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Bibi Netanyahu
photo by Raymond Hall

Avigdor Liberman
phot by Rhonda Spivak

Tzippi Livni
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Special Report from Israel: The Israeli Election Ad That Is Hard Not to Talk About-- And The E-1Controversy

By Rhonda Spivak, January 16, 2013

I arrived in Israel last week as the country enters the final stretch of the Israeli election campaign [elections take place Jan 22].

I have uploaded an election ad that Netanyahu's Likud party has been running on the internet. Say what you will of it, the ad is certainly memorable and I have never seen anything quite like it. The Times of Israel has described it as "an internet spoof which looks like it was conceived and executed by ill-tempered nine-year-olds." In it, the leaders of the center and left, including Tzippi Livni are represented by finger puppets.  They are all talking about subject such as ending the occupation, or economy, the gap between rich and poor, and while they are talking, Iran's Ahmadinejad blows them all up to smithereens. [In the clip, Zehava Gal-On of Meretz repeats “End the occupation” while a man mimics Shelly Yachimovitch of Labor harping about the convergence of “wealth and power.”].

And yet, as childish as this promo- ad is, it stands out as the most memorable ad of any others I've seen. And say what you will of its poor taste or its unusual tactic, it does drive home  Netanyahu's message that Iran is the number one issue to be dealt with and all the rest  pales in comparison-and the other leaders do not have the wealth of knowledge on the issue as he does. [In that regard, there has been some speculation that while the elections are going on Ehud Barak is busy devoting his time to dealing with the Iran issue and that once Netanyahu wins, Barak will be back.]

The truth is that leaving Ahmadinejad aside, most Israelis  I've spoken to in the last week see that the Centre-Left  parties have blown themselves up on their own, by bickering between themselves and failing to unite to form a united block due to egos and each one wanting to be the acknowledged leader of the left . Had they been able to do this, then there may have been a real contest. Everyone agrees that Bibi Netanyahu will be Prime Minister but it's not clear who will be in the coalition.   There are even reports that he may reject his natural political partners on the right (the ultra-orthodox religious parties) in favour of centre left parties (like that of Tzippi Livni, Yair Lapid, and Mofaz if elected) if they are in favour of approving unpopular budget cuts. He may seek to define the lines of the coalition with the centre left and then only add in other parties if they agree to those lines.

Netanyahu will need to pass a budget, a process that Likud fears could get bogged down if the coalition is beholden to ultra-orthodox  religious parties who are the most dependent on state hand-outs, and will resist the cuts the most.

I heard a Hebrew radio interview of  Hatnuah leader Tzippi Livni,  who is being blamed by many center-left voters for being the reason that center-left has failed to unite. Livni sees herself as the natural leader, and wouldn't stand as a second to Labour leader Shelley Yacimovich.

Once Shaul Mofaz won the Kadima primary over Tzippi Livni, Livni refused to work with him and left to form her own party taking part of Kadima with her. She could win up to about 10 seats and Mofaz's Kadima may get  about three seats if not being wiped out altogether. Had Mofaz and Livni bein able to get over their personal enmity of each other and stayed together in the same party, they may have been able to form a real alternative to Netanyahu, but their own egos got in the way.

As one secular Tel Avivi told me "Livni can't work with anybody. She had the chance to form a government last time when Kadima got one more seat than Likud, but she wouldn't form a government with Shas, and lost her chance to form a government. Shas is a religious party, but so what, aren't they citizens of the State? and Shas is moderate on the political front vis a vis returning territories. If Rabin hadn't  formed a government  with Shas, there would not have been the Oslo accords."

Another Russian Israeli I spoke with said that he had voted or Livni last time, but wouldn't this time since she had her chance to form government and didn't. "Maybe I'll vote for  [former journalist] Yair Lapid, since at least he's a new face. He wants to cut down the size of government, reduce the number if  Ministers and all their assistants. I agree with that."

