Israeli politics

‘Don’t Test Our Power’

MK Ofir Akunis says a third intifada would be a losing proposition for the Palestinians.

07/08/2014
Staff Writer
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Ofir Akunis is the Likud Party’s deputy minister for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a member of the Knesset. From 2010 until 2012, he served as the Knesset’s deputy speaker. In addition, Akunis, 41, has also served as both chairman and speaker of the Likud Party. He was interviewed last week during a visit here.

Likud member Ofir Akunis: Given “huge changes in our region,” Israel should be “careful” about peace steps.

Israeli Minister Silvan Shalom Accused Of Sex Offenses From 15 Years Ago

03/25/2014

Silvan Shalom, Israel’s energy and water minister and possible candidate for president, is being investigated following accusations of sexual offenses committed against a female staff member some 15 years ago.

Shulamit Aloni, Left-Wing Israeli Icon, Dies At 85

01/27/2014
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Shulamit Aloni, a former Israeli minister and leader of the left-wing Meretz party, has died.

Aloni died Friday at the age of 86. She will be buried Sunday in Kfar Shmaryahu near the northern Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya, Israel’s Army Radio reported.

A veteran of Israel’s War of Independence and a product of the Shomer HaTzair Zionist youth movement, Aloni first earned notice as a radio journalist. She entered politics in 1965 as a Knesset member for what would become the Israeli Labor Party.

Aloni: Fought for separation of religion and government. Photo via knesset.gov.il

Bibi, Weakened, Needs A Wider Coalition

Unclear foreign policy direction; Lapid’s party surges.

01/23/2013
Israel Correspondent

Tel Aviv — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu almost certainly will remain in his post but he suffered a painful blow at the ballot box on Tuesday, after exit polls suggested that his Likud Party lost about a quarter of its seats in parliament, leaving him the weakened leader of a potentially fractious government. 

Yair Lapid, left, head of the Yesh Atid party, is likely to join a coalition government. Getty Images

Sharansky’s New Mission: Impossible?

Tasked with resolving the issue of women's prayer at the Western Wall, the Jewish Agency head has a tough job.

01/23/2013
Editor and Publisher

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was in New York for a quick two-day trip last week, meeting with a variety of American Jewish leaders on his newest assignment: seeking to resolve the conflict between women who want to hold prayer services at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and traditionalists who oppose them on religious grounds.

Gary Rosenblatt

The Consequences Of Israel’s Vote

Tuesday’s winners and losers.

01/23/2013

A few observations about the Israeli election results: Right-left split changes, but not much.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, voting this week with his wife Galit. Getty Images

Makeup Of Bibi’s Coalition Is Only Question

Will he court the center-left parties? Will Jewish Home party wield new power?

01/16/2013
Israel Correspondent

Tel Aviv — Ahead of the final weekend of one of the most lackluster campaigns in recent history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears destined for re-election.

Even Labor leader Shelly Yachimovitch, who is far behind, fights the sense of inevitability, reminding audiences that the prime minister has not been divinely anointed king of Israel. 

That’s because for the first time in at least a generation, Israel’s election campaign has been nearly devoid of any debate over peace with the Palestinians or any suspense regarding who will lead its next government. Thanks to the instability of the Arab Spring and the lack of any formidable rivals, Netanyahu has had an easy time convincing Israelis that he’s the “strongest” leader to protect the Jewish state from regional turmoil. The only question left unanswered regards what type of coalition government the prime minister will be able to form.

“You’ve always had an ‘either-or’ choice, but now there’s no fight, no challenge. ... That’s what elections come down to — it’s personalities,” said Amir Mizroch, the editor of the English edition of the daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom.

“Almost right from the start, the election results have been predetermined,” Mizroch continued. “Everyone understood that, because when the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu joined their lists, they were so far ahead in the polls. They showed that the vast number of Israelis see Netanyahu as the only leader — and that took the impetus out of the election. In a way, [convincing voters of that fact] was a critical master stroke by Netanyahu.”

Neither Yachimovitch nor Yair Lapid, who founded the centrist Yesh Atid party as a defender of the middle class, were perceived as having enough of a résumé to match Netanyahu. And even though Tzippi Livni won more votes than Netanyahu in 2009, the former foreign minister was burdened by an unsuccessful tenure as opposition leader.   

