Bibi or not Bibi


Drawing from Biderman in Ha’aretz. It is written on the sign : “I am the 4000th dead”

In two months, Israel will vote again for the fourth time in two years. This new election will cost billions shekels, while the country is still fighting the economic crisis which put out of work hundreds of thousands people and resulted in bankrupcy of thousands of firms. The only reason of this new election is Netanyahu’s will to escape his trial, postponed in February because of the lockdown, – hoping this time to get a majority that would give him immunity – and to be spared the obligation of handing over power to Benny Gantz next November, according to the coalition agreement signed with him last April.
Will this fourth election secure at last a stable majority allowing a government to work ? Considering the significant number of existing lists so far, mostly built around one person instead of a party and an agenda, we may doubt it.
So far, than less 3 weeks before the submission of electoral lists, the various polls show that the right is still leading in the country. Netanyahu takes advantage of the success of the vaccination campaign to benefit personally from it. We cannot deny that with more than 2 millions of vaccinated people – that is to say almost 25% of the population – Israel is way ahead of the race to get vaccinated in the world. However, that success does not rely only on the fact that Netanyahu obtained from Pfizer and Moderna labs a priority delivery of the millions of vaccines necessary to vaccinate the entire population – of course, by paying them 40% more than the Europeans, which was the wisest move since that extra cost is the price of only two days of lockdown for the country. That success relies also and mainly on the organization of the sickness funds which are an inheritance of the public health system founded by the socialist zionist movement, long before the creation of the state of Israel, and strengthened through the State law on the universal health insurance for all voted in 1995 by Rabin’s government. The system survived in spite of all Netanyahu’s attempts to destroy it as soon he came to power in 1997 (abolition of the health tax paid by employers) and since then (budgetary cuts that have left the country behind the OECD countries for its health system.
Netanyahu does not hide his aim to succeed in getting forty or so mandates for the Likud. Last week he addressed a group of self-employed workers – his electoral base representing the hundreds of thousands people who are the first victims of the economic crisis – in order to dissuade them from forming an electoral roll that could get up to 7 mandates. He hold them that the success of his goal would depend on the regression of the epidemic. The longer it would rage, the faster he would lose votes, and the faster it would weaken, the stronger the Likud would become. Such a message, making an electoral issue out of the epidemic, while the latter continues to claim victims every day (9000 daily contaminations) – more than 4000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, including 243 last week – shows the cynism Netanyahu displays in governing the country.
Another example of that cynism : on January 13th, his speech in Nazareth intended to conquer Arab voters ; he asserted that « a new era opened in the relationships of the country with its Arab minority ». While he said in 2015, in order to mobilize his own electorate a few hours before the closing of polling stations, that those people « came en masse in buses paid for by leftist NGO’s to vote ».
That visit in the main Arab city in Israel follows his negociations with Mansour Abbas, leader of the islamist list Ra’am – the 4 current deputies of which are part of the United Arab List -, in order to obtain his support within the framework of a future coalition in exchange for benefits to his audience. By crossing the Rubicon in that way, Netanyahu does what Gantz did not the courage to do last April when he refused to form a government with the United Arab List : he legitimats the Arab vote. Other Israeli parties try to attract Arab electors, especially since many of them do not feel represented – or felt badly represented – by the fifteen deputees of the United Arab List they blame for dealing more with the problems of the Palestinians under Occupation than with their own difficulties. That integration of the Israeli Arabs in the political life is an indirect consequence of the fight against the epidemic during which we saw Jewish ans Arab doctors and nurses working together in hospitals to save the population. Paradoxically, it will remain a positive benefit for the future of the Netanyahu era.
Unlike in previous elections, the main threat for Netanyahu, given the polls, seems to come this time from his right. In addition to Naphatli Bennett, who has been hoping for a long time to replace him, we have now a new challenger from the right, Gideon Sa’ar, who formed a new list, Hatikva Hahadasha (A new Hope). Dissident of the Likud, joined since then by other hierarchs of the party, Sa’ar undertakes – unlike Bennett – never to join Netanyahu in order to form a coalition, while asserting himself in right-wing positions. Sa’ar, like Bennett, is trying to attract the Blue-White electors disappointed by Gantz who, according to them, did not respect his commiment to never participate to a government with Netanyahu.
The unprecedented protest movement, which marked the thirtieth consecutive week of demonstrations, did not yet succeed in finding its political translation. Right now, between the Meretz and Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid, the current leader of the opposition, 8 lists try to position themselves. During the next two weeks, we will probably witness mergers, to avoid a loss of votes.
As long as final lists of candidates are not submitted, it is difficult to make any predictions. Many scenarios are possible and will depend on several factors :
– The overall participation rate of the population, large parts of which do not trust any more the political establishment it believes insentive to its problems while the country goes through one of its worst social crises ;
– The specific participation rate of the population of Israeli Arabs who can, if they mobilize, overturn coalitions ;
– The mobilization rate of young people who are very active in the protest movement, and their choice of the candidates who will represent them in the next Knesset ;
– The ability of the center and left lists to come together in spite of their past mistakes.
Once again, that election will mainly depend on Netanyahu’s personality, between his supporters who do not seem any more to be a majotity , and his opponents of the right and the left who want definitely to remove him from power, but who are still far from being able to gather on another agenda.

David Chemla


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