Election Quick Hits

(1) Recordings which came to light this week show that Bibi Netanyahu was closely involved in government policy regarding the communications market even after he had formally resigned as Communications Minister. In these recordings, Netanyahu can be heard trying to push his Communications Minister to save Channel 20, a right-wing, religious channel which has been very friendly to Netanyahu since its creation in 2014. Netanyahu had previusly been charged with intervening in the regulatory process on behalf of the owner of Walla, Israel’s second-largest news site, in exchange for positive coverage.

A key question which I have not yet seen addressed in the coverage of his allegedly illicit interventions in the communications market is the degree to which Netanyahu has benefited from his actions. In addition to the favorable coverage which he enjoys on Channel 20 and allegedly received on Walla, Netanyahu has also had continuous support from Israel Hayom, a free, daily newspaper funded by the right-wing US billionaire Sheldon Adelson. A study published two years ago found that in the United States, Fox News was responsible for increasing support for Republican presidential candidates by 3.59% in 2004 and 6.34% in 2008. If Channel 20, Walla, and Israel Hayom have an effect anywhere near as large in the coming elections, that may be enough to return Netanyahu to power.

(2)Blue and White, in an attempt to ensure their place as Israel’s largest party in the upcoming elections, are apparently planning on beginning a campaign to draw support from Labor (referred to as “drinking their seats” in Hebrew). Senior members of Blue and White have gone so far as to claim that “we don’t care if Labor passes the electoral threshold.”

This puts Labor in a bit of a strategic bind. As many of Blue and White’s supporters are voters whose first priority is defeating Netanyahu, Labor’s natural response would be to emphasize the many similarities between Blue and White and the Likud, arguing that a vote for Blue and White is in effect a vote for Bibi. Benny Gantz’s recent proclamation that he intends to form a coalition with the Likud (and Yisrael Beiteinu) following the elections can only help in this regard. So does Blue and White’s consistent failure to differentiate itself from the Likud in policy matters.

The difficulty here is that Labor is attempting to appeal to soft right, largely Mizrahi voters who have in the past voted for the Likud and identify with the party to varying degrees, but who are dissatisfied with the economic status quo. And recent polling shows there is indeed a large degree of discontent with Israel’s economic situation – 45% of Israelis recently graded the Netanyahu government’s economic performance as unsatisfactory or failing, and overwhelming majorities expressed support for spending increases in fields such as health, education, and welfare.

Labor will have to avoid merely attempting to tie Blue and White to the Likud, as many of the voters it is trying to win over have long standing attachments to the latter party.  Instead of attacking the Likud as an institution, Labor must attack the status quo economic policies which both it and Blue and White espouse and make it clear that Labor offers the only true alternative.

Labor’s task here is further complicated by the statements recently made by a number of senior Likudniks (such as David Bitan) in which they claim that Labor will join a Likud-led coalition following the elections. Some analysts have claimed that these statements are intended to drive left-wing voters from Labor and push the party under the electoral threshold. By the same token, however, the statements could also grant Labor a greater degree of legitimacy among the soft right voters it is seeking to target, by convincing them that a vote for Labor is not necessarily a vote against the Likud, or that Labor is not an enemy of the Likud in the way that other left-wing parties have been portrayed.

(3)After winning the Labor party primaries this past summer, Amir Peretz made it his goal to win 10-15 seats in the next elections while significantly increasing the party’s support in the periphery. All of the recent polling, however, shows that Labor will fall short of its first target, and most likely obtain the same level of support it received in April (6 seats.)

There has been little indication, however, as to whether this support will come from the same voters as in April, or whether the party will succeed in attracting new, working class voters (which would mean, given that the party’s polling numbers have remained stable, that it is shedding an equal number of middle class supporters.)

We’ll have to wait for the elections to know for sure, but a poll published earlier this week signalled that a shift in Labor’s support base may indeed be taking place. In addition to asking voters which party they supported, it also asked if they supported forming a coalition with the haredi parties. The haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, have historically supported measures to support the poor and working class (though they have failed to present a systemic alternative to the prevailing economic model,) while at the same time advancing a sectoral, anti-liberal agenda. Those non-haredim who support forming a coalition with the haredi parties are more likely to be traditional (in religious terms,) working class, and Mizrahi than those who are opposed to such a coalition.

In any case, the poll showed that while only 6% of Blue and White voters and 7% of Democratic Union voters supported a government with the haredi parties, a full 36% of Labor voters were in favor. So even if Amir Peretz isn’t exactly returning Labor to it’s glory days, there is reason to think he might be starting something new – turning Labor into a true vehicle for the Israeli working class.

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