Popular anchorman’s entry into politics likely to secure PM’s rule

Posted: January 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Yair Lapid left his position in Channel 2 News and announced his intention to enter politics. He is likely to split the secular vote in a way that won’t allow anyone but the Likud to form the next government

One of the questions that has dominated the political landscape in Israel in the last couple of years received an (almost) definite answer this week, when the most popular journalist in Israel, Yair Lapid, resigned from his post as Channel 2′s Friday evening anchorman in order to enter politics.

If he had it his way, Lapid would have waited for new elections to be called – probably later this year – but the Knesset legislators forced him to reveal his cards. A bill subjecting every journalist to a full “cooling off” period of a year before entering politics was about to become a law, and Lapid, who probably made up his mind on his political future a while ago, had to leave his comfortable position in front of a prime-time audience. The official announcement came in the form of a resignation letter to his bosses at the station.

Lapid, 49, is the son of the late journalist-turned-politician Yosef (Tommy) Lapid and novelist Shulamit Lapid. He grew up in Tel Aviv and London, served as a reporter for the IDF’s magazine Bamahane, and later started working for his father’s paper, Maariv. His star rose in the 90′s, when he acted in an Israeli film and hosted popular TV talk shows on Channels 1 and 2. Lapid wrote books and a TV mini-series, led TV campaigns for Israel’s largest bank, and since 2008 hosted the prestigious weekly news magazine on Channel 2. Lapid also writes the leading full-page column in Yedioth Ahronoth’s Friday edition, the most widely read paper in Israel.

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For such a public figure, Lapid’s political views are extremely vague. His father, a Knesset member and then government minister, was known for his militant secularism, both in public and in his personal life. Lying on his deathbed, Yosef Lapid refused any treatment that would prolong his life and eventually starved to death. Like his father, Yair Lapid is hostile to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, although even on this trademark family issue, his tone is much more restrained. Yosef “Tommy Gun” Lapid was an Archie Bunker-like conservative; Yair Lapid is his business-oriented, politically-correct alter ego.

If figuring out Yair Lapid on social issues is a complicated task, making sense of his views on diplomatic and regional politics, on human rights and democracy, is close to impossible. From his columns, it seems that Lapid is at the center of the secular consensus (some say that he is the center) – i.e. he supports in theory of the two-state solution; he is somewhat critical of the settlements and clearly hostile towards the “extreme” religious settlers, but he has no special affection for human rights organizations and he hasn’t showed unique interest in the current wave of anti-democratic legislation.

Lapid wrote a couple of times that Israel should have supported, rather than opposed, the Palestinian UN bid, but I don’t remember hearing a real out-of-the-box idea from him, one like Shaul Mofaz’s (Kadima) support for negotiations with Hamas. Lapid is not a rightwing hawk nor a dove; one more thing he inherited from his dad is a hatred of “the lefty media,” which he confessed again recently.

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Lapid updates his Facebook followers on the progress of his Knesset bid. Unlike pages of other Knesset members, Lapid’s wall is lively and exited. According to one of his latest messages, he hasn’t formed his party yet. He will probably skip the option of leading his father’s party – Shinui – which wasn’t able to pass the Knesset threshold in the last elections. There is little sense in forcing oneself to deal with the party’s dysfunctional machine, plus I would imagine that Lapid aims higher than the narrow appeal of Shinui, which will always be constrained by its free market, secular Ashkenazi image.

It is somewhat ironic that Lapid, the privileged son of the Israeli elite, would be one of the first to benefit from the summer’s social protest. Yet there is no doubt that the growing discontent in Israel’s middle class played a major part in his decision to enter politics now. As I have written here in the past, the J14 demonstrations – also known as the tent protests – were, more than anything, a show of middle-class disappointment with elected Knesset members, and especially with Kadima.

