Thursday, February 19, 2015

I got the news in real time while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room: the feverishly-awaited State Comptroller’s report on the expenditures of the Prime Minister’s residences had been released, and a woman seated across the room was smacking her lips reading numbers from her smartphone to her husband: “75 thousand shekels for cleaning,” she smacked. “And all that take-out food! Can you believe it? Those two are living like a king and queen, aren’t they?”

Welcome to the surreal Israeli election campaign, in which there are no real issues except the absolute conviction of the out-of-power Left that the world is upside down and can only be righted by them replacing the present government, and the fact that many people really don’t like the Prime Minister. Or his wife. Especially his wife.

None of his opponents can explain how they would solve the multiple security issues on Israel’s borders with Egypt, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria any better than Netanyahu. And probably they wouldn’t even be that much more compliant with their ‘friend’ Obama on the Palestinian issue when push came to shove (although one never knows, and I hope we don’t find out). They also talk a lot about ‘social issues’, by which they mean that the cost of living is high and there are too many poor people, and it is all the Prime Minister’s fault. And probably that of his over-spending wife.

Different newspapers take different approaches to explaining their dislike of the Prime Minister. Ha’aretz publishes variations of the same thing over and over: how the immoral occupation will make us an apartheid state if we don’t act soon and get rid of the PM, as if there is any imaginable way Israel can leave the territories without inviting Hamas to be a next-door neighbor to our airport.

Yediot Acharonot, on the other hand, prefers to go directly to the root of the problem: reliable sources have reported that Mrs. Netanyahu may have recycled deposit bottles and kept the money (on the other hand, she may not have). It is also an opportunity to remind everyone that former workers in the PM’s residence have accused her of being rude and demanding, as well as to publish any unflattering pictures of her that they may have around.

Lately we have been hearing the theme that the PM has ‘wrecked the relationship’ with the US by conspiring with Republicans to speak to Congress against Obama’s wishes. In fact, the relationship, such as it was, suffered when Netanyahu refused to be a good puppet and follow orders, usually relating to concessions to the PLO in the forever-fruitless negotiations process. Obama then responded with calculated snubs, such as the May 2010 incident in which Netanyahu and his aides were left sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House while Obama went to dinner.

The Obama Administration will not be able to have a good relationship with Netanyahu, or indeed with any Israeli Prime Minister who is not an out-and-out traitor, for multiple reasons. The most important is that it has adopted a policy of rapprochement with Iran, which includes accepting it as a nuclear-weapons threshold state (and it will soon drop the ‘threshold’ qualification). Israel’s view, of course, is that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear capability. Period.

On the Palestinian issue, Obama wants a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the territories, also something Israel cannot accept. There is the continuing disagreement about how Israel is permitted to respond in self-defense to attacks on its citizens. Finally, there is the hard-to-understand but persistent support by the administration for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Possibly the White House’s dislike of Netanyahu is being translated into action now, as the V15 campaign (a supposedly ‘non-partisan’ effort to defeat the PM — try figuring that out) is ramping up in Israel, with the participation of veterans of Obama’s campaigns, and funds which come from left-wing sources in the US and even from the US State Department. The campaign is very Obama — lots of young people relying on slogans like ‘hope and change’ — almost embarrassingly content-free.

It would be a mistake to discount V15’s possible effectiveness despite its apparent silliness. The idea seems to be primarily to identify people who might vote against Netanyahu but are normally unlikely to vote and to get them to the polls, a technique that worked effectively for Obama with young and minority voters.

And here is why the campaign stops being surreal and gets very real. The Left wants to win badly, very badly. How far will they go? Consider this: even if the misleadingly-named “Zionist Union” gets a few more seats in the Knesset than Netanyahu’s Likud, they will not be able to form a coalition since the normally right-wing bloc of parties is larger than those that would join with the Left.

Unless, for the first time in Israel’s history, they ask the Arab parties to join them.

Because of a change in the election law that raised the percentage of votes needed for a party to enter the Knesset, the various Arab parties joined together in a Joint Arab List which is currently polling 12 mandates. Historically, neither the Zionist parties nor the Arabs have agreed for Arab parties to join the government. But if they did, and if some of the more ‘opportunist’ of the center parties joined them, there could be a massive upset. A revolution.

Note that if every eligible Arab in Israel voted for the Arab list it would theoretically get 25 mandates, so there is great potential in a get-out-the-vote operation.

This is only one scenario. Powerful forces are at work behind the scenes in this election, with money coming from Europe as well as America. And it isn’t over until it’s over.


Vic Rosenthal lives in Israel and blogs at abuyehuda.com.

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