bus drives through Jerusalem with a large election poster of the Meretz party for the upcoming elections on October 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his Yesh Atid party is avoiding campaigning for support among likely Labor and Meretz party voters, but tried to dismiss worries Wednesday that one or both key center-left allies could fail to re-enter the Knesset after the November 1 election.

Yesh Atid has instructed people working its call center and doing outreach to undecided voters to avoid trying to convince those who might cast ballots for either Labor or Meretz to vote for Yesh Atid instead, according to a report in the Haaretz daily Wednesday.

The party has posted a sign in its call center instructing callers to say “thank you, good day” and hang up if the person on the other end of the line says they support Meretz or Labor, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday.

Most recent polls have shown the two parties winning five Knesset seats apiece, safely over the four-seat threshold, if worryingly close. However, a Channel 13 poll on Tuesday showed both sinking to four seats, and Yesh Atid surging to 27 seats, up from the 24 seats other polls had shown Lapid’s faction winning.

Surveys earlier this month had shown the parties getting as many as six seats. Though often unreliable, polls in Israel can help show large trends and impact on the decision-making of politicians and voters ahead of elections.

The Channel 13 survey had led some to question if Yesh Atid was actively snagging votes away from Labor and Meretz, or why it wasn’t lending a hand to prop up the two likely allies.

Campaign posters for Yesh Atid next to the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, prior to the upcoming Israeli general elections, October 26, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Lapid told Israeli media Wednesday that his party was not trying to take away votes from Meretz and Labor. He claimed that campaigners were instead aimed at winning over what he said were 60,000 voters who are undecided between his camp and parties backing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The loss of either Meretz or Labor in the Knesset would constitute a major blow to Lapid’s hopes of remaining in power and staving off a comeback bid by Netanyahu. Forecasts of likely post-election coalitions in which Meretz and Labor win five seats apiece show a Likud-led right-wing religious bloc just shy of a 61-seat majority.

Without Meretz or Labor in the Knesset, Netanyahu would likely have more than enough support for a government.

Lapid had lobbied intensively for the two parties to join forces and present a joint slate last month, but Labor leader Merav Michaeli resisted the alliance with Meretz, which sits further to the left on the political spectrum than her faction.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli (left), Prime Minister Yair Lapid (center), and Meretz leader Zehava Galon (right). (Flash90)

Labor and its forebear Mapai has never failed to enter the Knesset, though the party, which for decades led the country practically unchallenged, has seen its support sapped in the last two decades by centrist upstarts like Yesh Atid and a demographic shift rightward.

According to Channel 12, Yesh Atid canvassers were given the go-ahead to try and steal support away from the National Unity party, which is projected at a comfortable 12 seats.

Speaking to Israel’s three main news channel in a wide media blitz Wednesday night, Lapid broadcast confidence that both Labor and Meretz would make it in, noting that no polls had shown them falling below four seats.

“I get the pressure they are under, but I’m not sure how fact-based it is,” he told Channel 13 news.

Head of the Labor party Merav Michaeli is on stage with party members during an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, September 20, 2022. (Flash90)

Speaking to Kan, Lapid said any coalition he formed would not include Arab-led Hadash-Ta’al, whose four forecast seats of support could put him on the cusp of staying in power.

However, he refused to commit to not rely on an arrangement allowing him to enjoy the support of the party from  outside the coalition.

Explaining his reluctance to ally with Hadash-Ta’al to Channel 12, Lapid cited remarks from Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who recently referred to five slain members of Palestinian terror group Lion’s Den as “martyrs” and asserted that their “resistance” was a response to “the occupation.”

“Those were terrible comments and I fully condemn them, it’s unforgivable,” he told Kan.

He also dismissed criticism from the Likud party that IDF raids in recent days against the group in Nablus were an election stunt designed to boost his prospects.

“If I need, I’ll order the same operations tomorrow,” he told Kan.

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