While Israel’s right is filled with would-be leaders and Knesset backbenchers who compete for attention by introducing racist bills or conducting bizarre public stunts, and while the left has no voters or public appeal whatsoever, the amorphous promised land of the moderate center is up for grabs. Shelly Yachimovitch, the surprise winner of the Labor primaries, was the first to take a bite, and Lapid might be the one to deal Kadima its coup-de-grace.

The man who is likely to benefit the most from this process is one Benjamin Netanyahu. Lapid can draw votes from all of Netanyahu’s potential challengers – including Avigdor Lieberman – but he is not likely to hurt the Likud too much. The result will be a fragmented Knesset, in which the Likud is a single big party and four or five others – Lapid, Labor, Lieberman, Kadima and maybe Shas – are competing for a place in the coalition. Since Netanyahu will only need between two and three of those parties, and since they won’t be able to form an alternative coalition due to a lack of a central, agreed-upon, leading force, they won’t have any bargaining position. It will be Bibi or nothing.

Early polls suggest that this is the most likely scenario. There were three polls conducted right after Lapid’s announcement – by the dailies Maariv and Yedioth, and by Channel 10. The results varied, but the general picture was the same: Likud was the only party to pass the 20-seat threshold, polling between 27 and 30 of the 120 Knesset seats (Likud has 27 MKs now). Lapid had 11-16 seats, Kadima 13-15 (28 now), Labor 12-18, Israel Beitenu 14-15 and Shas 9-11. In such a picture, the old division into two competing blocs – left-center and right-religious – becomes meaningless.

On a deeper level, Lapid’s entry into politics could be seen as representing a new stage in the Israeli culture war, one in which the dominant social group – secular middle class – has left behind the hope to lead the political system and is settling for a sectarian representation of its interests, spread between several parties. Except in the case of an unexpected event such as war or a deep economical crisis, we are likely to be left with Netanyahu as prime minister; or with a fragmented system in which nobody can really govern. Yair Lapid therefore is not the answer to Israel’s existential crisis – more than anything, he is a representation of the problem.


Tent protest in polls: One big unhappy middle class

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

Recently published polls regarding the social protest reveal potential for major political changes in Israel, though not necessarily immediate ones

The Tent Protest has been dominating the news cycle in Israel for two weeks, and now there are also a couple of interesting polls regarding its possible political impact.

While it would be unwise to try and predict what sort of effect these unprecedented demonstrations will have on Israeli politics, the polls do confirm some of the hunches we had in the last three weeks, and most notably, a potential for far-reaching changes in the political system in the years to come.

-    The support for the protest crosses sectors and party lines. According to Channel 10′s poll conducted on Monday, 88 percent of Israelis support the protest. The middle class parties lead the way: 98 percent of Kadima voters (!), 95 percent of Labor’s and even 85 percent of Netanyahu’s Likud voters find the protest just. Even if these figures dropped in the last couple of days—which had some fractions and public disputes in the protest movement—they are still exceptionally high.

-    The attempts to discredit the protest have mostly failed. Government spokesperson and rightwing organizations tried to tie the protest to left wing movements, claiming that it is a politically-motivated move aimed personally against PM Netanyahu. Still, 74 percent of the public think that the protest is a genuine one, and only 22 percent find it to be politically motivated.

-    The hard right is the only group not identifying with the protest. Half of Shas’ voters and most of those voting for the settlers’ parties think the protest is politically motivated. Voters of those parties are more inclined to oppose the protest than any other group. I believe that these groups sense that the protest might challenge the dominant political arrangements in Israel – ones with benefit the settlers and the religious parties.

-   The protesters reject the major opposition and the coalition parties alike. I wouldn’t take the headline of the Globes-Jerusalem Post’s poll—about a possible social party winning 20 seats in the coming elections—too seriously. There is a long time until the elections and it’s impossible to know which issues will dominate the campaign. Still, it’s very interesting to see where these 20 seats (roughly 16 percent of the votes) come from: 4-5 seats from Kadima, 2-3 seats from Likud, 2-3 seats from Labor, and some more votes from Meretz and undecided voters. The Arab parties and the extreme right are not hurt by the protest.