Polls show Israel’s right-wing and religious parties with steady majorities of about 67 seats of the 120-seat Knesset. While Likud-Beiteinu is polling around 35 seats, Labor trails far behind in the upper teens. 

Though Labor will likely gain seats in the new Knesset, Yachimovitch’s campaign strategy — ignoring foreign policy and trying instead to harness the socioeconomic malaise of the 2011 tent protests — failed to catch on. The decision to downplay the peace process drew fire from Labor stalwarts and left an opening for Livni to start her own party to push a peace accord.

“What’s happened on the center-left is that most of the parties have given up on foreign policy, because their positions are perceived by the majority of Israelis as a joke,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “So they’ve shifted to domestic issues. Given that Israel’s security situation is becoming more acute given everything that’s happening in the region, more Israelis will vote on security than on domestic issues. “The fact that the center-left abrogated their foreign policy,” Halevi continued, “means that they really handed the election to the right, so the real struggle is between the pragmatic right and the ideological right.” He was referring to the competition between Netanyahu and the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett, which represents the settler movement (Bennett supports annexing the West Bank) and has surged in the polls.

Even though polls found that a large percentage of Israelis are just as worried about socioeconomic issues, such as the cost of living, as peace and security, most of the campaign was focused on the latter.

Only in the last two weeks of the campaign did the news agenda shift toward the economy: a government report that Israel’s 2012 budget deficit was twice what was planned kicked up criticism of the Netanyahu government’s fiscal performance and sharpened questions aimed at the prime minister about what he’ll do to pass a more balanced budget.

In an interview Monday night with Channel 2 news, Netanyahu was deliberately vague, promising he wouldn’t raise taxes, refusing to specify what budget cuts he made and speculating that maybe Israel would get unexpected tax revenue. But it wasn’t expected to give Labor a boost. Israeli pollster Stephan Miller said that Labor and Yachimovich failed to grab voters’ attention with their economic plan.

“Policies are important in campaigns. In the past four years, what specific policies on socioeconomic issues has the Labor Party addressed? What have they championed? What have they proposed? Opposed?” Miller wrote in an e-mail message. “I don’t think voters know what the party is offering that’s different from Netanyahu.”

Another home-stretch bump came on Monday evening, when American Jewish author and columnist Jeffrey Goldberg reported that President Barack Obama considered Netanyahu’s policy toward the Palestinians as self-destructive for Israel. Goldberg wrote in a Bloomberg View column that the president considers the Israeli prime minister a political coward and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas weak, making the president unlikely to invest time in restarting peace talks.

Livni said Goldberg’s report should be a wake-up call to Israelis, but analysts don’t expect the latest installment of the dysfunctional relationship between Netanyahu and Obama to upset the prime minster’s re-election drive.

Still, the election remains relevant because it will determine the balance of power in the parliament among the parties, and what type of coalition Netanyahu will be able to form.

In fact, many experts believe that building a stable coalition government will be much more difficult for Netanyahu than winning the campaign.

Israeli Politics' Gender Gap

Women head three major political parties, yet other factions refuse to consider female candidates.

01/08/2013
Israel Correspondent

Jerusalem — During an election campaign dominated by security and economic concerns,

Labor Party leader Shelly  Yachimovich, a staunch advocate of women’s rights.

Too Much Of The Right Stuff?

Surging pro-settler party leader makes even some Religious Zionists very nervous.

01/02/2013
Israel Correspondent

Tel Aviv — “Who is more rightist?”

That’s the name of a fictional TV game show portrayed on this week’s installment of the Israeli satire show “Wonderful Country,” and the skit reflects the direction of the political discourse with less than a month remaining before the Jan. 22 parliamentary elections. 

Naftali Bennett, left, head of the Jewish Home party, meets with a member of Israel’s Druze community. getty images

Israel Electorate Moving To The Right

12/26/2012
Editorial

Underscoring the notion that all politics is local, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made building in Israel, and some key areas over the Green Line, his campaign theme in advance of the Jan. 22 national elections, despite the almost universal outcry against such a move.

He seems to have read the mood of the electorate in calling for a strengthened Israel, more committed to solidifying its homeland than extending an olive branch to the Palestinians.

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