When I asked him about Iran, he said, "I've been in the Russian army. Russia was heavily invested in Iran years and years ago, giving it chemical and biological weapons. You really think it doesn't have nuclear weapons already? I don't. They've probably gotten them by now."

Another Russian fisherman I spoke with down by the beach was very frank. Using his limited vocabulary he told me he hasn't been in the country long, he was going to keep fishing, [and I am not at all sure he even knows elections will take place!].

A 20 something Tel-Aviv Labourite said of Livni, "Her party isn't serious. There's no cohesion to it. It's made up of a bunch of people who jumped from other parties."  She'll be voting for Labour leader Shelley Yachimovich, who will look out for the interests of the "workers."

When asked about  Labour leader Yakimovich, a middle age contractor who has always voted Likud and will again said "JELLY" Yachimovich. She may be ok to be Minister of Education but she's not Prime Ministerial material. Bibi as Prime Minisiter is the only option."

When asked whether he thought there could be any progress on the peace, he smiled and said "It's like asking if there will ever be peace between a cat and a mouse. I don't see it happening."

A taxi driver the Netanya, who has always voted Likud, says "I've been telling everyone that rides in this cab to get out and vote for Bibi. We've had four years of relative quiet with him."  He asked the other three passengers from Hod Hasharon, just outside of Tel-Aviv, who they were voting for and they said "Bibi." [I think they meant it and weren't just saying it so he would drive them to their destination].

A resident of Ashkelon told me he was voting for  the Jewish home party headed by Naftali Bennett, which is set to get around 15 seats, with a platform of annexing part of Judea and Samaria. He says that after the last war with Hamas people in the south of the country think Netanyahu was too soft and ended up caving into US pressure for a ceasefire too soon.

A poll that came out Jan 15 (Palestinian Poll: To Build a State, 60 Percent Say Hamas' Way Is Best ) done by Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Center for  Policy and Survey Research shows that when asked who won the latest war with Hamas, 81% of  Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza polled said Hamas won, and only 3% said Israel. The feeling that Israel did not win the last exchange with Hamas, is likely to reduce support for Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman (Lieberman himself could end up in jail rather than in Parliament due to criminal charges pending).

The other part of the new poll results showing that 60% of Palestinians  favor Hamas's way of building a Palestinian state, as opposed to only 28% favouring Abbas's way, does in fact buttress Netanyahu's claim that if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank today,  Hamas [and Iran] would take over there.

Bibi's election campaign posters, and feature part of the Western Wall in the background, refer to himself as a "strong" [chazak] leader (his detractors say he has to call himself strong because he isn't).  The Western Wall background no doubt is intended to give off the message that Israel is not going back to the 1967 lines under any circumstances, and that Bibi will not divide Jerusalem.

There have been a lot of questions about why Bibi has chosen to raise the issue of  the area of E-1 and building there, over the Green line, to connect Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem. They best explanations I have read is an article by David Weinberg who said that the reason that Bibi has raised the controversial issue of building  E-1, which has been condemned by the international community, is so that he has something to agree to freeze in the future when  he is pressured to do so by Obama and the EU. [You can read the Weinberg article here:].

The other explanation on this is that ultimately Bibi (like Olmert before him) does see needing to join Jerusalem to the settlement area in Ma'ale Adumin which will be a part of Israel and he does not see any real reason why Palestinians couldn't drive under a underpass or overpass to get from Ramallah to Bethlehem (let alone driving an extra 10 minutes to get around them) In this regard, it should be remembered that anyone who supports the West bank being connected to Gaza at some point in the future for a Palestinian state is willing to allow some sort of travel corridor through Israel to connect the two entities. 

As Prime Minister in 2006, Olmert told Haaretz that "it is unthinkable that we would talk about Maaleh Adumim as part of the State of Israel and leave it as an island or isolated enclave. It is absolutely clear that there will be built-up continuity between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim."


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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