Those figures match the Channel 10 poll – it’s the middle class the supports the protest more than any other group, and it’s the parties on the center and left of the political map which voters are unhappy with. This is good news for those (like me) who think that Kadima and Labor cannot promote progressive agenda. It seems that many of those parties’ voters are giving up hope on them as well.

-    The best option for the government is to negotiate with protesters and possibly try to co-opt them. According to the Jerusalem Post, 45 percent of the public thinks that the protesters should negotiate with the government to try to obtain their demands, 29 percent said the demonstrations should go on in their current format. If the government looks serious enough, it could cut the popular support for the demonstrations by two thirds.

To sum it up, all figures point to a unique phenomenon: the secular middle class – usually the backbone of society—is unsatisfied with the political and economical trends, and more important, with the entire political system (usually it’s the other way around – the more you move to the edges of the system, the less satisfied people there are). Under these circumstances, the potential for major political changes—though not necessarily immediate ones—is enormous.


Legendary Shas leader returning to politics, vows to promote peace

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , | Comments Off

A game changer? Former Shas leader Aryeh Deri has announced his return to politics tonight.

Speaking at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, Deri said: “In the State of Israel, one can make no contribution without political power, and I therefore decided to establish a movement. I’m coming back and I wish to use political power for the sake of unity and public responsibility.”

Deri said he will form a new movement. He won’t be able to match Shas’ machine, but his personal appeal might win him many votes. The common wisdom is that Deri can get between 5 to 7-8 Knesset seats, depending on the political circumstances and on the identity of other candidates.

Deri was the all-powerful leader of Shas in the late eighties and early nineties. For many secular Jews, he personified the rise of a new Orthodox threat, so only few mourned his conviction on corruption charges. The imprisonment of Deri was used by Shas for its biggest ever electoral success – 17 Knesset seats – but ironically, while Deri sat in prison, it was his rival Eli Yishai which used this power to secure his place in Israeli politics.

Under Yishai, Shas turned from the centrist party which supported the Oslo accord to an extreme rightwing movement, hostile to the peace process and second only to Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu in its undemocratic initiatives.

Deri, on the other hand, maintained his good ties with Kadima MKs and leftwing parties. The same camp who once rejoiced at his downfall now envisions Deri as the new messiah that could make Sephardic Jews support the peace process.

Is it possible? Could Deri be the game changer that will bring a center-left coalition into power? I find it hard to believe, but a person who met Deri recently told me “he is very serious on the peace process.”

Deri clearly aimed to this public when he told Ynet that:

“I’m not coming from a place of vengeance or ambition,” Deri said. “In every poll out there I get seven or eight Knesset seats, despite jail and all the other things that happened to me.”

Turning his attention to the peace process, the former Shas chairman said: “My great fear is wars. I never voted in favor of a war or military operation.” He added that his return is motivated first and foremost by a desire to bring the public together, “so that if we go into a peace process we’ll be united.”

2011 is not 1992, and there is no major force in Israel that could offer the minimum the Palestinians would settle with – certainly not Livni’s Kadima. Still, it is Deri, not Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid or any of the Labor’s candidates, which presents the real challenge to the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Yishy coalition (unnamed sources in Shas have already attacked Deri). And this on its own is something to congratulate.


The demographic war / will voting rights for world Jews be the next move?

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The government is reviving the old idea of absentee votes, but Netanyahu and Liberman might lose the Knesset battle over this one

There isn’t anything I hate in Israeli politics more than the talks on the so-called “demographic battle”. More than ever, I see this concept as the source of all evil here: from the discrimination of Arab citizens to the shameful Knesset bill which will make it illegal to give aid or shelter to the refugees who crosses the southern border.

Viewing Jewish hegemony as a necessity is something that all Zionist parties have in common: it’s the pretext for Liberman’s plan for ethnic separation, as well as for Meretz’s and Labor’s believe in the two states solution as the only way to promise a permanent Jewish majority within the Green line. In both cases, none-Jews are seen as a national threat. And while there is no doubt that Meretz and Labor are much more committed to democratic values than Liberman, all of them share the demographic obsession.

It is in this context that we should see the government plan, announced Sunday, to grant voting rights to 750,000 Israeli expatriates. This idea was raised several times in the past by rightwing politicians, who saw it as the easy way to ensure a permanent “national majority” (the common belief is that most expatriates support the right), but it has always failed to pass the Knesset votes. The left was able to block all legislative attempts, usually with the help of some rightwing MKs who believed that the right to vote should be given only to those people who face the consequences of their political choices. The fact that the idea was never popular with the general public, who still views the Yordim is deserters to the national cause, left Israel as one of the few democracies which don’t allow absentee voting.

Maybe not anymore. Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu has put forward a bill that if accepted, will grant voting rights to all Israelis who left the country in the decade prior to the elections. With Netanyahu’s support, the coalition stands a better than ever chance of completing the legislation effort in a short time.

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But why now? The right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset, and risking it would be a foolish move. After all, the estimates on the way the absentee vote might break are no more than not-so-educated guesses, and polling of expatriates is almost impossible. What seems like a good idea now might easily turn out to be a disaster. If the right was in the opposition and desperate for new voters, this would have been an understandable move, but this is clearly not the case now.

The answer, as in so many cases, is demography. Discriminated as they are, the Arab citizens are still viewed as a threat by the public. The new generation of Arab leaders is more vocal in demanding its rights and in challenging the state’s ideological foundations. What’s more important is that right now, the Arabs reach only half of their voting potential. A Knesset with 22-24 non-Zionist MK’s (instead of the 11 we have now) would be much harder for Israeli nationalists to swallow. Half a million more Jewish votes could be a nice counter measure. Read the rest of this entry »


The end of the road for Avigdor Liberman?

Posted: July 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, racism, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross -posted with FPW.

liberman_avigdorThe Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.

Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.

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Final Results

Posted: February 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

The final results of the general elections were published on Thursday evening. Here they are, together with the polls’ average I posted here and my own projection.

elections-final

Everyone missed out on the big surprise of the election – Kadima passing the Likud and becoming the biggest party again. The reason is simple: a new law prevents publishing polls in the last 4 days before an election. In the days leading to the elections, there was a significant move of voters from left-wing parties to Kadima, probably in order to stop Netanyahu. Meretz and Labor lost 3-4 MKs to Kadima in the 72 hours prior to the elections.

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Elections Night

Posted: February 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

netanyahu_bibi2:15 AM. As I write this post, around 25 percent of the votes have been counted, and one thing is clear: Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s next Prime minister

Don’t let Kadima’s narrow advantage in the exit polls fool you. These results are going to change as more votes come in, but even if Kadima maintains its lead, the Right wing will have a clear majority in the Knesset. That means that Tzipi Livni won’t be able to form a government, or to stop Netanyahu from forming one. The game is over.

2:40 AM: Ynet reports that after counting 83 percent of the polls, Kadima leads with 29 MKs, while the Likud has 27. Meretz suffered the biggest blow: Israel’s liberal party has only 3 MKs. The Right maintains its lead, with 64 MKs out of 120.

3:00 AM. Final results will only be published in a couple of days, but as things look now, we will have a Right-Center coalition, probably with Netanyahu as PM. He will try to have Livni and Kadima as his senior partners. Yes, all the leftists who voted for Livni in order to stop Netanyahu will discover that they actually helped him build a more stable coalition.

If for some reason Kadima will refuse to join Netanyahu’s government, he will have the option to form a coalition with the Extreme-Right and Orthodox parties.

3:05 AM. The “good” news: Liberman with 15 seats for now. He might get to 16 when the soldiers votes are added. It is still too much for the populist and racist politician he is, but far from the 20 MKs his supporters were hoping for.

3:30 AM. More than 90 percent of the votes are in. Kdima has 29 seats, Likud 27, Israel Beitenu 15, Labor 13, Shas 11, Yahadut Hatorah 4, Hadash 4, Raam 4, Ihud Leumi 4, Meretz 3, Balad 3, Habait Hayehudi 3. There will be some minor changes when the soldiers’ votes are counted, and all seat allocation rules applied.

3:35 AM. No reason to party. Going to sleep.

MORNING UPDATE: Kdima 28 seats, Likud 27, Israel Beitenu 15, Labor 13, Shas 11, Yahadut Hatorah 5, Hadash 4, Raam 4, Ihud Leumi 4, Meretz 3, Balad 3, Habait Hayehudi 3. 150,000 votes, mainly soldiers’, left to count.


Elections Projection

Posted: February 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Here is my projection:

Likud 26

Kadima 25

Israel Beitenu 18

Labor 15

Shas 10

Meretz 6

Yahadut Hatorah 5

Ihud Leumi 4

Bait Yehudi 3

Hadash 4 (*)

Raam 4

Balad, The Greens, The Green Movement, Gil – not passing the 2% threshold.

Right-Orthodox Block: 66 MKs.
Left-Center Block: 54 MKs

(*) This is where I stand.


The Last Polls

Posted: February 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A new law forbids publishing polls in the four days before the elections, in order not to influence voters’ decisions. The Israeli media published yesterday its final polls.

The numbers are not that different from one poll to another, and they all show a clear advantage for the Right-Orthodox block led by Benjamin Netanyhu (*). This means Netanyhau will be Israel’s next prime minister, even in the unlikely event of Tzipi Livni’s Kadima being the biggest party. Our average gives the Right a bit more than 67 MKs, meaning he can form a government even without taking in the extreme-right “Ihud Leumi” party. As I wrote before, Netanyahu will surly try to get Labor or Kadima into his government as well. Given the advantage he has now, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Here are the numbers. The later polls are on the right. The grey column on the right end of the table is our polls average. On Monday I will post my own prediction. 

(Click on the table to see it in full size)

final-polls

Avigdor Liberman is the big winner of the elections. His party will probably pass Labor and become Israel’s third largest. The latest polls indicate that he is still getting stronger, so given the fact that we have three more days before the elections, even a 20 plus result for “Israel Beitenu” won’t be a big surprise.

Liberman’s success is helping Kadima, who is getting slightly stronger, probably because of voters wishing to balance his power in the next Knesset. There are 1-2 percent of Left-leaning undecided voters, most of them women, hanging between Kadima and Meretz. Barak’s labor is not an option for them.

Labor’s war bump has stopped, and the latest polls show the party even weakening a bit. This goes to show that the public is still not trusting Ehud Barak with anything but national security.

Shas and Yahadut Hatorah, the two orthodox parties, are very stable in the polls, but one has to remember that Shas usually over-performs in the elections.

The Arab Balad party is in real danger of not passing the 2 percent minimum threshold. It’s also more than probable that the two environmental parties (“The Green Movement” and “The Greens”) won’t enter the Knesset. Their campaign has been hurt by the war, but still, if they ran together, they would have gotten in. If Balad does stay out of the Knesset, that means that the Center-Left Coalition has lost up to five seats because of parties not passing the minimum threshold.

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Today’s polls, February 4-5

Posted: February 5th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Polls | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

we have 5 new polls in the last couple of days. We will probably have more tomorrow, and I’ll update the table as soon as possible.

The 30 MKs result for the Likud in “Israel Hayom”’s poll seems a bit too high, and so does the 20-21 for Liberman in the Globes poll. All the rest of the results make sense. Liberman’s “Israel Beitenu” party  is still gaining ground, while the Likud is stable around 27 for some time. The Right-Orthodox block keeps a 10-12 MKs advantage over the Left-Center block (*). That means Netanyahu is our next PM.

Balad party is in real danger of not getting into the Knesset, while Hadash is getting somewhat stronger. On the Right, “Habait Hayehudi” should be a bit worried as well.

Five more days to go. Here are the numbers (click on the table to see it in full size).

polls-5

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